Class struggle and hip-hop: interview with Comrade Malone, 2009
Hip-hop has seen artists with social and political awareness. Rarely, however, has there been hip-hop fused with unashamedly class struggle, libertarian politics. 22-year-old Comrade Malone attempts to buck that trend with his album The Spontaneous Revolt LP.
Ed Goddard from libcom.org caught up with him to talk about life and politics in music.
Tell us a bit about your life growing up and how you got into politics.
I grew up on a council estate in north-west London and lived there for the first twenty years of my life. I’m not from a political background and didn’t really pay attention to politics until my late teens. In 2003, when the invasion of Iraq began, there was a massive walkout at my school with students blocking roads and making their way to go and protest outside parliament. At the time, this was just a day off school which let me go and get stoned with mates in the park. But it did have an effect and I started thinking a lot more about how shit things are. I questioned things a lot more after that, to the point where I was questioning the overall nature of capitalism, which I started to see as the root cause of all these problems.
When I was 20, I left home and lived in a homeless people’s hostel for a year. Throughout my time there, I was unemployed, on benefits and getting more pissed off, as were the boys I shared facilities with.
That hostel was a trap. The only way you could leave and get into social housing was by being referred by the staff there, which meant submitting to their rules and keeping up to date with the weekly service charge you'd pay from your benefits. My money would go fast on food and transport I'd use to look for work. When I got into service charge arrears I was threatened with eviction twice. Serious bully business from a housing 'charity'! You could get on the council list, but it’d take a few years to build up enough points for a flat and even then your chances are ultra slim.
Why did you call the album The Spontaneous Revolt LP?
We made the album in about two weeks and I wanted that to be reflected in the name, as well as reflecting it’s political content. Spontaneous Revolt refers both to the nature of the album and the way in which it was made.
Tell us about your experiences so far within the UK hip-hop scene.
I got into the scene by grabbing the mic and turning up for free studio time any time I could. I recorded a cheaply made track at a music college which got passed around on copied CDs and ended up on pirate radio. I got invited to do live shows on air and eventually got a phone call from Kemet Entertainment Records, who I signed a recording contract with in 2006. Whilst on Kemet, I worked with some quality producers such as Baby J, Joe Buddha, and DJ Flip, and was getting a lot of shows.
Sadly, UK hip hop had its own little economic collapse, with nights like Kung Fu in Camden and Speakers Corner in Brixton closing, Itch FM shutting down, Low-Life records closing, and Kemet as well. There's no green shoots here and no one’s bailing us out! We're all redundant rappers now; last year I was in a quality studio off Harley street, and now I'm in DJ Downlow's flat eating fried chicken with ghetto-flavoured mayonnaise.
As a class struggle anarchist, you’re quite different from a lot of other socially conscious rappers. What are your views on the prevalence of nationalist, religious or pro-Obama views in hip-hop?
They’re just a reflection of opinion in America. Politically, some of those opinions might be to the left, but if you want more class struggle in hip-hop, you need more class struggle in society first. Hip-hop reflects what’s already there, whether its street violence, political consciousness, or ‘Vote Obama’ feeling.
What radical traditions/movements do you take inspiration from?
The movements that inspire me most are always working class grassroots ones, and often, but not always, those with libertarian principles. Learning about what the CNT-FAI achieved in the 1930s, contributed to the confidence I have in the possibility of a self-managed society on a large scale. Hungary 1956 is another good example. It's hard to hear conscious American hip-hop without reference to the Black Panthers. What's inspiring about them is that they were a street-level organisation and their survival programs made a big positive difference to the lives of people in the community. These days, there's often focus on organising in the workplace, but not enough on dealing with community issues. Right now, I'm also inspired by all the shit kicking off in Greece.
What do you think of the anarchist movement's ability to engage working class youth such as yourself?
The anarchist movement needs to start holding Skins parties with free booze and drugs, and a strict dress code of hoodies, caps, and trainers only! But on a serious level, it’s about communicating with people in the right way. People in political groups might be experienced and knowledgeable but young working class people often feel they lack that experience and knowledge to be active. Most people don’t know the definition of anarchism. The anarchist movement has got to let people know what it’s all about and show people that there are no intellectual entry requirements.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m gonna be recording and releasing more free material. For most of the time, I’ll be working alongside DJ Downlow, my partner in crime in studio and pub. I’d love to do a tour across Europe and I’m thinking about the possibility of doing that, but it won’t happen this year. As for now, I’m just gonna keep releasing free music.
Spontaneous Revolt Free Download - www.sensei.fm
Comrade Malone official myspace page - www.myspace.com/comrademalone