When it comes to Hip Hop today, it not only has to have flavor, but it needs to pack a punch! Hip Hop needs to be lyrically impactful. But today, too many artists are producing material that is simply not thought-provoking enough, if at all.
This brings us to the question: Is it okay for music artists to merely produce “art for art’s sake?”
While this may be a debatable question, I truly believe that, when it comes down to it, Hip Hop can greatly influence people through its content. Therefore, this music ought to be about something, conveying a message that can reach to the masses, a message that drives people to self-reflect and think about what’s happening in the world.
When artists leave out relevant social issues that promote the development of inquiring minds, they produce yet another piece of the immensely commercialized music many fall into the trap of thoughtlessly listening to on the radio and elsewhere.
Music artists have the duty to be activists. They are, in fact, our greatest influencers today, especially among youth. There ought to be a certain responsibility taken by artists if we want to educate people, especially youth, through music.
Despite the failure of many artists to create music that mobilizes people around social justice, there are indeed artists out there striving to make it their mission to revolutionize the music industry and create socially consciousness minds with their music.
La Respuesta had the opportunity to interview one of the last “Rican-Structed NuYoRicans” straight out of El Barrio who goes by the name Not4Prophet (aka Zero Prophet). We discussed his new album, Ghettoblaster, and what it means to be an artist in today’s society.
GJM: Where did you grow up? Were you born in Puerto Rico or in the United States?
ZRO: I was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico but raised in the U.S. Pretty much lived in every ghetto in New York City and since then it’s been me against the world.
GJM: Why do you write under the pseudonym Not4Prophet/Zero Prophet? What purpose do these names serve for you and your audience?
ZRO: Well, I started out as a graffiti writer before becoming a musician, and Not4Prophet or Zero (ZRO) were once upon a time my graffiti tags. It’s a long short story how I got the names, but basically my older brother, who was an amazing artist and graffiti writer, christened me when I was a little kid. The legendary graffiti writer and artist MARE 139 says that assuming a nom de plum, a b-boy name, an MC alias, or a DJ title, was a by-product of the emerging sub-culture collectively called Hip Hop. But also, many indigenous cultures believe that names should change as individuals change. Children are given names that are descriptive, but they can be given new names as adolescents and again and again, as they continue going thru their life experiences and accomplishments.
GJM: What are your political aspirations? Do you consider yourself a revolutionist?
ZRO: It would be somewhat pretentious to call myself a “revolutionist”, so I won’t and I don’t. And also, revolutions are like records, they keep on revolving, so being a revolutionary would be a never ending struggle that would be in a constant state of happening, and that I doubt whether I have the strength and fortitude to take on and on until the break of dawn. Lastly, the founder of the Black Panther Party said that “the first lesson the revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man,” so no, my political aspirations are not that of a “revolutionist.” Maybe more of an autonomist agitator against everybody or an anarcho-independentista instigator or just a rebel without a pause…
GJM: How would you describe yourself artistically?
ZRO: I try to shatter the expected and commit what I call “genrecide”, or the killing of all genres. I try to smash all borders and shatter every barricade! I don’t consider art or culture to be a product to be consumed, so I don’t try to make music or art or poetry that can be ignored or played in a dentist office or nailed to a wall…. or a cross. I also DON’T believe in “art for art’s sake,” so I try to have my art mean something; leave you with fast food for thought and I make metaphoric militant messages for the masses who wanna do more than just shake they asses.
GJM: Who are the X-Vandals? What was your inspiration behind the group?
ZRO: X-Vandals is mostly me, the MC, and DJ Johnny Juice who is the turntable terrorist. We also have other compas, comrades and conspirators who pass thru to make beautiful noise with us. Before X-Vandals, Juice was in the legendary Public Enemy, who were a huge inspiration for me, and I was in an underground political punk rock meets hardcore Hip Hop vs seditious salsa group called Ricanstruction. With X-Vandals, I wanted to combine both the PE and Rican aesthetics, angst and angers to come up with something authentically Hip Hop and street, but also pretty punk in some ways and very NeoRican!!!!
GJM: Can you describe the thought process behind choosing to incorporate sampling in your album?
ZRO: “Sampling,” scavenging, recycling, re-appropriating, repurposing, are a tradition in Hip Hop. Much of the greatest Hip Hop music, greatest records of all time, true cultural classics, were created with sampling. Because there is and has been an attempt to legally shut down sampling by the major corporate record labels who OWN most or many of the recordings that rap has traditionally sampled, we felt compelled to keep on sampling with a purpose and a mission as both an artistic statement and a political one.
GJM: What is a ghettoblaster? What were your motivations behind the title of your album?
ZRO: Ghetto Blaster was originally a derogatory term or name to describe the huge radios or “Boom Boxes” that the original b-boys used to walk around the streets of New York city carrying. We decided to use the name GhettoBlaster to mean either the ‘hood avenger who comes out the ghetto to fight the power, or Hip Hop itself, the persecuted culture from the streets, the barrios, the ghetto, that has had to fight its way all the way. Just like Nuyorican or Dread, which were once both derogatory terms used to describe a people or a culture, we are flipping the word ghetto into a positive instead of a niggative!!!!
GJM: What is the overall message you want to convey to your listeners in your new album?
ZRO: Well, it’s a concept record. We be tryna bring back the idea of the “album” instead of just “seeing” music as individual digitals up in a cloud somewhere. So with this album a little story is being told that must be listened to from beginning to end. I don’t really like to tell folks what to think or what to feel though, but I will just make it plain and clear that every word holds its own weight. So I would just quote Jean Michel Basquiat and say that “every line means something,” or like Chuck D said “I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddling.”
You can purchase your own copy of his album at the East Harlem Café, located at 1651 Lexington Ave (corner of 104th street), New York, NY or purchase it now online, here.
Check out the music video for “El Barrio BC”, a single off his album: