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Hip Hop Journalist Davey D on Police Surveillance of Rappers, the National Hip Hop Convention and the 2004 Election

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Recent reports in Miami and New York have revealed how the police in these cities have been closely monitoring the hip hop community in ways critics say are a throwback to COINTELPRO. We talk acclaimed hip hop journalist Davey D who hosts a daily show on Pacifica station KPFA. [includes rush transcript]

Since the Bush administration took office three years ago, the number of secret surveillance warrants sought by the FBI has increased some 85 percent. This is one of the findings of the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks.

Recently, there have been a number of stories in the press about surveillance against Hip Hop artists. Recently, the New York Police Department hosted a hip-hop training seminar, attended by several law enforcement agencies. At the meeting, a six-inch thick black binder was handed out. It included the arrest records and photos of dozens of rap artists and their companions. Also, the Village Voice newspaper recently revealed the existence of a Hip-Hop Intelligence Unit within the New York Police Department.

  • Davey D, a hip hop historian, journalist, deejay and community activist. He is the webmaster for what is considered one of the oldest and largest Hip Hop sites on the web: Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: With us right now to talk about these issues as well as hip-hop culture and the elections we’re joined by Davey D. He is a hip-hop journalist, DJ, community activist. He is the web master of what’s considered one of the oldest and largest hip-hop sites on the web Davey D’s hip-hop corner, which can be found a He also is a community broadcaster here in the Bay area. He does Hard Knock Radio every afternoon at 4:00, Monday through Friday when he can. It’s on KPFA. Davey D is our community broadcaster today. Welcome.

DAVEY D: Thank you for having me. You also forget, I’m a vicious opponent to George Bush. Add that to my resume.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, maybe this first subject has something to do with it. Can you talk about surveillance?

DAVEY D: Well, I think right now, there’s a lot of interest because you are hearing in the headlines as you mentioned that hip-hop artists are being put under surveillance and I think when we look at that if we take it out of the historical and political context, we’re left with the impression that this surveillance just happened and the reason that it’s being triggered is because something is wrong with hip hop culture and the people involved with it, so therefore, we need to keep close tabs on everybody from P. Diddy Combs to Jay Z and whoever and make sure that their entourage — cause the police is always saying it’s not artists, it’s the entourages on causing any crime, you know, in the areas that they happen to be at. The thing is, the truth of the matter is that the surveillance of black men in particular has been taking place for generations, and the surveillance of hip hop artists is just a new name for the war on drugs; it is a new name for COINTELPRO. Meaning there’s always these excuses to somehow have law enforcement come into the community and keep tabs. So that’s one thing. Now, if we are surveilling hip hop artists the question comes, you have to ask is, how much crime — because the reason why you’re surveilling these artists is there must be some sort of crime laws that they’re breaking —- so how much crime is taking place in hip hop in relationship to crime in general. You know, is P Diddy or Jay Z, are they running drug cartels if you surveil them and you somehow are able to take them off the scene, will drugs in the community stop? If you are able to surveil them, will shootings and gun trafficking stop? That’s not really the case. Even if you are able to point and say, well over the past couple of years, 30 or 40 rap artists have been arrested, how does that stack up in comparison with just crime in general? And I would think that you would find, well, that’s a very small blip on the radar. So, what’s really going on? I think that what is happening is that the artists are being used as pretext of surveilling artists is being used to set up a situation where you can really start coming into communities where there’s a lot of activism going on. Why do we talk about in these headlines that rap artists who have troubled pasts are being surveilled, and what they’re not telling you is that Van Jones who was right here on the show earlier was surveilled. Do you see what I am saying? What they’re not telling you is that Michael Franti, who is going around the country doing anti-war songs and peace work and every album that he has put out is centered around a theme for peace and justice issues has been surveilled, meaning that law enforcement has showed up and had pictures and dossiers and the whole thing. I think right here on Democracy Now!, you broke that story. So, that’s one of the things that we really have to look at. The other thing is that if you are surveilling these rap artists and the rap artists are connected to the music industry, and we know that the music industry had the long and seedy past and shady past, and that there’s always been a lot of flirtation at the very least between legitimate business and an underworld business, has that stopped? Payola still exists in the music business. In fact in the last year -—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by payola?

