Note from BW of Brazil: Last week, on February 21st, millions around the world commemorated the 52nd anniversary of the legendary human/civil rights activist Malcolm X. And while the iconic messenger’s physical presence may have ceased to exist more than five decades ago, his memory and importance lives on and continues to inspire scores of his “spiritual children” in many ways. This influence can be noted among many of his disciples in Brazil’s Hip Hop community. In a country such as Brazil in which black identity was severely undermined and discussions of racism pushed under the rug as if it didn’t exist, one could argue that Malcolm X’s words may be even more important to Afro-Brazilians than his immediate audience, African-Americans. And it is quite fitting that Afro-Brazilians know the teachings of Malcolm X as Malcolm clearly knew of the existence of Afro-Brazilians. In his classic 1965 autobiography, Malcolm spoke of:
“probably 100 million people of African descent are divided against each other, taught by the white man to hate and to mistrust each other. In the West Indies, Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela, all of South America, Central America! All of those lands are full of people with African blood!”
And it was the words of Malcolm X that awakened a sense of black consciousness in countless people of African descent in Brazil. Many black Brazilians to this day continue to cite The Autobiography of Malcolm X as one of the essential books to their understanding of what it means to be black and the system of racism/white supremacy. With the translation of the book into Portuguese as well as the availability of the Spike Lee directed 1992 masterpiece film, scores of black Brazilians were able to take Malcolm’s teachings and experiences in the United States and apply them to a Brazilian context. On YouTube today, one can find numerous speeches made by Malcolm with Portuguese subtitles included so that the man’s message continues to reach younger generations.
Malcolm X – Por qualquer meio necessário (By any means necessary) (parte 1 de 2)
Perhaps the best examples of a younger generation are lyricists and performers in Brazil’s Hip Hop world. Below, I present to just a few Brazilians rappers who express their debt to Malcolm X is a variety of ways.
According to Brazil’s most popular rapper of the current generation, Emicida: “…in my era, to get into Hip Hop, you had to know the whole biography of Malcolm X. This is the role of the MC, to pass on information.”
In a 2013 article, Rolling Stone Brasil referred to Brazil’s most important Hip Hop group Racionais MCs as the “Os Quatro Pretos Mais Perigosos do Brasil”, meaning ‘the four most dangerous black men of Brazil’. In the article, Racionais leader Mano Brown reveals how Reggae legend Bob Marley and “and Malcolm X were the guys who taught me the most important things about politics.” Brown, was introduced to African-American leader through the work of seminal American Hip Hop group Public Enemy. Brown continued:
“When I read Malcolm X, I felt I was really black. Despite my lighter skin, from my father being white, this is my life. He even had a life of denial. I understood that we were just a statistic, as much as we wanted to feel special. Things started to make sense. It was a fist in the face.”
In an interview, Eduardo Facção, formerly of the influential group Facção Central was quoted as saying:
“Regarding the book that all people should read, I will undoubtedly point out the biography of Malcolm X. Reading the story of this great activist of the black cause, the reader will be able to see how much access to reading is transformative. You will see that there is no vice or violence that resists words on paper.”
Marcelo dos Santos began his rap career using the moniker Preto Bomba, meaning ‘black bomb’, but he would later change his stage name to Xis, which in Portuguese means ‘X’ in homage to the man formerly known as Malcolm Little.
Rapper GOG compared himself to Malcolm in a song entitled “Malcolm X foi à Meca e GOG ao Nordeste”, meaning ‘Malcolm X went to Mecca and GOG to the Northeast.’
And recently, in honor of Malcolm X, rapper Thiago Elniño released a video for his song “Ubuntu”. The video debuted on February 21st, the day that Malcolm was murdered in 1965. Besides Malcolm X, the video features images of numerous black icons such as the Black Panthers, Muhammad Ali and Fela Kuti. The video also lists a number of important Afro-Brazilians such as activist Abdias do Nascimento, singer Elza Soares and writer Carolina de Jesus.
