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V Books: Prof. Robyn Spencer Discusses Her New Book, 'The Revolution Has Come'

Happy 50th anniversary to the Black Panther Party. 

Just over fifty years ago, then college students Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale created the Oakland-based Black Panther Party for Self Defense (Self Defense was later dropped) as a response to police brutality and the exploitation of the working-poor by corporations.

As seen in Stanley Nelson's documentary, Black Panther: Vanguard of the Revolution, the Party was very complex and had its flaws. In addition to the Party's many Survival Programs such as the Free Breakfast for Children's Program, Liberation Schools, health clinics, bus-to-prison program, among many others, there was violence—external and internal—as well as misogyny within the organization. Yet the Party championed women's rights and was led by a woman when Elaine Brown controlled the Party during Newton's exile from 1974-1977.

The BPP has become a popular topic for public intellectuals. VIBE caught up Prof. Robyn Spencer, Associate Professor of History at Lehman College, and author of The Revolution has come: Black Power, Gender and the Black Panther Party in Oakland, where she discussed her new book, Elaine Brown, gay and women's rights, #BlackLivesMatter and more.

VIBE: I read that you were able to spend time with notable Party member, Melvin Dickson. Is he still doing community service?
Prof. Spencer: Melvin Dickson joined the Black Panther Party as a youth in Seattle and transferred to Oakland to work at the Oakland Community School, one of the Panthers' longest lasting survival programs. He is still going strong in his political commitment to social change at age 70. He founded the Commemorator newspaper in 1989, a newspaper aimed at commemorating the legacy of the Panthers that still comes out today. Organizers who work on the newspaper and the various educational programs aimed at the needs of oppressed communities sometimes use Panther iconography. Melvin Dickson is in the tradition of the many Panther veterans around the country who have dedicated themselves to sharing the history and politics of the organization and fighting current oppressions but who have not formally revived the organizational structure or tried to continue the name.

Can you briefly explain your new book Revolution Has Come?
My book explores the common themes that guided activists all over the country and tries to bridge the North/South divide. Panther founders were the children of migrants to Oakland from the South. They were influenced by what was happening in the South at the time but also connected to local and regional actions in Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley. Like many urban areas, Oakland had its own protest movement in the fight against poverty, unequal education, housing discrimination, and police brutality. The Panthers grew out of the same soil as these efforts, influenced by the more radical strands of these movements.

Your book argues that the BPP’s commitment to linking with other revolutionaries across the world made it one of the most effective ambassadors for Black Power. Can you give one or two examples of how?
Panthers activists in the BPP’s International Section in Algeria made alliances with many liberation organizations from Palestine to Vietnam. They participated in Pan-African Cultural Festival in 1969, an anti-colonial and anti-imperial call for liberation of the African continent. These connections translated into increased international news in the Panther newspaper which was disseminated in black communities around the U.S. In addition, oppressed peoples in Australia, India, England and Polynesia created organizations emulating the Panthers to address the inequities in their societies.

I had no idea that the Party worked with gay and lesbian groups? Most of us do not know that. 
The Panthers evolved alongside the movement for gay and lesbian liberation as well as the women’s movement. There were many intersections and areas of overlap as the Panthers dealt with issues of sexism and power, sexual freedom, birth control, child care, etc. Women and men within the Panthers challenged each other on these issues and more. This is evident in the fact that one of the Panthers’ eight points of attention was “do not take liberties with women,” the incorporation of formal childcare structures in the organization and the many daily negotiations over gender and power within the organization. The Panthers offered a strong critique of the racism of mainstream liberal white feminism.  The Panthers doubtlessly had strategic alliances with leftist gay and lesbian liberation organizations. In 1970, Huey Newton issued a statement in support of gay rights and stating that Panthers “should try to form a working coalition with the gay liberation and women’s liberation groups.” The FBI used this statement to delegitimize his leadership and sow dissent within the organization.

READ:: Introduction To The #Blackpanthersyllabus

Despite the complexities and misogyny within the Party, Elaine Brown became the Party's leader. How did the Party change under her leadership?
Under the leadership of Elaine Brown the Panthers moved in the direction of electoral politics and institutionalizing community programs. Brown was also committed to making visible the many Panther women who were shouldering political work within the organization. The number of women on the Central Committee expanded during her tenure.

Did Huey Newton ever express regret for using guns as a tool to protect his community?
Huey Newton saw self-defense as a human right and police violence as a scourge in communities of color in the U.S. The Panthers’ police patrols did not just include legally carried guns but law books and tape recorders. When the laws were changed to make their guns illegal, the role of weapons within the organization changed. Taking aim at police violence is something the Panthers did from their inception to their decline. Increasingly however, this aim was not taken with a gun but with various community programs, political initiatives, lawsuits etc. aimed at defending the community from the police.

