Maggie Brown interviewed for Never The Same in October 2012 at Café 53 by Rebecca Zorach
Maggie Brown is a singer and performer who uses her gifts not only to entertain, but to educate as well. She is the daughter of the late Oscar Brown, Jr., a composer, social activist, and giant of the jazz music scene. For 19 years, she has toured her one-woman show, “LEGACY: Our Wealth of Music,” which follows the history and evolution of African American music and covers a wide range of musical forms. Maggie works through the arts to make an impact on young lives, and her message fosters care and respect for words, music, history and life. We spoke about her work and her father’s in the fall of 2012.
Rebecca Zorach (RZ): Did you always know that you would work in music?
Maggie Brown (MB): Yes, for as long as I can remember, being a little girl I would dream of going into show business. By the time I was three, my father didn’t live with us. But I still was around show business and I still loved it. I remember being really, really little and I was watching TV and I was always singing along with stuff and they noticed, “oh she’s kind of keeping on key,” and I remember one time I got myself in trouble; I was singing the Bewitched song and I was like, “Bewitched, bewitched, bewitch bitch, bitch, bitch…” Oops! But they just laughed because it was obviously innocent. So really, I always say ever since I was little I knew I wanted to go into show business. But then I definitely had influences in my family that would discourage that. My father’s parents, his side of the family and even my own mother—in terms of “it doesn’t always put bread on the table and you see how unstable it could be for your father and you need to major in something else and just minor in that, we know you like it and all that.” But dad said that when I was in high school, I was attending Kenwood, and I was in the school play. Normally he was out of town all the time, but he happened to be in town and he happened to make it to the play. We made a version of Cinderella and I actually had helped write it, and then I had all this makeup on and a big wig and I had this crazy voice I was using. He said he was sitting there fifteen minutes saying, “wow, this kid is really good!” watching the play and finally he was like “hey, that’s my kid!” ‘cause he had kind of been away and he didn’t know!
But he promptly started exercising nepotism, which he was always good for, and by the time I was fifteen I had my professional debut, I was in Dad’s play at the Body Politic Theatre, on Lincoln Ave.
RZ: And when was that?
MB: When I was fifteen—I was born in ‘63, late 70s, top of the 80s.
RZ: And what about the political atmosphere? Thinking about your father’s work, he was very involved in politics.
MB: Right, now, at the point I came along I didn’t see him in his running for office, political days or anything like that and I perhaps didn’t even realize the kind of stuff I was really coming up around because, like I said, if my dad’s out of town and not living with us, there were many times, say my older brother was taking me to see what Phil Cohran was putting on, and being involved with him. It was about cultural awareness, it was about black people realizing that even though we’ve been told all this time we count for naught, you’re not even worth the whole five fifths of personhood, au contraire, look at us, we are the bomb and you feel proud about that. Not to discredit anybody else. But I always knew, like I can remember when dad sung the Lone Ranger. That was one of the only songs of my dad’s that ever started climbing the Billboard charts, but you know it was very political and controversial and I used to always be scared like “Oh no! They’re gonna come get my dad for saying that, he can’t say that!” ’cause basically he says how the Lone Ranger and Tonto ride down the Navajo trail and a band of Indians found them, proceeded to surround them and the Lone Ranger turned kind of pale: “Tonto, our lives are in danger, we gotta get away, if we can, Tonto just looked at Lone Ranger: “What you mean we, white man?” And I was young but I knew that could get him in trouble.
And so at times it seems like osmosis—that I had the same kind of resolve to perform that which is in my heart, that which is an expression of something I want to say even at times when it may not be palatable. I’m sure not being the creator of the music and the lyric like he was sometimes, I could pick and choose, but he was moved to write about things he saw, things that he wanted to see change or things that he wanted to effect change, and so that absolutely passed down to me. I’m much more the community girl, “you can count on Maggie” cultural artist these days than the more commercial kind of artist and sometimes that’s by choice, and sometimes that’s by what, station in life, I don’t know.
RZ: What do you mean by “community”?
MB: Well, I just mean like small organizations, schools, churches, somebody’s birthday party, you know, anybody can call me and usually I can show up. Organizations that have to do with anything from AIDS and curbing teen pregnancy or what have you to just good old church functions or what have you, or discuss Black History Month. So dad had kind of gotten that reputation that Oscar would come through even if it’s not the Taj Mahal by any means, it’s not Radio City Music Hall, should I say, or anything like that but just because you’ve reached some fame or pinnacle of achievement doesn’t really change who you are and how you feel about what you see around you.
RZ: Some people it might…
MB: No, most people it does, but I think I inherited that from him, too. And it’s not that I achieved anything like he did, I mean, I’ve never had a major record deal or travelled the world or anything like that, but I know I’m well respected, particularly in Chicago. I’m in a group called “Eleven Divas” but I don’t think of myself as a diva. I’m inspired to use my gifts to encourage others to take more responsibility for the positive outcome and feel like they can and to see the need to do that, so that rubbed off.
