Tag Archives: hiphop

A Protest Music Interview: Lee Reed

Cover photo by Tony Hoang

“This microphone kills fascists”. That’s how Lee Reed blasts off on his song This Microphone from his 2015 album The Butcher, The Banker, The Bitumen Tanker. It’s been three years since the Hamilton, Ontario native, hip hop veteran released a full length and the resistance has been waiting.

For 23 years Lee Reed has been making militant boom bap radically raising his fist on tape and video and shouting messages of anti-capitalism, anti-police and equality. After touring with Sage Francis of Strange Famous Records he signed with the label for his newest release called Before & Aftermath.

Still militant, still relevant, Lee rips the society apart exploring its faults and looks for ways to puzzle it back together again.

“military grade shit/cops play war with certain populations/state sponsored it, racism faceted/blood and honour and ku klux closeted” Lee raps on ACAB which, unfortunately, is bound to never hit mainstream radio stations.

I contacted Lee via email and asked him about his new album, what set it apart from some of his more independent productions, his activism and organising and his dream roster of politician bandmates for a fiery bus crashing super group.

First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who is Lee Reed?

I’m an MC from Hamilton Ontario Canada, that makes far-left radical HipHop. I’m an outspoken supporter of organizers and organizations fighting for social and environmental justice. And I’m 23 years in the HipHop game in 2019. 

How did you get into making music?

I started messing around with music and song writing in my teens. I played guitar and I did rock and blues type jams with pals.  We would do covers and write some original material.  Nothing serious though really. 

And then, I started writing rhymes and rap in my 20’s. Inspired by other cats around me doing it.  I’d always listened to and loved HipHop but, didn’t really try writing and performing it myself until I was a bit older.  

Has your music always been political?

Yeah. Even when I was I was just getting started, I was always trying to ‘say something’ with music.  I was young and didn’t have the greatest grasp on politics and articulating big ideas but, there was a serious anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist streak in my writing and thinking, right from the jump. Music with an expressly revolutionary message or that celebrated working class struggles and power. had always inspired and drawn me in. Public Enemy, BDP, KRS, later on into Rage Against the Machine, The Coup, Dead Prez. Or punk bands like the Dead Kennedy’s, Minor Threat, And was always was drawn to the underlying politics of HipHop and Punk in that era. Even bands that weren’t expressly radical, had decent politics woven through their songwriting. Or would have some ‘message based’ songs on their records. That really inspired me, and definitely shaped me as a songwriter.

You just released a new album, Before and Aftermath (Strange Famous 2018), but you’ve been making music for quite a while. Did you experience something new during the creative and production process of the new album?

Well, truthfully, this was the first time since my old band Warsawpack (1999-2004, G7 Welcome Committee Records) where I knew, going in, that a label would be carrying the work. I had been talking with Sage Francis about releasing it on Strange Famous Digital (SFDigi), and I knew if I crafted a great record that they would run with it. So, that kinda forced me to take the project a lot more seriously.  To get a lot more perfectionist about it. I spent way more time scrutinizing the process. I cut more songs, changed more songs, and did a lot more fussing about this record than anything I’ve ever worked on. 

Do you consider yourself a musician only or an activist or both? Do you find it hard to draw the line between the two or should there not be any line there in the first place?

Well, there’s a couple of layers to that.  First, if you mean is my music itself, on its own, a form of activism? I would say maybe, but in a very sideways and hard to quantify way. The song itself can act in the way a pamphlet or zine might, spreading radical info and awareness about something. There is that. But, I think, for me, the true crossover of music into real activism/organizing comes when artists give and use their music for the material benefit of a struggle.  Use their performances and recordings to bolster the work of frontline resistance and sites of struggle. Like, running fundraisers for organizations. Selling recordings where the proceeds go to radical organizations and campaigns.  Donating music or songwriting for a campaign site or video.  Using music as a spectacle for blockades and occupations. Using music and concerts to help refuel and invigorate organizers in the trenches. That sort of thing. I think when you can use your music to support struggle, in meaningful and material ways – you are properly using your art AS activism. And I’ve always worked hard to do that. 