What attracted you to study the BPP?
I was attracted to studying the BPP because they sourced black oppression in structural racism and discrimination. They were uncompromising, sought allies among other people of color and spoke in plain language that the average person could relate to. They had a class analysis and engaged socialist ideas. And I could see clear examples of women holding visible roles of influence within the organization. These things made the Panthers appealing to me because I felt that they offered unique insights in the history of Black Power’s radical potential.

And why should we care about a movement that was wiped out in less than twenty years?
The Panthers accomplished so much in their short lifespan. They skillfully used culture—their bold rhetoric, their unforgettable artwork and the music and poetry that was created by members—to paint a picture of a world that would be free of oppression. The organization was built by young people who showed incredible discipline and commitment to the Party structure and ideology. The institutions that Panthers built such as their community programs and their newspaper are evidence of the hard work and sacrifice of membership. The Panthers did imaginative things like try to rewrite the constitution at the Revolutionary People Constitutional Convention and organize people against fascism. The fact that the FBI dedicated itself to the destruction of the organization is testament to the threat the Panthers posed to the status quo. They represent a freedom dream that has been insistent in black life from the earliest slave rebellion.

Can you offer criticism, advice or your thoughts on #BlackLivesMatter as well as compare and contrast #BLM with the BPP?
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has emerged as one of the most powerful movements of this century. It has the potential to unite people across divisions to advocate for a truly intersectional vision of justice for all. It has been wonderful to watch the movement grow and a slogan become an official organization. It is hard to compare organizations because they grow out of historical moments that are unique but the BLM movement’s concept of a leader-full movement and horizontal organizing has the potential to succeed in ways that the Panthers more militaristic structure and centralized leadership structure did not. Time will tell. At the same time, the Panthers' focus on face-to-face organizing is instructive. My book started with me being politicized by knocking on people’s doors in the projects. These human connections cannot be underestimated even in our technological age. I have observed many opportunities for veterans from SNCC and the Panthers to engage in productive dialogue with this new generation of activists. This learning and teaching should very much be a two-way street.

Prof. Spencer's The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender and Black Panther Party In Oakland can be purchased at Duke University Press.

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Derrel Todd

Music Sermon: Forget The King of R&B, Raphael Saadiq Is The Son Of Soul

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

This week, Cash Money artist Jacquees set off an internet firestorm when he proclaimed himself to be the “King” of R&B “for (his) generation.” The comment led artists, executives, music fans and #BlackTwitter in general to debate: who is the King of R&B? (Spoiler alert - it’s not Jacquees.)

While a consensus was never reached, the heated discussion illustrated how much the definitions and ideas of R&B and R&B stars varies between age groups. Ironically, one name that seldom appeared in the convo belongs to one of the most consistent and prolific presences in soul and R&B music for the last 30 years: Raphael Saadiq.

Saadiq has become like a stealth superhero of soul for the last several years of his career, moving to the background as more writer/composer/musician, so the impulse for many might be to label him as an “old school” artist. But that’d be a misnomer, as he’s still had his hand in some of the most influential music for the current generation. Perhaps he transcends a simple R&B conversation as a self-identified Son of Soul (the difference between R&B and Soul is a topic for another day), but however you want to categorize him, he is not widely-enough acknowledged for how he’s kept us jamming, constantly, for three decades.

Let’s explore the iterations through which “Ray Ray” has blessed us over the years.

TONY! TONI! TONÉ!

During the birth and rise of New Jack Swing and then the subsequent evolution to Hip-Hop Soul, Tony! Toni! Toné! was one of the last of a dying R&B breed: the band. They – and a few years later Mint Condition - were standouts as live musicians in an R&B landscape turning to sample-based production. This set both groups apart, establishing them early on as serious soul acts, and making them forerunners of the neo soul sound to come in the late ‘90s.

Like almost every black musician and/or producer of note in his peer group, Saadiq developed and honed his musical chops in the church. Exposure to Motown and Stax by his blues singer father led him to the bass and served as inspiration for his future style. But he, brother Dwayne and cousin Timothy Christian received their formal Tony! Toni! Toné! training on the road: Raphael and Christian toured as part of Sheila E’s band on Prince’s Parade Tour and Dwayne with gospel great Tramaine Hawkins.

Having been properly trained, educated and tested in blues, soul, gospel, and funk, the three formed Tony! Toni! Toné!. Their first album was a modest success, achieving gold status from the RIAA, but wasn’t a standout. The trio started taking the reins on writing and production on their sophomore effort, and the Tonys as we now know them showed up. They announced both their musical background and intentions with their album titles: The Revival, Sons of Soul, House of Music. They were not there for catchy, formulaic R&B. They developed a signature blues, soul, gospel and funk hybrid, rolled up in modern R&B and hip-hop fusion.

