The Power of Hip Hop and the Changing of the Guard in #FergusonOctober

Oct 17, 2014
4:06 PM

Last weekend, thousands of people from all over the country came together in the St. Louis/Ferguson area to participate in a weekend of resistance that organizers called #FergusonOctober. For those that have been living under a rock for the last couple of months, the small town of Ferguson, Missouri, exploded in resistance after the cold-blooded murder of unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown this past August by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Brown was a young black teenager and Wilson a white man, so you get the picture. Brown’s body was left on the floor uncovered for almost five hours, as the police worked on their cover up.

The young people in the community rose up and the rest is history.

The uprising was met with the military occupation of this town populated by 20,000. Armed tanks and trucks with snipers on top pelted the people with rubber bullets, tear gas and smoke bombs. The show of military force and the resilient protestor’s bravery lasted about 14 days, and the usually absent corporate media could no longer avoid covering it. When they did cover it, they worked as the voice of the police by attempting to assassinate Mike Brown’s character and push a misinformation campaign against the protestors.

After the tear gas smoke cleared and the media cameras left, those young people kept resisting and the police stayed on the offensive. It was just no longer the story that required Don Lemon on the ground, as the media was more focused on ISIS and Ebola. However, the resistance in Ferguson isn’t going anywhere and last weekend the world witnessed why. It has been 66 days since Mike Brown was killed, and the killer cop Darren Wilson is still free. And so, the brave young spirits are still out on the streets. Last weekend they made a call for the rest of the country to join them in a number of direct actions, Hip Hop concerts and protests.

My group Rebel Diaz was invited to rock at the “Hip Hop for Justice” show on Sunday, and we decided to take our whole squad —The RDACBX— there for the whole weekend.


We organize and do this type of work and since it was our second time coming down to Ferguson, we wanted to be there for all of it. Our crew included MCs; YC the Cynic and Vithym, DJ Charlie Hustle, and videographers Sense Hernandez and Karla Rodriguez, along with Bushwick organizer Jesus Gonzalez and members of the People Power Movement. After a 17-hour drive from New York to Ferguson, the crew was amped and ready to join the streets. (My schedule only allowed me to fly in, so I joined the crew in Ferguson.)

My brother G1, a producer and MC in our group, is a genius and is always inventing cool sound and technology. In 2011, he showed up at Occupy Wall Street with a Super Sound Backpack he made that consisted of a couple car speakers and a U.S. Postal mailing tube.

This time he upped the ante and mad a complete mobile sound system that he held up on a dolly, a wooden box with a loud speaker for a concert in it, and powered it with a boat motor and some jumper cables. I’m not bragging when I tell y’all that this shit Waaaangs!, as we say in Chicago.

DJ Charlie Hustle had been working on a playlist to rock off the iPhone and we even had a small mixer to have a cordless mic running off of, so we decided to roll up on the protest in front of the Ferguson Police Department. We rolled up playing Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” and the crowd and energy got louder and stronger as the music got closer. We gave St Louis’ MC and local leader, Tef Poe the mic and pretty soon the whole crowd was jumping up and down, as we did chants mixed in with classic Hip Hop songs like NWAs “Fuck the Police,” KRS One “ Sound of The Police,” and a list of songs by Tupac Shakur.

More importantly, we wanted to take the sound to amplify the voice of the young people who had been on those front lines for 64-65 days, and so, they took on the DJ’ing as we marched. It was their time to, as they say, “TURN UP!”

They have their own revolutionary songs, their own #Ferguson anthems, and they’re from artists you wouldn’t think of as being supposedly ‘”conscious,” but it’s music that speaks to them and their struggle. So as the DL switched up the music, the energy reached its peak with songs like Lil Boosie’s “Fuck The Police” and Soulja Slims song “Soulja Life Mentality.” It was amazing. The youth knew all the lyrics and were chanting them at the top of their lungs.

Many out-of-towners who came, (or as we call ‘em- “Movement Tourists”) looked appalled and nervous, and some elders and white people looked downright scared. Perhaps highlighting the class and generational divide amongst the so called movement in America, that would later show its face as the youth took over a mass meeting that featured author and activist Cornell West and various members of the clergy and the NAACP. Ferguson organizer, Torry Russell, explained it best when he said, “This is how we mourn, how we show our pain and rage. Look at our ancestors, in Africa, they mourn with the drum. Look at Venezuela or South Africa they march with the music and chants and they sing. Music has always been part of our struggle. This is how we turn up.”


The chants they had were all new and catchy, very much a representation of the chant and hook heavy songs coming out today on the radio. Chants like, “They Think it’s a game! They think it’s a joke!” would later become nationally trending hashtags. Chants like, “Turn up don’t turn down! We do this for Mike Brown!” would always give the protests an extra boost of power and energy. These were chants that were led mostly by young women, a force that has been in the front lines since day one. Tara, an activist from Ferguson spoke about how women are nurturers and how they were out there to hold down their brothers and sons and neighbors.

For two straight nights, we were out with the RDACBX Mobile Sound Machine and the youth were the DJs as we protested the killer police. The South Bronx flava we brought with the sound system, was the idea of bringing Hip Hop back outside, back to the public space; a public space that has been criminalized here in NYC by Stop and Frisk and the Broken Windows policy; a public space in which street dancers are arrested on the trains. It is no different in St Louis and Ferguson, where the youth can’t get in a car and play their music without the police pulling them over.

