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David Muhammad: The Truthdig Interview

Posted on Apr 3, 2006
David Muhammad

David Muhammad, an Oakland-area activist and mentor for incarcerated youths, talks about the rise of new urban drug concoctions like “Bo” (codeine and Robitussin) and “Thizzin,” (taking ecstasy, usually combined with other drugs).

By Sheerly Avni

(Page 2)

These are all words and images straight out of the lyrics of E-40, the Bay Area’s most popular rapper - his album is now number one on the national hip-hop charts. The local homicide rate in Oakland more than doubled in the past year, just as the Bay Area “hyphy” movement, with its lyrics about thizzing and going dumb and sippin’ ‘bo,’ have also blown up, locally and nationally. Are you suggesting a relation between the two?

I really can’t help but see a correlation.

I’m not going to say the music is exclusively at fault, when I know the community is designed for its own destruction: blight, poverty, high unemployment, a liquor store on every corner, substandard education, drugs readily available and guns easily accessible, but these factors have all been in place for a long time. So what drives the crime spikes are added things, like the music being as bad as it is.

You think the music is part of what influences the kids’ behavior.


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The music is certainly part of the culture I’m describing. I’ve talked about drug use and violence and irresponsible sex, but another thing is excessive materialism. You can see it in their clothing, how they dress. A youth will get a job and spend his very first check on gold teeth, and then come in here and ask us if we can get him some money to buy dinner.

And then there’s a rise in Ecstasy use, which started as a white rave thing, and is now growing exponentially in the black community.  In Oakland it is on the rise in connection with “Hyphy” and the “Thizz” movement. There are club nights called Thizz, record labels called Thizz, the celebration of “thizzing” is all over Bay Area slang and rap, and now it’s spreading nationally…. Thizzing means, specifically, being on Ecstasy, usually mixed with other drugs, usually taken in large quantities.

Now you can ask, does life imitate art or does art imitate life? Of course inner-city kids were using Ecstasy before it was in all the rap, but after the songs started talking about it, it exploded.

I see the same kids you do, and hear what they say, and I agree that when they say “thizz” or “going dumb,” they mean exactly what you’re talking about. But words change.  Can’t “going dumb” come to mean partying? Having a good time?

You know, we had a young man, now a graduate of the program, but he still comes consistently. He’s incredibly focused, incredibly bright ... he’s never even really been in trouble. But sure enough he went recently to a party where people weren’t out selling drugs, they weren’t exhibiting gang behavior, but they did start “going dumb.” Someone pulled out a gun, he got shot and ended up in the hospital.

It’s another big thing in the music, where you suggest that shooting people is a reasonable thing to do. That’s not just having a good time, and it speaks volumes to a culture of death, where you have young people 15, 16 years old who’ve gone to 10 funerals. You believe you won’t live past 21.

So why blame the messenger? This music may be speaking to where the kids are actually at. 

No! Let’s be clear: The music did not create the situation. But the music has made it worse. It has exacerbated the problems, and it has promoted insane and destructive beliefs and attitudes in the country’s most vulnerable communities.

This is a community that has had a very difficult time defending itself from a series of afflictions:  higher AIDS rates and cancer rates; incarceration, poverty, [poor] education performance, and first and foremost the devastating legacy of the crack epidemic.  Back to that New York Times front-page story a few weeks ago: More than half of black men in the inner city are dropping out of high school.

Now that is horrific. And it should call for an outright state of emergency, but the national response to that statistic is almost “business as usual.”

Meanwhile, the worst and most irresponsible criminal behavior is being promoted by these rap artists, the ones who actually have the ear of these young people. And I see how much it impacts their behavior, and how they wind up being locked up for it - or worse.

Like that party last week in South Berkeley just across the Oakland border, where a father was throwing a nonalcoholic party for his teenaged daughter and her friends. He kicked out a group of young men for showing up drunk, high, and flashing guns. One of the young men broke back into the house and shot him fatally twice in the chest.