Thiago Elniño – Ubuntu (Video Clipe)
Needless to say, the words of Malcolm X will continue to be read and influence black people around the world who are concerned about our plight as a people. As such, in the words of Ossie Davis, we will continue to honor “our own black shining Prince! – who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.”
The importance of Malcolm X to national rap
By Camila Soares
Distinguished rappers comment on the importance of the biography and ideology of the black American leader and symbol of the fight against racism for the ethos of Brazilian hip hop.
“Rap is the only music that brings together crowds to talk about consciousness,” said rapper Dexter in the Favela no Ar documentary, released in 2007. And it’s been like that since the early 1980s, when hip hop began to emerge in Brazil, a country that had just left the military regime, with vigilantes acting on the outskirts of São Paulo killing inside the favelas, and, downtown, skinheads chasing and killing blacks. The black living on the periphery walked around with no voice and under subhuman conditions of survival. But upon receiving the good news that somewhere else, a black man like themselves made himself heard and demanded rights for himself and his people, something began to happen.
This past Tuesday (21st) marks the 52nd anniversary of the assassination of the iconic Malcolm X, the revolutionary American leader and symbol of the fight against racism. He was the owner of a spectacular oratory, an inflammatory and liberating discourse, and an immense militant disposition. He had his personality forged during his hard life trajectory, which he recorded in his autobiography, which in a great way contributed to Brazilian blacks identifying themselves later with their experience and being inspired by his ideology.
During his childhood, he witnessed his house being set on fire by members of the Ku Klux Klan and his father brutally murdered by white supremacists. He was a dedicated student, but after being discredited by a teacher who said that a black man couldn’t be a lawyer, he moved to Boston and took to a bohemian life until he became involved in crime and went to jail.
It was in prison, sentenced to 11 years for armed robbery, that the young man began his militant trajectory. He converted to the Nação do Islã (Nation of Islam) and, being a voracious and self-taught reader, began to form ideals. There, arose ideologies and forms of combat in response to all that he suffered as a black man during his life. Malcolm preached the self-esteem of the black man and his right to respond to the violent actions of the system also with violence. He left prison with his forged and compelling character to attain followers to reinforce that blacks should have civil rights. With boldness, he even debated at renowned universities such as Harvard. During his career, Malcolm realized that the social problems faced by blacks were in fact not just a theological matter, but a political, economic and civil issue.
Almost everyone remembers the name of the black leader, and hip hop has an important role in this permanence. Here in Brazil, he has always been very present in the lines of rappers Racionais MCs, 509-E, GOG, Thaíde, Rappin Hood and RZO among others. In times of “reverse racism” and the emergence of MCs who espouse conservative ideas and of discriminatory character – something that goes totally against the root of hip-hop – it is essential that one of the strongest personalities in the history of the struggle for black civil rights and whose ideology strongly influenced the root of protest of national rap, to be remembered. So, we’re featuring prominent hip hop names of today and yesterday such as KL Jay, Dexter, Diomédes and other beasts about the influence of Malcolm X’s life and work to Brazilian rap. Spoiler: it’s hyper important.
We discovered Malcolm when we were already (the group) Racionais MCs. We saw a Public Enemy documentary in which he was quoted, and we went to find out who he was, and this way we had access to the biography. The great influence that Malcolm X left for the blacks of the whole world was: you need to redeem your self-esteem. This for me was the great thing that should be absorbed, because racism is based on destroying your self-esteem as a child. Blacks already grow up thinking they’re less than everyone else. When you deconstruct this plan, you see the world and position yourself in the world, and it comes to respect you. You change your look, your way of walking, your posture, and that’s the great weapon! Malcolm taught us to have self-esteem and when you have it, no one holds you.
Racionais learned to act after Malcolm. We stopped borrowing money from the bank. We set up our own company, Cosa Nostra, because he says this, that blacks need to have their own economy. And to this day – in Boogie Naipe 85% of employees are black, I have my company, (rapper Mano) Brown has his. I did for example the 4P with Xis, the company’s own name already says: “Poder para o Povo Preto” (Power for the Black People).
