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VIBE / Jessica Xie

Madame Gandhi On The Intersectionality Of Feminism And Why "The Future Is Female"

"It's about living in a world where we value femininity, but we value being collaborative and being emotionally intelligent."

According Madame Gandhi, the future is female. She says this with pride and confidence as she arrives at VIBE's headquarters, greeting everyone in her signature style of bright neon colors.

Born Kiran Gandhi, the musician-activist grew up between New York City and Bombay, India. Coming up, she always had a strong appreciation for hip-hop and played the drums since the tender age of eight. After working for Interscope records as their first full time digital analyst and attending Harvard Business School, she scored a gig as “Paper Planes” singer M.I.A.’s drummer before eventually going solo.

The Los Angeles native’s work as an activist stands as tall as her music. A champion of women's rights, she speaks around the country educating women and young girls on combating sexism in the music business, getting involved in music technology, and women’s health and hygiene. One of her most notable claims to fame was her participation in the 2015 London Marathon as she was “free bleeding” while running the 26-mile circuit. The famous photo of her sprinting across the finish line with her friends Ana and Mere soon went viral, which helped spark a conversation of women’s hygiene and having the proper access to feminine hygiene products such as tampons.

“I honestly didn’t know what to do. I knew that I was lucky to have access to tampons, to be part of a society that at least has a norm around periods. I could definitely choose to participate in this norm at the expense of my own comfort and just deal with it quietly,” wrote Madame Gandhi in an essay about her experience during the marathon.

“But then I thought…If there’s one person society can’t eff with, it’s a marathon runner. You can’t tell a marathoner to clean themselves up, or to prioritize the comfort of others. I decided to just take some Midol, hope I wouldn’t cramp, bleed freely and just run. A marathon in itself is a centuries old symbolic act. Why not use it as a means to draw light to my sisters who don’t have access to tampons and, despite cramping and pain, hide it away like it doesn’t exist?” she begged.

As a musician, Madame Gandhi is truly a unique and highly creative artist that could be considered a musical alchemist. On her Voices EP, she brilliantly weaves hip-hop, electronic, pop and a variety of other genres with her feminism and social stance to create an emotional, resonating project that effectively captures the beauty of femininity. Although the ride is short, she captivates listeners on a musical journey through feminism and why someday the future will be female.

“To me, the future is female is about living in a world where we value femininity, but we value being collaborative and being emotionally intelligent,” she explained.

Performing at music festivals across the country as a solo artist while drumming for alternative R&B artist Quin, the "Her" singer manages to find some time to chop it up with VIBE about her Voices project and other new music, what the slogan "The Future Is Female" really means, being a woman in the industry and why there aren’t enough women in music technology.

VIBE: One of the songs that stood out to me on your Voices EP was the song “Her." What's the inspiration behind that message?
Madame Gandhi: Well, it was the song I’ve made in the quickest amount of time. That song was probably made in 48 hours where we laid down the beat, me and my friend Alexia, who co-produced it with me. I knew exactly in my head what I wanted the beat to be. She was super encouraging and was like, “Just go into the sound booth and start laying down some ideas.” It was the first take and we used it.

The idea behind that song is women are constantly underestimated and pushed around. We take it because we’ve grown up being used to that almost, being passed over for opportunities or people not thinking we’re as good at reaching our fullest potential as we are. It’s kind of as a warning, it’s like, “Look past your prejudices and appoint her! Put the women on in your life, give them a chance because we’re going to do an extraordinary job.” But then then when the sirens come in when the drum solo comes in, and the aggression comes in it’s like, “Naw, now you’ve crossed the line. Now you’ve completely underestimated us, you’ve threatened us, you caused us oppression and harassment, we’re out." And not only are we out, we’re going to go start our own amazing, alternative parallel universe.

And "Gandhi Blues?" What was the writing process like for that song?
You know, I had to travel [around that time]. It was in the fall of 2015 and I was dating somebody I was really into, I was smitten over this person. I remember having to travel two or three weeks at a time because I was being asked to speak at colleges and universities about menstrual health and hygiene, about women’s equality, about the election coming up, about Donald Trump’s sexism… and obviously, my work is so important to me. But I also felt a deep sense of sadness that I had to keep leaving my own personal life and having to feel like I had to choose.

“Gandhi Blues” obviously references Mahatma Gandhi, who was known for being the father of his own country and liberating India from the British, but was also heavily criticized for being a terrible family man, for not being wonderful to his wife and his kids. That trade and that decision is so difficult for so many activists. If you look at Nina Simone’s life, I share a birthday with her, she’s long known for being in abusive relationships and having to choose between her career and her personal life. So “Gandhi Blues” was a vulnerable song, where I wanted to be honest about how I feel with that stuff. How I wonder if I’ll ever have a full-time partner in my life just because of how my life has been and the constant movement and changes that has to happen for me to do my work.

This idea about being a feminist often paints a very aggressive and angry picture of women or those who have the belief of gender equality. I really wanted "Gandhi Blues" to be in the middle of the album, track three, to say that my brand of feminism is about celebrating our fullest spectrum of our humanity and that the people who do this best tend to be women. Men in society are not allowed to show the fullest spectrum of their personality, but women are and we often get criticized for it. You’re too emotional, you’re too needy. I think emotional strength and vulnerability are some of the most powerful things you can have. So I wanted that song to be there to say you’ll hear me rapping and talking about women’s equality and you’ll also hear me heartbroken and missing a lover like many of us had in our pasts.

It seems like those who follow their dreams eventually must sacrifice love. Do you aspire to have more of that at some point?
That’s such a good question and if I could figure out a beautiful and healthy balance between love and my career, then I would have achieved something really big and too would be able to set an example for others. But to be honest, most men were able to pursue their career and the woman was expected to marry her man and follow him wherever his career took him. He didn’t have to make that trade off, he had the love of his life and he also had his career. Women are the ones expected to make the sacrifice, y’know?

