Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Post-Katrina Pyrex Revolution

Of all the insane things that have transpired over the last six years, to me the response to Hurricane Katrina ranks at the top.

But I'm not talking about just the FEMA response or the federal government response in general or the response by the media.

The public's response was the most insane.

I mean not that I'm an anarchist, but if there was ever a situation that called for mass rioting then the shameful and slow government reaction to Katrina was it. It was difficult watching the television and not being able to understand how it could even be happening. It was almost as if the Bush Administration was sitting around hoping the entire city of New Orleans would be swallowed up instead of shipping in the clean water, food, and provisions that people sorely needed at the time. People were pissed for a few weeks, maybe, but most of the anger dissipated well before the elections last year.

New Orleans based rapper Juvenile has been one of my favorite artists for a few years now, but for his flow and his mic skills...not at all for his lyrics. The typical Juvenile song is usually about one of three things (sometimes all three): slanging crack or spending cash or shaking that ass. Hell, most southern rap sticks to the same script. Crunked up or screwed up or chopped up, southern rappers are all about how they flow instead of what they flow about.

But Juvey lost his house in Katrina, and it seems like that inspired him to write probably the most powerful song of this year, "Get Ya Hustle On," for his album Reality Check, which dropped about six months ago.

"Get Ya Hustle On" is all about Katrina, but it's also about revolution.

"That's right, it's crunch time now fellas," Juvenile announces at the start of the track. "No time to be cryin for momma now, it's the movement."

What is Juvenile's call to action precisely?

What exactly is this "movement" all about?

Katrina survivors are urged to take their "FEMA checks" and invest their crack.

"Everybody need a check from FEMA," Juvenile raps, "So he can go and score him some co-ca-llina."

The concept of financing a revolution of sorts with drug money isn't new, of course, but Juvenile's song isn't as "cut and dried" as that.

As the sixties began to fade, Dennis Hopper's "Easy Rider" - in a way - taught a generation that freedom couldn't be bought with money earned from selling drugs.

"We blew it," declares Peter Fonda's character - Wyatt or Captain America - shortly before the tragic conclusion.

Of course, the "we" refers to more than just the two main characters - the "easy riders" - and more than just the counterculture generation. "We" is America.

Cashing in and dropping out isn't a way to achieve the "American Dream," especially when most don't even have the faintest idea what exactly that dream is supposed to represent.

Apparently, "Easy Rider" aired on the American Movie Classics channel shortly after the events of Katrina, as a commenter noted in an review of the DVD.

"The film represents the death of the American Dream; but, in respect to the KATRINA disaster, represents the death of New Orleans, and the Death of America itself in the aftermath of the hurricane," wrote Timothy D. Pyle. "Capt. America comes to this realization, as did so many Americans in late August 2005, that 'We blew it.'"

Slanging crack to empower one's self or their community is not something that Juvenile invented in 2006. One of the earliest political rappers, Ice Cube, rapped that "a bird in the hand is worth more than a Bush" over fifteen years ago when 41 was President.

Juvenile only refers to one politician in his rap, and it's not a Republican, but Democratic (sort-of) Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin.

Talk to 'em - your mayor ain't your friend, he's the enemy

Just to get your vote, a saint is what he pretend to be

Fuck him! Ah-listen to me, I got the remedy

Save your money up and find out who got 'em for 10 a key'

("Key" stands for kilo for those not in the know)

Obviously selling crack isn't for everyone. And, heck, if everyone sold it the market would collapse. But Juvenile really means it as a metaphor, more than anything.

"Take what you got and make something out of it," Juvenile (born Terius Gray) told NPR in May. "You don't necessarily have to be selling drugs or nothing like that. Get your hustle on. Y'know what I'm saying. Do something."

Juvey raps that "if you don't hustle don't use your energy" then "you gon' be a cellmate or wind up as a memory."

If the song was just about slanging crack then it wouldn't make sense for Juvey to warn those that aren't willing to "hustle" that they could end up in prison. It's those that have the vision...those that have a grasp of what an "American Dream" entails are best equipped to pursue it.

The "American Dream" isn't about earning enough money so you can dress up in bling-bling, it's about uplifting one's self. It's about taking care of your family and your community and coming together.

The final verse of "Get Ya Hustle On" contains the strongest lines.

"We starvin!" Juvey raps. "We livin like Haiti without no government. Niggas killin niggas and them bitches is lovin it."

"Fuck Fox News! I don't listen to y'all ass, couldn't get a nigga off the roof when the storm passed," raps Juvenile (but I still gotta give props to Fox anchor Shepard Smith for this unforgettable broadcast).


And after all that build-up, wait until you see this video.

Even if you hate rap. Even if you think this track I've described sounds like a bunch of bullshit. Take the time to watch this video.

"This is a tribute to those who died in the wrath of Hurricane Katrina," captions announce at the beginning. "The storm may have passed but for thousands the struggle is just beginning."

Not quite in black and white, the video's colors have a tinted washed-out bluish-green quality, as "the wrath of Hurricane Katrina" is showcased with shots of the bleak vision of hell that New Orleans' Ninth Ward has now become. Destroyed houses and automobiles compose the landscape, including a quick shot of a videotape for the movie "Armageddon" littering the ground. A man holds a sign in front of what's left of his house that says "2005 or 1905." Another sign simply says "You already forgot."

Three young black children find cardboard masks in the piles of garbage that once represented their neighborhood which sport the message "HELP IS COMING" written on the back. The masks are of President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

"We take the Pyrex and then we rock with it, roll with it," sings Juvenile in the chorus. "Take the Pyrex and then we rock with it, roll with it!"

"Pyrex" is a reference to crack pipes, but - unless I'm really reaching - I'm pretty damn sure Juvenile chose the word for his chorus because it's similiar to "pyre."

The Ninth Ward of New Orleans, as shown in Juvenile's video, has been reduced to a series of "pyres" which memorialize the hundreds that died one year ago, and it's up to future generations to "rock with it, roll with it" so that they didn't all die in vain.


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