Hip Hop Smithsonian recently caught up with Maco Faniel, author of Hip-Hop in Houston: The origin & The Legacy. Enjoy our interview below!
HHS: How did you balance writing for different audiences?
MF: This book was originally my Master’s thesis, so it was highly academic with regards to language. I changed some of the language for the book to make it more accessible. I strongly believe that God has positioned me to merge the street and academia. While I consider all of my work to be scholarly, I want my momma to be able to read it (laughs); and people from various walks of life.
HHS: How did you stay motivated & inspired?
MF: I feel as though I already know what death looks like, having experienced depression for a number of years, so I made a decision to pursue life at all costs. I really believe in taking opportunities, and I understand that it takes discipline and commitment to achieve success. So far, I have been able to sell 1,100 copies of my book in just 4 months!
HHS: How have folks back in Houston received your work?
MF: The local hip-hop community has given positive feedback. They’re excited about it, and for finally being recognized for their contributions. My whole music collection while growing up was inundated with Houston hip-hop and other regional styles. This book is important for many reasons - While recently viewing the AMA's we all basically witnessed cultural appropriation - Black style was used as a backdrop. Future generations could grow up thinking that Macklemore or Justin Bieber were the originators.
HHS: Excerpt from the book: His most poignant claim was that hip-hop
must be understood in the appropriate context, else it falls victim to
misunderstandings and lies. (summary of Jay-Z’s argument from Decoded: Jay-Z in Conversation with Cornel West). Can you expound upon this?
MF: Let’s take N.W.A.'s 'F**k the Police' for example. It's easy to dismiss it as simply hateful rhetoric against the police. However, the appropriate context is police brutality; driving while black; taking a kid out of a Crips set and dropping him off in a known Blood set. Some people dismiss hip-hop as having no culture, or as material put out by degenerates. People tend to think this can't be real life that they're rapping about. It's all about culture. In Houston, for example, we have a car culture. When you turn 16, you get a car. Instead of a radio Raheem, we draw attention to ourselves by our cars. Ultimately, anything out of context is a lie.
HHS: Which current hip-hop artists have your ear?
MF: It’s funny…I don’t actually listen to hip-hop on the radio when I’m in the car driving. I listen to the R&B station. But when at home, I listen to J. Cole - I think he had best album out this year. I also listen to Kanye West, Jay Z, Scarface, Drake and A$AP Rocky. I grew up in a different time, so I can’t identify with a lot of the new stuff (Trinidad James for example). Sometimes while listening, I’m thinking, “Do I have to be on molly to get this?”
HHS: Excerpt from book: We came back in an hour, and I had like eight bars. He said
his rap, and everybody started laughing, but when I said my rap, they started
raising their eyebrows. They seemed impressed. So when I saw that…I
started [thinking], “Maybe I got something right here!” That’s how it all
started—turning that lil’ eight bars into a verse and eventually into a song (Willie D)Does everyone think they can rap nowadays?
MF: Everyone thinks they can rap. However, they (eventually) come to realize that they can’t. Hip-hop never started as a career move for most successful artists. Today, for the most part, as in the past people do it for FUN. A lot of people believe in the possibility of overnight success because of things like YouTube, and other online vehicles. They lack hustle - you have to build your craft. Kendrick (Lamar) is a “new” artist, but he put in years of work behind that. To quote Slim Thug’s ‘Already Platinum' referred to the fact that he was already (financially) successful from selling music out of the trunk of his car. Malcolm Gladwell got it right when he cautions that you have to put in at least 10,000 hours to reach some modicum of success.
HHS: As I read the book, I noticed what seemed an almost unspoken alliance between the South & the West Coast. Is this accurate?
MF: Yes, to an extent there was, and still is. There’s definitely a shared experience of being marginalized within the music industry by radio stations and record companies for decades. And there are similar spatial realities for both Houston and L.A. and Comptom. Everything is spread out, we have to have cars, many Texas people migrated to Cali.
HHS: You’re currently working towards a PhD at Rutgers. Talk a bit about your previous experience as a teacher, and how you infused hip-hop.
MF: As a professor, I use music all the time to teach. Take history, for example. I will break down the lesson the the neighborhood level (e.g., Sunnyside vs. 3rd ward). I use the music to help students understand context - how we define ourselves; how we define ‘other’. As a class, we break down how a song discusses this. I’m known to play music in the classroom while students are reading. I freestyle a lot during lectures to make it a comfortable environment. We look at popular imagery. I have even used some of the more popular Kevin Hart memes. I especially enjoyed the Ike Turner one (laughs). It’s all about taking something familiar to make them pay attention to the content.
HHS: How will obtaining a doctorate ultimately help you, and what are your plans for the near future?
MF: Working towards my PhD allows me to obtain additional skills and knowledge. It enhances my ability to critique, to be an analytical thinker and provides me with both credentials and legitimacy. I spent 8 years working in the corporate and non-profit sectors, while there I was always distracted by big ideas and the troubles of the world. I not only wanted to help eliminate these troubles, but I also wanted to undertand them more. So, graduate school was the next step for me. Then I read a lot of self-help and business books; I was studying success. So, beyond a career, and a stream of income. I want my work to be about social justice. I want my work to help liberate people. I want to help people lead more fulfilling lives.
HHS: What do you think of Kanye West, and his current platform?
MF: I defend him in his critique of our capitalistic economic and political system. He, like many socially conscious persons, grapples with the need to eat, success, and speaking truth to power. His latest “rants” puts a lens on who controls the means of production, and how they go about doing it. Unfortunately, we live in a society that socializes us in regards to what vocations we should pursue, and often suggests that we should only do one thing in this life. When one tries to step outside of that socialization, we often find that we are questioned by the gatekeepers of industry and also questioned by society at large. Although I don’t agree with everything Kanye says or his method of delivery for that matter, the media discourse about him depicts him as a crazy and angry black man. When some one is labeled crazy, it is easy for us to dismiss the truth of what that person says—to filter through the distractions and hear the point that Kanye is trying to make.
HHS: Thank you so much again for agreeing to do this interview. We really appreciate it! I can’t wait to put this book in the mail to Houston and send my Dad his copy :)
To order your copy of the book, please visit: http://www.macofaniel.com/hip-hop-in-houston/
Check out Maco Faniel’s playlists!