RZ: Can you talk about Legacy?
MB: Right, yeah. Well, earlier in my career, I had made my first recording, an independent release and everything—wasn’t getting distribution or much attention—and I knew I love performing but I knew I wanted to do more than just be in smoky night clubs or playing with wedding bands and that I should probably develop something that would be “edutainment”; it would educate as well as entertain. Dad’s the first person I heard use that word. People used to always tell me I should trademark it and I never did, I probably should have. But anyway, so this idea of “edutainment” is something that was instilled in me ’cause of the “Oscar Brown school of art and performance.” The idea to deal with the history of black music isn’t so much an original idea, because Dad had been involved in a show called From Jump Street. Public television in Washington had had him host the show in the 70s. It was a retrospective of black music from African to modern times. Well, then it was Disco…and hadn’t flipped the corner to Hip-Hop or none of that, Neo-Soul, none of that had happened. I’d seen the From Jump Street series, and my late brother Oscar III and I were aware of people doing things through Urban Gateways in the schools, “touring performance programs,” they called them, and they’d develop a show that could be just that, “edutainment,” with some educational historical value, somehow correlate with “standards” that teachers are trying to get accomplished and do shows in the schools. Urban Gateways would book as agent for these shows and had a nice roster. I wasn’t on their roster but friends of ours, my brother Bo, was working with some of the artists that were, he’d go around to the schools, so when somebody couldn’t do a block they were going to go away, there were all these schools they needed something for so Bo said “come on, we’re gonna put together something to fill in for so and so’s spot.” Well, that was a more recent time that he and I returned to the idea of stringing songs along and having some dialogue in between that made this make sense, and it was a bit of a retrospective. By that time we were rapping. So Oscar’s famous “Signifyin’ Monkey” song for the first time we did it rap style, you know, Hip-Hop style.
And then my brother was busy; he was out on the road and stuff and I still was kind of running up against the same brick wall of like “I need gigs, I need work, but I don’t like these situations,” and there weren’t enough of them, there weren’t many nightclub opportunities at that time for me, so I returned to the idea.
I started studying, gathered information and material. Douglas Ewart, a great musician of AACM and Prince Ravanna Bey were both artists at the Field Museum of Natural History, where they had something called The World Music Program and they had dates that they did within the World Music Festival and it was something that needed to be teaching you something, teaching you about culture. He could deal with aboriginal instruments and another brother could deal with a lot of African instruments. I proposed that I do this show, and because they said “yeah, we’ll let you have a date,” that gave me about three months to get the research done, and in that time I did some research and made the script, and did my first show at the Field Museum of Natural History in 1991.
RZ: And how did you go about doing the research?
MB: Well, things like gathering musical material and information, sometimes just kind of going to the libraries gathering music; there’s certain books that really helped a lot that kind of gave us a history of black music and some of the major events that occurred, the major genres that were created. So then you go to the library; I had some friends of my mother’s and some of my father’s who had good record collections, and I’d go over and sit with them and talk to them. I was waiting for the Harold Washington Library to open, but it turned out, even once it did, it didn’t have that much in it yet. It turned out the great gold resource was not only Woodson Library out on 95th, but Columbia College’s Center for Black Music Research, oh my god, that just…
RZ: Which is threatened right now…
MB: Very much so, yeah. Yeah, that really helped, that gave you what you needed. Between that and going in the recording studio. You could get Smithsonian Institute—they have a whole archive of everything; fieldhollars and Pattin’ Juba songs, I mean, they have everything, so I could really hear and reference those things and then have a better understanding and see the connection of African culture, African rhythm, African syncopation and some of the traditions still carried on in how we produce what became our art here, our music here, even though they tried to beat it out of us and just kill it out of us and scare it out of us. It’s like as Dad said, we had probably become as drum burned as were sunburned so you just couldn’t…it wasn’t going to all go away.
RZ: And so the show—
MB: It’s called Legacy: Our Wealth of Music, and I consider it a bit of a demonstration lecture; it’s done normally, a lot of times should I say, one woman style, and when necessary, when everybody’s crying broke, I adjusted it so I just have a sound person that works pre-recorded sound cues, so for some of the show I’m talking and doing a narrative and then going to a song, going to a different piece and try to sort of look at how things unfolded and then take a look at what we have now, what’s popular now. I ask the question: How could this be? We look at what we’ve come from and now it’s like basically ‘I gotta have my money, about to get crunk in the club.’ Really? Big stars are now what, Lil Wayne? That’s what black music is now? I’m having a hard time with that.
RZ: So it’s not like using music to teach history, it’s really teaching the history of music, right?
