Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Under Siege: Jim Jones "Lockdown, USA"

An unlikely voice of reason amidst the furor over hip hop culture...

Jim Jones "Lockdown, USA"

dir. by Micheal Skolnik and Rebecca Chaiklin

Dipset is not known for their social conscious - by any stretch of the imagination. America, via 60 Minutes, was recently introduced to Cam'ron's campaign to let serial killers roam free, and fellow labelmate Juelz Santana named part of his last album after Ronald Reagan only to warmly recall the rise of crack in the US (he also refers to himself as "human crack in the flesh"). Yet if you wanted, one could make an argument that in both cases the artists were struggling to say something pertinent about their experience growing up in America. The only problem is, there is so much nonsense one must wade through to even arrive at those points that it makes it hard to really care (step 1 is avoiding Killa Season at all costs).

Jim Jones is perhaps the least likely co-founder of The Diplomats to correct all this. Not that Mr. "We Fly High" makes everything right here, but this video for "Lockdown, USA" is a revelatory look at himself, America's war on drugs and the other artists in his crew. If the man who got millions of kids to start senselessly screaming "Ballin!" now has a social agenda, imagine the potential in the rest of the Hip Hop world.

In many ways this video is precisely about the power of music to drive societal reform. Many of the clips we see are taken from a 2006 documentary of the same name by Skolnik and Chaiklin, which focuses on the Rockefeller Drug Laws signed in 1973 that made heavy drug enforcement widespread by the 80's. The film reveals the drastic increase in US incarcerations (and money spent on jails), particularly among the African-American population, since that time. The story of Wanda Best, who was left to care for 5 kids after her husband was sentenced to 15 years on a minor drug charge (which he likely didn't commit), is the fulcrum from which these issues are explored. At the same time we follow Russell Simmons and his brigade of hip hop friends trying to help her cause.

In some alternate universe this video would cause an avalanche of similarly minded efforts to change society through hip hop. Regardless, it's important to understand as much as we can from Jones' work. Once you realize the backstory and the incredible fear that must permeate impoverished communities in America, "stop snitchin'" doesn't seem like such a far fetched concept after all. The loss of trust that has built up between the government and certain groups of people since the dawn of the drug war is a verifiable epidemic of its own. Promoting this rift as a positive phenomenon obviously isn't the answer, but educating the masses to its existence is a start.

Visit the Official Website of the documentary...

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Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie