NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND

Industry rule number four thousand and eighty…. 

“People involved in a revolution don’t become part of the system; they destroy the system " - Malcolm X  

“The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe! You must make it fall” - Che Guevara  

The 1970’s Rock music legend, Neil Young recently posted an open letter online calling for the removal of all his music from Spotify as a protest against that streaming companies most popular podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” which has been called out for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines. The man who gave us Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World wrote  

“To the musicians and creators in the world, I say this: You must be able to find a better place than Spotify to be home to your art.”  

Fellow 1970’s music icon, Joni Mitchell also requested her music be removed from Spotify stating “I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.” Somewhat less vintage singer, India Arie put a bit of a twist on things when she requested her music be removed from Spotify because that sucka, Joe Rogan is a straight up racist simple and plain (my emphasis added) stating that  

“Spotify is built on the back of the music streaming. So they take this money that’s built from streaming and they pay this guy $100 million, but they pay us .003% of a penny?”  

In response to the Neil Young inspired pop-star protest against Spotify, the American media website CNET wrote that while the “era of the political-protest artist may not be dead,” it will require protest from recording artist who are “bigger now than Neil Young if they're going to spur Spotify to cancel Joe Rogan.” Ok, fine, but is Joe Rogan and his ilk spewing their spunk all over Spotify the only issue we should be having with all them streaming platforms?  

The MP3 computer file (which compresses data for images and music) was introduced in the late 1980’s. MP3’s made downloading and copying music files on a computer and CD "burner" easy. The explosion in illegal music downloads began in 1999 When a nineteen year old college student developed an easy way to find and download MP3 music files over the Internet.The two young inventors of Napster were big fans of Compact Discs. According to Rolling Stone magazine, their apartment was “crammed ceiling to floor with CD’s” and they saw their new invention “as a way to discover new albums worth buying.” Napster, a "peer-to-peer" file sharing method, allowed users to download songs for free. The hard rhymer, Chuck D of Public Enemy was an early advocates of both MP3’s and Napster, stating that 

"We should think of (Napster) as a new kind of radio -- a promotional tool that can help artists who don't have the opportunity to get their music played on mainstream radio or on MTV"  

The year before Napster came into existence, I had released my debut album with my first band, a DIY (that’s Do It Yourself for all y'all who ain’t down with the dirt roots) Puerto Rican political Punk band called RICANSTRUCTION, on an independent record label called CBGB Records (yes, that CBGB). My band was staunchly independent and anti-corporate and knew damn well that we would never ever get (or want) our music on the (commercial) radio, our videos on MTV (or our picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone), so to us Napster was not only a promotional tool but also a viable weapon against “the machine” and a (real) way to fight the powers that be! Why not get ya music to the masses without no son of a slave master middle man?! And why the hell isn’t music FREE for the people?! But in 1999, the music industry (with a little help from its brothers in arms, Metallica) sued Napster, and in 2002, a federal appeals court ruled that Napster was liable for copyright violations because it allowed millions of users to download music free of charge. Napster shut down its servers, went bankrupt and went out of business in 2002, returning in 2003 as a “legitimate” download-for-pay service. 

Spotify was founded in 2006 and by 2021 the company had 180 million paying subscribers. Also in 2021, several major streaming services including Spotify proposed the “lowest royalty rates in history” ahead of a royalty rates review in the U.S. According to Variety magazine, it takes an average of 336,842 streams of an artist's music to generate $1472, which is the minimum wage pay in the United States. As early as 2007, the artist formerly and forever known as Prince, who compared record deals to “slavery,” encouraged recording artists NOT to put our music/creativity/work online at all for all to have/plunder/steal for FREE/GRATIS (and he kept his off there as long as he could). In 2015 (the year before he died) Prince declared that “the internet is over for those who want to get paid respectably.” That same year, he had all his songs removed from nearly every streaming service, including Spotify, stating that  

"Essentially, streaming has offered labels the ability to pay themselves twice while reducing what is owed to artists…”  

And, of course, Prince was right on! A stat from the Recording Music Association of America (those same RIAA folks who sued Napster), reveals that overall revenues in the U.S. recorded music industry grew 12% to $9.8 billion in 2017 driven by Spotify, Apple, Amazon Music, Pandora, TIDAL and other streaming platforms. And according to Forbes, as of 2021 Spotify pays roughly $3000 - $6000 for 1 million plays of a song to artists, which comes out to about 4.5 cents per stream. I recently read an interesting meme online (by any meme necessary!) that said…  

