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7/23/2003 10:53:22 AM
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EX-Black Panther to Inject Consciousness Into Rap Music
Shakur is viewed by some rap fans as an artist who was moving toward becoming more socially conscious .....
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OAKLAND -- There's gangsta rap. Christian rap. Reggae rap. And, if a fledgling local record label has its way, the current hip-hop generation will make way for the widespread re-emergence of conscious rap.

The message comes from what many consider the purest of sources -- Black Panther Records -- a label headed by the former Black Panther Party's chief of staff.

"We have already been to 10 college campuses around the country," said David Hilliard, president of the company. "And we are going to be at a rap concert in Vancouver (Canada) in August."

James Calhoun, 31, co-founder of the label with Hilliard's 36-year-old son, Dorion, said the venture began last August. "We want to reach a young generation that doesn't know much about the movement the Black Panthers started. A lot of young people are getting into this.

"This is as much about education as it is about entertainment. And we want to be able to give something back to the community.

"That's the problem I have with a lot of rappers. They want to make all this money and they don't care what they say (in the recording studio). It's just about making money, and the (music) industry supports this. The question is, what are they doing to give back?"

In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, there was considerably more balance available to the hip-hop consumer in terms of subject matter, hip-hop activists say. Although the controversial group NWA (Niggas With Attitudes) was hugely successful with songs like "Dope Man" and the infamous "F--- The Police," Public Enemy was reshaping the genre with its sophomore album that featured songs such as "Don't Believe the Hype," "Night of the Living Baseheads" and "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos," which focused on the criminal-industrial complex. The group was so political, much like Panther Records today, that many mainstream radio stations would not play their music.

Other popular groups of that time, including BPD (Boogie Down Productions, featuring KRS-1) and X-Clan with Brotha' J, further influenced young listeners to embrace their African heritage.

Calhoun's mother and father were in the Black Panther Party, as was the mother of the late Tupac Shakur, said Hilliard, chief of staff for the militant organization founded in Oakland in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton.

Shakur is viewed by some rap fans as an artist who was moving toward becoming more socially conscious with lines about inner city conditions and how young African Americans were responding to harsh realities.

So it only makes sense that today these "Panther children" would pick up the torch, Dorion Hilliard said in an earlier interview.

Hilliard, who is also executive director of the Huey P. Newton Foundation --which works to preserve the party's legacy and correct mass media distortions through tours and other community outreach projects -- is critical of a billion-dollar rap industry he contends glorifies and profits from sex, violence and bling-bling materialism.

Black Panther Records, he insists, is not an attempt to "commercialize" the Black Panther Party. Yes, the foundation is selling a clothing line -- but the contract with the manufacturer is ready to expire.

"For us, this mission is about education and empowerment. I want to see more low-income housing in Oakland. We have always seen music as a way to get our message, our platform for social change, to the people," Hilliard said.

Hilliard said in the 1960s the Black Panther Party had some "revolutionary" recording artists known as The Lumpen. During the Panthers' heyday, Elaine Brown, a Panther leader, signed a deal with Motown Records and recorded "Seize the Time" and "Until We're Free." Her agent was Suzanne De Passe, who worked her way up the ladder at Motown Records, starting as a receptionist. Today, De Passe is one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, serving as executive producer for many e

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