The Revival is arguably a new jack swing album – “Feels Good” is a must-have on any new jack playlist – but they were taking the existing marriage of R&B and hip-hop and adding an even deeper soul element, reaching back to ‘70s sonic roots. It was the sonic equivalent of taking new jack swing chicken and shaking it in a paper bag of old-school musically-seasoned flour.

The group still had the kind of jammin’ uptempos found on their debut, Who?, but started to establish themselves as producers of some of the greatest R&B ballads of the ‘90s.

When you think of the Tonys’ music, aside from “Feels Good,” the first song that comes to mind is probably a slow jam. Most acts are fortunate to get one true signature song in their career. Tony! Toni! Toné! has several, and they’re timeless. Put them on today and see if you don’t hit a body roll.

They also established themselves as formidable soundtrack players (as any 90s act worth their salt did. Remember soundtracks, by the way?). They had cuts on the House Party II and Boyz in the Hood albums.

By Sons of Soul they’d found their pocket, and they pushed the sonic limits of contemporary R&B to the extent that some outlets classified the album as jazz, it was such an outlier. Saadiq recognized that they were doing something important for genre. Something that was connecting old style and new. In an interview about the album in 1994, he expressed what he saw as the group’s role in music. "We've been very blessed to be able to be a group that writes our own songs and people have accepted us from both sides, hip-hop and the R&B…I feel very fortunate to be able to do that here in 1993-94, because like you know, it was starting to be a dying thing that was happening. But I guess we were like the bridge between hip-hop and soul and R&B.”

Going back to the aforementioned King of R&B discussion, Diddy chimed in the conversation (he knows a little something about the topic) to run down some criterion to even be considered. His list included vulnerability and adoration in the lyrics and subject matter, the ability to sing a woman’s “draws” off, and the pen game to write hits. Check, check and check. Sons of Soul deservedly landed at or near the top of a gang of 1994 year-end lists and the Tonys continued to raise the bar for the ballad game. Real talk, the last four and a half minutes of the “Anniversary” album cut are better than some entire R&B albums.

With House of Music, the group sought to even more fully showcase all their influences and inspirations: the Al Green-esque “Thinking of You;” the Stylistics-inspired “Holy Smokes & Gee Wiz;” the Bay Area connect with DJ Quik for some G-Funk with “Let’s Get Down;” the straight-up church moment of the “Lovin’ You” reprise closing out the album, with Christian putting all that good anointing on the Hammond B3 organ. This was our clearest glimpse what Saadiq had in store for the future.

LUCY PEARL

When Tony! Toni! Toné! broke up and Saadiq put together supergroup Lucy Pearl, we realized he was on some other sh*t. First, the very idea to bring En Vogue’s Dawn Lewis, A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Saadiq together was genius. Then, oh…what’s this sound? Tony! Toni! Toné! with a little somethin’ extra on it? Saadiq revealed his ability to reinvent himself, stylistically and sonically, and play in different music spaces. Successfully. Hits, check.

WRITER/COMPOSER/PRODUCER/MUSICIAN

After Lucy Pearl, Saadiq embarked on his first solo projects. We’ll get to those, but the more remarkable part of this era was his expansive work as a writer, producer and session musician for others. As mentioned earlier, Tony! Toni! Tone! was an inspiration for neo soul (a term Saadiq loathes), which pulled from ‘60s and ‘70s influences, paired with the return to live instrumentation, mixed with hip-hop swag. Saadiq was a sometime member of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and J Dilla’s Ummah production collective, but had also been working on outside projects since the Tonys were active. Through either the Ummah or alone, Ray was behind hits you may have attributed to someone else.

-D’Angelo, "Lady:" Saadiq co-wrote, co-arranged and co-produced the still-perfect ode to #WCEs (Women Crush Everydays) with D’Angelo.

-Bilal, "Soul Sista:" Soul and R&B great Mtume on the pen, Saadiq on production.

-Angie Stone, "Brotha:" OK, who’s gonna create the 2018 “Unproblematic” edit of the “Brotha” video?

-Total, "Kissing You:" No, this wasn’t Stevie J. Now, imagine this as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song. You can absolutely hear it, right?

-Erykah Badu and Common, "Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop):" Saadiq again proving he’s a master of the perfect fusion of hip-hop and an old soul groove.

-D’Angelo, "Untitled (How Does It Feel):" Saadiq has admitted he later realized he was channeling Jay Dee’s style throughout the D’Angelo session.