Now we’re living in a world where many young women are accessing the same levels of education and job opportunities as their male counterparts, but obviously, we’re not telling men, “Go sacrifice your career and be with the love of your life," because we want everybody to have access to having a healthy balance of both. So I suppose one of the biggest challenges for women today is how can you balance your career with your love life, and if I could figure it out it would be a good example for the next generation of young women.

What was one of the most important lessons you learned while working for Interscope?
I give Interscope records hella credit, which is why I dressed conservatively and just did my work. I really did my work and I did good work. I stayed there 'til late, I spent so much time with the numbers on Spotify and YouTube, I was such a young hustler. I would deliver reports to my boss early. I would say, “Look at these patterns that I found between Kendrick Lamar’s album sales and Spotify streams. I would notice that when rappers get arrested for something or when the blogs would go crazy for a rapper, the Spotify streams would go through the roof but the YouTube views wouldn’t be as strong—just interesting patterns.

I was really focused on doing extraordinary work and allowing the work to lead. I had a lot of support from those who I worked with at Interscope and while I do believe that sexism and prejudice exist in the industry, especially for women who tend to present even more feminine, I think that often is a blessing and a curse for them because you can use your femininity to get ahead if you’re working with a lot of different men because men can be easily manipulated by sex and beauty.

I intentionally would dial down my femininity, beauty and wear playful, childish or conservative clothing and deliver good work. That was kind of the thing I learned during my time there. It’s an annoying sacrifice that women must make, but it was kind of effective in me winning the team at Interscope and me having not only having Steve Berman, but Brooke Michael write my recommendation letter for Harvard. And to have so many people in the office support me when I went to go drum for M.I.A. Instead of saying it’s a conflict of interest, they were my cheerleaders.

Why don't we see enough women involved in music technology?
From a young age, I think women are socialized [to believe] that they’re going to be more valued for their looks. You give one gender 24 hours in a day and you also give the other 24 hours in a day, but society is telling one gender, “Okay, but you better make sure your legs are shaved and you better make sure you have some makeup, and you better make sure your hair is done, and you better make sure you have a nice manicure." Then whether she realizes it or not, she’s spending 25 extra minutes in the shower, 40 minutes each week to get her hair done at the salon, an hour and a half to get her nails done, let’s just put it all together and say five to ten hours a week just on looks alone. That’s five to ten hours that the boys are putting in playing on their computers, watching YouTube tutorials on how to use Ableton, getting better at mathematics, getting better at their drums.

Overtime, one gender is far surpassing the other gender in terms of their capabilities and skill set. By the time it comes to apply for jobs and opportunities, boys tend to be better and far more ahead of the game because over time they became more comfortable as kids with learning tech and having more access to that than girls. I find it [to be] a really difficult battle because I do enjoy being beautiful, of course. Anyone does, we’re only human. But I think men don’t have to put such a disproportionate amount of time each week on their looks as women have to. So that’s one huge, huge part of it from childhood.

The second part is that I do think a lot of it comes from the men who are still in power to hire women, who choose who gets the role and I do think there are levels of unconscious bias. Not only when it comes to sexism, but it also comes into racism, homophobia and trans-phobia where we think certain people, based on how they look, are more qualified for a job than others. That takes a lot of work, to undo years and years of sexism and racism and homophobia in this country. But I do think that the more—if we even had one person of making it to these top levels, if we had one woman make it to these top levels, I do think she or they or he has a responsibility to see to it that those biases are counterbalanced and more people of diverse backgrounds get hired.

Is that one of your objectives when you include young, women artists of color on stage with you at your shows?
Definitely! I thought that I was going to go to Harvard Business School, graduate and go work at Spotify and be someone of the music industry, responsible for change on the inside. But I’m glad you’re asking me these questions because one thing I’ve been recently saying that I believe more and more, is I’m actually less interested in people of color, women or various marginalized groups applying into these “bro-y” tech cultures. Instead, I want us to just go start our own thing. I want to see women start their own music tech companies that deliver extraordinary value to the communities they serve. Or men, people of color, trans people or queer communities starting their own tech companies to make the world a better place.

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Do you have any new music on the way?
Hell yeah! I have a song inspired by Fela Kuti called "Bad Habits." I have another inspired by a Brazilian trap artist out in São Paulo called Topknot Turn Up, which is about women putting their hair up in a bun and getting their work done. I have a song that I’m about to finish in Detroit, it’s a total lover’s song. It’s about just being so inspired by your lover and just being with them and not really tripping about the rest of the world. So those are the three that I’m most excited about.

How did you first get into music and even playing the drums at such a young age?
I loved music since I was three or four-years-old, because I love pop culture. I grew up in Manhattan, and the bus used to come pull up in front of my parents’ house. I had this amazing funky, black bus driver whose name was Harrison. Harrison would play classical music when he would go and pick up all the kids in front of parents, and as soon as we pulled away, he would change it back to the hip-hop station, Hot 97. We would be in the back, just kids, learning all the rap songs.

He would mute words like the n-word or the f-word, because they kind of felt bad, but at the same time he was like, “Kids, this is educational. You need to know what’s going on in the world." We would listen to Nas, we would listen to all that. Illmatic was poppin’ at that time. I just remember falling in love with it and I loved that I wasn’t allowed to listen to it because my parents were Indian, they were naïve. It was the Clinton era, [Bill] Clinton had a whole campaign against black America and [promoted] mass incarceration and so he scared a lot of people into believing that there was so much horrible gang culture. That made me love it even more, because it felt like truth. I think that was my first foray into music. It’s that it represented something people weren’t talking about, but that felt honest. That showed me another part of life in New York that I didn’t know about.

