Monday, January 24, 2011

Conducting Thoughts with Propaganda

Emcee, artist, and poet Propaganda has been on a roll of late. Joining up with good friend Odd Thomas and a few other notable artist to form Humble Beast Records, the talented emcee/educator is seemingly everywhere these days. Whether on stage at live shows, doing poetry for seminars, or gearing up his latest project, Art Ambidextrous, Props is a busy busy guy. Thankfully he had a few seconds to talk about what he's been doing and giving a word on what we can expect from his latest album...

Conduct: Hey Props! Its been awhile since I last spoke with you in an interview. What have you been up to since the release of "Listen Watch Focus?"

Prop: where do I start...well, Got married, (that's the most awesome!) Been to Africa twice, Russia, and help build a record Label with my Bff. Doing a lot of poetry stuff, Writing curriculum for charter schools and para church organizations. Lord's been Good.

Conduct: Sounds like its been a really good time for you. With the travel, label, writing curriculum, etc, sounds like you're really busy with things. Do you enjoy having a slate so full?

Prop: I honestly don't know how to function any way else. I guess its that old school work ethic I was raised with.

Conduct: You've been a teacher for awhile and, as anyone who's ever heard you probably knows, you are a large advocate for taking education seriously. Does that come from your parents pushing you to take it so seriously?

Prop: partially, I think its just part of what God made me. My Pop was a Black Panther and worked in probation, So as early as I can remember I kinda always felt as a people the quickest way to get off the governments dime was to know how to make our own.

Conduct: One of the things I have always loved so much about you and your music is that you don't pull punches on approaching the social issues of our times. You get quite a lot of praise from your various spoken word performances and videos. I know that your "Fatherless" piece hit people close to home. How did you get into spoken word and what makes it such an impressive way to convey messages to people?

Prop: I actually started doing poetry as a way to make me a better rapper/writer. I thought to myself poets cant hide on stage, No music, no Crew, Just you and the mic. Do I write well enough to hang with them. And I went to poetry venues really to learn. and I fell in love. i thinks its effective because the genre itself EXPECTS you to say something meaningful. and to the degree for which what you said is creatively portrayed is the degree for which you succeed in the field..and that was right up my alley! I feel like its where art and faith meet. I love it.

Conduct: I agree with your thoughts on poetry. You can't really get up to speak and not say something there. Its unique that you got into it to better your raps. Ha, ha. Can't say I've ever heard someone say that's how they got into it.
You're also quite a visual artist which, as you know of me, is a very exciting thing. In fact, your last verse on "Canvas" off your last album was pretty much a reflection of what's in my heart and mind. As someone who creates such a vast tapestry with his mouth in song and poetry, what place and way does art fill in your life?

Prop: visual arts? well its my first love and the first way, as a kid, that I related, or could get my brain around God. I saw him as an artist. Ps 139 all up in yo' face! lol So Its kind of the glasses for which I see everything. This next record talks a lot about that.

Conduct: I know you enjoy a good cup of coffee in the morning. What's your flavor of choice? How does Propaganda like his coffee?

Prop: BOLD! hazelnut cream, 4 sugars! I like Don Francisco mostly, But the best cup of coffee I've ever had was in Hawaii.

Conduct: You've done quite a bit of work with the UYWI. Its a really cool organization. Did you approach them after having gone to one of their conferences or did they track you down?

Prop: Well Bobby (Dj Bobbito) is a long time friend of mine and He runs the events part. that was the connection. Plus having a background in education made it a no brainer

Conduct: Let's talk Humble Beast now. How did this label come about?

Prop: well its Really Odd Thomas' baby, well Its GOD'S but you know. He and I over a course of 3 years were discussing doing a record. but life got in the way. But while we were doing a lot of ministry together we saw God challenging us in areas of what we wrote about, why we wrote that and what our role in hip hop was. We knew we were NOT reach records BUT loved those brothers very much and found an amazing brother hood with them. LOVE THOSE DUDES. but we were called to a different field. next thing I know Thomas takes me to lunch and says...Imma build a record label. :) here's the vision...!

Conduct: It's funny but, I had a similar experience with my best friend as he hit me up about wanting to build a label. I'm really excited about it and what we're doing. God has really been showing me things about the areas I was writing in and challenging us.
How did you and Odd Thomas become such good friends?

Prop: Well we met in 99 I think, And the friendship was immediate. We both had and have a high view of scripture and that's how we first bonded. then we started noticing we had a lot of the same Cds in our spools and the funniest thing is how we would show up at shows wearing the same shirt/pants. WEIRD! been bffs every since.

Conduct: Alright...time to get down to the nitty gritty: Let's get at what your latest project, "Art Ambidextrous," is all about?

Prop: THE MIC AND THE CANVAS!!! The record is 50% rap 50% poetry. 100% odd Thomas produced. Build behind the phrase "but on the other hand" basically a switch in perspective and paradigm. Very heavy, very emotional. that God brings beauty out of ALL things, including pain. But keep the phrase "on the other hand" in your head as you listen!

Conduct: I eagerly look forward to getting a listen to this and seeing how you change the paradigm on this one. I'm a huge fan of the heavy and emotional.
You're a member of the Tunnel Rat family and lately there have been a few releases from individual members as well as some announcements of a few more individual projects for next year. I'd like to ask how the fam is doing and what it feels like being a part of such a legendary crew and if you may know anything about this rumor of a new collective album?

