We caught up with cultural connoisseur/actor/literary assassin Bonz Malone, the narrator and writer of the movie, We Got Your Kids, a film not just about hip hop and the music or culture behind it, but a film about the impact it has on our society as it pertains to economic empowerment, cultural degradation and social revolution. Everywhere you look, in all parts of the planet, youth are picking up and making hip hop a culture of their very own. Today, it’s like a part of your youth, the way sport and joining the neighborhood team was inevitable in growing up. And if you don’t embrace it, you’re somewhat of a square. After all, it’s somewhere in your same classroom, your household and escaping it means – you probably don’t have a radio, a TV or sight, unfortunately. Sock Bandit Productions, the team including Bonz Malone, behind the picturesque Hip Hop Immortals photography book, aims this February 2004 release via Image Entertainment, Inc. to center the attention around the hip hop pioneers that have shaped the culture, as well as the current crop of wealthy artists and moguls that dictate what the youth consume by the billions of dollars.
Q. The title, We Got Your Kids, sort of leads to one thinking that some outside force or entity is infiltrating in a sort of unwanted way into a society that’s destined to be disrupted. What’s the feel you were going for with a title such as this?
Bonz Malone: “It’s always gonna be a negative connotation. Some people feel that the word ‘power’ is a negative word. But that’s not true. It’s how ‘power’ is used to make something negative or positive. That is really what the purpose, the underlined and the subtext of what this film is about. It’s how these material things, and the opportunity of making an economic future for ourselves through this culture; it’s something that is so entertaining that it also has to have that same responsibility as power itself. How is it used, that determines if it’s good or bad? Now we don’t preach to anyone saying it is good, or it is bad. We tell you that it is happening, and they’re people who have benefited from it, some who love hip hop, some who don’t. But for those who do love hip hop, they’re constantly watchful for it going too far or too much of one thing and not enough of the other. So we knew that some people would take it negatively, but we didn’t care. We absolutely didn’t give a shit about that. Hip Hop is about shameless self-promotion. That was the title that was the going consensus and we were down to put it out right in your face. It’s unapologetic behavior. It’s not like the Apollo, where you go up there and you say, ‘I’m gonna do a song, I hope you like me.’ No one starts a rap song that way. You can’t.”
Q. The timing on this couldn’t be better, seeing the climate. Hats off to you, for the first of its kind of Film. As a veteran in this industry, seeing the hip hop from its raw form and cult form, to now as you say, ‘the most influential social phenomena’ – how is it from your standpoint, seeing hip hop go through all these historical changes and phases?
Bonz Malone: “It’s so deep yuhknow. Books wouldn’t fit the shelf enough for the things I’ve seen; it’s been 18 years for me. I started when I was 18 actually, and the things I’ve seen so far was pretty much repeating itself. What I mean by that Marlon is, hip hop was created to diffuse gang violence. Back in the 70′s, up in the Bronx where they was 40 gangs in that borough alone. So it was random violence in 1974, ’75, ’76. Now we see that rap employs gangsters. There’s a difference between a hip hopper – somebody that came up in the artistic form of the culture. The graffiti artist, as a breakdancer, as an emcee or a DJ. Than, today’s rapper who was legitimately and unofficially a drug dealer, who knew how to rap. And then you came into the industry to launder your crack money, and now you put out records about abuse, about killing, and kidnapping someone’s mother, and the disrespect of women. That’s the thing that shatters me. I’m not telling anybody else what to listen to or what to do, I’m not gonna do that. The choice is yours. For me, I’d like to see it get back to more of a balanced view of what it originated as. And maybe that’s very idealistic, and we’re in a world of those who are very materialistic. Those two things are two side of the same coin. I would like to see change. I would like to see women empower themselves more, and not come to the table, that is primarily dominated by men in this industry, looking for an opportunity and really don’t have anything to barter with, other than their body. And they full into the same old trap every time, and they get into the trap of professional flirting. They should be a book about rap industry etiquette.”
Q. In the film, there’s separate reflection and knowledge being dropped from veteran artists, and then the current cream of the crop gives their trendsetting enlightenment. Seems like if you were to actually bring the two groups under one platform or panel, instead of separately, it would be inevitable conflict. In this film, do you bring about some sort of highlighting of this?
Bonz Malone: “Yes and No, we do it unofficially. The way that it was put together in the editing, some of the video is so vintage and so old, we don’t even know where those people are now. Those images at the concert stand out on their own. I’m sure there are a lot of us who are very idealistic, and the ones that are dominating now are very materialistic. So there would be some conflict there. We both love the culture; we both love the music, enough to fight over it, which in a sense is a good sign. At least we gonna fight over it, if we didn’t care at all, we’d fight for what…Yuh see? But at the same time, we didn’t want to give the impression to the mass market, that we disrespect each other; we don’t get along; we don’t agree and can’t be agreeable on anything; and there’s nothing settled amicably. We definitely did not want to send that message either. We wanted to show everyone, rather than tell, that yes there is a difference of opinion and you can tell in the music itself that is done through the artist. But overall, you gotta love a culture that had empowered more youth in a way that has never been in the world to this level, that we are able – a 16-year-old kid is able to afford a Hummer! Whether everybody screams that he’s being exploited or not, he is pushing a Hummer and he did not sell drugs to do it. That is almost impossible, except for in hip hop.”