SOLO SAADIQ

As a solo artist, Saadiq has accomplished what few can: continuously evolving his sound and aesthetic while yet managing to still always sound like himself. The retro-influence has been a constant in his work, but that influence ranges between decades and musical eras. He’d given us a taste of solo Ray through “Ask of You” from the Higher Learning soundtrack, but that could easily pass as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song.

With Instant Vintage (again letting you know what he came to do with the title), Saadiq expanded on his existing signature sound of soul, funk, gospel and R&B; a sound he coined “Gospaldelic.”

With Ray Ray, he delivered a modern blaxploitation soundtrack. But then, in 2008, he went all the way back to Motown and the purest soul sound for The Way I See It. Saadiq was committed to an authentic return to ‘60s soul for the entire process. He eschewed slick, modern production techniques for old-school practices, including vintage equipment, all live instrumentation and single-take recordings. He donned slim-cut suits and classic frames for his look, and delivered a retro soul package via the 45 inch LP box set. But it still sounded incredibly fresh and modern, and that is his gift.

His last solo album, 2011’s Stone Rolling, was a progression of The Way I See It, staying in the same retro soul pocket, bringing some funk and rock’n’roll back into.

Or did he?

MILLENNIAL RAY

The thing about Saadiq is that he doesn’t just look a perpetual 30 years old (he’s 52. It don’t crack.). Unlike a lot of “old heads,” he keeps his ear current, as well. Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Anderson Paak, and BJ the Chicago Kid are his musical nephews. He praises them and their music often in interviews, heralding them as the current bridge-builders between eras and urban genres. Labelmate Leon Bridges adapted his The Way I See It and Stone Rolling formulas - from the sound to the ‘60s-style dress and imaging - for his own, and had Saadiq’s enthusiastic blessing. He listens to SZA, PJ Morton and Daniel Caesar. And he still has his finger on the pulse of current urban musical movements.

Saadiq was an executive producer on Solange Knowles’ 2016 A Seat at the Table, garnering a Grammy for the anthemic “Cranes in the Sky.”

He’s also helped to bring the full authenticity of the West Coast to Insecure for the past three seasons, serving as the show’s composer.

And he hasn’t abandoned his peers and contemporaries, garnering a “Best Song” Oscar nomination last year with Mary J. Blige for Mudbound’s “Mighty River,” and just recently executive producing John Legend’s first Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas. Only time will tell what he brings on the forthcoming solo album he told VIBE about, titled Jimmy Lee.

Whether his name is included in King of R&B conversations or not, Saadiq has been booked and busy in every area of black music since before 1988, keeping both aunties and nieces grooving, with no signs of slowing or stopping.

RELATED: Raphael Saadiq Talks New Music, 'Insecure,' And Why Tony! Toni! Toné! Won't Reunite

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Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

The female voice in hip-hop has always been present whether we've noticed it or not. The late Sylvia Robinson birthed the hip-hop music industry with the formation of Sugar Hill Records (and fostering "Rapper's Delight"), Roxanne Shante's 55 lyrical responses to fellow rappers were the first diss tracks and Missy Elliott's bold and striking music and visuals inspired men and women in the game to step outside of their comfort zones.

These pillars and many more have allowed the next generation of emcees to be unapologetically brash, truthful and confident in their music. Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and Nicki Minaj's Queen might've been the most mainstream albums by womxn in rap this year, but there was a long list of creatives who brought the noise like Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Noname and Bbymutha. Blame laziness or the heavy onslaught of music hitting streaming sites this year, but many of the artists on this list have hibernated under the radar for far too long.

VIBE decided to switch things up but also highlighting rap albums by womxn who came strong in their respectively debut albums, mixtapes, EPs. We also had to give props to those who dropped standout singles, leaving us wanting more.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

We’ve reached another end to an eventful year in hip-hop. From rap beefs to new music releases and milestones, 2018 has been forged in the history books as a year to remember. But more important than the events that happened over the span of 12 months are the people who made them happen.

While fans received a large dose of music from our favorite artists and celebrated some of the most iconic album anniversaries, there are a few names that stood out as the culture pushers, sh*t starters, and all-around most significant artists of the year.

For your enjoyment, VIBE compiled a list of the top 10 most important hip-hop artists of 2018 based on a series of qualifications: 1) public actions - good, bad, and ugly; 2) music releases; 3) philanthropic/humanitarian work; and 4) trending moments.

Be clear: This list isn’t about the most influential, the most talented, who had the best music or tours. While we are commemorating artists for the work they’ve contributed to this year’s music cycle, we’re looking beyond that and evaluating how these particular artists have shaped conversations and pushed hip-hop culture forward.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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