The drums were a different story. Whether I play this symbol, that symbol, no one gives a f**k. It’s liberating and I also know it was rebellious for a girl to be playing drums. I felt there was enormous power in it and most people didn’t play drums, so I already felt like as a 10-year-old, I was getting gigs. [Laughs]

Why be independent and handle everything on your own?
I think my dad was good about making us independent. We lived in New York City so he would teach me how to buy a subway card and then force me to go and run the card myself even though I was seven or eight-years old and he could have just easily bought it for us. Just small, street smart skill sets and he was big on us taking initiative. My parents used to use that word a lot and I was the oldest [of three children] so I got that a lot.

How do you go about weaving feminism into your music?
I only care about feminism and music, so it’s easy to weave them. But I will say that one challenge that sometimes I talk about is that I’m a very cerebral person and sometimes cerebral speaking doesn’t have swag to it. So you can’t be bumping hella cerebral s**t while people are just trying to smoke and have a good time and drive around in their car. I think a challenge I’m facing right now is how do I take my intelligence and my confidence in my ability to speak about these issues very well and still put it into a seamless, musical body of work that’s accessible. I find that to be very challenging.

If make something super simple I don’t feel like it’s authentic to me and then if I make it hella complicated, no one’s trying to play it in a club. No one is trying to f**k to feminism. I mean, I wanna live in that world. [Laughs]

A post shared by Kiran Gandhi (@madamegandhi) on

That’s legit. In a perfect world, “Her” would be a modern slow jam, because it’s so sensual.
Exactly! One other thing I’d like to say is that my message is about celebrating femininity in every person, because each of us came from a man and from a woman. We have both male and female energy, it’s just that we live in a society where we value masculinity more than we value femininity and it’s so bad that we use it as an insult, like calling someone a “pussy." Pussy is not an insult, pussy is divine and open and a combination of things, and so many things can go in and out of it, it’s a completely divine organ. We say “have a pair of balls,” but if you even lightly tap a pair of balls they’re completely in pain! So how did that even happen? That’s one thing, if we’re really going to look at anatomy.

The other thing I wanted to say is that my most joyful conversations when it comes to race and gender in America particularly are always with black men, because black men have experienced oppression when it comes to racism and therefore have the empathy to have a conversation intelligently with women to at least have the sense to put themselves in a woman’s shoes to understand what the oppression might feel like. But if you talk to someone who's never experienced systemic oppression in their life, like potentially a straight cisgender white man, it’s very difficult for them to even believe the kinds of sexism or racism we experience daily, just from looks on the street, to walking into a store, or even simply existing.

Two of the things that I believe hinders a lot of us men of color from being better toward our women is that we have “tunnel vision,” where we knowingly or unknowingly get so caught up in our struggles that we neglect yours, and for others we often fall victim to drinking the proverbial heteropatriarchal Kool-Aid.
I love that you just said that because while I could blame men for it. I want men to take more responsibility, but I do think that if you experienced oppression and then someone gives you power, you are so clinging to that power. If I give you racial oppression, but then I give you sexual power over women, you’re gonna want to take it because it’s the only power we’re giving you in this f**ked up hierarchical society. That’s the reason why black men have stood on the shoulders of black women for so long. It shouldn’t be acceptable and because of the very empathy we’re talking about, you would think that a lot of men would undo it, but I do think that’s why black men have a larger capacity to not contribute to further sexism than white men.

The ranking system is the problem and that’s the concept of “The Future is Female” for me. It’s about women being treated the way we deserve to be treated but more than that, it’s this idea that male energy tends to rank things like, for me to win you must lose and it’s a game, it’s about ego and competitiveness. Obviously, we all need a little of that because that’s motivation, but we’re too far in the extreme of that to where we’re just killing people and raping the earth.

It’s this whole Donald Trump hetero-hyper masculinity thing, it’s very dark. And to me, if you go all the way on the other side, the feminine, instead of the world being ranked, what if the world was linked? Like, you have a skillset, I have a skillset, we come together, one plus one equals 11 now and not two. Where we each can contribute to the joy of delivering value to someone else. I wish we were judged and ranked if anything, based on how much joy and value we are contributing to others, but that to me is the hyper-feminine side of the spectrum.

I also think that this idea that women are too emotional—I think if you go on the hyper side, of course. Can we let our emotions color our vision, 100 percent! But that’s part of our journey as women when to use our emotions for good versus when we must play them down and use logic and reason. But men have the same thing and we don’t criticize men for it, it’s called ego! The male ego is one of the most powerful and destructive forces on earth. It’s the reason we have war, it’s the reason presidents like Donald Trump get elected, because when men go too far on their emotional side of the spectrum it’s called ego and it's contributing to the darkness of the earth. That’s what men and women can learn from each other. Women can learn from men, but men can also learn from the women in terms of being a little more emotionally intelligent, how to manage that ego and how to be more self-disciplined.

At the Pitchfork Festival earlier this year, you gave an excerpt from Gabrielle Gamboa's essay "New Rites of Transition," featured in The Feminist Utopia Project. How did that book inspire you?
I ran the London Marathon, free bleeding in 2015, and this woman in LA compiled this book, found me and gave it to me as a gift. That whole year after that story went viral, so many wonderful people throughout the world were mailing me gifts and/or meeting up in person and giving me something, so I got exposed to a lot of work. But that particular one, I loved how simple the message was and it’s almost heartbreaking. A feminist utopia is just where a girl feels like she can leave her home safely? That’s the f**king utopia?! Damn!

People think that a feminist utopia is that men are dying, women are royalty, blah blah blah. She’s like, “I want to leave the house without someone making fun of my ambition. I want to leave the house feeling safe in my own body. I want to leave the house feeling free and safe enough to voice my own opinion when I have an opinion. It’s like, damn that’s the utopia? Damn! I’m getting emotional just thinking about it, because it makes me so mad. That’s why I picked that piece, because it’s also so humbling and illuminating what we’re talking about.