“one CD or vinyl sale earns more income for an artist than 200 hours of streaming and one $20 - $25 album earns about the same as the royalties paid on 5000 track steams”  

As an anti-corporate/anti-capitalist Puerto Punk-Funk-Hip Hop-Rocker from the Bronx, the Purple Yoda’s wise words resonated with me back when he made his declaration (of war)! Of course, Prince was a mega-superstar who had been on a major/corporate label for decades and had amassed his fame and fortune long ago, and could now comfortably afford to rage against the man from within his new power mansion without much risk of erasure, penury or invisibility. But what about alla us unsigned/underground/unhinged recording artists who don’t have major (or any) label affiliations/support/backing, advances, and money in the bank, or a legion of fans clamoring to hear our next hit at any cost (or BUY our old classics)? If you step away from la maquina, then what?  

A big name recording artist who decides to bail on Spotify simply because they are home to the likes of Rogan are actually waging a very different battle than any indie artists are and ever have been. A celebrity, who has had their fame and (mis)fortune (and exploitation) sometimes for decades via the Music Industrial Complex, that is, the corporate contrivance, who chooses to strike out against Spotify's spotty track record for who they pay to speak (their mind), ain’t quite the same as the plight of a broke/unpaid, couch-surfing (or straight up homeless!) unsigned/unknown/unrecognized/underground recording artist who’s still tryna fight el poder while dealing with the necessary(?) evil of having their music on Spotify while not being paid shit in the hope of having some semblance of a music (as a) career and/or simply to be heard by the herd! Those recording artists who decide to go the route of tilting at the windmills that Prince advised us to rumble with, will simply be rendered that much more invisible by the music apparatus that (still) controls the game! Punto.  

So although it may be a valiant move on the part of some famous (and wealthy) artists to speak out against Spotify’s $200 million relationship with Joe Rogan, the fact is, removing Joe Rogan (or any other racist/fascist/fucks) from Spotify’s playlist ain’t gonna end racism/white supremacy/exploitation any more than it’s gonna solve the problems of any music maker who is now only worth (and not even receiving!) .003% of a penny for their work/creativity that is streamed on Spotify.  

Independent/unsigned/underground artists who know anything, have always been aware that they will make next to nada through streaming, just like we have always recognized that the nature of the music industry itself is consistently corrupt and shady as fuck (word to ATCQ!) We also know that many music makers have died broke while others are used/utilized simply to perpetuate the mythical you-too-can-be a-millionaire quest for the amerikan dream/cream/scheme (that Malcolm called a nightmare!).  

By now, it ain’t no big secret that Hip Hop got hijacked, Salsa was suckered and Punk Rock is, well, punk’d, so maybe it's time we began thinking of tactics to decolonize our captive cultures, de verda, started discussing ways to take back our creativity, straight up, and came up with strategies to steal back our soul(s), finally! If we truly believe that the corporate co-opting culture creature (and its many tentacles) is all we got, then that is all we will (ever) have. And by now we should all know that nothing from nothing equals nada! It’s way past due time to start (shout out to Tracy Chapman) talkin’ ‘bout a (real) revolution (and I don’t mean your music in no Nike commercial) in how we think, act, do, create and fight - the powers that be!  

Arm in arm with (anti-corporate) arms,  

Prophet

DREAMS + DYNAMITE.... 

“While there exist challenges, there is life, and as a consequence, we can be creative even in the urns of hell!"  - Oscar Lopez Rivera 

“We don't see any American dream. We've experienced only the American nightmare.”  - Malcolm X

The Puerto Rican/Boricua People have been engaged in an anti-colonial resistance and liberation struggle for over 500 years, first against the Spanish, and then (for the past nearly one-hundred-and-twenty-five-years) against the United States of America.... 

Captured and charged on Aug 11, 1981, political prisoner (and prisoner of war), Oscar Lopez Rivera spent 36 years in a US prison, charged with sedition ("conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch") for attempting to liberate his homeland, Puerto Rico from US colonialism. He was released by US President Barack Obama  on May 17th, 2017. 

Oscar Lopez Rivera, who was born on january 6, 1943 was/is the inspiration for Abrazos Army’s salseditious song, entitled The Ballad of Oscar Lopez Rivera, which we released when Oscar was finally freed. The track talks about Oscar's life growing up in Chicago, serving as a Soldier in the US military during the so called Vietnam war, going underground as a member of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (who were trying to liberate Puerto Rico and free Boricua minds through the use of armed action and agit-propaganda), and finally, his arrest and imprisonment, all in about four and a half minutes of lyrics and music. 

