Few rappers practice what they teach, but Staten Island’s NYOIL — a former member of the provocatively funky early-’90s outfit the U.M.C.’s and current revolutionary rap stalwart — acts as loudly as he rhymes.
After an intensive day-long student-run activism forum at Northeastern University last Saturday as part of the Fight the Power Youth Liberation Conference, the MC took his lessons to the acoustically swank NU Fenway Center stage in what used to be St. Ann’s Church. Despite competing with the sunshine and a Sox game, the afternoon workshops and evening performance drew about 75 mostly black and Latino heads.
Opening acts from local high schools and colleges ripped poems about Puerto Rican colonization, white-man lies, and dismantling “the hypocritical machine that we call government.” Big Dan from the Oakland rhyme syndicate BRWN BFLO requested that the lights get cut: “This isn’t even about me.” Organizer Jessie Catchwreck warned: “Either you ride with us or you ride for the cops.”
The diesel caricature of NYOIL on the cover of his excellent new Hood Treason (Babygrande) is hardly hyperbole; homeboy is jacked — the last dude you would want to challenge with your lyrics, your intellect, or your fists. But instead of fear-mongering and inciting, OIL used his headline status to teach the audience that the fight for justice and equality is “not a sprint but a marathon.” Over a medley of throwback R&B tracks reminiscent of Steve Harvey’s jukebox on The Original Kings of Comedy, OIL reminded folks that revolutionaries relax and knock boots like everybody else.
The absence of guilty-white-liberal types (save for me, of course) made the event that much more powerful. In college I worked on several integrated initiatives, and despite the worthwhile dialogue such efforts can foster, there’s an unavoidable air of bullshit. That nonsense was absent from this event. Had it been sponsored by Hip Zepi owner Pat Demling and attended by Mayor Menino, 16-year-olds might not have been comfortable discussing their realities — and Boston MC/activist Uno the Prophet sure wouldn’t have elicited unanimous applause for mocking rich white women who tuck their purses when they see him on the street. (For the record, he can snatch that shit if he wants to, bitch.)
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