Q. Although you might see a bit of that sort of thing in Sports too, but your point is well taken.
Bonz Malone: “But you just made a very important point and I’d like to lend to that. The phrase, ‘BALLER’ comes from the sports players, and the rappers picked that up and they say, ‘you wanna be a baller’. They got it in their videos and they pop the champagne – those are the ball players, to where all these rappers are wearing football jerseys, basketball jerseys. Under that category, not as a thug, but as a baller. They’re trying to mirror the lives of a professional athlete that gets paid to play. That type of mentality over into the hip hop community is big. It’s serious. And now the thug, you can tell the thug. They got the Avirex jacket, the leather on, and stuff like that. More grimy of a look. It was separated for a long time,you had different aesthetics and someone who was involved in it could see the differences between the baller mentality, the thug mentality, the gangster mentality, where the gangster mentality would wear a Bossillino hat, some cheap suit. It’s of some kinda lime-green color. And then we off to the PIMP! You had 4 different mentalities, now they’re beginning to merge. Bow they’re starting to morph into one mentality which is like – ‘We’re rich, doing something that we get paid to be 17 for the rest of our lives and WE GOT YOUR KIDS! The kids are the ones that made us rich, ’cause they bought this shit! Even if they don’t dress like us and they don’t want to, they made us rich.”
Q. Sooner or later, with anything becoming really a part of American society, like hip hop surely is now, it’s going to invite the materialism and low-value system that America so uniquely is. So what’s the fascination, what’s the big deal in depicting this in a film, as if this happening is so extraordinary?
Bonz Malone: “It was a perfect time to do it before the industry implodes. That was exactly my reason for narrating and explaining it, for writing it the way that I did. To that there was a record of what really happened, that the kids would never really understand because they’re too young and they too distant from it before it just went to pieces. Because that’s where it’s going right now. Everything comes to an end, sooner or later. And we’re already living in the last days. And we’re listening to the last rhymes right now, youknowhati’sayin’,” (laughs).
Q. Why is culture or when is culture no longer culture? And of course I’m referring specifically to hip hop, which I think is loosely used to define many artists and their careers that really no longer are truly part of hip-hop culture, unless the culture itself is being changed?
Bonz Malone: “The music is no longer part of a culture when it becomes political. When it becomes ingratiated by the political society, then it’s over. That’s when it’s over. Of course I’m not taking any shots against anybody in particular. But those with understanding know, and those who don’t, won’t, until it happens. When it’s used by the political left, or the black left, or the radical right wing whites, that’s when it’s over. That’s the beginning of the complete end.”
Q. Why do you think there’s such a strong connection between music and the many outside industries like fashion, or certain facets of life that don’t directly deal with music itself?
Bonz Malone: “Music is the word itself – m.u.s.i.c. – is derived from the word ‘muse’. Music is the PUREST art form there is. It doesn’t need to see anything as it’s created. It influences, yet it doesn’t have to necessarily influence you to be done, understand? It creates the muse. So with fashion, when they on a runway, you gotta do it to music. When it’s sports, in the middle of the half show, Janet Jackson and Timberlake, you gotta have some music to show some ti-tie,” we laugh. “You gotta have music, it creates the muse, it ingratiates everyone with a sound. No words even have to be spoken, that is dynamic. That’s the power of music, now when you put lyrics to that, lyrics that can activate a community, of any race, face or place anywhere that are talking about fast cars, good food, better sex and a lot of money? You got Kids! You got everybody with that.”
Q. When a film like this hits a viewer and the market in general, what is most important to you, as far as what is interpreted, learned and felt throughout the film?
Bonz Malone: “That we’ve been part of the greatest dot.com in the history of the world. A dot.com that has lasted 27 years and counting. It’s the greatest thing that we’ve ever seen maan. Nothing can compare other than paradise itself. And everybody knows it, it is never gonna be denied.”
Q. Lastly, I’d like to say that the book, Hip Hop Immortals and the REMIX version is excellent. Do you and your team still get a joy or a feeling of nostalgia when you were putting together all these memorable shots of hip hop history?
Bonz Malone: There’s very few things in my life that could come close to that book. Slam and winning Sundance, winning Cannes. I put those with that book there. Going to the Grammy’s for the first time in LA when I was 19 years old for Spin Magazine – first time I was in California and I was all by myself and walking down the red carpet. I put that up there with that book. I put that up there with the greatest hip hop memories I’ve ever had, like being at the El Capitan Hotel out in Wilshire with the whole Native Tongue family. We’re all in there with so many different gangs and nobody wanted to dance. And Latifah got everybody to do the electric slide,” we laugh out! “And these were about 60 gang members doing the electric slide from different gangs – bloods, crips. Nothing but outlaws maan. The whole dance floor was doing the Bus Stop in LA. By the end of the night, everybody was so drunk, and crying and hugging each other for one of the most beautiful moments, if not the most beautiful moment they have ever had. And it was a sister who did that. That is so important. That is so big. Because on the chessboard, if you capture the queen, you win. Here, the queen captured all of us, and made every gangster in there, a pawn. I put that book up with the greatest of all memories, and every one of those memories made that book. I didn’t make that book, the experience of that, of those times made that book. There’s at least 50 of those artists I wrote their bios on their first albums. That’s how far back I go. We had a great time back in those times.”
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