Photo by Robbie J. – still from ‘This Microphone’ video

When it comes to your lyrics, do you ever find it hard to balance between the right, smooth flow and the precise political point you want to get across?

Definitely. And that’s something I fuss over continuously. The message is important but, you gotta sound smooth saying it. Or folk aren’t going to listen. 

What is wrong with this world and how can artists be a part of the change?

I think the problem is capitalism, and the way life is organized to put the needs of business over human beings. I think art can definitely help people see through that, and help articulate/envision something better. I think that approach is different for every artist.  And there are an infinite number of ways that art can make meaningful change. I guess I would just say, artists need to think about their relationship to the world and how their art affects and interacts with it. Is their art just a commodity, or is there a deeper significance to it, culturally, politically or socially? What does their art ultimately stand for?  Realize all art has a ‘politics’. Often that politics is ignorance, it’s a celebration of opulence or drugged up abandon or hate or something.  It might not have an overt ‘message’ like we think of with protest music. But it still stands for something. It still has a message.. it’s just getting whispered.  

Do you partake in activism outside the music?

Yes, as much as I can. Most years that’s just playing a supporting role for campaigns, organizers and organizations that I know. Attending rallies and actions. Helping run or promote events. Playing shows or events. Turning up and being present mostly. But some years I get deeper into the organizing work. This past year has been the busiest ever for me, in that regard. I belong to a tenant solidarity organization, here in Hamilton, and we have spent most of this past year working with a tenant committee in the city’s east end, supporting a rent strike. Its been over 8 months of regular meetings, door knocking, hearings, actions, events, fundraising, etc. Was often 4-5 nights of my week spent on it, at its peak. It’s definitely the most involved I’ve ever been in that ‘real work’.  It’s been one of the best experiences of my life. And I’m constantly inspired by my comrades in the struggle.   

How is the protest music scene where you are from? Are people using their voices and talents in protest?

Well, if you look at Canada as a whole.. and across genres.. there is lots of great protest/radical music, or artists that are pushing the political boundaries in a good direction. We have a lot of great rap and punk that talks good politics. My comrades Test Their Logik, Kay the Aquanaut, Mother Tareka, Praxis Life (who are part of a collective I work with called RHYMETHiNK), other talented rap pals I know like Emay, Kimmortal, Cheko Salaam, Micros Armes, garbageface, Jesse Dangerously.. OG electro soul hop pals Lal.. punk acts like Propagandhi, Action Sedition, Union Thugs. 

One big thing of note.. there’s been a surge in great Indigenous artists that have brought a strong voice for Indigenous issues, at a deeply divisive point in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people. Canada’s colonization is ongoing. Genocide is ongoing. The rush to develop and sell tar sand bitumen.. sinking so much of our country’s economy into that venture.. and trying to force tankers and pipelines over Indigenous lands and waterways without proper consent. has brought the colonial legacy to the forefront of a lot of Canadians’ minds.  And I think artists like A Tribe Called Red, Tanya Tagaq, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Mob Bounce, JB The First Lady, Ostwelve, Quantum Tangle (to name a few), are helping to articulate the Indigenous struggle and share its story. It’s inspiring.

How about your own influences, whether they are protest musicians or not? And are you following any socially conscious contemporary artists you want to recommend?  

Well, I’m always looking for good revolutionary music. I follow all the names I’d mentioned above in Canada.  But, outside of that.. some HipHop favourites of recent years would be.. Savage Fam, Ant-Loc, Bambu, Sole, Sima Lee, Mic Crenshaw, Skipp Coon. On the more mainstream side.. I’m into Vince Stapes, Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick, Run the Jewels. There’s some good, inventive HipHop coming out these days.

What advice do you have for young musicians who want to use their voices in protest?