Being high and drunk, thinking what, [his voice rises, for the first time in the conversation] “Because you kicked me outta party, I’ma kill you!” ?

Right, and the young man apparently shoved a gun in the mother’s face and said, “Move, bitch, or I’ll smoke you.”

There’s that line by Ludacris: “Move bitch,  get out the way.” It’s pushing a culture of violence and disrespect as a means of living.

When you were young, you listened to hip-hop. Usually the most violent hip-hop you could find. Do you remember the music that you used to listen to, growing up, and how much it influenced you when you were running the streets in the ‘80s?

While in it? I remember the connection between the music and my own irresponsible sexual relationships, without question.

And I know when I was going to do acts of violence, it would be like a rallying cry, or a soundtrack for my life. We would get it in the car, put on the hard music, put on some NWA, or maybe Ice-T, and go do some violence. We’d be on our way to go shoot somebody, go jump somebody, go get money from someone that owed us ... and the music was how we pumped ourselves up.

Also, complaints about obscenity in the music are hardly new. There was a huge controversy over Ice-T’s song “LTGBF” in the late ‘80s, as well as a good deal of concern over the violence promoted by bands like Niggas With Attitude.

Back then in the mid-‘80s, the kind of attitudes you saw in Ice-T were the exception. Today, they are the rule. Today, if you turn on any hip-hop radio station, I would probably guess that 80% of what you hear is going to be about drug use, alcohol consumption and irresponsible behavior. 

Black sociologist Orlando Patterson argued in Op-Ed page of The New York Times on Mar. 26 that it is time to look to the culture to understand what is happening to the black community. He suggests that white kids aren’t as damaged by these messages, while black kids take them much more to heart, and suffer more as a consequence.

Well, also, the obstacles are systemic, not just cultural. For example, a white teen and a black teen can commit the same crime, and the judge will send the white boy home, because there is a perception that he has support, while the black boy will be sent to jail, because there is a perception that there are not enough community resources to help him.

Is that perception true?

Sometimes, but not always.

Next page: “Part of my anguish around that is that I love Jay-Z. He is conscious, intelligent and very witty, which is part of why I love some of his lyrics. I also appreciate and support what he’s been able to do as a black businessman. But no, I can’t excuse him putting out some music that promotes the culture of death.” 

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By Stephen, April 24, 2007 at 5:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I just attended a talk led by David Muhammad, and am now wondering how “edited” the above interview was.  The gentleman who spoke tonight was rambling, bordering on incoherent.  At one point in a discussion on the role of black leaders on college campuses he held up pictures that he insisted proved that martians (yep, from Mars) inspired the sphinx and taught egyptians to build wooden helicopters!  I wish I could say I was kidding. 
I could imagine that something as thoughtful as the interview on this website could be pieced together from his ramblings, but only with careful editing bordering on fiction writing.  So again, I would be interested to hear a reply or see a discussion concerning the editing process employed on this site.

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By big AL, October 13, 2006 at 11:55 am Link to this comment
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hiphop,the music I adored as a youth,has unfortunately become a tool of the libcoms(liberal/communists)its purpose is to destroy the youth through self-destruction,and drive them to the point where they think blind rebeliousness to everything orderly and good is an honorable thing,against the “authority”.more brainwashing…a shame that such a beautiful artform has been hijacked,showing all Black males as gangsters and pimps,drunk off “petron”,high on E,and fucking all their"biatches"further degrading sad it is.