What’s your relationship with M.I.A. like today?
We haven’t really spoken [in a while]. We did the tour in 2013 and 2014, and I remember when I was in Brazil in 2014 until maybe the top of 2015, I hit her up and I was just telling her I was traveling. She was like, “It’s so wonderful to hear from you, Brazil is amazing, you’re going to love it. Record music while you’re there," which I did. But yeah, I played Pitchfork with her in 2013 and I got to play Pitchfork as Madame Gandhi in 2017, and it felt like a beautiful growth moment.

Beyond just my relationship with M.I.A., I think the best thing for me that came out of that tour, which I’m only realizing many years later as an adult, is how much I learned when it came to management because I was very dialed in and I’m always very intellectually curious so I wasn’t really paying attention to the fans and that kind of thing. I was more like, how are they managing the tour buses, how are they managing the flights, the hotels, the sound check, the transportation, the in-ear monitors, the mix, the life. What’s appropriate? Are you allowed to change the set list? That is what really inspired me from that tour, because I took everything from that tour and applied it to my own managing skills.

One of the more prominent conversations in and out of the feminist community are transgender individuals. As a feminist, do you consider trans-women to be women? Why or why not?
Of course, 100 percent. Anyone who wants to be female, you’re completely welcome to claim your femininity. Obviously, feminists of the past have been trans-misogynistic, because we often feel the need to say, “No, we’re going to tackle the women issue, and then the gay issue, or then the trans issue, and then the color issue." You can’t do that because all of these identities are complete, as we say now, intersectional and they’re all related to each other. And that’s why feminism also got such a bad reputation from other women, because it was exclusionary and we are absolutely not talking about that in 2017. A fourth wave feminist message is 100 percent inclusive and it's celebratory of femininity in all of us.

I would also add that I rep “The Future is Female” and many criticize it for being trans-misogynistic because A: female refers to anatomy, which maybe someone doesn’t have even though they claim their own femininity. And B: because the person who started it in the 1970s did have a trans-misogynistic background where she wasn’t interested in including members of the trans community. I am a firm believer in new generations ascribing new meaning to phrases that have political relevance and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. To me, “The Future is Female” is about living in a world where we value femininity, but we value being collaborative and being emotionally intelligent. We value feminine traits and if anything, the transgender community has been light years ahead of this message. So for me or for anyone to exclude anyone from the transgender community, it would be completely asinine given that they’re the ones who have been brave enough to carry this message long before many feminists themselves.

Catch Madame Gandhi's upcoming performance with Quin at Afropunk on Aug. 26.

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Jenny Regan

Freddie Gibbs Has Nothing To Hide With 'Bandana'

Talking with Freddie Gibbs, a Gary, Indiana native who came of age hustling during the ‘90s, can be a bit jarring at times. Discussing the Madlib beat that backs the song “Gat Damn” off his upcoming album, Bandana, the artist cheerfully details his desire to create a “dope a** melody and freak that motherf**ker” before quietly pondering one of the chaotic stories that make the track so impactful.

“Sometimes the violence feels good when you’re not on the other end of it, but when family members and children and women start getting killed, you know it’s a real serious thing,” he says. “So I don’t know, man, my whole purpose with this project was to let people know where I was at mentally and emotionally.”

A Los Angeles transplant, Gibbs is too busy raising his daughter, running a business and posting memes to worry about the streets. Almost three years after being discharged from Austrian prison for a crime he was ultimately acquitted of, he has more to celebrate now than ever, especially with Bandana dropping on June 28.

A follow-up to Piñata, Gibbs’ critically acclaimed 2014 venture with Madlib that paired the Midwestern rapper’s intricate, illustrative verses with the California-born producer’s jazzy, lo-fi beats, Bandana was teased for years before the artist started releasing information this February. The high-energy single “Flat Tummy Tea,” which touches on everything from the artists’ political disillusionment to his former drug habits, was inconspicuously teased on Instagram and then posted on YouTube shortly after, just a few weeks before the album’s biting, bass drum-heavy signature track was released to the public. Fast forward to the middle of June and Gibbs has unveiled the Quasimoto-inspired cover art, sent Zebra mascots to Hollywood and Times Square to publicize the release and dropped videos for “Crime Pays” and “Giannis,” his first collaboration with Anderson .Paak.

The album, which effortlessly moves between Gibbs’ speedy, hard bars and his softer R&B side, comes across like a meditation on his chaotic past. Talking to him, it’s clear that he’s “waxing, trying to get to a better spot in [his] career [and] as a father,” and that impression comes through in each track. Instead of focusing on the flashier aspects of his life, the artist forces people to examine his discomforting, long-winded path to success and the scars it left on his mind. Chock-full of beat changes that jolt the MC to switch styles midway through a song, Bandana is composed in a way that it feels like the listener is truly inside Gibbs’ head, following along as he jumps from one thought, or nightmare, to another. Sure, Gibbs may be enjoying his hard-wrought success now, but he never glorifies his past, choosing instead to highlight his sleepless nights and the masculine paranoia that permeated his days dealing.

“My sh*t is an open book,” he explains. “Artists now I feel like I don't even know who these ni**as are because everyone is just automatically rich when they come out, you know? That definitely wasn't my reality.”

More than just a long-awaited project, Bandana is Gibbs’ first release with a major label. After some career ups-and-downs that saw him sign with Interscope in 2006 before promptly being dropped a year later, he recently partnered with friend Tunji Balogun to release Bandana through Keep Cool, a subsidiary of RCA and Sony Music, in tandem with his own ESGN label and Madlib’s Invazion. Despite the corporate support and larger marketing budget, he insists he’s not doing anything differently.

