We had the chance to talk with Humble Beast hip-hop/rap artist, Propaganda, about his new album, Crimson Cord (4/29).
I really enjoyed your last album, Excellent (2012). Crimson Cord reminds us of the “scarlet thread” in Joshua, but it seems you are saying something more. What’s the idea behind your album title?
Crimson Cord relates to scarlet thread but in it’s literary meaning, in that it’s a theme that runs through a narrative. I’m using it as a play on our timelines, or “cords.” When I look back on my life, I have no big Book of Joshua moments. More like the Book of Ruth, where God’s fingerprints show up in the normal everyday working of life. So when I look back at my cord I can see it’s stained crimson with the Fathers’ fingerprints.
Excellent made quite a splash, specifically because of your song “Precious Puritans.” Did you expect such a response and should we expect any songs on this album to stir things up?
Absolutely. However, I think it will strike a slightly different cord. (see what I did there?) The tracks that will probably stir the most discussion is “Three Cord Bond” and “Dear Bored of Education”.
I didn’t expect some of your fiercest lyrics to come on the issue of education. What led to your song “Bored of Education”?
I was a high school teacher for five years. I helped start two charter high schools. My wife is getting her P.H.D. in educational policy. The subject is very close to our heart. I feel as though it’s the elephant in the room when we talk about inner city ministry and Social justice.
You mentioned education as the “elephant in the room when we talk about inner city ministry and social justice.” In your song “Bored of Education” you question the education system in light of what’s good in a family system and learning-by-doing, among other things. In the inner city the family is broken and education is broken. How would you as a trained educator work toward something better when the problems are so pervasive?
Well, first let me say that I don’t have the silver bullet. In actuality I don’t think there is one. I do think an overall philosophical change needs to happen. My wife is doing her doctoral studies on the role of the family and community in the success and failure of a school and student. Her findings are lining up with most of my experiences as a classroom teacher. Students respond to teachers that they love and respect, and a classroom environment that they feel safe in. When their emotional needs are met, i.e. validated as a valuable member of the community and their performance won’t change that, then when the bar is set high for them they can respond positively.
The comparison to home life is in the sense that, my daughter’s performance, her obedience will never change her position as my daughter. She is unconditionally a member of our family. Because she is loved and valued I can expect the best out of her.
Since inner city families are often broken, they don’t get this type of validation. When this unconditional membership is offered to students, it meets that need, and now as an instructor I can come along side of them and say, “Look, you are mine! Now execute!”
Learning by doing has to do with our evaluation system. Say two people were taking a parachute packing class, and their were 12 exams in the class where the students had to successfully pack a parachute. And the grade scale was 1-10, 10 being an A+. Let’s say John scored a 7/10 on most tests, maybe one 6/10 and and one 8/10. John passed this class with a B- or C+.
Now Jon’s friend Sally failed the fist eight tests, got like a 4/10 eight times in a row. But the last four she got perfect scores. Sally packed a perfect parachute four times in a row. In our current system, Sally failed the class!
When you go sky diving, who do you want packing your parachute?
At last check Crimson Cord is #3 on iTunes and #5 on Amazon in the Hip-Hop/Rap category, and #13 on iTunes overall. That’s interesting not only because the album is selling so well (congratulations!), but also because you offer it for free through NoiseTrade at the same time. Why do you still offer it for free when you have an audience who is willing to pay?
We are committed as an issue of principle to freely give, and to model radical generosity. I think we will always offer music for free, but I think the bigger story is that folks believe in our genuine motives so they want to support it. But, hey, at the end of the day, if it ain’t broke?!
On “I Ain’t Gave Up On You Yet” you bemoan the state of many things, one of them being hip-hop. What’s your hope for the future of hip-hop?
That it will continue to evolve and a more diverse group of voices and world views will have greater platforms. Hip hop is so huge! It’s just unfortunate that a very small group of voices dominate the airways.
Other than trying to make great music, how are artists like you working toward building a larger platform? How do you do that without “selling out”?
Well you have decide what “larger platform” means. I think of people like De La Soul or The Roots, who never won a Grammy but have 20+ years worth of music and still tour successfully to this day.
Another example would be someone like Radiohead or Sufian Stevens. You’re not gonna see them on TV but they still fill arenas. It’s a big world out there. The “A list” isn’t the only list.