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By ilttsk, October 4, 2006 at 6:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Pretty much nothing seems important. Pretty much nothing noteworthy happening these days, but such is life. Not much on my mind lately. I’ve basically been doing nothing. I just don’t have anything to say lately. I’ve just been letting everything happen without me these days.
breast feeding
hidden camera

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By Premie Zereuwa, August 8, 2006 at 8:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your piece is quit interesting though, suffering in the prison of another country for a piece is work is still questionable. i believe nigeria is our mother land which no one can deny that fact. you are a hero in the eyes of the world and i believe Nigerians are proude of you, It is very necessary that one is above human’s destruction in a way of receiving the DIVINE KNOWLEDGE OF THE LIVING PERFECT MASTER (SATGURU MAHARAJ JI) WHICH WILL TAKE YOU AWAY FROM EVERY PROBLEM IN THE PRESENT AND FUTURE. As a native of the land our ancestors always protect his children from every form of danger and i must to say here that it is not only that you are imprison for the piece of the work published but always for racial,political,social and economic reason but with Divine knowleedge one is free forever.

I am from the Eastern part of Nigeria and experienced the same too during the Abacha Coup and recieving the Divine Knowledge today is a total freedom. As a champion you are in the eyes of the world you needed a guide and protection of the real creator.

I would want to know more about you and don’t hestate to ask me any question.

premie Zereuwa
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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By SATGURU MAHARAJ JI, August 8, 2006 at 7:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sent: 2006 08 08

Dearest David,



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By Dereca Blackmon, April 19, 2006 at 3:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

(please add this to my last post)

As to what’s different about music today - 3 things: 1) Headphones - most parents are unaware of what their children are listening to.  My mom came in my room and took my Prince record. 2) Crack - Half of the kids I work with are missing at least 1 parent due to drug use or trafficking 3)The Prison Industrial Complex - when Black teenagers engage in adolescent antics of hypheeism they don’t get a ride home from the police or a call to their parent, they get a criminal record.  Finally, anyone who thinks ecstasy is a throwback to the 60’s summer of love hasn’t purchased it in an urban setting where it is rarely if ever pure MDMA.

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By Dereca Blackmon, April 19, 2006 at 3:04 am Link to this comment
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Thank you for taking a risk and publishing this excellent article.  I had never heard of before but I know the life-changing work of David Muhammad and have seen very few media outlets that have been willing to tackle this heavy subject in such a thorough way.  Hat’s off to you you’ve won my readership.

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By Captain America, April 14, 2006 at 12:34 pm Link to this comment
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My only objection to Mr. Muhammad’s interview is that an “explosion” of ecstasy use in young black men is a bad thing. From my own experience and those others have shared with me, ecstasy may well be the best thing for young black men and women. It is counter-intuitive to link ecstasy with any type of violence, they simply don’t mesh. A gangsta on ecstasy is much more likely to make sweet love to his gun than he is to shoot anyone with it! It’s effects are excitement, euphoria, a sense of well-being and connectedness to the world, as well as simply feeling like the name “ecstasy” implies. MDMA was used for decades as an anti-depressant before it ever found its street culture. It seems to me that much of young black america is in a deep state of depression, as they should be, what with all of the horrors of daily life Mr. Mohammad details. Of course there are dangers in taking any drug, but of all the drugs out there, ecstasy is far and away the least likely to lead to violence. Perhaps what America needs is a national take an e-bomb and get to know your neighbors day. Look at the rave scene, despite random violence, you have hundreds of thousands of ethnically diverse people getting together every weekend, enjoying themselves and each others company, taking ecstasy, and simply having fun…...Is that such a terrible thing? Would not our black community benefit from a little more fun, a little more acceptance, a little less depression, if only for a few hours?

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By Rahkyt, April 7, 2006 at 11:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“The People crave War Music
Because the People are at War.”

War with each other? That’s an even worse interpretation of the ‘reality’ than the alternative, which was discussed in quite the informative fashion in this article.

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By Hawk, April 7, 2006 at 4:57 am Link to this comment
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It’s not the music alone it the Video’s that syncronized with the lyrics. Listening to Ragtime,Blues,Rock&Roll; and any music before the advancement of videos meant people listened with their ears not their eyes its different when an image is branded in the mind along with music beause then you can research that tactic back through history its called for lack of better words. ” Brainwashing ” I call it
” brandWashing “.