DAVEY D: Payola meaning that a lot of the records that you hear on commercial radio are bought and paid for. Now there’s ways in which it’s masks. You might see a radio station van, you might see an artist doing free concerts. You might see a convention taking place in a tropical place like Jamaica or Hawaii where every everybody was flown to it, you might have a listening party, but payola takes place. And in fact, last year, there was an incident involving I think the Hot 97 DJ in New York, Funkmaster Flex and this whole thing of payola came up and there was talk they were going to do this big investigation at the Senate and Congress and all of these people that are now allowing the police to surveil rap artists were going to do this investigation of payola, which means if you really start to dig deep, there’s going to be much more than the P. Diddie’s and Jay Z’s. There is going to be some suit and tie cats who are pulling a lot of weight in the music industry who are going to be going down. Suddenly that was of the radar, disappeared. I know that there were going to be magazines and newspapers doing big stories on it. Those stories got killed. Yet we still have the police surveilling rap artists. The other thing we have to look at that with all that surveillance going on, they still have not been able to find the killers for the Notorious B.I.G., they haven’t been able to find the killers for Tupac, and they haven’t been able to find the killers for Jam Master Jay. and the list goes on. So with all this surveillance going on, how is it that you can have law enforcement show up at the homes and places of work of activists like Van Jones or Michael Franti and say, look, we have been following their travels. We know everything they did, we listened to their lyrics, yada yada yada, but you can’t find the killers of some of the most prominent artists who have been slain dead. Yet and still we are able to find here in San Francisco for example, a police officer was killed the other day. Suddenly, they were able to somebody that they want to hold accountable for that within a day. You have a woman that was in Concord, a suburb out of San Francisco who was murdered maybe about a year ago. No witnesses. Six months later, they find the killer, because DNA testing. They did all of this technological, they brought all of this technology into play and were able to solve the crime. Yet, you can have hundreds of people on the strip in Las Vegas when Tupac was shot and we still can’t find the killer?

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think they haven’t found the killers of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac?

DAVEY D: Well, I think there’s a few things that come into play. I think one, that they’re not really serious about it, and I think the other thing is that a lot of times with law enforcement, there’s funding that’s goes on, if you are undertaking certain types of activities. So, meaning that you might have divisions in the police department that will apply for a grant and get a certain amount of money under the auspices of enforcing, like, in San Francisco maybe smoking regulations, so that’s what they get paid to do. Maybe, I’m not law enforcement person, but maybe that is one of the guises in which people are able to justify their jobs. We have to surveil these rap artists. They’re the ones that are causing the problems. Maybe it’s a public relations spin that if we keep tabs on these guye who have the controversial and pro-violent type lyrics, if we surveil them, then the public is feeling, okay the police are doing a good job versus really looking at the entire picture and saying, for example, why aren’t we surveilling the executives that give safe haven and actually promote and market some of these songs that people are concerned about.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the theory that it’s an east-west clash between rivals Biggie and Tupac and each side killed the other?

DAVEY D: Right, the east-west clash that they had when the panthers were around, right? The east-west clash that they had from any generation meaning that people from different geographical areas are going to have the potential for clash. There’s a clash between the Celtix and Lakers. There’s always going to be that. With the situation when the rap scenario, first of all, I think that was overblown. But if you really want to get deep into it, let’s get deep into it. It wasn’t just Biggie versus Tupac. One of the things that triggered any sort of tension between the coasts, meaning New York and L.A. was the fact that New York was a major marketplace where radio stations would not play music from those outside forces. That was the seed that really spawned that. So, we really want to investigate that, maybe we neat to get a Tracy Cloridy who is the P.D. of Hot 97. Maybe we need to talk to whoever was running MTV and some of these other places and go, well, if this is a problem, why aren’t you giving — you know, this access to people, because after all, if you are not, it’s causing some sort of a tension. If the name of the game is to prevent a scenario that could lead to violence, but that was not really the case.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to hip-hop journalist Davey D. We’re going to be back with him here an Democracy Now!, broadcasting from San Francisco in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, and We are broadcasting out of San Francisco in our 70-city “Exception to the Rulers” highlighting community radio and television stations around the country. Independent media in a time of war. I’m Amy Goodman and we’re joined by a community broadcaster, a hip hop journalist, Davey D, who does Hard Knock Radio on KPFA, the first Pacifica Station. It is based in the Bay area, based in Berkeley, California. We’re talking about a number of issues, including surveillance of the hip hop community. Davey D is also one of the co-authors of “How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office.” We’re going to talk about that in a minute, but Davey D, can you talk more about the issue of surveillance.

DAVEY D: Well, there’s couple of things, as I said, that if you are surveilling rap artists and rap artists are connected to the music industry, then where’s the surveillance going on in other aspects of the music industry where you know drugs are rampant and where you know extortion paid a play is rampant. And in fact some people tell you that the reason why they had these large entourages is for protection against some of these things. So, it’s not just a rap thing, it’s a whole industry thing, if you really want to get down to it, and again, I’m saying that the surveillance is taking place under the pretext of other activities that have always allowed law enforcement to come into our communities and surveil black men in particular. You know, the war on drugs, COINTELPRO. The other thing — let’s go back when the surveillance really started to happen in hip hop was when you started to have a politicizing of the rap artists, when public enemies did a video and had a senator car blown up after they did it by the time they get to Arizona. Meaning they were making a political statement because Arizona wouldn’t allow the passage of the Martin Luther King holiday. When NWA did the song, ask the police and also they got a letter from the F.B.I. that put the group under surveillance. When you had rap artists in the Bay area, like Mac Drea, who was one of the first artists that was surveilled and then brought into court and convicted based upon rap lyrics and what have you. Here is a guy who in Vallejo, which is north of San Francisco, was responding to a rash of bank robberies that were taking place in which the police started to target people in the Crestside neighborhood that he lived in. He wrote a song called “Punk Police” and actually called out one of the sergeants of the police force. That triggered him to be surveilled. And so, as he was making a trip down to Fresno, he was followed by the local law enforcement as well as the F.B.I — this was about 10-12 years ago — and eventually convicted under the conspiracy to rob a bank because the partner that he was with said he was planning to rob a bank. He didn’t, he wasn’t caught with no weapons. He didn’t rob a bank, but this conspiracy law came into play. There was a group out of Redwood City, which is south of San Francisco that came under fire when they started to talk about the police. So, one of the results is that in Oakland, for example, they have a book just like they do in New York, on rap artists. This book has been out and it’s on the third printing. It’s been out for seven years that I know of and was written by a sergeant in Utah — a detailed book. The summer jam concerts that take place right here in the Bay area. You have to go through the Redwood City police in order for them to approve who gets to go on the stage or not go on the stage if they are rap artists, not rock 'n' roll artists, if they’re rap artists right here in Mountain View. So the point that I’m getting at is these activities have been going on a long time and it’s something that is — that has to be looked at from a historical, political and social context. Lastly, just for the rap artists from talking with people in law enforcement when I was trying to get a hold of this book, which I still can’t get a hold, but did see. One of the things that I was told is that a lot of times the officers — you know, in the course of just doing their surveillance, they listen very intently to the lyrics. They study the albums of these people. This is what is putting Little Kim under the crosshairs now because in one statement she says, I don’t know the people that were involved with this shooting that took place two years ago, and then they’re looking at her album cover and seeing that she thanked one of the people that she said she didn’t know. So, law enforcement has been doing that, combing some of the rap lyrics and saying, hey, two years ago, somebody in your entourage said that they don’t know you, but you mentioned them in a song. So, these are the things that are going on, but it’s not happening in a vacuum.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Davey D. What about the recent arrest of the New York based hip hop group Dead Prez. That song, “Know your Enemy,” one of the lyrics says George Bush is way worse than Bin Laden is.