I would tell them to get involved with some real organizing. Find a group that’s doing work on an issue that concerns them or their community, and get involved in the fight back. They’ll be inspired in a way that reading and theorizing just never could.  They’ll understand, and be able to articulate the fight in a way that watching, reading and thinking about it just can’t. Get down.  

If you could invite 4 politicians, living or dead, to form a band with you who would you choose?  Haha. I guess Trump, Justin Trudeau, Doug Ford (our Province’s Premier) and Putin. We could die in a fiery tour bus crash.    

Image automatically generated by the Shouts machine 

What is on the horizon for you?

I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Old timey boom bap hip hop, with a batshit radical leftist lean. I’m going to hit the road again in the spring. In Canada, and then Europe. And I’ve got some new writing on the go. Should be a pretty productive year.  

Thank you for participating and for your music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Naw, I think we covered it! …easiest way to find all my music, videos, shows and new is to hit my website.. www.leereedrevolt.com 

Thank you for the thoughtful questions, and fist up!


Rappers in Russia are being arrested and oppressed, right now.

Cover photo: screenshot from Husky’s video ‘Judas’


Rapper Husky (Хаски) was recently detained by Russian authorities. As CrimeRussia reports “The prosecutor’s office considered the rapper’s work propaganda of drugs, and also found calls for extremism and suicide in his songs.”

Husky is known to rap about corruption and police brutality and his detention is one of many in recent row of arrests and oppression tactics towards outspoken, Russian artists.

The video to his song ‘Judas’ has been blocked on YouTube, which is possibly not surprising given the level of religious fanaticism in the country. Now he is facing troubled times as his concerts are being forcefully canceled and his earnings as a professional musician are in a limbo.

Established rapper Oxxxymiron posted a video on his Instagram page and the same information on his Facebook page about how he, and other rappers, will hold a benefit concert in solidarity with Husky.

Oxxxymiron speaks in the video about how important it is that artists stand together against the oppression that authorities are putting on these days, no matter if they share Husky’s opinions or not. The problem is bigger than individuals and he goes on saying that “Artists are blamed for the problems of society, because it is easier than to address these very problems.”


A Protest Music Interview: WOXOW

A debut album featuring guests such as Ken Boothe, Akil from Jurassic 5, BluRum13 and others is no small feat. But that is exactly what Italian producer Woxow has just done. But Woxow does not only have some cool networking skills because Alcazar is also an absolutely banging album. Not only are the old school beats and smooth melodies super fresh but Woxow also set the production up with socially conscious themes which the guest lyricists followed.

Parallel to dropping his debut album, which includes a beautiful 7 inch of the track Chaos, Woxow has also founded a new record label called Little Beat More and apparently the world can except some more dope stuff coming out of there soon. I talked to Woxow and he explained to me how his ‘concept mini album’ is his input into a mainstream industry that disappoints him and how the music is a tool that can possibly unite people and spread some good messages.

“Yes, I wrote a concept for each song with a sort of a guideline, full of ideas, quotes and videos. I wanted the singers to talk about what you hear on the album. I’m a bit disappointed about the mainstream so I decided to do music for giving a little contribution, to spread good values. I’m actually a bit surprised how most people live this life. In the last years I’m trying to develop a sort of consciousness that makes me being a 99% vegan, stop buying the shit I don’t need, trying to be an ethical consumer, go for public transportation and bike instead of cars, do not waste, try to avoid plastic, recycling, etc…

And I have to be honest, what makes me crazy are not the people that ignore all these issues because they don’t know about it, or they don’t have time to dig it or because they’re trapped into the life of work, work, work. What makes me really crazy are the thousands of people out there who know the story, but then they don’t have enough will to be on this side or they don’t believe their little contribution can make a difference, or they’re just lazy. C’mon people, believe in it, we can do it.”

 

For a debut album, Alcazar boasts an incredible amount of maturity, depth and as previously mentioned guest features. I could only but imagine that perhaps Woxow has been lingering in the music industry for a while.

