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Howard Zinn’s “People’s History” Masterwork Hits the History Channel

Zinn’s ‘People’s History’ Masterwork Hits the History Channel
By Dave Zirin, AlterNet
Posted/Printed on December 11, 2009

“On December 13th, a date I’ve basically had tattooed on my arm like the
guy from Memento, The People Speak finally makes its debut on the
History Channel. This is more than just must-see-TV. It is nothing less
than the life’s work of “people’s historian” Howard Zinn brought to
life by some of the most talented actors, musicians, and poets in the
country. Howard Zinn and his partner Anthony Arnove chose the most
stirring political passages in Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the
United States, creating a written anthology called Voices of a People’s
History of the United States. Those “voices” have now been fully
resurrected by a collection of performers ranging from Matt Damon to
hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco to poet Staceyann Chin.

The People Speak also showcases John Legend reading the words of
Muhammad Ali, Kerry Washington as Sojourner Truth, David Strathairn’s
take on the soaring oratory of Eugene Debs, and Morgan Freeman as
Frederick Douglass asking, “What is the 4th of July to the American
Slave?” There are also the words of women factory workers read by
Marisa Tomei, rebellious farmers personified by Viggo Mortensen, and
escaped slaves voiced by Benjamin Bratt.

Certainly the lunatic right will howl to the heavens after seeing
“liberal Hollywood” perform the words of labor radicals, anti-racists,
feminists, and socialists. In fact, aided by the craven Matt Drudge,
they are already in full froth, campaigning online to get the History
Channel to drop The People Speak before its air-date. If it weren’t so
contemptible, their actions would be almost quaint, like a virtual book

But beneath the bombast, their hostile aversion to “a people’s history”
speaks volumes about why we need to support this project. This is a
country dedicated to historical amnesia. Our radical past holds dangers
for both those in power and those threatened by progressive change. We
need to rescue the great battles for social justice from becoming
either co-opted or simply erased from the history books. Our children
don’t learn about the people who made the Civil Rights movement.
Instead we get Dr. Martin Luther King on a McDonald’s commemorative
cup. Because of our country’s organized ignorance, endless hours are
wasted in every generation reinventing the wheel and relearning lessons
already taught.

One reason Barack Obama made so many of us feel “hopey”
during the 2008 election season is that he seemed to understand and
even take inspiration from our “people’s history.” Candidate Obama
would invoke the odysseys of abolitionists, suffragettes, freedom riders,
and Stonewall rioters. He linked his campaign to this history with a slogan
from today’s immigrant rights and union struggles: Si Se Puede, Yes We

And yet this Presidency in practice has been like watching George W.
Bush with a working cerebellum. Send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan?
Say nothing in the face of racist rallies held outside the capitol?
Tell LGBT people to shut up and wait for their civil rights? All in a
year’s work. The Obama administration is now counting upon the American
people, to once again, quietly go with the flow all while pretending we
never saw this movie before. This is why The People Speak matters. It’s
aimed at reclaiming our hallowed history from all who would profane it:
to resurrect our past as a guide to fight for the future.

There are those who will wrongly see The People Speak as a kind of
“spoonful of sugar” approach to education. Get a celebrity to recite
the words of Susan B. Anthony and all of a sudden, we’ll all want to be
history buffs. But this isn’t Hollywood “slumming” in the land of
radical chic. It is instead a bracing spectacle where our sacred
history is reimagined by performance artists of tremendous craft.
Consider the dramatic task at hand: they are attempting nothing less
than turning politics into art. If Zinn and co-producers Arnove, Damon,
Josh Brolin and Chris Moore pull this off, it holds the potential to
introduce a new generation to Sojourner Truth, Eugene Debs, and perhaps most importantly of all, to the works of Howard Zinn.

As Zinn himself once said, “Knowing history is less about understanding
the past than changing the future.” This is the grand adventure of
Howard Zinn’s life. I encourage everyone to come along for the ride.
Get your friends and family together on Sunday night and experience The
People Speak. Then take them by the hand and pledge to be heard.”