DAVEY D: Well, I mean, Dead Prez, are obviously a politicized group, probably under surveillance for a long time. And I’m sure that law enforcement would always be trying to find an excuse to go after them. I agree with M1. M1 I think said recently in an interview if this is happen, the community needs to find a way to counteract that and needs to find a way to protect themselves. Because obviously, all the surveillance is not protecting all of folks who they say they need to be protected, you know. Crimes are not solved. Crime is — there’s all of the stuff that’s still going on in the music industry, and more importantly, as I said at the beginning of the show, if you got rid of all of these artists, if they disappeared tomorrow and you locked them up behind bars. Gun trafficking and drug trafficking, prostitution, all of these ills that we say that are the justification for surveilling rap artists would still be in existence, except it would be done by the John Giotti of the world who are part of the music industry, but from what I can tell, are not under surveillance.

AMY GOODMAN: And there is Boots Riley from the Coup.

DAVEY D: Boots Riley, yeah. But also going back as Michael Franti would point out, Bob Marley was being surveilled, once upon a time as well as a lot of artists in his generation in the 1970’s. That was under the guise of COINTELPRO where there was this concern that subversive activity was taking place in the cultural arts community. You know when people are doing the spoken word the poems and they were talking about opposing war and these other things that maybe they were somehow connected at that time to communists and outside entities that would lead to the destruction of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Davey D, you are one of the co-authors of the book, “How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office.” You have got some advice for the Democratic party.

DAVEY D: The main thing that I wrote about in there was the fact that that they have not taken very seriously large segments of the population. They take for granted people of color, young people, and as a result, they do not do their homework. In other words, if the Democratic candidate is running, and they want to get to the elderly, they have somebody find out the issues. They become aware of the hangouts, the places, the things of interest, their key trigger issues. But if you ask the same staff person and that same candidate, well, tell me about the folks in east Oakland or Harlem or Bed-Sty, Brooklyn, they couldn’t tell that you what radio station they listen to, what magazines they read and where they go. The result is that you don’t have any sort of serious commitment to establish a meaningful dialogue and relationship with these segments of the population, which at the end results in issues not being addressed, and a lot of assumptions being made when they give speeches. And my advice was really to take very seriously the lifestyle of the people that they’re trying to reach, learn about it, and start to establish dialogue. I gave a number of examples.

AMY GOODMAN: Give them.

DAVEY D: For one, if I was running for any sort of office, I would be ought a Raider game, 60,000 people at a football game. I would be walking around buying everybody beers. People may say, well, why that? Because people will talk about it. Wow, you are running for governor and you came to my football game wearing my jersey and shook hands and kiss babies and did the networking that was necessary and also gave people a reason to talk about you. If there are nightclubs where most people go, how many candidates go to a nightclub and really try to build with the people there. Most of the people who go there are 21 and older, they’re voting age. Do you know the programs that they listen to. Do you know the radio stations that they most likely are going to engage in. Do you have a relationship with the producers of those radio shows, so that if you even want to talk to them, then you can have access. Are you fighting behind the scenes to make sure that on a popular station that they don’t have their public affairs showing at 6:00 in the morning, but maybe at 9:00 or 10:00 when most people are listening where you may have a platform to reach the folks that you want to talk to. So, the point being is that seems like, because there’s this lack of attention and lack of activity to really try to engage folks in these communities that it comes down to me believing that it’s in the vested interest of a lot of people, including these Democrats to not really bring as many people under the fold as possible. Maybe it’s because they feel that they don’t want to be accountable to a large number of people, so it’s easier to meet — to keep people disinterested, and bored and not involved, so that they can just focus on a small group.

AMY GOODMAN: Davey D, would you consider running for public office?

DAVEY D: I never run for public office?


DAVEY D: It’s not my thing. I think it’s a certain type of individual that needs to do it. I wouldn’t run to that, because I’m not willing to engage myself in that. That’s just me personally, but I certainly would support people.

AMY GOODMAN: Are people voting in the whole hip hop community, is it a thing to do this year?

