The Mommyheads are an indie-prog-pop band who were signed and sacked by a large record label in the late 90’s and who developed a pretty big cult following during that same decade. They split. They got back together. Now they are just about to release a new album, their twelfth effort, and supposedly it is quite the political piece. In any case, it is a stunningly entertaining album. I caught up with Micheal from the band and he said that this political roll they are on started two albums back:
“Our second-to-newest album, Soundtrack to the World’s End, is full of warnings about the profound sickness of industrialized society, and its destruction of the Earth. Our newest album, Future You, expands on those societal and environmental alarms, and adds political ones, by feeling into the fascist, nationalist currents creeping across our world.”
“Our new, political songs aren’t polemics that hit you over the head with one-dimensional messages. They are thoughtful explorations of contradictions in contemporary life that hope to arouse complex questions and emotions, not give easy answers.”
The Mommyheads will be touring Scandinavia and the eastern part of US this autumn so stay tuned through mommyheads.com.
Drowning In Shit by Spichard Rencer
This album has four tracks totaling a length of 2:14 minutes. This is extremely powerful grindcore. More importantly it drips empathy and anger towards the state of the world today. Check this band out if you’re into this sort of thing. If you can’t handle the music, read the lyrics and count your blessings that there are creative people out there standing up for the rest of us.
Avoc – Hassis, Flows and Schlappen by Absoluth
This album is a year old but we just had to include it when we heard the old school style, bangin’ hip hop beats with political German spoken lyrics. This band is pure joy. Blast this for your end of summer fiesta and never look back.
Pull The Plug EP by Jow Goddard (ft. Kool Keith)
“AF Trax’s message is very simple. The far right ultimately wish for the destruction of our way of life and indeed the lives of many of the people we love. The message is love. The message is solidarity. The message is No Pasaran – They shall not pass. It is a call to stand together, it is a call to stand up, it is a call to ACT. Individually we may be powerless, but together we are strong.
If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!
All label profits will be donated to Hope Not Hate (www.hopenothate.org.uk) which campaigns to counter racism and fascism. ” – from the album’s Bandcamp page
Not a lot of people can claim to have created a 100% for-charity global hip hop project. Awkword can. If there is someone else who has made that kind of effort to unify hip hop lovers and activists around the world please tell us in comments. We haven’t found their work yet.
Perhaps because of the size of his last major project it is understandable that Awkword is focusing most of his time on his family at this moment. He got a new single coming out though, so I hit him up with a few questions about the legendary, 2 disc, global collaborative effort that is World View as well as the new single and his extra curricular activism.
First off, for those who are not familiar with your work, who is Awkword?
Well anyone who follows the work you do should know about me by now. I’m the creator of World View, the first-ever 100% for-charity global Hip Hop project. I’m a reformed fuckup; passionate, empathic, lifelong antiracist activist; sociologist focused on homelessness and the politics of public space, mass incarceration, and race in America; Hip Hop Ed speaker; Protest Music songwriter, rapper and executive producer; Buddhist Jew; sober addict; faithful husband, and proud father of two talented adopted daughters; New York City resident turned Upstate New Yorker; underground Hip Hop influencer; journalist; director of marketing and public relations; and still-starving artist.
How and when did you get into writing rhymes and making hiphop music?
As long as I can remember, I had a pad and pen with me wherever I went — for observations, free association, and poetry. As my musical tastes shifted from punk rock to rap in my early teens, my poetry transformed into raps, and over time I learned how to structure the written raps as songs; soon I was freestyling everywhere and recording my songs in friends’ makeshift home studios.
Were your lyrics political since day one?
My very existence is political. The powers that be don’t want me here. I’m a pro-Black, anti-war, working-class Jew who wants to shatter the status quo. So, in that way, whether I’m writing about my own struggles, experiences and emotions, or about something more explicitly political, everything I write — and have always written — in the context of this unequal society is inherently political.
You mention Chuck D as a major influence for you. Do you remember the first Public Enemy track that educated you or made you think that this world was not working so well?
I knew that human beings were fucking up this planet, and each other, well before I heard a single lyric from any Hip Hop, punk rock or ‘60s/‘70s rock song — and I can thank my incredible activist mother (RIP) for that. But what Chuck D taught me was that rap music could be used to educate, inspire and empower the youth. ILL BILL taught me that I could do it myself.
Do you feel there is enough rappers making conscious lyrics? How is the protest music scene in NY in your opinion?
Just like with anything else, there needs to be a balance. No one is one thing, and as such we need different soundtracks for our various moods, experiences and phases. If all rap music were ‘conscious’, listeners would be bored, the genre would not be the most popular and trendsetting in the world, and far fewer artists would’ve made a good living from it.
As would be expected, I’d prefer certain mindsets and habits not be so prevalent in the music — the misogyny, homophobia, and glamorization of drugs, for example. But nowadays I’d say there are more artists overall who are speaking their truths and speaking truth to power — and for that I’m thankful and hopeful.
Do you follow at all protest musicians in other genres?
I love music. In particular, jazz, blues, swing, classical, ‘70s and ‘80s punk, ‘60s and ‘70s rock and folk, indie rock, and some rap you’d never expect. But I’m inundated with politics, conspiracies, rantings and righteousness from all sides every day. So now, for the first time in my life, music is reserved mainly for exercise and relaxation. Other than my homies Outernational, Prophets of Rage and the White Mandingos with the god Darryl Jenifer, I’m not too familiar with what others are doing outside of the few fellow political rappers I know.