Dave Zirin is the author of “What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance
in the United States.” Read more of his work at

Dec 13

Video footage of the very 1st Xaul Zan battle (1999)

“You love to hear the story, again and again, of how it all got started way back when…”

Ten years ago I was living in Brooklyn, NY on a velcro sneaker budget. A friend named Mig was kind enough to let me sleep on his floor at night as my days were spent  looking for ways to either make money or get my name out there. One way I tried making those things happen was by entering emcee battles. The most popular semi-regular battle was an event called Braggin’ Rites which I THOUGHT took place at a club called The Wetlands, but the banner behind the stage clearly says S.O.B’s. If I remember correctly, and as you’ll see in the video below, the night was usually hosted by Yeshua da Poed and their format entailed 4 emcees battling each other at once during the earlier rounds. You’ll also see in the video that my Xaul Zan alter-ego wasn’t fully developed just yet, but the concept was definitely being birthed on this night.

[youtube width=”387″ height=”332″][/youtube]

This battle footage isn’t anything I’d consider as part of a highlight reel, and it’s difficult to make out much of what is actually being said, but I’m happy to share this video time capsule with people. It’s been a crazy decade. I’m lookin’ forward to the next.

Thanks for sticking it out with the kid.
-Sage Francis

Dec 02

Prolyphic New Song Free Download!! Lyrics!!

I recorded a song called “Fake Limps” with Cubbiebear, former “Artist Goes Pop” remix contest co-winner, Seez Mics of Educated Consumers and DJ Addikt. It is SFR’s Clip of the Week and is available for FREE DOWNLOAD here.

Prolyphic Lyrics:

I work harder than you act,
I use to sport a Yankee’s hat back in the 80’s but now you made it wack,
Cuz you’re going through a phase, a fad
A hipster trying to imitate the ads
You ain’t a hustler, you wanna know what a hustler is,
A single mother with kids working double shifts
You just a kid trying to sell a couple of nicks,
So you can buy a pair of Nike’s and some rims,
You got Timberland’s, so do I,
But I’ve worked in mine that’s what the difference is
Scuff marks are like cuts and scars,
Your mom bought your boots for you to sport at school…
You don’t know shit but maybe you’ll learn
Once you got to put food on the table’s that turn
And change your concerns and gradually grow
From boy to man in them baggy clothes.

Oct 14

Urb Magazine on hiatus?

It seems Urb Magazine is taking a hiatus from printing more issues, opting to go the digital route until 2010 to see if it is financially feasible to return to ink.

Although it’s not a hip-hop magazine per se, Urb was one of the last publications to give coverage to independent hip-hop. That being said, it’s a bit sad for all of us here at SFR and we wish them well.

Here are the details Urb sent out in a mass email earlier today:

“This autumn, for the first time in our 20 year history, URB Magazine will release our first all digital issue. URB #159 will hit the ‘streets’ later this month and feature 25 must-know artists breaking onto the scene. In the spirit of our lauded Next 100, our 25: NOW! issue will be a reference guide to what’s next.

As for our print edition, we’re taking a hiatus until 2010 so we can see what the future of ink on paper should really look like. In the meantime, we’re thrilled about a major URB.COM relaunch (this month!) and bringing a ton of digital initiatives to you and our readers.”

One of the only magazines brave enough to put my ugly mug on a cover. Respeck!

Oct 01

“Elvis is motherfuckin…Mufasa.”

I was recently sent a poem I’ve been looking for since hearing it years ago and wanted to pass it along.

Its author, Jack McCarthy, is one of a handful of performance poets I’d recommend people check out. There’s a lot I could say about Jack, but suffice it to say that he’s the reason I kept coming back to the Providence open mic, and ultimately started writing performance poetry years ago.

Coincidentally, he’s about to tour the Northeast. I will certainly attend at least one of these shows… don’t sleep on one of the true originals.

Click here for his tourdates:

Here’s the poem:

End of the Road

The kids cannot conceive what it was like.

Music hadn’t sorted itself into categories yet.

We didn’t know Carl Perkins didn’t belong with the Cadillacs;

it was just all The New Music, and it was uncontestably ours.

I never heard as much excitement from a radio

as the day a teenage engineer named Arnie Ginsberg

came running into the WORL studio

delivering the new Pat Boone cover

of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame.”

O the times; O the way of doing things.

The hottest DJ in Boston was a young guy named Joe Smith,

who called himself Jose, and never mentioned that he’d gone to Yale.

Now he’s head of MGM or RCA or one of them.