Prop: WELLLLLLLLLLLL the record is sitting on peaces hard drive, about 70% done. :) a lot of life Got in the way of finishing. noting bad, Just life. its hard to get 11 people in one place. but we will see.

Conduct: Here, you get to ask me a question in the "Interview revenge!" No matter what you ask, I MUST answer it honestly.

Prop: if you had to choose ONE, drawing or writing?

Conduct: Drawing. The way my mind works is that, basically anything I'm doing is visual art in my head so, whether its literally illustrating, explaining an idea verbally, or writing it down, its coming out of a visual scheme in my mind. Either like a movie sequence or panels in a comic, all my expression is drawing to me. I'm creating an image that I push out into other forms to communicate. Its always a drawing first in my head, though.

Thanks, Propaganda, for "Conducting Thoughts" with me.

you can catch a listen to some music or find all your prudent Propaganda info at:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Black Birds Fall

Today I read a news piece on how thousands of blackbirds fell out of the sky on New Year's eve, over a small town in Arkansas. There have been a few other cases of such a phenomenon happening, the next most recent one being five hundred falling out the sky in Louisiana. As of the moment they haven't been able to find a sure reason as to why this happened.

I'm sure this conjures up a few images and thoughts in your mind but, for me, I just feel really sad about it.

For many people, ravens, crows, and magpies are members of the blackbird family that bring up feelings of foreboding and other ominous emotions and, to be honest, I can't blame you for that. For decades people have held a belief in the wayward nature of these creatures, a notion brought forth prominently through fictional representations. Whether its folk tales from the south or some other culture or, as is the case with many, lingering remembrance of Edgar Allen Poe's use of the bird in the aptly titled, "the Raven," people find them to be unsettling (at worst) and a general nuisance (at best).

I have a different set of opinions about these birds. I've honestly found their presence in my life to be one of comfort for a variety of reasons I won't go too far into here. (But being a brown boy for Pittsburgh, I seldom can think of a time where blackbirds haven't been around for me to see year after year. AND, from a biblical view, the idea that these birds are something of a symbol of evil is silly. God seems to only use them for very specific and important tasks.)

The compelling thoughts of what happened to them, aside, I realized that their oft thought dubious nature connects to somewhat of a theme you'll see me mentioning from time-to-time here in my personal blogs and interviews: We seem to be only able to focus on that which we find negative in things...and as such, we don't ever extend a forgiveness of grace in our lives. Blackbirds are thought of as harbingers of something malevolent and wicked, a sign of trouble or death but, ultimately, there isn't too much beyond our fiction to confirm this. Thus, there is a stigma attached to them, a harsh preconceived notion that many have just taken to wholeheartedly. That's just the way it is, right? But think of the ease we take to accepting an idea like this so easily. Do we do this with everything? People? Situations? Work?

I'm sure that nodding your head to that isn't something you're probably be proud of but, hey, if we're gonna be honest I'm the first one to nod my head to that. I've totally figured out, in a swift manner, that something or someone is a specific way and, because of that, well...My actions have jumped from that preconceived notion. We all do that and, sadly, its a part of our human nature, people. Oh yeah, we like to SAY we're all about people coming together and not being judgemental and whatnot but, its not a real truth for us. Or, maybe I should say, its not an EASY truth for us to adhere too.

I'm sure it falls under "pessimistic" but I think that people are generally an "All Together, Separate" kind of society. We like our stuff the way we like it and we like our people how we like them...Or, more realistically phrased, "we like our stuff the way that makes us comfortable and we like the people in our lives to adhere as close to that which keeps our comfort zone...comfortable."

Nowhere in that, unfortunately, is the act of extending grace or being forgiving to others.

Now, now, I'm not saying we can't have some stuff our way and some folk our way. We all know that a decent enough amount of the time, we WILL have that happen in our lives. Still, even though those moments happen and its cool, man-o-MAN are we quick to flip an attitude or feel "wounded" at the slightest bit of something challenging or stretching our perception of what is "right" or "fair" to us. We get that anger, fear, or hurt and we just...RUN WITH IT! And as soon as that happens, we forget being the one on the other side of that moment or situation. The grace you'd want extended to you and the forgiveness you may want bestowed to you for a remark or actions...that just goes ghost, man. Its gone.You get a label of being something that, hey, maybe you ARE to some degree but, at the same time, aren't TOTALLY DEFINED BY.

How depressing is it that, many of us don't get a chance to be allowed to show more than what becomes our mark and stigma? We touch the wrong button or AREN'T all that we're expected to be at that moment and, poof, there goes your chance. Its all over. The End. Fin. You're just...THAT.

It's terrible and, I know I'm not saying a thing that we haven't experienced at one point or another as individuals. It happens all the time.

And I guess my point is, that it DOES happen all the time. Hearts are broken, mistakes are made, wrong words are used, or expectations aren't met. Then we just say, "Hey, those birds are there and, man, look at how freaky they are! They MUST be evil! Its a sign of bad things coming." From then on out, regardless of what they actually do, how they could possibly be one of the smartest bird species on the planet, goes right out the window and you're just a blackbird. That nuisance. A sign of for boding. No possibility of being more than that, or to become better than what you've been, or even something that has a specific reason for God placing it on the earth.

Some blackbirds that feel from the sky one night. Weird but, doesn't mean anything to anyone.

Maybe,,, just like grace and forgiveness to those it isn't EASY too.

- Conduct Lionhardt