2&6 Journalist: Chris Kelly
Over the last few weeks, artists and creatives of all disciplines have used there skills to inspire self reflection, outrage and most importantly, change. Hip-Hop, since its conception, has always been a tool for social commentary and protestation. Now, in a time where our own laziness and a lack of engagement can result in fatalities, MC’s and producers from across the global hip-hop community are using there abilities as wordsmiths to find the words that we have lost in shock at our broken system.
The Dutch hip-hop family was quick to bound together to vocalize there frustrations at a system that has too often tried to keep issues of racial inequality hidden or dismissed under the pretense of tradition. Enter Kern Koppen, a creative hip-hop collective coming out of Den Haag. Founded by two brothers, Kern Koppen quickly lit the beacons and signaled to all those in their MC circle to lay down a verse over theri new cypher: ADEMBENEMEND (Breathtaking). Among those who answered the rallying cry was Dutch spoken word poet & legendary MC Manu Van Kersbergen.
An Interview with Kern Koppen & Manu Van Kerbergen
1) The song begins by sampling Akwasi’s incredibly powerful speech at the BLM protest in Dam Square. How did you feel that day seeing so many people in attendance & was Akwasis speech the inspiration behind making the track ?
Manu: “The protest at The Dam was a very powerful gathering of people and energies stating that the superficial, but also the more subtle forms of racism in The Netherlands should be ended immediately. A new day is dawning. And a new generation speaks out on all the obsolete ideas that find their roots in the colonial way of thinking and acting. Although the initiative of the song started before the protest, Akwasi and the other people that took a stand that day, definitely inspired us to think of a way to make the song divisible.”
Kern: “Akwasi’s speech, the zeitgeist, George Floyd and the cramped reactions of anxious Dutchmen all prompted the writing of Breathtaking. The moment on the Dam was indicative of how pain, frustration and feelings of injustice can reach a collective boiling point. It was inspiring to see and feel that people can jump so massively, from one moment to the next – a kind of growth spurt of consciousness.”
2) Was it difficult to condense all your feelings on the issues into your verse or did you have a clear understanding of what it was you wanted to say?
Manu: “Not at all, the lyric wrote itself. Although racism is a very complex topic, there was so much emotion in my internal system that wanted to express itself and so it did.”
Kern: “Indeed, the instrumental gives the MC plenty of room to make itself heard. The beat is what we like to call: a typical “cypher beat”. It expresses a rawness reminiscent of old sessions of open mics, where everyone feels itchy to let their fiery verses be heard.”
3) How did you decide who to team up with on this project? Had you worked with all the artists before or did you and Kern reach out to people who you know would have a powerful message to share?
Manu: “Yes, with all the artists I worked before. Either in creating music or within other projects. I had the impression that all these artists had some thought provoking ideas on racism to share that needed to be expressed.”
Kern: “The track has grown more and more ambitious as enthusiasm has grown. We made a demo with the verses of Uncle Guus and Manu and hung them out as a fishing rod to see if there were any cool MCs within our circles. We’ve worked with some of these MCs before and others we haven’t, but we all know each other from the old corridors. Our protest song grew further alongside the plans for how to play it.”
4) Hip Hop and Protesting have always gone hand in hand, to what extent do you think hiphop artists have a duty to use there skills as lyracists to inspire change?
Manu: “Whether or not a Hip Hop artist speaks out on racism, Hip Hop always brings change and contributes to countering racism and deconstructing colonial frameworks. The culture of Hip Hop is one that crosses every boundary and border of ethnicities, religions, and other social constructs. In that sense, one does not have to literally speaks out in order to contribute to change. Personally I felt a very strong urge to speak out, just like I’ve always done in my earlier works (De Vloek Op De Overvloed, 2008, for example).
Kern: “We live in a time when our laziness can kill us as humanity. Silence is a privilege that none of us can afford. We must speak out about the shortcomings of our system, identify where we have failed and dare to step outside of the usual politically correct boxes. People quickly fear polarization and change, but both are cornerstones of revolutions. Old patterns have to be broken and soft surgeons fall short. Indeed, we want to encourage everyone to challenge institutionalized racism, because it cannot be massaged away quietly.”
5) To what extent is adembenemend just the beginning of your plans ( and that of the dutch hiphop scene) to continue speaking out against these issues of social inequality?
Manu: “I think Hip Hop artists, mc’s have a lot of beautiful insights to share that could help heal our communities in relation to empowerment, social justice and other inequalities. In that sense ADEMBENEMEND is more a fruit of the legacy each individual participant in this song has built up. I believe we will continue to speak out by any means necessary.”
Kern: “There are no plans for conversations, but there is an ongoing urgency to speak about what we see, hear, taste and feel is happening and needs to happen in the world we are part of.”
6) Lastly if you could just speak to the incredible work that the Black Archives are doing.
Manu: “The Black Archives is a wonderful organisation that contributes positively to change by preserving, educating and displaying a history of black and brown people that is willingly denied in the Western historical frameworks. We really believe in their mission and goals to educate more and more people about the amazing history of black and brown people contributing to mankind. Education is the key in conquering ignorance and creates more consciousness that our world and societies are in need of concerning racism.”
Kern: “For years, the people of the Black Archives have been fighting racism. I think many people are only now embarking on a battle that has been relevant to them for more than two and a half centuries. I hope the Black Archives feel empowered by the massive protests against racism and that a lot of financial support is pouring in to help the organization and the BLM continue to grow. We like to contribute a sharp stone.”