He favored rhythm and blues, but he’d play anything—

one night this new record Crazy Arms,

unlike anything any of us had ever heard,

with these weird piano runs,

and this unknown singer with a terrible obsession

for filling up the spaces between phrases and lines—

“Well my yearnin heart keeps sayin

you’re not mine, not mine, not mine, not mine.”

Jose hated it; he said,

“If this makes the top ten tomorrow night, I’ll eat the record.”

Tuesday night it came in eight or nine, and he said,

“I didn’t mean the top ten, I meant the top three,”

and Wednesday it was three and he said,

“I didn’t mean I’d eat the record, nobody can eat a record,

but I’m a man of my word and I’ll eat the next best thing, my hat.”

And we heard eating noise, right on the air!

Sounded a lot like pizza.

The kid that sang Crazy Arms billed himself as

Jerry Lee Lewis and His Pumping Piano.

This was before it was even clear

what the instrument of rock’n’roll would be—

Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Little Richard all played piano;

it would be a few weeks yet before the guitar took charge.

I loved Crazy Arms;

but I liked the other side even better, End of the Road:

“Well the way is dark, the night is cold…”

It’s not even two minutes long. In it you can hear

the opening chords of Whole Lotta Shakin,

that a few months later made Jerry Lee a rock’n’roll hero—

until he married his thirteen-year-old-cousin;

and the night he showed up at Graceland, waving a pistol.

I never thought he wanted to hurt Elvis;

I think he wanted to put a bullet through that goddam guitar.

Even that wasn’t the end of his road;

now Elvis is dead—arguably—

but Jerry Lee is still out there singing great country,

billing himself not as the King, but as the Killer—

and indeed, some of his wives have died curious deaths.

But, ah, the song.

A while back I saw Moms Mabley on TV,

and for her finish that great old black woman said,

“I’m’a do a song I wrote a lotta years ago.”

And a barrelhouse piano kicked in.

And her hips started to rock like she was twenty-three again.

And she sang, “The way is dark, the night is cold,”

and I went looking for my old yellow-label Sun 45.

When I found it, the name on it wasn’t Mabley.

But that doesn’t mean she didn’t write it;

New York and Philly are filled with aging white gangsters still raking in royalties from

songs sold to them by black artists in the fifties for a hundred bucks,


because the way is dark;

and the night is



When I sent Sage this poem, he was reminded of another piece from one of the greats. A guy named Kwesi Davis who I’m not sure is even performing anymore. Everything this guy did onstage was crushing, and he remains a major inspiration even though I haven’t seen or heard his work in years.

Check this out:

“Poached” by Kwesi Davis:
Click here to listen.

And, if you’re still in a listening mood, Jerry Lee Lewis performing “End of the Road”


Sep 30

Trials and Tribulations of Indie-Rap Tours

“I’ll Never Beat the Clock on this Infinite Tour”

The troubles began the day before our first show in LA. We planned to leave a day early since LA is an 18 hour drive from Portland. I decided to take my own car rather than rent a car in order to keep expenses low, so I had some work done on it to make sure it was ready for the long trip. When I went to pick it up, my debit card was declined even though I deposited enough money in my bank account to cover all expenses. I called my bank and discovered that my debit card had been counterfeited and $800 had been taken from my account. Identity theft… sweeeeeet! The issue was resolved the next morning, which was the day of the show (an 18 hr drive away.)

Once this issue was resolved we started our journey to LA. We smashed all the way there, speeding pretty fast, but we didn’t arrive until 12:35 a.m. I went straight on stage and played a 45 minute set for a thinned out crowd of people who stuck around to see me. It was a good show but I felt a little rough around the edges from the long drive. After a couple of shows everything starting to come together; the shows were great and I was having a wonderful time. And then my wife’s grandmother passed away.

I didn’t really know what to do being that I was so far away, so I decided to fly my wife and son to Oakland so we could be together. This was a decision that I knew would make travel very tricky but I had to do it. We only had one more show in California and it was an all ages B Boy jam in Monterey Bay. We had to fly my brother Jon The Baptist to Albuquerque in order to make room in the car. Most of my family lives in New Mexico so it was a good place to set up camp. The B Boy battle ran over time so by the time I got on stage most of the crowd had left. This show was the first time my son had seen me perform so I felt blessed to do it. It was funny…he wouldn’t just stay and watch, he had to be part of it. So I ended up carrying him in my arms the whole peformance, which was only 15 mins. Babies are the new bling ha ha.