Black people have a lot of money problems, in knowing how to deal with it. Most never had it, and when they do, they spend everything and return to misery. After reading the book, we as a group and as a company evolved a lot, sustained ourselves and survived and tried to pass a lot of it on in the lyrics as well. Racionais is there, right? It has its own company, its own producer, its own economy and it generates jobs.
Finally, he also taught us how to defend ourselves. Much of the said aggressiveness in the lyrics of Racionais comes from this. Of black people understanding that they can react, yes! That we are in enemy territory. Brazil for me is an enemy territory. And you must react to the violence that the state offers you, that society offers you, that racism has always offered you. You have to be a malandro (hustler/trickster), you have to beat fear, you can’t be a fool. People need to look at us and think “these guys are a problem, I won’t mess with them, no!” This was all a chain. We learned from Malcolm and many learned from the Racionais.
I discovered Malcolm first through the Racionais MCs, when I heard them sing in “Voz Ativa” (Active Voice): “We need a popular credited leader like Malcolm X once was in America, to be black to the bone, one of ours and rebuild our pride that was wrecked. ” I was intrigued to know who he was. Soon after the film arrived in Brazil and I went to see it, and it was very clear why the Racionais were talking about Malcolm X. It was a guy who, like us, was black, came from the ghetto and was harassed because of his color. He was a cafetão (pimp), he went through crime, and he went through jail. There he discovered Islam and became a splendid and educated figure. He became a master!
All of Malcolm’s strength and intelligence was destined to cross the borders of North America. Identification on the part of blacks of the whole world was inevitable. He went so far that today, 52 years after his death, we are here talking about him. This has all arrived for us here in a charming way, because in the Brazilian school they didn’t even talk about Zumbi we don’t talk about the way it should be. We are not taught to have strong references of black men and women to inspire us, the heroes we have learned to admire are always white. We don’t know our true history.
Malcolm needs to be remembered because racism never ceases to be aggressive, it only shapes situations. They change the times, change the way racism acts, but it is never less aggressive and recurrent.
In the video of “Oitavo Anjo” (Eighth Angel”)I appear reading Malcolm’s autobiography, because in fact I read it in jail 7 times. It was important to me, it strengthened my spirit and my mind, structured me as a winner because he was a winner. I understood there that I should be an intelligent black man, because the system doesn’t want us to be intelligent and informed.
And that’s what rap, when quoting Malcolm, has always wanted to pass on to blacks and the periphery: you have to be intelligent, that you have to act with intelligence and as a winner. (Note from BW of Brazil: Dexter was instrumental in arranging to bring Malcolm X’s daughter Malaak Shabazz to Brazil for the Month of Black Consciousness in November of 2015)
Malcolm is special for a number of reasons, but making a profile of what most marked me about Malcolm, it’s how reading can transform people, and therefore the world. He went from pimp to martyr and thinker, and positively influenced a whole generation. I hope this reading will save my life as well, and that I may, like him, be more than a rapper for my generation.
Jairo Pereira, of the band Aláfia
I discovered Malcolm X’s story in 1991, through literature, and in ’94 through Spike Lee’s biopic. That’s when I became politicamente preto (politically black). Understanding his trajectory places us as winners in front of racism. It teaches us that we are strong, restores our self-esteem, and prepares us for combat consciously. It reinstated us with a pride muffled by racist violence and places us as protagonists in our history.
The importance of Malcolm X in the social struggle is so immense that it has reflected in various places in the world, including here in Brazil. We see his legacy in movements like Black Lives Matter and so many others. In hip hop culture he was like one of the teachers, just like Martin Luther King, Angela Davis and Rosa Parks, who educated a generation of young blacks of that era, making them feel the need to educate future generations, conveying what they have learned from all the struggle led by these people. Through music, through hip hop culture. If there was no hip hop, maybe I wouldn’t even know who Malcolm X was, and if there was not a Malcolm X, maybe hip hop would not have that transforming power that saved a lot of blacks around the world, including me.
I discovered Malcolm when I went to know more about my culture in other countries, the icons of our culture, and I identify with him because of the aggressiveness he had in exposing his opinions and defending our rights. A guy who was the malandrão of the streets and became a speaker and an icon. Through the information he was shaped, realized that he was important, that the struggle happened and began to influence people. He was strong in the word, and we deal with words, rap also works with words, so identification is inevitable.
For me Malcolm X was one of the greatest advocates of black rights. He fought in a very tense time, when this issue of nationalism, black rights, racism was the shit, caught on in the world, with more force in the United States. And he came here in a more forceful way. I think he inspired a lot of other movements. I particularly like him for his dealings with the issue, taking them head on. Because Martin Luther King was also a very important guy, only that there was that difference: Malcolm X was blunt. If he had to go armed to the streets, he would. The way blacks were dying and being treated at the time, it was necessary to an attitude of emergency, abrupt. And Malcolm was willing to do all of this, taking the police on, everyone. I think he was one of the baddest guys in history, and he still has influence. The legacy he left us is this: suddenly a kid dies in our ravine, and we can’t keep our hats on, because we are living an undeclared civil war in Brazil, in São Paulo.
The statistics are there in the face for those who want to see, just search a little bit. So many people dying, not only here, but all over the world. His legacy is that we have to fight, to act in some way against that apartheid that still exists veiled. Fight, face to face, you can’t remain silent. That’s his message. The reality of blacks is tough, but we have to fight and mirror ourselves in guys like Malcolm X. He will live forever. As long as blacks are being oppressed in some spot, at work, on the street, in the simpler situations of life, he will be remembered. I think that’s the shit, really, that’s why I admire him. His biography was one of the most important bestsellers of the 21st century, his ideas will last a long time. I believe that it’s changing a lot, but we still have to move forward a lot on this issue of veiled prejudice, racism and apartheid in our society.
To summarize the story of Malcolm X, as if he were only in favor of violence as self-defense, is a very simplistic thing, beyond a shallow idea. When considering the fact that a black man had to deal with the consequences of a family whose father had been murdered, the mother having several difficulties because she had been raped, being forced to take care of eight children herself to her limit, besides going through the denial of the right to “be someone” or by the judgment of representing a problem to the standard society, violence is only a minimal reflection on Malcolm X. His ideas make us question, ask why in 2017, 52 Years after his death, anyone who seeks me to do a story about him is a white journalist. They make it understood that being an activist goes beyond well-crafted phrases in social networks or a fired shot.
We love Malcolm X, he’s someone who represents a lot in our lives. Malcom had and still has a lot of importance for the hip hop movement, as he was a leader in the fight against racism, and to this day we are looking for victory, strengthening ourselves through his discourse.
All his teachings are the basis for rap, because it is also a movement of struggle and resistance, of breaking down barriers, of knowing your history and never bowing your head to racism. He is undoubtedly one of our great influences.
Malcolm X has a very big importance within hip hop culture, within manifestations in favor of black people. The one who did a parallel performance with Malcolm X was Martin Luther King, and he was an articulate guy, could actually make his demands happen and was a peaceful guy, but Malcolm X brought the counterpoint something that is necessary when it comes to protesting, of demanding rights, which is the acidity, the attack itself, that business of being “pocas”, of speaking without biting your tongue and having an acidity in speech. So when rap acts this way in the pro-black protest messages of the black people and the less favored, all this “aggressive” content I think is part of the Malcolm X style of acting. His oratory was very good. Anyway, I think he just didn’t rhyme in a song like that, but he had all the style of a rap master himself, someone with high self-esteem, in a good way. I think this whole school of protest rap comes from the style of being of Malcolm X.
Eduardo Roberto, Eduardo Ribeiro and Paulo Marcondes collaborated.