"I kind of created my own lane, I got my own lane of things, so I'm not really pressured,” Gibbs says. “I'm dropping music to satisfy the people that rock with me, and if some new people rock with me, that's cool, but if not, I'm not tripping."

Gibbs’ lyrical skills helped him build a dedicated fanbase, but his business partner and manager Ben “Lambo” Lambert is an instrumental part of his success. A lifelong hip-hop fan who cut his teeth in the industry at 15 putting up stickers for Slum Village’s Fantastic Volume 2, Lambo first discovered 22-year-old Gibbs while working as a college intern at Interscope and has stuck by him ever since. If they’re not physically together, the partners speak on the phone daily, covering everything from merch design to beat selection, and they both agreed the time was right to utilize a larger platform.

“It's like we're on the AND1 tour,” Lambo said, referring to the traveling basketball competition. “We're on Venice Beach, killing it, but at a certain point, unless you put up some points in the NBA, there's always going to be a feeling of ‘what if?’”

As personal as creating Bandana was for Gibbs, it’s been equally emotional for Lambo. Since the team started working on the record five years ago, Lambo has had two kids, one of whom was born just weeks before its release. He said it’s difficult to even discuss the album’s early days, back before Gibbs’ trouble overseas threw a wrench in their plans, since everything is different now.

“We’re in a society where people need to see other people celebrating something and then everyone can celebrate it, so I'm excited to see that because we've literally put our lives into this,” Lambo explained. “I just feel like it's a culmination of a lot of years of stuff and I want to move onto the next phase, whatever that is. Which, resulting from this album, I think will be something really exciting and fun."

For a while, Gibbs hinted at Bandana being his final project, but he recently told Entertainment Weekly that he and Madlib are already working on a new record called Montana. According to Lambo, all three MadGibbs titles were conceived part-way into recording Piñata. While he’s hesitant to call the new albums sequels, he likens the unfinished trilogy to Quentin Tarantino’s filmography where disconnected movies share key elements in a way that makes audiences feel like they’re returning to a familiar world.

The reveal does come with one drawback though, as Gibbs, who said he was just in the studio working on three or four tracks for the album last week, insists “Montana is gonna be [his] last album.” For him, everything goes back to the strength and value of his catalog and he wants to cap things off with a few more “strong projects.”

“I feel like a lot of these ni**as just put out too much music, man. Every year it's like three mixtapes or a lot of sh*t that don't mean nothing. I want everything I give you to mean something.”

Music isn’t the only thing pushing this renaissance gangster forward. On top of writing rhymes and running ESGN with Lambo, Gibbs wants to break into filmmaking. The former dealer almost scored a role in the FX series Snowfall, a show about crack’s rise in Los Angeles during the ‘80s, but so far he hasn’t had too much luck with auditions.

“I’m not bitter about it,” he says. “I just look at it as God gonna give me the perfect role when I get it, so it is what it is."

Instead of sitting back and waiting for opportunities, Gibbs is hard at work writing his own scripts and tackling filmmaking with the same independent mindset he brought to music. With close associates like Nick Walker, the director on the “Pronto” and “Crime Pays” music videos, Gibbs wants to “develop [his] own kind of films.”

While he’s mum about the details for any future projects, a quick look at his past music videos, especially “Thuggin,’” shows that Gibbs strives for authenticity in the way he presents his stories.

“Everything I was doing in “Thuggin’” I was actually doing at that time. I was selling crack and all I did with that sh*t was take you throughout my day. I was in South Central selling crack and those are my real homies and everything was authentic, so it was like let's just walk everybody through a day in the life of what I'm doing, and I was doing a lot of bullsh*t that day.”

In his own words, the video sums up his life from 2010 until his daughter’s birth in 2015. Straddling the worlds of music and drug dealing, Gibbs made an artistic name for himself but couldn’t live solely on music. Comparing it to purgatory, the artist felt like he was too deep in both professions to give up but he had to deal with people pressuring him to choose between the streets and the booth.


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A post shared by Kane (@freddiegibbs) on Jun 14, 2019 at 8:57am PDT

“You know, I was on the cover of magazines and still selling like crack and heroin,” he says, "so it was kind of a tough thing to juggle, actually being out there for real and kind of being in the spotlight.”

Now comfortably living off his music, Gibbs is gunning for the respect and clout he thinks he deserves. For years he’s called himself the “most versatile rapper” in the game and believes he belongs in the “upper echelon of MCs,” but he’s well aware that a lot of talented people get overlooked in the industry. Now, with Keep Cool behind him, it’s time for Gibbs to find out if the public agrees with his self-evaluation.

“I always ask myself, if there was a rap hall of fame, would I go?” he says. “And yeah, once I finished this album I was like 'yeah, I think I'd be there.'”

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Rapper Flavor Flav, director Spike Lee and Chuck D of the rap group 'Public Enemy' film a video for their song 'Fight The Power' directed by Spike Lee in 1989 in New York, New York.
Michael Ochs

Music Sermon: How 'Fight The Power' Saved Public Enemy

It was “1989, the number, another summer,” and in New York City, the racial tension was thick as the season’s heat. For New York, it wasn’t just “another summer” - 1989 was a defining year for the city, and for its black and brown youth. The swift persecution of five black and brown boys for the Central Park Jogger attack, with little evidence, is in the national conversation today, but divided the city along racial and class lines that spring. The August murder of 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins by a group of teens in Brooklyn’s Italian-American Bensonhurst neighborhood sparked protests across the city. In the middle of these two events, both of which are tightly woven into the fabric of New York, Spike Lee released one of his most provocative films: the prophetic Do the Right Thing.