We left the next morning, making our way to New Mexico from Oakland. We decided to go through Las Vegas and stay the night with my dad. We ran into some pretty bad monsoon weather on our way and it looked like we’d be following that storm system for the rest of the tour. When we got to New Mexico the car started acting funny. It was shaking when the brakes were pushed, so I had to take it to a mechanic and fly to Texas for the next leg of the tour. I didn’t have enough money to fly everyone out so my family and my brother stayed in NM while DJ Zone and myself went to Texas for a few shows.

Our original plan was to fly into San Antonio and catch a ride to Austin where the show was, but during our layover in Houston there was a flash flood/ lightning storm and the airport was closed. It opened up but our flight was delayed and we would not make it in time to make the show. We ended up having a buddy drive from Austin to come get us and take us back. This was going to get us there late but it was still the better option because if we sped the whole way we could make the show. And we did. We got there 5 minutes before I had to go on stage.

The show had a good attendance and the energy was real good. This show was one of the best shows on the tour, but the other shows in Texas were good too. After Texas we headed back to NM to meet up with the family and rock some more shows. I ended up doing a show in Albuquerque with De La Soul and it was a great night. De la ripped it, we ripped it, and everyone had a blast. I can’t believe how long De La has been touring and they still look exactly the same. It’s like they don’t age. The next day we headed out to Colorado with my family and Zone in my car while my brother and manager drove in another car. The first show in Colorado was in Boulder at the Fox Theater. We were playing with DJ Newmark (who killed it by the way). There were a few heads who came out but it was not packed…and when that venue is not packed it feels very empty. Despite that fact, it was a great show. We then headed out to a venue called Mishuwaka where we played with Hay Stack.

The venue was outdoors and it had a river running behind it. Really beautiful setting. I was nervous prior to my performance because there were a lot of mainstream-ish acts who went on before me (or they at least made an attempt to make that kind of music) and the crowd seemed to love it. This made me feel like they would hate my music once I hit the stage with material from Hesitation Wounds. Thankfully, I was wrong. The crowd loved it. However, there was one guy who asked my manager “Who’s next?” When she replied that Whiskey Blanket was next he asked “Are they better than this guy?” My manager responded by saying that she didn’t think so and he said “So they suck then!” Apparently I didn’t impress this guy much. haha. I did manage to impress Hay Stack. He stopped in the middle of his set and gave respects to Whiskey Blanket and myself. He said, “Sometimes you come across a band or a lyricist that you just know is going to make it.” He said it made him smile seeing me and Whiskey Blanket smash it. It was a strange night overall but it ended being one of my favorite nights of the tour.

After Colorado I went back to NM and stayed for a week so I could spend sometime with my Grandfather whose health has been bad for the past couple of years. My Grandfather actually raised me, so his failing health has been extremely difficult for me to deal with (to say the least.) While I was there I wanted to help him out with some yard work and house work. I mostly just wanted to soak up as much time with him as possible and let him meet my son. After this brief break in NM, I packed up the family one last time and headed to Arizona. On our way to the Phoenix we blew out a tire while driving in the middle of nowhere. I had a spare but it was just a doughnut and it was too late to get a new tire. I could only drive 45mph on it, but that’s what we had to do in order to make the show. We were still about 200 miles away from Phoenix so it took a long time (driving at 45mph and all), but once again we made it to the venue just in time to rock the set. It was a good show. It was the last show. And as you can imagine, by this time I was more than ready to get back home.

The drive home was very chill; just me, my wife and my son. We made it a casual thing, turning the road trip into a mini vacation…mostly stopping and visiting our family up the coast en route back home. All in all, I had driven 13,000 miles by myself and rocked some twenty odd shows. I was also pretty broke from it all but I was home! To tell you the truth I can’t wait to do it again.

Sep 24

RIP Roc Raida (guest blog by DJ Jester)

This week we lost one of the greatest DJ’s this world has ever known. Grand Master Roc Raida (real name: Anthony Williams) of the X-Ecutioners passed away on Saturday due to complications from a mixed-martial-arts accident. His sudden passing shocked the world (the hip-hop community in particular) as messages of sorrow and condolence came flooding in.

