Make Beats Not War

On Tuesday the 17th, the University of Chicago International House was the unlikely setting for Make Hip Hop Not War. On most nights, the first floor of the International House is populated only by a few student residents relaxing in the warmth of their wood paneled lounges after a day of classes. But on Tuesday, a coalition of organizations, ranging from the Hip Hop Caucus, a group that combines music with politics, to The World Can’t Wair, an anti-war political organization, moved into the International House’s performance hall, turning it into a stage for protest against the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.

By the entrance to the performance hall, activists from The World Can’t Wait, each wearing a lime green t-shirt, passed out papers presenting their case against the Bush administration and bearing hte organization’s symbol: a globe being engulfed by flames. Inside the hall, the organizers set up tables where they sold an astonishing range of anti-Bush and anti-war gear. Closer to the stage, the crowd took up all the floor space. The crowd members were a mixed bunch–there were children with their middle-aged parents, students and elderly couples. Performers included members of the Wu Tang Clan, Akir, and dancers from Reall Skillz, a youth break-dance group the University of Hip Hop. One act included a troupe of dancers dressed in orange prison uniforms and black hoods to represent the inmates of the Guantanamo Bay prison.

In between performances, the stage was given to speakers, who made the evening’s anti-war message clear to the audience. A speaker from the Universal Zulu Nation presented a history of hip-hop in particular and the world in general, in which he explained the connection between music, culture and politics. The speaker explained that we have reached “the endtimes” –not the end of the world, but merely the end of the “present system.” As an aside he also pointed out the role of the University of Chicago in building the first nuclear bomb, a contribution to the event’s host in bringing about the “end-times.” He stressed the importance of the Universal Zulu Nation’s mission of preserving hip hop culture–a politically active form of msuci with its roots in the masses. Kelly Scott, an anti-war activist who had her start back in the Vietnam era, spoke towards the end of the evening. She started her speech with something of a confession: “Tonight is my first introduction to hip hop– and I love it.”