DAVEY D: That’s the big debate going on. On one end, you have people saying it’s not going to make a difference and why feed into a system that — that systematically is destroying you and everything that you believe in, and then the other side is that you know, we participate in the system in some way, shape or form. We all pay taxes. We pull over when the police flash their sirens. So, we are dealing with some of the realities of the system, so at least at the very least, let’s look at voting as a weapon and use it to our advantage as Tupac was saying before he died. He said maybe a couple of months before he died, he said, I’m going to take my 6 million fans and make them become a force that holds some elected officials accountable. They’re going to upset the situation and upset the apple cart. So, to me, voting is one of many weapons that you can choose. You can pick up a rifle. You can do civil disobedience and at the same time you can do voting, especially since it’s not costing me any money and it will at the very least force somebody who is trying to get into these seats of power to have to run a few extra yards, expend a few extra resources and maybe even address some of my issues. And at the same time, we should be grooming people who really do want to run for office and get behind them as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there an anti-Bush sentiment in the hip-hop community?

DAVEY D: Definitely, to the point there have been four anti-war compilation albums that have been cut out by hip-hoppers, which you don’t hear being on the radio.


DAVEY D: Gosh. There’s one that came out of the Bay area, out of the Ella Baker Center and Freedom Fighter records. There’s Hard Knock Records put out. There’s one that came from overseas and then there is another one from the Bay area called “War” that was put out by Mamam Billie Jam and these are compilation albums, there are four albums. You also had a compilation song that came without with a lot of L.A. so called gangster rappers, Superfly, RBX, Defara, Dove C, who is with the West Side Connection. They did an anti-war song at the start of the war. But radio stations, commercial stations in Los Angeles refused to play the record, but as Dove C pointed out, you can turn on the radio right now and hear his song, “Gangster Nation” being played. You can turn on the radio station in L.A. and hear any of those artists that were featured on that song down with us being played, when they’re talking about partying, when they’re talking about street life and all of these other things, but when they made a political statement and it all came together, Radio One, Ennis Broadcasting, Clear Channel refused to play the record. And let me just add that those guys are back in the studio getting ready to do a part two against Bush. I think it’s called “Bye bye bye.” They’re bringing a posse of west coast rappers to really put out a message. So there’s definitely an anti-Bush type sentiment in hip hop right now.

AMY GOODMAN: The national hip hop convention that’s going to take place in New Jersey this summer, when is it and is that timed for the conventions and election.

DAVEY D: That is going to be June 16 to the 19th. That’s in Newark, New Jersey. That’s the very often underreported — behind the scenes effort that is really been galvanizing a lot of people. There’s an organizing local organizing committees in more than 30 cities in the United States, very proficient organizers that are at the helms of many of these local organizing committees who are gaining a lot of ground. It’s being patterned after the 1972 Gary convention where black folks came together and really set an agenda. And that is trying to be replicated on the hip hop front. I think one of the highlights of this convention will be a passing of the torch, because there’s going to be an entire day spent with dealing with the generation gap. Meaning a lot of the folks who came out of the black power and black struggle movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s will be on hand to really deal with some of the issues that we’re faced with today, many of which are the same thing, including surveillance of popular figures.

AMY GOODMAN: How you are going to deal with the fact that there will be agents there?

DAVEY D: I think, you know, to quote Dave Fillu, who is the former chief of staff of the Black Panther party. You have to keep doing what you are doing. You know that that’s happening. And I think that it has to be underscored by your commitment to really communicate and get the issues before the folks that are in front of. For me, for example, I just don’t send an email out. I will call people or make sure they got the email. One on one communication. Constant communication with folks so that if we focus everybody up on particular issues in principles for us to rally around, which I think is the main goal of the conveners of the convention, Russ Baraka, Rose Clementi, and those folks, what will happen is that when people start to go astray, we’ll be able to look at something and say, well, wait a second, Amy, we talked about being against police surveillance. You seem to be supporting that. Let’s maybe examine this a little bit more as opposed to just sitting back and being blindsided. There’s not much you can do, you know, initially, about the police surveillance it’s going to be up to us to make sure that people who are in these positions of power and influence are held accountable, meaning like, we need to make sure that the mayor of Oakland doesn’t have police surveillance going on in the police department of rap artists. We need to do that on a national level as well. Make that become a front and center issue that will either get you unelected or elected depending on the position that you take.

AMY GOODMAN: Davey D., I want to thank you very much for being with us and for doing the work that you do.

DAVEY D: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Thanks for your book. “How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office.” If people want to hit your website or email.

DAVEY D: My website is and my email is


DAVEY D: Thanks.

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