David Hilliard talks about the Black Panther Fugitives

As David Hilliard states midway through our interview, "The Black Panther Party are the only legitimate revolutionary movement in the history of struggle in America", its indeed hard to argue otherwise. The Black Panther Party were an international movement that changed the face of America and indeed the world as the party had chapters in 8 foreign countries including the UK. As ever David Hilliard and the Huey Newton Foundation are trying to keep the the history alive with a generation of youths caught up in the capitalist system. It's with the their own rap group, the Black Panther Fugitives, that the message is hitting home. Designer Magazine caught up with David Hilliard to discuss how art and music have always taken a place in the party's history and how the new Mario Van Peoples inspired album is about to take them to the next level in consciousness raising.

Q: We've talked about the Black Panther Party's place in history before (Nb: Click here for our first interview with David Hilliard), so what we're looking to do this time is talk about the group, The Black Panther Fugitives. When you came up with the idea for the rap group it was with the idea that young people, the youth, didn't know about the history of the Black Panther Party so you thought you'd put it through a medium they could understand rather than asking them to sit down and read a book
A: We created the Black Panther Fugitives because it was a medium to get a message to the youth through hip hop. That is the medium that most youths in the world have embraced as their own culture. We used the group and hip hop as a medium to help get our historical Black Panther message across. In most of our music there are certainly the beats, but there is also the message of Huey Newton, there is the message of Bobby Seale and the clear message of the Black Panther Party which is always connected with our music.

Q: Over the past 10 years hip hop has kind of lost its way in it message and motivation to change. It's all about the money. Do you feel hip hop is not the voice it used to be?
A: Well it certainly isn't and that's why we got involved with it. We got involved in it to bring our message to a segment within the hip hop movement that does have a political conscious. We're there for people who are still interested in the anti-war movement and who are still interested in the abolition of prison systems, especially here in America, and people who still want to fight against racial injustices in the world and people who are fighting against the pollution of the environment. Our message is still a very relevant message to those people who are part of the conscious element within hip hop. That's why we created the record company Black Panther Party Records, that's why we're in this business - to try to bring back some consciousness into this hip hop movement

Q: How long was the idea of the Black Panther Fugitives and the record company in your head before it actually happened?
A: Well it was always a part of our system of educating. We would use our art in our newspapers as a medium to get our message across to people who wouldn't necessarily read our articles. They would certainly look at our art which was pictures of people working and being exploited because of unfair wages and people who were not getting the kind of economic justice that they deserved. So our art in our newspapers was a medium for telling our stories.

We also had a group called The Lumpen, which was a short name for Lumpen Proletariat. Our group would always come and perform at our mass events. Elaine Brown, who was the chairwoman of our Black Panther Party, has two LPs on Motown that we also used as a medium for getting our message across. So there's nothing new about the Black Panther Party combining art and politics. We've always done that.

Q: Nowadays if we say you've got Public Enemy, Dead Prez and you guys. You're still kind of lone voices in the world of hip hop?
A: Well, we are trying to make an impact and there are more than Public Enemy, Dead Prez and Black Panther Records. There's also people like Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Blackalicious - they are groups that are putting out a very positive message and are using hip hop as the medium to to do that. Michael Franti is another artist who is a very progressive artist.

Q: What do you feel it is in a person that makes them reject ideas and just chase the money, just chase the dollar?
A: Well I think these are people that are just driven by excess and individualism and that's the majority of the world. They are not the exception. They are the dominate culture. They are ninety nine and two thirds. All over the world that is what people are driven by, the profit motive. And certainly it's people with their individualism that motivates that kind of behaviour. And then one knows that it's ones environment that determines their social consciousness and it's the material that determines the mental. This is a capitalistic age we live in - all they see on television are hock homies and Tommy Hillfiger and Sean Jean. So people are tied to profit motive and tied to imagery. It's not about what you wear, but who you wear. So you've got a generation of people who are tied to this profit motive and that's the majority!!!

Q: How hard is it getting the Black Panther Records on to radio with the message you have?
A: Well, we are not on radio because we are the Black Panther Party and we have not got airplay in America. We have appeared in Canada and have been on Canadian Radio and maybe one or two of the underground stations. But we are the Black Panther Party and our message is a message to motivate and to organize and to be instructives, to educate people, so we don't expect Clear Channel or some major record company to go on to embrace our message of trying to revolutionize the system, our message of trying to transform the system. We don't expect to get a million dollar record contract with any company. That's not why we're in the business.