While writing the words to the song, I thought a lot about the old saying "one mans terrorist is another mans revolutionary," and how very few know even very little about the Puerto Rican peoples anti-colonial struggle and next to nothing about the Puerto Rican peoples right to (according to the United Nations) "self determination" and their/our right to "freely determine political status and freely pursue economic, social and cultural development,"  or, as Bob Marley said, "every man gotta right to decide his own destiny." And that includes Puerto Ricans! Essentially we got a right to be FREE (and equal) as a people and as a (free) nation (which we currently ain't)! Or, as Oscar himself put it when he addressed the jurors in court back in the 1980’s: 

“We will see papers and documents depicting us as terrorists, but not see or hear anything about the United States policy of genocide toward my country. … The government will present evidence showing some weapons. … But the United States government will not show you the arsenal of weapons that the FBI uses in my country to terrorize and intimidate us. They will show you some sticks of dynamite which do not even amount to 150 pounds. But the United States government will not show you a bomb with a payload of 500 pounds, or that hundreds of such bombs are used daily in the U.S. Navy’s bombing practice on the population of Vieques. … The United States government will not say that international organizations have determined that Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States and that, according to international law, they are committing a crime against my country. They will not tell you either that according to international law, when an anti-colonial fighter is captured, as we were, he or she has the status of prisoner of war and should be judged by a competent international body” 

while singing (and writing) this little song, I hoped to give a bit of background (and hopefully a degree of understanding/empathy) as to what makes an Oscar Lopez Rivera (or a Nelson Mandela, Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Huey Newton, Filiberto Ojeda Rios) and many others who dare to dream and risk their freedom (and their very lives!) to free they gente (by (m)any means necessary)! 

Currently, other long time anti-colonial/anti-oppression/anti-injustice/anti-racism/anti isms and scisms fighters for the cause of freedom, such as Leonard Peltier, Sundiata Acoli, Mumia Abu Jamal and Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (aka H. Rap Brown) still languish in US prisons (RIP to Russell 'Maroon' Shoatze who was recently released only to die shortly after), while others such as Assata Shakur and William Morales remain in exile, cast out of the countries of their birth. 

Hopefully, after listening (and maybe dancing!) to this ballad, you will have a deeper understanding of anti-colonial/anti-imperial struggle and Puerto Rican/Indigenous resistance, and what the Puerto Rican/Boricua people have endured, resisted and risen above (and within) every day for centuries with no end in sight. 

arm in arm with arms, 

Prophet 

 

NO SOY DE AQUI.... 

 

“There is a confluence at this moment in history, of this inability to breathe, whether it is because a cop is choking you or because your air is polluted” - Theodore Richards

“When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe” - Frantz Fanon 

The Nuyorican poet, Pedro Pietri told us in one of his poems that “Your breath is your promised land.” The COVID-19 pandemic reminded everyone of the importance of breathing. The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, causes among other things,  shortness of breath  and other respiratory symptoms. Though prior to 2020 many of us may have taken breathing for granted, fact is, we can go days without water and possibly weeks without food, but we can't go even a few minutes without breathing! The importance of breathing is linked directly to the importance of one particular element your body needs constantly: oxygen. Take that away, and you take away life. Breath really IS life! 

The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution kills about 7 million people a year across the world. According to data from NASA’s Amazon dashboard, fires charred 43,000 square kilometers (17,000 square miles) of the Pantanal region in 2020—about 28 percent of the Pantanal. These wildfires raging in the Amazon Rainforest continue to drive a spike in breathing problems among children in Brazil. Cities closest to the fires saw a 36% increase in children's hospitalizations for respiratory diseases. Even those who live a little farther away aren’t safe - the smoke has covered hundreds of thousands of acres, stretching across South America into neighboring countries, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay. 

Tear gas is a chemical weapon used all over the world by law enforcement to control riots and disperse crowds. Despite its frequent use during peaceful protest, various international treaties have ruled the use of tear gas illegal in wartime. Tear gas works by irritating mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs. It causes crying, sneezing, coughing, pain in the eyes, temporary blindness, and difficulty breathing. In the first five months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong in 2019, police fired nearly 6,000 rounds of tear-gas at protestors — which was far fewer than were used in Paris, France in a single day that summer against gilets jaunes (yellow-jacket) protesters. In Puerto Rico, in 2019, thousands of protesters, demanding the ousting of the puppet colonial Governor of Puerto Rico, requested that supporters and allies send them gas masks, as the colonial government’s policia shot tear gas canisters at the peaceful protestors. 