And I compare it to Nazism, the Grillz and other fashion pieces could be signs of the swazstika or any other icon for that matter.Sometime I even call it Hitler-Hop or Hip-Hop/Crissy the whore of babylons prostituting teen-age daughter and lastly.

The WORD was and is GOD so using the words of ones mouth to say some of these things are blasphemus and I guess the generation/culture in questions don’t believe they’ll be judged by the words they speak or that their was a GOD of their ancestorial slaves

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By dianome, April 6, 2006 at 8:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

you know maybe if the program directors at radio stations would stop play’n this stuff (but it won’t) than it would go underground, and not so mainstream, maybe this would help to curve this new death system!

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By Dr. Susan Block, April 6, 2006 at 2:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Don’t blame the music.
Don’t blame the poetry.
Don’t blame art or even entertainment.
And don’t blame human sexuality.  Don’t blame our desire for pleasure, for love, for touch, for *cum*
Blame the guns.
Blame the war.
Blame the Gang Leaders on the Street and in Washington.
Blame the culture that stole human beings and made them slaves.
Blame the Crusaders.
But don’t blame the Troubadors.
The People crave War Music
Because the People are at War.

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By Victor, April 5, 2006 at 11:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I really enjoyed the article.  I believe that the rappers are just as much to blame for damaging black culture as are the record companies.  I mean after all they do write the lyrics.  They are just money hungry and are willing to sacrifice our culture for greed.

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By Amber, April 5, 2006 at 6:36 am Link to this comment
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We all argue for freedom of speech, but what happens when that freedom is abused? Sure, music itself isn’t the problem - but when you take icons of the music industry, writing lyrics promoting drug abuse, violence, and misogyny, then you have a problem. Kudos to Mr. Muhammad for standing up and saying something, and to Sheerly for writing about it.

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By James Harley, April 4, 2006 at 10:18 pm Link to this comment
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By sheerly, April 4, 2006 at 3:33 pm Link to this comment
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Thanks to the readers for all your comments. One note: All of the programs David Muhammad is involved with are for both boys and girls, including The Beat Within. Indeed, one of the pieces we sampled in this piece was by a girl describing her own experience with “poppin’ pills”

However, the vast majority of incarcerated youth are still young males, and the majority of mainstream hip hop is still produced by men, and written from a male point of view.

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By benny, April 4, 2006 at 1:48 pm Link to this comment
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It’s too bad that only boys are getting this kind of attention from David and others. WHERE ARE THE WRITING PROGRAMS, JOBS, RIDES HOME AND MENTORS FOR GIRLS?

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By David, April 4, 2006 at 12:17 pm Link to this comment
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Great interview, but people have been linking violence to youth-oriented music for a century—starting with rag time, through blues, jazz, and, of course, through rock ‘n roll in all its permutations.  And nobody has really found a link between music and violence.  So, without challenging Mr. Muhammed’s ideas, I’d like to know how this time it’s different.  Is is that those earlier music forms did not have lyrics denigrating women and extolling violence, while hip hop does?  Or what?

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By webmacher, April 4, 2006 at 8:48 am Link to this comment
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Um, no, I think Mr. Muhammed summarized it accurately. The other stuff Bennett said was just disclaimers to make him sound less horrible (“impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do”)—but he circles back to his claim that if this was done, “your crime rate would go down.”

Take out the anguished disclaimers. You’re left with “But I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could—if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.” That’s pretty much the same as “if you abort black babies you can improve the crime rate.”

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By JP, April 4, 2006 at 6:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for posting this.  We need to support uplifiting, creative African-American genres, jazz as an example.  The best jazz musicians are African-American, and they should be proud. 

The misogyny and violence of rap and hip-hop are not helping our country.

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By Toby, April 3, 2006 at 8:53 pm Link to this comment
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Great piece - but the Bennett line is highly misleading:

“Well, I don’t think it is either, I don’t think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don’t know. But I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could—if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.”

It is bad that someone as sensible as Mr Muhammad would repeat such a calumny.

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