Q: But in terms of getting on radio and getting your message out there to the pubic, it must be hard.
A: It is almost impossible because of who we are. We are the internal contradiction to the radio stations. We're the real conscious hip hop movement. We're all that Public Enemy, Dead Prez and the conscious hip hop rappers talk about. We're the real deal. We are the consciousness raising organization and we are the model that these young conscious rappers like to imitate. We are the Black Panther Party, we were a global movement, which was in 49 states in America and in 8 foreign countries. We had support groups in the UK, Cuba, Korea, The Peoples Republic of China, North Vietnam and Africa...we were a true liberation movement. So when people are talking about militancy they are talking about the Black Panther Party, which is the only legitimate revolutionary movement in the history of struggle in America. You tell me about another one

Q: One the album how much was there a vetting process or a revision of the lyrics to fit in with the Party line?
A: That first album was just to get us into the public consciousness. The second album which we're now releasing, which will be out in another month (July), is more politically driven. There's more of Huey Newton's voice and more messages from Huey Newton and the message is a bit more conscious than the first CD. That CD was mainly to get us into the industry and these young guys that are putting the message out are very young and they're not totally conscious, but they've learnt a lot since the first CD. This CD is driven with more conscious lyricism and with a stronger message about social relevance.

Q: It does span generations. You're involved, your son Dorion is involved also.
A: And not only my son. But the son of one of the Black Panther Party members Bill Calhoun, who was the leader of our performance group The Lumpen. His mother and father were both Black Panther Party members and he's the leader of our group. His names is Jamiel Hassan (James Calhoun). James was raised with Tupac Shakur.

Q: Could you tell us a little about the 2nd album you're releasing this month?
A: The album that we're releasing in June is an album that's inspired by a movie that Mario Van Peoples has just finished called "Baadasssss". Mario Van People's is portraying his father in a film that his father introduced as the first black independent film called "Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song". Our leader Huey Newton wrote a revolutionary analysis of that film in 1970, so we're reprinting part of that analysis which will be accompanied by the CD. The CD is named after original movie called "Sweet Sweetbacks Baadassss Song" so it's a tribute to Mario Van People's new film. We're also in the film score. We have a track on the film score and we're also on Mario Van Peoples soundtrack this time around.

Q: Obviously it's easy to get the hip hop youth listening to a CD. How hard is then to get them to read a little more into your history?
A: We're not going to get all the hip hop movement, but there is a segment that can read. We're looking to the college campuses, the conscious element in society. It seems to be a significant number of people who have said no to the war, even there in the UK. That is our audience. All these people that are against the war, all these people who are against polluting the environment, people that are against these multi-national corporations that are raping the world and people who are struggling to forgive the corporate and national debt of all of these underdeveloped countries. There's millions and millions of people that are our constituents that will buy our CD and are a reading community. That is who were making the CD for.

Q: What changes have you seen on the campuses or community after the Black Panther Fugitives have played?
A: When we appeared in Canada as headliners in the last big event in Vancouver. We've been on college campuses over here in America. We're appearing with an African musician from Zimbabwe, his name is Thomas Mapfumo, who opposes Mugabwe and his oppression in Zimbabwe. So there's a community that is embracing our message and our history of the Black Panther Party.

Q: With what you have seen happening in the UK and Europe would you like to come over here and get your message across to our people
A: Absolutely. We're waiting for you to organize an event where I can come with the group so we can speak to the people in the UK about the need for solidarity and about the fact that all of our struggles are one and the same. Maybe we can come over and perform with the new rapper Dizzee Rascal, for sure.

Q: You've seen what's happening in the UK. Do you think what is happening in the UK and Europe from the far right and the racist element is perhaps worse now than it is in the US?
A: I think that the UK has its own problems. I know what happens in Brixton. I was in the UK a few years ago so I know what happens to people from the Asian and Jamaican communities. I'm aware of that and i'm aware of the class system that still exists in the UK. The UK is no different than America, we're all part of the same community and America controls the entire world. That's why your Prime Minister stands next to George Bush, because George Bush and America controls the whole world. We should join hands as one community. That's why we have business in the UK. Just as George Bush has business in the UK, activists in America have business in the UK because that's another community in the world.

Q: Do you think if the UK wouldn't have made the alliance with the US they would have still gone on with the war?
A: I think so, because America is the Empire and if the UK didn't support America then America would find some means to deliver a political consequence against the UK. Nobody escapes the wrath of the empire. It's a global fight against the American Empire - that's why you have 500,000 people on the streets in the UK and 300,000 in the States against the war. All around the world people have joined hands because whatever happens in America impacts all of the known world.

Q: If you've just got one final message from the Black Panther Fugitives and from the Black Panther Party to sum up what you're trying to achieve. One message to the UK readers.
A: We're trying to link up with all of the struggling people of the world. Our message is a message of unity, it's a message of equality and economic democracy. That's why we have the Black Panther Fugitives and by the way we're fugitives running away from misogynist lyrics and profanity and sexism. We're running away from all of the negatives in hip hop. We want to use our medium and our history as a way to bridge those gaps as we did in the sixties and seventies. We had a Black Panther Party chapter in the UK, so we'd like to use our music again to break down those barriers.

Everybody in the UK should be aware and on the lookout for our next CD called "The Revolutionary Analysis Of Sweet Sweetback". It's inspired by the new movie by Mario Van Peoples which will be in the studios in June.

"The Revolutionary Analysis Of Sweet Sweetback" is out July
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If you enjoyed reading the above article you may also be interested in the following interviews
Black Panther Party (The 1st Designer Magazine Interview with David Hilliard)
George Galloway
Tony Benn
Dead Prez

More of the above are available on the Designer Magazine site- Click Here