At the time, Lee intentionally chose Public Enemy, the most radical group in rap, to set the movie’s tone. Their seminal anthem “Fight the Power” was not only one of hip-hop’s most monumental songs, but also Gen X’s first taste of movement music. The group’s 1987 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was unlike anything anyone had ever heard in music, let alone the still very new rap genre. Public Enemy’s sophomore album combined the tight flow of battle rappers, the spirit and energy of the Black Power movement, and the aesthetic presentation of the Black Panthers with their paramilitary backing group, Security of the First World (S1W), all packaged up with a logo featuring a black man in a sniper’s crosshairs (can you imagine all of that today? The “If a white group did that…” comments would be insufferable). PE didn’t just start the conscious rap movement, they sparked the gangsta rap movement – NWA’s Straight Outta Compton was directly influenced by Nation of Millions (Chuck sent an early copy of the album to the group, and you feel the inspiration in “F*ck the Police” especially. Along with the defiant social commentary in the lyrics, Dre channeled The Bomb Squad’s sonic chaos in the track. Cube went on to work with The Bomb Squad for his solo debut).

“When I wrote the script for Do the Right Thing, every time when the Radio Raheem character showed up, he had music blasting,” Lee told Rolling Stone. “I wanted Public Enemy.”

But at the time of the movie’s release, PE had technically broken up; sidelined by controversy impacting their reputation not just domestically, but abroad. On June 29, one day before Do the Right Thing hit theaters, Russell Simmons announced: ''Public Enemy is disbanding for an indefinite period.”


Public Enemy was made up of distinctively different personalities: Chuck D, the leader, the voice, and the “adult” of the group; Flava Flav, the blueprint for hip-hop hype men and comedic levity to Chuck’s booming gravity; and Professor Griff, the “Minister of Information,” a black Muslim who didn’t actually observe any of the tenants of Islam but subscribed to the most incendiary rhetoric The Nation of Islam offered. As the Minister of Information, Griff sometimes spoke publicly on the group’s behalf and had been known to stir up controversy with comments that were just over the line, but not far enough to cause a mainstream firestorm. Then, on May 22, 1989, he sat down with reporter (and later writer for The Wire and Treme) David Mills for an interview with The Washington Times. Because he was talking to another black man, Griff got way into his bag, and sh*t went left, quickly.

“Griff opined that ‘the majority of them [i.e., Jews]’ are responsible for ‘the majority of the wickedness that goes on across the globe,” recounted LA Times rock critic Robert Cristgau in his summation of the controversy, properly titled “The Sh*t Storm.” “He… raved about how ‘the Jews finance these experiments on AIDS with black people in South Africa,’ observed that ‘the Jews have their hands right around Bush's throat,’ and concluded that he must be speaking the truth because if he wasn't the Jew who owned CBS would long since have forced him, Griff, out of the group.” It was a mess, but it still flew largely under the radar until the story was picked up by The Village Voice (pours out liquor). You know how the timeline gets when there’s controversy? Imagine that in real life amongst the music community and media.

Even the most esteemed music critics had praised Nation of Millions, many even included the LP on their 1987 Album of the Year lists. Now they were being called on to defend or condemn the group they’d once praised.

Nelson George was one of the lone hip hop writers at the time aside from Harry Allen (which is why you will always find Nelson George references in my work), and as a black man in a space where we were still fighting for voice and position, he was careful to distinguish Griff’s comments from what the group stood for. "There's no question they say Farrakhan's a prophet," George told the LA Times at the time, "but Chuck D was very specific about what they like about Farrakhan. That Prof. Griff is a (jerk) doesn't invalidate the record. And Public Enemy was signed by Rick Rubin, who is Jewish, and one of their first managers is Jewish, as is the photographer that shot most of their album cover pictures, and (so is) their publicist Bill Adler."

Chuck was torn. He first backed Griff, then seperated the group’s stance from Griff’s personal stance, then banned Griff from speaking on behald of PE, before finally condemning Griff and apologizing for his comments, stating: “We’re not anti-Jewish or anti-anyone at all. We're pro-black. To use the same mechanism that you're fighting against definitely is wrong. We don't stand for hatred. We're not here to make enemies. We're apologizing to anyone who might be offended by Griff's remarks.” Griff was expelled from the group on June 21, 1989.

The continued pressure from the Jewish Defense Organization – including calls to boycott Do the Right Thing, Def Jam and Columbia/CBS, who distributed the group’s albums, and Rick Rubin even though he wasn’t involved with the group anymore – finally wore Chuck out. He told Kurt Loder during an MTV interview that the group was done. ''He (Griff) transferred misinformation, and it was just wrong. You can`t back it,” he explained. “But we got sandbagged, and being as I got sandbagged, the group is over as of today. We`re outta here. We`re stepping out of the music business as a boycott . . . against the music industry, management, record companies (and) the industry retailers.”

In Robert Cristgau’s earlier-referenced article, written shortly after that MTV interview, he opined of PE’s future: “…it's reasonable to hope that three or six or nine months down the road, after Spike Lee returns to the set and Chuck's label flops and Flavor Flav staggers under the weight of his own album, PE will regroup.”

Instead, it only took about a month. “Fight the Power” became a hit; The song and movie combined birthed one of the biggest cultural statements of the decade.


Spike told Hank Shocklee (of The Bomb Squad, Public Enemy’s famed production unit) and Chuck he wanted an anthem, but already had an idea in mind. “Spike originally proposed a rap version of a negro spiritual, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” to be produced by someone else and with just Chuck D rapping,” Shocklee told the Guardian. “I was like: ‘No way.’” Hank found an example right out of Do the Right Thing’s world to make his point. “We were in Spike’s office on DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn, by a busy intersection. I pulled down his window, stuck his head out, and was like: ‘Yo man, you’ve got to think about this record as being something played out of these cars going by.’” Spike knew he wanted the power of Chuck’s voice, but Chuck and Shocklee knew that the moment called for something bigger, sonically. Gen X is now considered a generation without a social movement. Boomers were engaged in the Civil Rights Movement, Millennials led Black Lives Matter, Gen X’ers were chillin’ - except we weren’t. Police brutality, the overcriminalization of black and brown people (hi, stop-and-frisk), the rise of the crack epidemic… these were our issues, and hip-hop was our movement: our way to give voice to the systemic injustices and bleak realities black people faced daily.