Last Saturday night there were folks who said the music made the protest into a party and that they didn’t come to party, as they attempted to impose their morals on the youth. How does that work? These youth have never left those Ferguson streets and these tourists were upset that their romanticized weekend of protesting wasn’t going as planned, because Soulja Slim had misogynistic lyrics? Was this really the time and place to show up with the moral umbrella? There was a moment when the youth put on “Turn Down for What,” the EDM joint with DJ Snake ft. Lil John, and the kids did exactly that as the complaints were heavily ignored. The sound system we had was giving amplification to their voices, to their Lost Voices- as a group of them call themselves. Lost Voices is a group that camped out for a month down the street from where Mike Brown was killed, until the police took out their camp.

After hours of protesting, they would take the march to a nearby neighborhood named Shaw, where days earlier, 18-year-old Vonderrick Myers was shot 17 times and killed by a police officer. And before him Kajiem Powell had been murdered at the hands of a police officer. Two black men killed by the St. Louis police, two months since Mike Brown’s death. Seventeen protestors exercised their right to civil disobedience. They did a sit in and shut down a Quick Trip, the local mini-mart gas stations that are all over the area, and symbolically reppin as the QT in Ferguson was burned down during the initial uprising. These 17 protesters were brutalized and arrested.

The next day was the “Hip Hop for Justice” show, which featured Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, The RDACBX (Rebel Diaz, YC the Cynic), Jasiri X, Tef Poe and Lost Voices who also have MCs in their crew. Everybody killed their sets and the show was super packed, in fact there was a line outside that couldn’t get in. We hit the stage with the whole crew as Rebel Diaz, YC the Cynic and Vithym all rocked with DJ Charlie Hustle on the 1s and 2s.

We brought Lost Voices up onstage with us for the last song, as the crowd cheered when we told them that, “if we can’t dance, we don’t want no part of your revolution.” It was dope to see Dontey, from Lost Voices, be so open off of YC the Cynic, one young black man from Hunts Point, spittin bars that inspired one of the youth leaders from Ferguson. Afterwards Dontey was spittin bars for YC, as they got to build and share experiences. This was the beauty of this event, scenes like this in which youth could build and share ideas and know that they aren’t alone. That YC has Ramarley Graham and Eric Garner to fight for, the same way Dontey fights for Mike Brown. Talib and Dead Prez showing up, brings validation to the youth, in their eyes they’re getting visited by them famous folks. They even said they “love that old school shit too though!!”So while they shared Boosie with us, they also got to hear Talib Kweli and Dead Prez rock out, and show them love. Mumia Abu Jamal called in, Dr. Cornell West showed up and spoke to the crowd.  Their voices once again being given the importance it deserves.

Later that night, Cornell West was set to speak at the St Louis University basketball arena along with Rev Sekou, Tef Poe, Ashley from MAU, and Tory from Hands Up United. The event was mad boring until it took a turn for the better.  There was an NAACP representative talking and said he wanted to take a selfie for social justice and some youth in the crowd shut him down. Activist Rosa Clemente screamed to the crowd of more than 3,000 people: “Let the youth speak!” The crowd agreed and starting chanting “Let them speak! Let them speak!!!” They were allowed to speak as the crowd chanted, “This is what Democracy looks like!”

A ten-year-old girl gave perhaps the best speech of the night. She spoke about the difference in what makes us human and not animals: humans have the power to feel and have emotions. She then said, “The police don’t show emotions.”

She ended her speech with, “Whose streets?”

The crowd responded, “Our streets!”

To which she responded, “And don’t you forget that.”

Tef Poe, a rapper and activist, said: “This ain’t your daddy’s civil rights movement.” And he called out the so called conscious rappers who haven’t set foot in Ferguson.  This night seemed to follow the theme of the weekend in which the baton wasn’t exactly passed, but rather taken by the youth. The same way these youth have taken this moment and given the US movement a crash course in political education on how to protest and organize.

Later that night, we found ourselves in meetings until 3 am, while thousands of others protested in Shaw and eventually occupied St Louis University campus and stayed there. In one of the meetings, Tara, an activist whose been in Ferguson since the start said, “Nothing is normal, we don’t do normal shit anymore. I don’t go shopping at the mall or go to the club. We still get turnt up, but in the streets. This is the type of dedication these people on the frontlines have shown. To them it’s not a game and it isn’t a joke.”

The leaders in Ferguson are these youth an people from the local communities, the ones that America, including the movement, has turned its back on. Some have gold teeth and tattoos and dreads like Chief Keef, they sag their pants and turn up.  Yet now they are turnin up for freedom against a system that has harassed, brutalized, jailed and killed them, and continuously gotten away with it.

These are youth who have no faith in the Jesse Jacksons and the Al Sharptons and the NAACPS. These are teens who were eight and nine years old when Obama became President, and haven’t seen a post racial America.

These are youth that in their short lifetimes have seen Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, Kimani Gray, Shantelle Davis, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and hundreds more get killed, while their killers walk freely still. These youth see themselves in Mike Brown. The police mess with them on the daily. What they have learned through this struggle is that “Black Lives Matter,” that they are important, that they have a voice, and that they have value. They are reclaiming the dignity that the system takes away from us every day.  We can clearly see that this is a historic moment of oppression, to which they have responded with a historic moment of resistance. A resistance that will only continue to grow as the youth themselves do.

@RodrigoStarz at #FergusonOCtober


@RodrigoStarz is part of @RebelDiaz.