Can you tell me about your 2014 album ‘World View‘ and the idea behind it? You got serious names to collaborate with you on the album, among others KRS One. What did that mean for you to get these people to be a part of the project?
On February 3, 2014, I released the first-ever 100% for-charity global Hip Hop project, featuring representatives of 16 countries and every continent (except Antarctica). The purpose was/is to connect us worldwide through Hip Hop culture and rap music, and leverage both to give back to the very neighborhoods that birthed them.
The 38-track double-disc album touched on topics from mass incarceration and police brutality to rape culture and toxic masculinity, and from imperialism, racism and white privilege to drug abuse, depression and suicide; was mixed ‘old school mixtape style’ and mastered by Surf School’s John Sparkz; and was released through DJ Booth to international critical acclaim from the likes of Complex, Hot New Hip Hop, The Source, VIBE, Okay Player, Hip Hop Wired, Hip Hop DX, Genius, Hot 97, Prefix Mag, and many more. It also led to that life-affirming co-sign from Chuck D himself. I executive produced, and rapped on every song.
Features include: Jadakiss, Joell Ortiz, Sean Price, KRS One, Slug of Atmosphere, ILL BILL, Jasiri X, Chino XL, Reks, Daytona, Beretta 9 of Killarmy, Viro the Virus (RIP), Vast Aire of Cannibal Ox, Poison Pen, SHIRT, Awol One, Pacewon of the Outsidaz, Block McCloud, Shabaam Sahdeeq, C-Rayz Walz, and Chaundon.
Producers include: Harry Fraud, Domingo, Fafu, Steel Tipped Dove, numonics, Vice Souletric, Tone Spliff, Tranzformer, Amin Payne of Australia, Dominant 1 of Malawi, and The White Shadow of Norway. It took me five years to put it all together.
And I got two special videos out of it: the now-classic “Bars & Hooks”, shot in and outside a Mercedes Benz tour bus in Brooklyn with my friend Harry Fraud and the late, great Sean Price; and “Throw Away The Key”, sponsored by the New York Civil Liberties Union, some of which was shot in front if a police station in the East Village of Manhattan.
What about your more recent single, ‘I Am’, can you tell us about that? It seems like there is some seriously hard work involved in such a global collaboration?
I realized after World View that the continent of Africa — being the birthplace of all this — needs more and better representation, so I reached out to producer Teck-Zilla, French DJ J Hart, and some of my favorite artists from throughout the African continent to join me. The purpose of the song and video are to show what it’s like to be ourselves, living in each of our countries. Hence the title “I Am”. It’s a beautiful collaboration, and I was honored to have the opportunity, and to see it featured by MTV in Africa.
Shouts! is all about discovering and sharing protest music. Do you have recommendations of protest music or socially conscious artists, something you are listening to these days?
It also seems to me that people sometimes shy away when the talk goes too deep into politics. You mention in your song ‘The World Is Yours’ that the mainstream media won’t play that song. Do you feel people are open minded to your activist hiphop?
Society at large? No, of course not. We in AmeriKKKa elected Donald Trump to be our president. Plus, the 1% wants to keep the 99% poor and ignorant, and sadly most of the 99% is all too comfortable staying that way. Let’s be honest, a lot of my records really knock. The instrumentals and hooks are catchy, the drums hit, my lyrics are smart and witty, and my vocals are strong and flow proper. It’s not the type of music that will overtake the pop charts or compete with the money behind the songs getting corporate radio spins. But my joints are played at protests and do quite well on the college radio charts. That’s my audience.
Many artists throw out there a protest song or two, but while keeping their original image intact – an image that is not that of protest. You on the other hand put the focus on the protest and the activism on your profiles. Can you tell me about that strategy?
It’s not a strategy, it’s being real. I am many things, rapper being one of them. But as a human being I am fiercely invested in the fight for justice, equality and the protection of our earth and animals. While not all of my music is overtly political, I am a Protest Music artist, so that’s what I’m going to put out. People either love me or hate me — but it’s always been that way, for as long as I can remember.
What about extra curricular activity? Do you partake in activism outside the music?
Activism — along with Hip Hop — enabled me to channel my anger, empathy and passion into something positive. As a Jew, who was targeted for my religion and bloodline, whose ancestors were tortured and murdered during the Holocaust (and before and after), I always related on a deep level with people of color, the poor, and all those oppressed in our straight white Christian male-dominated society.
My mom (RIP), a lifelong activist herself, was my role model; and she connected me in my teens with the Anti-Defamation League. That was the beginning.
I went on to co-chair the Student Activist Union at Vassar College, co-founding its Anti-Sweatshop Union and Prison Reform Group. I helped lobby congress, and lead marches and plan/implement direct actions in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, NYC, Albany, NY, Georgia, and elsewhere — to free Mumia, appeal the election of George W. Bush, and fight the US bombings in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and the US training of rightwing Latin American militants at the School of the Americas.
Meanwhile, I volunteered at Green Haven maximum security prison, soup kitchens, alternative to incarceration centres, elementary schools, and teen centres, leveraging the power of Hip Hop Ed to inform, inspire and empower.
Today, though, I focus mostly on raising my daughters to be thoughtful, confident future leaders, and living my life daily like a Buddha.
What is on the horizon for you?
Raising my daughters to be powerful women, and living a drug-free life (now at 106 days). My next song, “SOBER”, is in the works. It’s produced by AJ Munson.
“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.
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.
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!