With “Fight the Power,” Chuck, Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad captured the energy of black resistance in a rare, perfect way – sonically and lyrically. It sounded aggressive, it sounded urgent, it sounded defiant, it sounded confident. It was the protest music of black Gen X’ers. “The song could have gone a lot softer, a lot neater, a lot tighter – but it would have lost the chaos,” Shocklee went on to explain. “When something is organized and aligned, it represents passivity. But any resistance, any struggle to overcome, is going to be chaotic. So the hardest part was making sure the track wasn’t monotonous. Lots of the samples appear only once, and a lot of stuff isn’t perfectly in time. I didn’t just want white noise and black noise – I wanted pink noise and brown noise!”

The title and thematic direction came from Ron Isley and his brothers’ 1975 song of the same name. The song struck a chord with 15-year-old Chuck D. Last year, Chuck and Ernie Isley (who, by the way, is the most criminally underrated guitar player in music history) compared notes on the two "Fight the Power's" for NPR: “I was 15 years old, so it was ingrained in me, but it was a record that I thought represented us. ‘I tried to play my music, they say my music's too loud’: That spoke loud to me,” Chuck shared with Ernie. “And I didn't even curse at the time, but that was the first time I ever heard a curse on a record.”

I can't play my music They say my music's too loud I kept talkin about it I got the big run around When I rolled with the punches I got knocked on the ground By all this bullsh*t goin’ down

Like the 1989 version, The Isleys’ joint catches you up in the undeniable bop of the track even while delivering power through the lyrics.

PE’s “Fight the Power” was also a big f*ck you to “American” pop culture, disparaging white icons Elvis and John Wayne, who in the late ‘80s were both damn near deified. It was a declaration that we black folks have our own history and culture.

'Cause I'm Black and I'm proud I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps Sample a look back you look and find Nothing but rednecks for four hundred years if you check

A song that feels and sounds like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” will never happen again, because the Bomb Squad’s trademark sampling methods would be a legal headache and financially crippling today thanks to changes in copyright laws spurred by the growing rap industry in 1991. “It was a totally different process from today, when cats listen to a finished track then put rhymes on top – that separates emotion and content,” Shocklee shared when discussing how the song came to be. “All the samples have to work with Chuck’s emotion. We’d have to find something from all our hundreds of records to fill a second, and it all had to be done by ear, without computers or visual aids.”


I don’t think I’ve ever seen a song used as many times as “Fight the Power” is in Do the Right Thing. I can’t even tell you what other song is on the soundtrack without looking it up. Honestly, the entire soundtrack should have just been a “Fight the Power” maxi-single. Also, shout out to one of the most iconic opening title sequences ever. It’s like James Bond level. Better.

The song and the movie are inextricably linked. As mentioned earlier, Spike wanted “Fight the Power” playing whenever we saw Radio Raheem. Since Raheem is the movie’s pivotal character, PE underscored some of the movie’s most powerful moments.

Shocklee explained to Rolling Stone why using Radio Raheem as the vehicle for the song worked so well. “The track intensified the story. When Radio Raheem was with the boombox playing that song, that’s what was happening at that time, exactly. You could have walked out the theater and into a pizza shop, and that would have happened at that moment.”

Even before they retreated into self-imposed career exile, Public Enemy weren’t radio artists. The film was their only real promotional vehicle for the single – but what a vehicle. “When I heard Spike Lee put it 20 times in the movie, I was like, pssh,” he shared with Rolling Stone. “We realized early that film was probably going to be our outlet to deliver sh*t. We couldn’t rely on radio.” While the group laid low, “Fight the Power” shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Rap chart and cracked the Top 20 on the Hip-Hop and R&B chart (Hammer would break down the barrier for rap on the Hot 100 and Pop charts about a year later). In August, PE came out of “retirement” to announce their renowned third album, Fear of a Black Planet.


The music video for “Fight the Power” goes down as one of the most satisfying visuals for a song, ever. In the history of music videos. It is the perfect accompaniment to the track’s energy and power. For the video, Spike created a modern-day version of the March on Washington in Brooklyn, which he called "The Young People's March on Brooklyn to End Racial Violence,” featuring Public Enemy. The march was Chuck’s idea, and Spike did the video as a favor, on the strength of them letting him use “Fight the Power” for free. If Chuck D wasn’t already firmly positioned as hip-hop’s political leader, watching him leading throngs of young people through Bed-Stuy did the trick. “It was like a rose really sprouted in Brooklyn,” he later shared about the day. “It was seriously a black movement of just being able to stand up and demand that the systems and the powers that be don’t roll you over. And this was a threat to America and it was a threat to the record companies at the time. That video was really powerful.”

Flav added, “That was one of the most craziest days of my life. But it was so amazing. It was my first time ever really doing a video shoot… (W)e had Jesse Jackson there, Al Sharpton was there, Tawana Brawley was in the video, too, as well. And the whole of Bedford-Stuyvesant…I would give anything to live that day one more time.”

Like the movie and the song, the video is on multiple “best of all time” lists.

While echoes of the controversy of 1989 followed PE through the early ‘90s, the sheer power of Fear of a Black Planet prevented it from slowing them down in any way. Nation of Millions blew the music community away, but Fear of a Black Planet surpassed it.

This has nothing to do with anything, really, except that I want y’all to peep how completely off the chain Flav is in this interview. Chuck and Fab 5 Freddie just gave up.