My personal experience with Roc Raida is very limited. I used to hunt down Roc Raida mixtapes as well as VHS tapes of his DJ performances. I played his music often on my radio show and I was lucky enough to see him perform with the X-Ecutioners (at that time they were called the X-Men) at a small club in Providence, RI in the late 90’s. His performances were enthralling and inspiring. I never became much of a DJ, but Roc Raida did the kind of things that would make you think, “Yeah…if I dedicated all of my time to a craft I want to be able to freak it like that.” And of course, very few will ever be able to do it the way Roc Raida did.

Buck 65 has already posted a personal story about Roc Raida on his blog section here at but an honorary member of the SFR crew named DJ Jester wanted to share his experience as well so here’s his story:

“I found out about Roc Raida’s death the same way I’ve been hearing most bad news lately…through Twitter. I’m following DJ Spinderella, the DJ for Salt-N-Pepa, and that’s where I got the news. I was up early on Saturday, September 19th, 2009, on a road trip and this was the surprise I got during breakfast. I got into Marfa, Texas, a tiny west Texas art town a day early before for a gig Saturday. It made me think..Dang, here I am in the middle of nowhere about to DJ and, honestly, I probably wouldn’t even be doing this if it weren’t for Raida. And it’s not like my style is anything like his. I do think he was an influence, though. I can’t beat juggle to save my life but I do know I wanted to start a body trick crew because of him.

There weren’t as many celebrity tweets about Roc Raida’s passing as there were for DJ AM, but I can understand why. It was a different scene. Like other DJs around my age (early thirtysomething), I distinctly remember me in the late 90’s being a fan of this scratch DJ thing more than I paid attention to school or girls. Scratch DJ videos probably got me more in debt back then than anything else. It was a culture I felt part of. Like those friends you have who watch a lot of wrestling. I immersed myself in it, mostly by way of being the arts editor for my college newspaper. Every show scratch DJ related I’d try to score tickets to. I was invited to both Q-Bert’s “Wave Twisters” CD release in San Francisco AND his Skratchcon 2000 event, not as a DJ but as a journalist. On one of those trips, the first video I probably bought was a self-released Skratch Piklz video. Coming from San Antonio, where that stuff didn’t really hit yet I couldn’t believe there was such amazing talent coming from these other towns. Ten years ago DJ’s had their own voices and personalities. Like, when you saw them or heard them you knew it was THEIR voice. DJ Swamp, Kid Koala, Mr. Dibbs, the X-Men, Piklz, and Beat Junkies. Those were pretty much my heroes. Skratch DJing was still considered experimental getting love from the Wire and magazines like that. Anyway, those Piklz videos led to me buying the Invisibl Skratch Piklz vs. the X-Men video. That’s probably the first time I saw Raida perform in a group routine. That made me hungry for more so I bought the 1995 World DMC Finals video. I would constantly rewind the part where he is spinning with his back to the turntables and would try (mostly jokingly) to imitate that during practice. When he defended his title in the 1996 World DMCs, it was like he grew more musical in a year.

Anyway, Roc Raida RIP. I felt like I knew you. Thank you for being you and for your contributions to hip-hop culture.
-DJ Jester the Filipino Fist”

Sep 21

R.I.P. Roc Raida

The first year I played South By Southwest, I was on an all-hip hop bill with The Beatnuts, Tha Alkaholiks and The X-Ecutioners, who were still known as the X-Men at the time. It was arranged that I would use the X-Men’s turntables. It was an honor and it made me nervous. The X-Men/X-Ecutioners are and always will be regarded as one of the greatest turntablist crews of all time. That night I ended my set with my big finishing move, which was to perform a beat-juggle (not just simply breaking doubles) while rhyming at the same time. I didn’t know it at the time (thank God), but the X-Men were watching from the side of the stage (they were probably worried about their gear). When I walked off stage, the members of the legendary group surrounded me and actually gave me props. I remember specifically that Roc Raida gave me a hug and said, “you just took hip hop to a level it’s never reached before. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. Congratulations. Respect.” I’ll never forget it. I consider it the greatest moment of my hip hop career. If I never sell another record or play another show, I’ll die happy because I got high praise from a Grandmaster.

Roc Raida – you made a difference in my life. May you rest in peace…



Sep 19

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