“Yes, I’ve been working in music for several years as promoter, tour manager, dj, etc. I’ve organised a reggae festival in my home town for 5 years until 2009 with names like Alton Ellis, Derrick Morgan, Mad Professor, David Rodigan, Dub Pistols and more. Then I joined The Sweet Life Society – that experience gave me a lot! I was mostly in charge of booking and tour logistics. We released an album with Warner in Italy and we toured all around Europe and USA. We were so lucky to hit some of the best European festivals including Glastonbury. I suggest you dig their new album Antique Beats, serious stuff. In that period I started putting my hands on Ableton and I’m so happy to have co-produced, with their help, 2 tracks, on that album.”

 

As mentioned above, Woxow got some serious names to drop political rhymes onto his debut production. But how did he get all these brilliant talents to collaborate on his debut album?

“I’ve done some research, mainly to find rappers that could fit with the project and I simply contacted them and proposed the collab. With BluRum 13 we already did something with The Sweet Life Society and Hannah Williams is a long time friend, I organised her very first gig in Italy at Jazz Refound Festival in 2010.

Regarding Ken Boothe, I had the pleasure of organising his gig in Marseille in April. After having spent 2 days we listened to the track, I proposed to him to do the feat and he said yes. To have Ken Boothe on my debut album is a real honor, even more if I think that he usually does not do lots of featuring (he told me it was his very first one on a hip hop beat with another rapper). Furthermore it represents a strong connection between the two music I love the most, hip hop and reggae.”

 

Woxow’s music has always been fuelled by protest. His love for hip hop and reggae has drawn him towards socially conscious music and he specifically gives a shout out to Massive Attack for mostly attributing to him turning to make protest music: “Their concert is not a concert, it’s a life experience full of sociological meaning.”

woxow official photo 2

 

Italy’s often turbulent political landscape has for decades been fuel for fiery protest music but before delving into some recommendations of Italian protest music, old and new, I asked Woxow about the current state of affairs in his home country, seeing how a new government was recently formed.

“It’s not actually that they [citizens] voted for the new government, they voted for 2 political parties (very different from each other) that then decided, against any expectation, to join together to create the new government. So basically all Italians are now completely shocked about it. I’m not really into that kind of politics, I think the power is somewhere else. I follow this kind of mainstream politics as I would follow TV series. And I don’t watch TV series.

There’s an Italian scene related to protest music, but I think it was much more serious a few decades ago, especially in the 70’s. We got lots of songwriters that were really protesting with their music (like for example Fabrizio de André). One I really and suggest you check out is Rino Gaetano. In fact he died at the age of 30, they said it was suicide but lots of voices say that he was killed and I believe so.

Then in the 90’s we had an awesome hip hop act which made the history down here, I’m talking about Sangue Misto (translation: mixed blood). They made just one album but it’s still recognised as the master piece of Italian hip hop. And the lyrics… ooooh, straight to the point: smoking and protesting against society. Other bands I have to mention are Casino Royale and 99 Posse.”

 

Through his newly founded label Woxow will be producing two newcomer artists soon and he informs us to stay tuned about that, which we will certainly do. Woxow states on his webpage that he’s been obsessed with music for quite some time so clearly it was thrilling to get him to name drop some acts he is currently listening to and to no surprise it was a long, tight list.

“I’m really into the new Kiefer out on Stones Throw. Then Mononome really excites me, Moderator, Emapea, the new Deca. These guys are my top beatmakers at the moment, you find some of them on the recent minimix I’ve done for The Find Mag.

I’m also into lots of solo piano by Nils Frahm (Screws is absolutely my fav), Akira Kosemura, chilly Gonzales, Lambert, Bremer/McCoy. Then I respect and follow the new London Jazz scene by all those guys around Moses Boyd, Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Ezra Collective, Yussef and Kamaal… they’re amazing.”

 

Finally, as to everyone we interview here at Shouts, we offer Woxow to shout something of importance from the rooftops:

“Yes, a quote I like: “Changes and progress very rarely are gifts from above. They come out of struggles from below.” Thanks, peace.”