The legacy and impact of Do the Right Thing are perhaps immeasurable. The movie garnered two Oscar nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, was deemed one of the most important movies of the year, then later one of the most important of the decade, and is still largely considered to be Spike’s greatest and most complete work. It inspired a new generation of filmmakers, including John Singleton, who went home and wrote Boyz N The Hood after seeing the film. Radio Raheem’s boombox is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). “Fight the Power” is still one of the most important songs in hip-hop, has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and is ranked by multiple lists as one of the greatest songs in music, period. Public Enemy went on to be inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. But as I said before, the power is in the two - movie and song - together. It’s hamburger and bun. Peanut butter and jelly. Milk and cereal. Neither are as strong if they’d been presented to the world without the other.

In any other year, the movie and song just wouldn’t have hit the same. Do the Right Thing was one of the first “day-in-the-life” black movies that showcased the routine and connectivity of community - how we rely on each other, how we interact with each other, and the line between business owners integrating with the community and just making money from the community. “Fight the Power” came just as conscious rap was gaining a commercial foothold. Despite the group’s assumptions, the song did get radio play - lots of it. A year earlier, radio wouldn’t have been ready. A year later, the song wouldn’t have felt as special. Thirty years later, the movie and track aren’t just a snapshot of 1989, but they both still feel incredibly relevant and accurate. But without this partnership, the self-proclaimed Rolling Stones of hip-hop may have had an entirely different musical legacy - one smashed to bits the way Sal smashed Raheem’s boombox. Instead, they proved the galvanizing power hip-hop could have. 1989 was not just another summer; it sparked a hip-hop revolution.


#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.

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Tobe Nwigwe wowed the crowd with a live musical performance at the McDonald’s Black & Positively Golden experience at BETX.
BET Expereience

Tobe Nwigwe's Southern Raps At The BET Experience Are Marinaded With Purpose

Thanks to Tobe Nwigwe, Houston’s presence could not be denied at this year’s batch of BET Experience events in Los Angeles. Sporting his signature sock/slippers combo and a mic in his hand, the Nigerian-American storyteller took the stage Friday (June 21) to perform some of his most revolutionary and captivating tracks.

There’s the lyrical strike that is “Ten Toes” and “Against the Grain” made popular from his #GetTwistedSundays series, a keen exploration of Houston. With a new batch of ears and hearts open to his music, the Nigerian-American rapper is at ease with his new purpose.

“I understand my purpose now. I understand that to do what I’m doing now is all of my life,” Nwigwe tells VIBE before taking the stage for McDonald’s Black & Positively Golden event which showcases music’s ability to continue the cultural narratives of the Black experience in America.

Before he was shining on BET Cyphers, performing at the Roots Picnic or delivering projects like Three Originals, Nwigwe had dreams of entering the NFL. Those plans were redirected after a physical injury during his senior year at the University of North Texas. The incident served as a catalyst for the rapper to transform his energy into purposeful rap for his hometown, Houston.

“That’s why I’m due diligent, persistent, and focused on what I’m doing because I understand the call of my life,” he added while speaking about his partnership with McDonald’s platform. “I just really like what the Black and Positively Golden theme is. Being bold, being brilliant, being resilient. I like the black community, I love it. I feel like black people are the most influential people in the world.”


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A post shared by Tobe Nwigwe (@tobenwigwe) on Jun 2, 2019 at 8:12am PDT

Houston’s re-emergence into mainstream hip hop culture, from a cultural enclave to an emergent regional capital in Southern rap lineage is evident acts like Megan Thee Stallion and Tobe Nwigwe. Draped in diasporic apparel and perched on a horse in the Texas countryside, Nwigwe is representative of the city’s rich ethnic demographic, and fusion of two Black sub-cultures into one told through the oral traditions of hip hop.

Nwigwe is currently dressed in all black, but it wouldn’t be without purpose. In small but noticeable text, his shirt says, “Mental Health is Crucial.” The fit speaks highly of intentions as an advocate for black youth. Nwigwe’s love for his community extends beyond the reaches of rap into the worlds of non-profit advocacy and mentorship. He’s the co-founder of TeamGINI, “Gini Bu Nkpa Gi?,” an Igbo saying meaning, “What’s Your Purpose?”

“I understand what people where I come from need,” he explains. “I feel that. I understand the void, so I do my best to play a role in being a part of the solution.”

His spiritual beliefs were highlighted in The Rap Map: Meet 5 Talented Artists From Houston featured on DJBooth. An ideology rooted in community-based upliftment drew motivational speaker Eric Thomas to sign Nwigwe for ETA Records, and establish a partnership focused on the implementation of solutions-focused rap for youth in neighborhoods across the United States, impacted by the terrors of community disinvestment, and high rates of violence.

Nwigwe recalled the outpouring of love experienced at one of his recent hometown shows. “I had the biggest crowd ever on my court at home," he proudly boasted in a Houston drawl. "I had over 3,000 people at a show with no openers, none of that. The mayor came out and gave me a dap, so it’s just a lot of love at home. There's like nothing better than being received well in your hometown, where you grew up and got all your influence from. It’s, wherever I go I wear Alief, I wear SWAT, I wear Houston on me like a badge of honor.”

His authenticity is felt throughout his setlist, a musical arrangement with a live band, background vocals from Beaumont-raised LHITNEY, and surprise guest performance from NELL, a frequent collaborator and producer on his music projects.

Nwigwe's purpose for the weekend was complete–he brought Houston to Los Angeles. “Make purpose popular,” Nwigwe’s mantra for his musicality sounds like a tagline from your local conscious rapper, but the intention in how the Houston rapper uses music as a space for community messaging is rooted in genuine Houston hospitality.

Stream Nwigwe’s latest release, “Searching” below.

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