Where are the girls?" an onlooker asks as the hip-hop group Black Panther F.U.G.I.T.I.V.E.S. shoot a video inside Marcus Books in North Oakland.
"We don't do the booty shake," says David Hilliard, former Black Panthers chief of staff. He explains the absence of hootchie mamas in the video by pointing to some of the titles on the shelves surrounding the three MCs. "We've got Toni Morrison and Terry McMillan and Zora Neale Hurston and Elaine Brown," he responds. "It's not the ass struggle; it's the class struggle."
Hilliard may be new to the hip-hop game, but he's tackling it with the same single-minded zeal he's shown over the past few years in promoting the memory of the defunct Oakland-based revolutionary organization. In addition to running bus tours to old Panther haunts, he hawks books, T-shirts, and other merchandise on his Web site. These days the sixty-year-old activist and his son Dorian have added a CD, All of Us, to the inventory. The group goes by the name of the Black Panther F.U.G.I.T.I.V.E.S., and the eighteen-track disc is the debut release on Black Panther Records, bringing the Panther legacy full circle to the hip-hop generation.
Hilliard may have been taken to task for making money off the Panther heritage, but perhaps he's earned the right, having been with the party from its inception and having served four years in California state prisons for his part in the 1968 shootout between party members and the Oakland PD.
"We're here to promote our legacy, to educate, and to bring awareness through our music and every other merchandise that we can put out that's reflective of our history," says the younger Hilliard. As a child he studied trumpet at the Black Panther Youth Institute on E. 14th Street, and now he serves as CEO of the record company. One of Dorian's primary plans is to have a college tour in which the group will perform prior to speeches by his father, Elaine Brown, Bobby Seale, and other former Panthers.
"It ain't the gangsta party," the F.U.G.I.T.I.V.E.S. proclaim at the outset of "Partyline," the CD's lead track. "It's not the after-party. It's the Black Panther Party." "Power to the people" and other old-school phrases mix with contemporary street rhetoric as the trio extols the organization's free-breakfast programs and recounts its run-ins with the government. "We put the guns away 'cause we bust with microphones," they chant in defiant tones over low-rumbling keyboard riffs and a slammin' midtempo drum program, reflecting the P-Funk-inspired sound associated with Oakland hip-hop godfather Too Short. Voices from the past cut into the mix, including those of Hilliard, Fred Hampton, party founder Huey Newton, and even Geraldo Rivera from a 1977 ABC-TV report on Newton's return home on a murder rap after three years as a fugitive in Cuba.
Snippets of Malcolm X and George Jackson turn up on other tracks, as does Elaine Brown, who flew in from Atlanta to make fresh spoken contributions. Thirty-three years earlier, she had been the first Panther to put the party's uncompromising messages on disc, as a singer, pianist, and songwriter on the Motown album Seize the Power. Brown, who headed the party from 1973 until its demise seven years later, also wrote the booklet notes for All of Us.
Hilliard might be the driving force, but the primary creative mind behind the hip-hop group is thirty-year-old James Calhoun. His father Bill had been a member of the Lumpen, a singing quartet that opened Panther rallies during the party's heyday in the late '60s and early '70s. James was born in Oakland but raised in New York City, where he lived for a time with party member Afeni Shakur and her son Tupac. Calhoun honed his skills with Tupac, and even programmed drum parts for two tracks on Tupac's Strictly 4 My NIGGAZ. Calhoun had broken into the music business in the mid-'80s, as cowriter of the hit "(Nothing Serious) Just Buggin'" by Whistle, then moved back to Oakland and opened a studio where he recorded the Luniz, Dru Down, and other Bay Area artists.
Calhoun says he became disenchanted with the commercial end of the business, and recently found himself producing a ten-CD set of Malcolm X speeches. It was this collection that got Hilliard's attention, and the former Panther was doubly pleased to learn that it had been produced by the son of a fellow revolutionary. When he found out that James was working with the MCs Terrance Trotter and Geoffrey McMullen on what would become All of Us, he contacted him about forming a label. Black Panther Records and the F.U.G.I.T.I.V.E.S. were born.
According to Hilliard, the goal of Black Panther Records is not to relaunch the party, but to help raise the consciousness of black youth. "This is an attempt to get African-American youth back into the political movement," he says. "To counter the excesses of capitalism, like bigger medallions, diamonds, Fubu, and all the materialism."
"If any group of people who listens to this CD decides to form something, power to them," adds Calhoun. "If you don't join us or see the cause that we're fighting, find your own niche in your community. Stop talking about it and make something happen."
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