On July 17th, 2014, Eric Garner’s last words were “I can’t breathe,” as he was choked to death by NYC cops. He repeated those words eleven times, before the life was choked out of him. CPR was not performed on him and no one was indicted for killing him. On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd Jr. was murdered by police during an arrest. One of four police officers who arrived on the scene, knelt on Floyd's neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. George Floyd's last words were “I can’t breathe.” 

The New York Times found that over the past decade at least 70 people have died in law enforcement custody after saying those same words — “I can’t breathe.” According to the Times, “in some of the ‘I can’t breathe’ cases, officers restrained detainees by the neck, hogtied them, shocked them with a Taser multiple times or covered their heads with mesh hoods designed to prevent spitting or biting. Most frequently, officers pushed them face down on the ground and held them prone with their body weight. Some were deaths that occurred after detainees’ protests that they could not breathe were discounted or ignored. Some people pleaded for hours for help before they died.” 

In 2019, the Attorney General declared that Eric Garner’s death would not lead to federal charges against the NYC police who killed him. Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, stated that "Five years ago, my son said 'I can't breathe' eleven times... And today we can't breathe, because they let us down." 

In the first days after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police, rioters tore through Minneapolis, St. Paul and other metro communities in retaliation, causing millions in property damage to more than 1,500 locations. Protestors left a trail of smashed doors and windows, covered hundreds of boarded-up businesses with graffiti and set fire to nearly 150 buildings, with dozens burned to the ground. On April 11, 2021, the cop who killed George Floyd was found guilty on all counts for causing George Floyd's death. 

arm in arm with arms, 

- Prophet

WE BE HARDER THAN A HURRICANE 

 

"My armor is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!" - J.R.R. Tolkien

"La tormenta es poderosa, y yo la he desafiado" - Luisa Capetillo

Once upon upon (another) time, some time before this time, there was a time and a place that was i-land and there was a people, brown like the truth as earth and black like deep nights clearest sky and red like the reality of the sun. Without weapons and without laws, they owned nothing, but were rich in everything. The word poor was of a foreign tongue and that tongue was forked, twisted, while their mouth was a straight path to truth, their word sounded-like freedom. We will call them Taino(and later Afro-Taino) though they probably called themselves something else. They praised/prayed to no one but the very land itself that provided sustenance for them and theirs. They ate, drank, played, loved, laughed, slept, sang, dreamt, all in real time (all the time). They worshipped life in its essence, naked as their mother (earth) bore them in beauty, transcendent reality of their surroundings. They breathed in the air, plentiful, clean, deep, free, and breathed out the same, but clothed in invisible visions and draped in waking dreams, drenched in life itself. They were something we can no longer define within our capitalized/co-opted/co-modified/conquered and colonized mind (set). They were something we could not keep. Something called free. 

Which may have been what they called themselves be-fore the conquerors came carrying cold steel and craven intentions. The new “masters” re-named these free beings, through force of arms, guns, (their) gods and greed. They called and christened them (un)civilized, culture-less, chaos, savage, shame-full, primitive, Po' Rican beast of burden, and slew and/or enslaved them all, except those who could/would fight and run away and live to fight another day. But those who couldn’t/didn’t were tossed into the mines along with their minds and made to work the killing fields until they were dead/tired. They were infected with the (new) states dis-eases, beaten, battered, bitten (but not broken) and driven (in)to suicide or a state of Cimarron. The enemy waged war against the (new/old) world, so the free ones called for Guazabara(!) against the govern-mint! 

lacking hue-man-made weapons of steely sharp stealth and stench, they brandished bright sunlight struggle and ancient natures natural-ness, intellect as arms, they fought with fist and feet, arrows and aims, finding a new way with Taino-tenets and Moores-mores, mind machetes ‘till freedom or death y hasta la Victoria…. Siempre seditious, autonomous, angry. Most died (and all were re-born) but many (simply) lived and became new (again) and again(st), as cane cutters straight out the Congo and headhunter Jibaro’s from the (h)ills, field negus ninjas from here and machete wielders from there or anywhere, wild (wo)men at war without peace… by piece…. Guabancex against the government, Conquering congress, co-optation and colonization yesterday (today), always arm and arm, with all the arms they/we would ever need. They became Machetero(s) and we became and remained harder than a hurricane! 

