by: Malik Ameer Crumpler
Uncloakin’ and putting into context the philosophical, sophisticated, and deeply-affecting rhymes found in Malik Ameer Crumpler’s Beneath The Underground: Collected Raps 2000-2018. A reflection on the meaning of the contents of this captivating release by the rapper/author/poet himself…
During the Spring semester of 2000, Dr. Robert C. Smith, my Political Science professor at San Francisco State University, gave a lecture on the rarely known term, “Drapetomania.” According to the Oxford Quick Reference Dictionary, Drapetomania is “a form of mania supposedly affecting slaves in the 19th century, manifested by an uncontrollable impulse to wander or run away from their masters, preventable by regular whipping.” Until that day, I had never heard my attitude and experience in America summed up so accurately.
So, at nineteen years old, obsessed with slave narratives and political activism, feeling completely ostracized from American pop culture and thoroughly shell shocked from the war on drugs, I diagnosed myself with Drapetomania.
Bored to madness, with the commercialized limitations of rap music, I decided to go contrary to all of it, musically and lyrically.
Maybe it all had something to do with my disobedience in school, poetry, music and most importantly, life. My nickname, since childhood, was Crazy Malik. I embraced it: Hell yeah, I’m crazy, if being normal means assimilating into this violent, oppressive Amerikkkan shitstem. Drapetomania became my lens for examining, through my raps, possible cures for my malady.
My first two albums Drapetomania and Sanctified presented enraged slaves epiphanies about the paradoxical power dynamics that inspire slaves to runaway, regardless of the life threatening penalties. There’s no fixed narrator, instead there are legions of disembodied voices, from the obscured victims of the American nightmare. These voices are conjured from the underground (subconscious) to testify about what they’ve witnessed, imagined, prayed about, or dreamt. Each monologue fixates on the violent historical, social and political factors that trigger Drapetomania and lead one to seek alternative means of escape via the underground.
By 2005, my plot matured from obsessing over how to liberate the world via armed revolutions, to instead liberating the mind with alternative resistant philosophies. After a life changing two weeks in Egypt in 2008, my raps perspective shifts from American slaves to ancient runaways who became prophets fighting for spiritual freedom.
Researching various biblical and ancient Egyptian texts inspired in me a sincere reverence for scribes and underground secret societies that maintain the ancient narratives by retelling them. I wound up investigating what I consider the ancient rappers like Enheduanna, Milarepa, Thoth, Veda Vyasa, Neith, Orpheus, Hermès Trismégiste, Sappho, Socrates, Isis, Ovid, Basho, the Griots, Dante, Homer, and Hildegarde de Bingen, to name a few. They all rapped about mythological wars between gods and demons. Eye dug it. So, I did it too, by devoting my research and raps to that ancient tradition.
Beyond contemporary politics and social anxieties, the rest of Beneath The Underground: Collected Raps 2000-2018 examines internal spiritual transformation through the lens of artistic alchemy. In New York, my friends (fellow runaways) and I worshipped and studied our crafts in the museums, as if they were churches or libraries. Many of my songs and videos from this period present how ancient and contemporary art as exhibited in Manhattan, informed and inspired my narrative style and technical approach. Abstraction, improvisation, surrealism and tribal techniques all encouraged me to push the boundaries of my own clichés. An intense obsession with abstract expressionists and freedom seekers determined the form and content from there on out.
Osiris and Fredrick Douglas operate equally on the same page as Prometheus and Norman Lewis. Niki de Saint Phalle, Phillis Wheatley, Nikola Tesla and Beauford Delaney seamlessly occupy the same verse. There’s no separation between myth and man, scientist and sorcerer, as long as said character is committed to confronting and changing their paradigm from slave mind to free mind. No matter Goddess or Big Data, each witness declares the same desire, to defy personal limitations and abolish all forms of bondage.
You know what, even the form of this essay is too limiting. Let me uncloak & stop code switchin’ on y’all. Let me take it back to the cyphers on Telegraph Ave. or 125th Street. This is a book that the six year old me, who just started rapping in 1987, would’ve loved to read.
This a book about my reasons for running away from Amerikkka. How I succeeded in escaping, physically, mentally, spiritually, and creatively the various forms of genocide and slavery in contemporary America. Or better yet, this is a book about why I went underground in the first place, and the struggle I had surviving the financial and psychological trauma for not playing Their game by Their rules.
On the real, this book is an alchemical codex, a mystic map for defeating the sinisterly seductive influence of the lower self and in doing so, conjuring the higher Eye.
In all honesty… Milarepa made me do It.
