Rhyming in the Freedom Groove:
Mumia 911 -- the CD

By Michael Slate

Revolutionary Worker #1005, May 9, 1999

A cool spring night in Los Angeles and I'm waiting for the redlight to change at the corner of Echo Park Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Neon-framed city skyline at my back. People hanging out, waiting for the bus, watching cars, chillin' with friends. Never lose sight of cruising black and whites. Radio thumping, car bumping. Windows down, music in the air. Head and hands moving to a slow but urgent beat that could hammer nails. And when the lyrics drop, they're bullets punching holes in the night.

Seventeen rappers, one after another, rhyming about Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Aceyalone from Freestyle Fellowship--"I call em like I see em/ the Devil does a devil dance/ Now they want to murder Mumia/ take action is the only chance."

Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine--"You see the Capitol thugs got nervous cuz he refused to be their servant/ Cuz he spit truths that shook heads that burned like Black churches."

Dead Prez--"Yo! If Mumia dies/ Fires in the skies/ Rebel cries re-politicize/ Brothers with their lives uncovered/ Look for me in the whirlwind / There to struggle there to win.

Black Thought--"We on the front lines prepared/ I want Mumia out the cage / the time for action is here."

And it keeps on going with rhymes fired out by Afu Ra, Goldii Loks (Mumia's daughter), Pharoahe Monch from Organized Konfusion, Wise Intelligent from Poor Righteous Teachers, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Slimkid Tre from Pharcyde, Gene Gray (aka What? What?), Channel Live, Divine Styler, Sayeed, Tragedy, The Last Emperor, and p.e.a.c.e. from Freestyle Fellowship.

This is Mumia 911, the first single off of the Unbound benefit CD, a compilation album featuring a roster of amazing hip-hop rhymers and spoken word artists doing pieces inspired by the word freedom. Named after the upcoming National Day of Art to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, September 11, 1999, Mumia 911 is a posse cut, a musical bonfire lit in response to the system's rush to execute Mumia Abu-Jamal. When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected Mumia's appeal last November an urgent call was put out to the hip-hop nation. Bring your words, bring your beats, bring your skills, bring your heart to New York City on December 22. Raise your voices, aim your words--stop the execution of Mumia.

Frank Sosa, the producer of Mumia 911 and the Unbound album, tells what happened next. "We recorded the Mumia 911 single the month after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Mumia's appeal. So it seemed like the time to put this emergency call out to the community and this would be a great way to do it. It is also connected to Mumia 911, The National Day of Art to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, on September 11. I'm involved with the Artists Network of Refuse & Resist! and I felt it would be great to help promote the National Day of Art. This is like a musical PSA for Mumia.

"So two weeks before the session I just started calling everyone I knew who had shown some interest in doing conscious hip-hop. We started calling artists and telling them what it was for and sending them 1-sheets on Mumia. We got confirmation from about 25 artists and we really only expected about half of them to show up. At that session that day there were actually more artists than we could accommodate. People wanted to speak about the issue, they were adamant about it. When everybody got in a room with each other and saw who was going to be on the track, everybody started rewriting because there were lyrical kings in that room, legends. Chuck D was there. Channel Live was there. Poor Righteous Teachers was there. A lot of these people had never been in the same room together. But they came up on each other's music. The pressure was really on. And also when they heard Diamond D's beat too--he put together a beat that was kind of unorthodox. He wanted to come up with something that had a really urgent feel to it at a time when people aren't really making beats like that. He wanted it to be like a revolution song. When people heard the beat they were like `oh my god' and they just started rewriting and they were writing all the way up to when we told them to go in the vocal booth."

No one was posing in the studio that day. Sosa had talked with them about why they were doing Mumia 911 and everyone was down. The lyrics leapt out of hearts and lives. "It wasn't really necessary to do a hard pitch when I talked with the artists about doing this Mumia 911 piece. The way I look at it, Mumia's case represents a larger picture. He has come to be a champion spokesperson around the problems that we're having with the criminal justice system and the discriminatory application of the death penalty. Jerry Quickley puts it well in the liner notes--he was at the recording session for Mumia 911 and got to talk with people. He looked around the room and realized that there probably wasn't a single person in that room who hadn't been involved in the criminal justice system, who hadn't had the handcuffs on, who hadn't been to Rikers Island or any of those places. At some point everyone in the room was a victim some way and when you give them a platform like this it's something they can relate to."

Mumia 911 is due to be released by mid-May, but it has already electrified artists and others across the country who have heard about it or heard a preview of it. When well-known graffiti artist Mear heard about the single he offered up a beautiful piece he had created for the Mumia 911 National Day of Art as the cover art for the single. Mumia 911 has already made hip-hop history with the largest number of artists ever recorded on a posse cut. But history is more than facts and figures. And Mumia 911 is making that kind of history too. As Sosa puts it, "When everybody was in that room I really, for the first time ever in my life, felt the spirit of history. People knew that what they were putting down was going to have a mass social impact and the reason that they were there was much greater than themselves. It was a very emotionally intense day for everybody. When you have so many people with so many different audiences coming together in that room and doing something that is really going to draw attention to what is going on in their community--that's when you really have the spirit of history in effect.

"I hope this cut contributes to the success of the National Day of Art and I hope it helps to change the climate around Mumia in this country."


Shortly before his death the jazz pianist and composer Horace Tapscott told an interviewer, "Musicians, all through the ages, when laws and times have changed, have been a part of it somehow or another and in some way or form. You've got to have a song. Got to have something to dance to. You've got to have something to build up your courage or your belief in yourself. Music is just as important--it's been said by a lot of men around the world that music in a war is more important than guns--and more dangerous." Mumia 911 is some of that music. It's one of the most militant hip-hop pieces produced in recent times. It's hip-hop rooted in the oppression of Black people and the fight against it. It's hip-hop that speaks from the revolutionary edge of things. And it is definitely music to inspire a generation in one of the key battles of the times.

p.e.a.c.e. from Freestyle Fellowship-- "This is a PSA to the PSC and the PPD/ Mumia Abu-Jamal must be set free/ How would you like it if we took it to the streets in a discreet fashion/ still smashin Underground arsenal of lyricists/ Live From Death Row/ We want the Voice of the Voiceless fully clothed and ready to go."

For more information on Mumia 911, National Day of Art to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu Jamal, contact:

NYC Office: 212-766-1356 -- FAX 212-766-1867

L.A. Office: 323-469-9227 -- FAX 323-469-9103

Website: http://www.mumia911.org/

E-mail: MUMIA911@hotmail.com

Mumia 911 hotline: 1-888-456-5056

For more information on Mumia 911 and the Unbound CD see www.realized.net

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