by Bill Forman
Perhaps not surprisingly, the artists had the most to say — particularly Peruvian-born Harlem rapper Immortal Technique, who's every bit as politically, intellectually and viscerally incisive in conversation as he is on record. For instance:
"Even the core post-civil rights generation has turned its back on us and said, 'Oh, you just used the word "nigger" and "bitch" and you ain't shit.' And at the same time, you're supposed to be so educated and mature that you could educate and teach, but all you had for us was condescension and chastisement. And that's not the way a child learns. And if you take a real look back at the origins of hip-hop in the '80s and '90s, irrepective of where those artists are now, they were kids back then. They were 17, 18, 19-year-old kids. N.W.A., 20-year-old!
"A child comes out of the ghetto with fury and anger at what he sees," added Technique, "and instead of taking the brother or sister under the wing and saying, "Let me teach you something. Let me talk to you about a struggle in Africa that's similar to yours. But let me make you feel special about having hot water in your ghetto, instead of your man over there that has nothing. All they had for us was, 'We're gonna steamroll your CDs." You know what I mean?. So I presented a way of saying, no, we can be hadrcore, we can be strong about it, but the message has to be on point."
SXSW clearly missed an opportunity here: Immortal Technique would have been a much more inspiring keynote speaker than Bob Geldof.
Another artist-oriented solution was presented by Gidon, an Austin rapper whose stage name is the Mighty Warrior. In addition to performing with his group the Defenders, Gidon has an organization called Decipher, which brings cultural opportunities to Austin youth. He offered up a simple solution for getting kids involved.
"We bribe them," said Gidon. "We say, 'You're gonna record a full album" — you know what I'm sayin'?— and you won't have to pay nothing, you just have to show up.' That's how we do it."