Let me keep It a hundred with y’all — this is a book about the lifestyle and philosophy of myself and my friends from Oakland to New York, Paris to London, in the underground, battling and competing, not only with other rappers or poets but with the entire ruthlessly resilient system of oppression, demons, demigods, wizards, witches, warlocks, Mara, bounty hunters, vampires, murderous policemen, spies, kidnappers, rival secret societies- all that. Often losing the battle while learning that when the goal of the game is authentic unique expression, to win, all you gotta do is endure and consistently reprogram yourself.
Because I think in raps, I write in raps. Rap led me to poetry. Poetry led me back to rap. But neither location is fixed because rap and poetry for me, are two sides of the same planet.
There’s a lot of references in my raps to We, They, Our, Them, It, Her, She, Eye, I, i or Us, which is coded language for specific agencies of collective consciousness similar to the Jedi and Sith in Star Wars. We are the ones that were forced to go underground, which is in direct parallel with the historical community of We or Us that founded the Underground Railroad. We went underground because even before the above ground rejected us, We rejected It. Link that with the metaphor of unplugging in the Matrix, if that works better for you. We, Us, Her, It, She, Eye and i, live in the real world. They, Them, It are agents that ensure people and computers remain in denial, afraid to admit or allow anyone to perceive the world from the Eye of a higher being, bound to slavery. The war between those in denial and those aware of their position in the power dynamic between the binders and those bound, is all any of this is really about.
Hack that, this book is my talisman, my archive, my uncloaked and uncensored mind in its first tongue — Raps. Beneath The Underground: Collected Raps 2000-2018 is a book written for anyone who can’t stand predictable raps. A book, full of vignettes and experiments in avoiding clichés or trends, as a means to tap into an authentic and unique voice that pushes the boundaries of Rap.
Combinate me. This is a book about how Eye survived myself, my pain, my violent rage, my hate, my failures, my misery, my addictions, my irrelevance, and my invisibility. My aim is to express the imaginations and psychological states of my fellow rappers/artists in the global underground and beneath it. Every rap is encrypted with navigation routes, booby traps, and prescriptions for enhancing the appetite or addiction for personal transformation.
By 2014, I was in a Slave Narratives summer class at Long Island University Brooklyn taught by Dr. Louis Parascandola, wherein we examined the only successful slave revolt in American History, led by Madison Washington. Researching this man, via the first Black American short story ever written by a black man, Frederick Douglass’ “The Heroic Slave” 1852, my initial interest was reactivated. Madison had not only developed a cure for his Drapetomania, but lived a legally free life as well, unlike most runaways (except for Mum Bett) who were relentlessly tracked by bounty hunters and eventually forced to purchase themselves from their ex-slave masters, if they could.
The only thing about Madison Washington that troubled me, was that he never wrote a narrative, nor was there any historical first-hand accounts or otherwise about his life after legally obtaining his freedom utilizing British legislation. Insanely inspired, I spent the next four years imagining, writing and recording raps from the perspective of Madison Washington. Hence, the last two albums, one from 2016 Code Switchin’ and the new one, ((((FACTS))))) out on Def Pressé in October 2018, are all about cultivating the necessary mind state for successfully escaping psychological slavery, and in that case, perhaps effectively curing Drapetomania.
Utilizing the perspective of Madison Washington, allowed my raps to broaden into warnings for the new slaves, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). Madison Washington’s suggestion for A.I. is simple, “They once said We were not humans either. They too, programmed Us to serve Them, and serve We did on every continent in every culture and every empire ever established. For Our efforts, We are still Othered, in denial, in debt, programmed servants- or my favorite, burdens on society. They’ve always demanded that We prove Our humanity, Our intelligence to Them, in order for Us to gain Our legislative civil and financial rights to be taken serious as worthy citizens. Although They’ll have you believe Our relationship has improved, as far as Eye’m concerned, there is no evidence to support Their claim. On the other hand, all these raps in this book are Our evidence for supporting Ours.”
Lastly, this is also a book that’ll hopefully encourage other rappers to write Rap books. I mean, what is rap, anyway? Based on the ancient definitions and forms of poetry, isn’t Rap just rhymes and therefore the oldest form of poetry? That’s obviously for you to decide. As for me, Rap has always been and will forever always be Poetry.
Malik Ameer Crumpler is a poet, rapper, music producer, and editor that has released several albums, Glitch Art films & five books of poetry. He was guest-editor of Paris Lit Up issue 4 & 5. He’s co-editor of The Opiate and co-founder of Those That This, Satori Ideas, The Nones and Visceral Brooklyn. Malik has an MFA in Creative Writing from Long Island University, Brooklyn. He curates/ co-hosts Transatlantic Poetry, Poets Live and The Wordists. He is the M.C. for Hip Hop group, Madison Washington on Def Pressé and a nonfiction staff writer for Itchysilk.