arm in arm with arms, 

prophet

I’M STRICTLY STREET + SUBWAY… 

 

“Street music is always good even if it is bad, because actually there is only one melody over there: The melody of life struggle of a poor man!”  ― Mehmet Murat ildan 

"The gray steel streets were indeed paltry (not our feelings, and no, not the blues) but those gray streets were dead and cold, despite our warm living selves celebrating the life in us dancing across their surfaces." ― Amiri Baraka

Doesn't matter where ya come from if you don't know where ya been... Huey Newton said that "youths are passed through schools that don't teach, then forced to search for jobs that don't exist and finally left stranded in the street to stare at the glamorous lives advertised around them," James Baldwin stated that "the American streets resembled nothing so much as one vast, howling, unprecedented orphanage," Oscar Wilde believed that "Art is not to be taught in Academies... The real schools should be the streets." and Nas declared that "Hip-hop is the streets... It's blunt. It's raw, straight off the street." Currently there are an estimated 58,089 homeless people in New York City and each night thousands sleep on New York City streets and in the subways. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, nobody ever teaches you how to live out in the street, you simply find (in more ways than just one) yourself there (wherever there is), on the street and in the streets, and you manage (or don't), survive (or won't), thrive (or can't) or die (for sure!)... No more and maybe less. There are many ways to survive the streets; many are extra/ill-legal and most are dangerous and can get you locked up or for better or worse, killed either by a cop or another street struggler... My days on the streets of Nueva Yo', I survived by singing for my supper... Sometimes I went out into the streets or down into the subways with my compa, Kid Lucky, a beatboxer/rhymer, and sometimes by my lonesome, doing the acapela thang... Sometimes by the end of the day, I made just enough for some rice and beans (and tostones if I was lucky) and sometimes just enough for a dollar slice of pizza. I always preferred to perform in my own stomping grounds; the Boogie Down/el Bronx, El Barrio/East Harlem, Loisaida/Lower East Side of Manhattan, but if you busked in the tourists areas of the shitty or at the subway stations that tourists frequented, and could convince the tourreristas that what they were witnessing/hearing was authentic keeping it "real" New York Hip Hop, you could get a more sizeable "donation" out of em. But you never really knew if you would make enough to eat that day or to pay for a place to sleep that night (if you slept at all), or would end up riding back and forth on the subway train, tryna sleep with one eye open (for safety), and without a "hit" it was usually miss and you were at the worst, condemned to perish from this earth like a piece of trash left in the gutter and at "best," sleep in the park or on a rooftop or on the church steps with Jezuz as your only security blanket. Paul Simon said, "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls..." and they say the streets is watching, but i often wonder if them streets (and subways) is even listening... 

arm in arm with arms,

- Prophet

ABRAZOS PARA TI 

“Like Nelson Mandela, we must be willing to embrace the long walk toward freedom.” - Angela Davis 

“Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it's beauty.” - Albert Einstein

In El Libro de los Abrazos, Eduardo Galeano says that “the system that does not feed or love, condemns many to hunger for bread and many more to hunger for hugs.” It’s said that the average embrace last only three seconds, but that at least twenty seconds is required in order to activate a hug's medical healing properties. The healing process always begins with a touch and embrace. Hugs instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger. Holding a hug for an extended time lifts serotonin levels, elevating mood. Hugs strengthen the immune system. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the solar plexus chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body's production of white blood cells. Hugging relaxes muscles. Hugs release tension in the body. Hugs can take away pain; they soothe aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues. Hugs balance the nervous system. Sensations are created on the skin which stimulates nerve endings. Hugs are much like meditation and laughter; they teach us to let go and be present in the moment. They encourage us to flow with the energy of life. Hugs encourage empathy and understanding. Malcolm X pointed out that "If a white man puts his arm around me voluntarily, that's brotherhood. But if you hold a gun on him and make him embrace me and pretend to be friendly or brotherly toward me, then that's not brotherhood, that's hypocrisy." Hugs connect us to our ability to not only self love but also teach us on how love, when it is genuine, flows both ways. In a capitalist society, we are taught to love objects/products/merchandise/capital/things more than each other, but love and solidarity is a revolutionary act and only if we are together and taking care of each other, can we smash capitalism. The most revolutionary things we can do within an oppressive, racist, sexist, traumatizing, white supremacist society that hates and hurts and starves us and teaches us to hate each other, is to love and heal and feed and embrace the long walk toward freedom... together.. arm in arm.. 

arm in arm with arms, 

- Prophet