MB: Yeah. But you do use music to make it entertaining, you know, I go to schools a lot, although I do colleges, anything, I’ve done Legacy for corporations in various places but when addressing young people I’m really, really trying to put something on their minds so that they’ll feel like we don’t have to just accept, although it’s hard because really I’m addressing children whose parents are playing Ludacris and Lil Wayne and everything, it’s like, “Really? What are you talking about LADY? I’m about to go hear that in the car when they pick me up from school, what are you talking about?” And it’s not that my message is saying “Don’t listen to that stuff!” My message is saying, if words are powerful and thoughts are things, then why wouldn’t we sing about, rap about, talk about things that are life-affirming, that project what we do want in our future instead of dwelling on how many guns and how many ho’s and all that. I mean, glorifying ghetto-ism, I don’t think that’s the point. I don’t think the point was for black people to not be oppressed and kept down and for them to be able to have opportunities just the same as everybody else, and now that we have those opportunities it was for you to just come along and disrespect yourself, disrespect your race, disrespect women, disrespect elders, really? That’s what you have to do to get paid? I’m trying to tell young people “I know you probably can’t believe this, honey, but that shit ain’t right.”
And so to quote myself:
“we need to rearrange
be ones to make a change
use affirmations when
our rap or rhyme begins
write lyrics to increase
an atmosphere of peace
make our expressions bring
solutions to the thing”
That’s what to talk about today, that’s what to rap about today. Why wouldn’t we? It just seems so obvious to me.
RZ: Do you get them thinking about like capitalism, like the market…how it is that these are the things that are popular…?
MB: Well, normally I have 45 minutes, and I tell you I slip a lot in, and some of it’s improvisational. And sometimes I am able to reference something, like when I talk about Scott Joplin in ragtime I say, you know he created all this great music and he was the one who wrote the first million seller, but of course he never got the million pennies from the sale of his million pieces of sheet music, and many of his fondest dreams were never to materialize because he was victim of a racist society that was in control of the money made off of his talent and labor. And, you know, I don’t need a big “ding, ding, ding!” to go off in their head, but I do try to slip those things in or the idea that these things are being done because of greed, because of love of money and it really doesn’t serve us. It doesn’t serve us in a day of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted, unprepared-for teen pregnancies for us to have 90% of the songs on the radio talking about gettin’ busy and knocking boots. What are we doing here? Could we wake up? I’m not a rocket scientist, but you all should not be surprised why people act like they act and look like they look and treat each other like they treat each other. Come on! That’s really where I’m coming from.
RZ: Are there ways that you’ve seen the impact of your work?
MB: I could feel respect. I mean, I’m sure I’ve even taught in the schools, St. Thomas the Apostle most recently, and I’m sure I put something on their mind.
RZ: Like when you get a good question from a student or…
MB: Oh yeah, absolutely. I definitely get…I get connection, you know, I get that they get it and many times when I am afforded the time to have question and answer or a moment students coming up to me and let me know “that was really good, man, I really like what you were doing, man. You could rap too!” They can’t believe it, you know, I can do any of it; blues, rap, all of it. And it’s like bringing a certain integrity to your work and bringing a certain zeal and a certain commitment; committed kind of presentation that sometimes surprises them because they’re used to all this bullshit and fluff, you know what I mean? Really? Grabbing crotch or just, you know, chicks dressing like prostitutes or else guys grabbing their crotch, “nah’mean? nah’mean?” Really? I mean, no, I don’t know what you mean, you didn’t say it so I don’t know what you mean…and so when I show up and I am articulate and I have zeal and I’m laying all this stuff on them, I’m sure they don’t hardly know what to think sometimes. I’m starting to get more opportunities to do these workshops, come into another city and do an artist residency. Give me a group of kids for a good hour. I’m a lay some stuff on them! And from the hugs and admiration that I receive at the end of a workshop or session, I have a feeling that you know, they get it, they get something from it. I hear them leave out singing a song, humming the tunes, saying my little positive affirmation phrases.
RZ: Have you ever worked with kids to produce something?
MB: Several times before Dad passed in ’05, for three years we had worked on Great Nitty Gritty, one of his musical plays. I was assistant director of that, and then once he passed, in ’06 my younger sister Africa and I directed it again, proving to ourselves—what we hoped we already knew—that Dad had taught us well enough for us to do it without him, and so we did that year through Monique Davis and our representatives in Springfield, we got the budget to do a pretty great production of Great Nitty Gritty at Kennedy King; it was the last production in the old Kennedy King building before they tore it down and it moved. And that was 2006. And there have been numerous times when I have put together shows in tribute to my father. So sometimes it’s in a school setting where I come in for several weeks and we have a culminating performance type thing or, most recently what you saw, just putting that show together with my family, getting my children involved. I have been invited to partner with Columbia College, Jazz Institute of Chicago and Orbert Davis’s CJP. A few years back, Steppenwolf gave us an opportunity working with Sylvia Ewing. We did something called A Legacy of Jazz and Poetry, so this time it was me and my sister and my kids made an appearance at the end of the show. We had a couple young poets join us too and a larger than normal ensemble, so we presented more of a variety and just showing the continuum of Oscar’s work within the work of these more current spoken-word artists.
RZ: His work was very multimedia, in the sense of word and image and music and…
MB: Absolutely, yeah. When you say image you mean what the lyrics paint for you? Because he was not a painter or a visual artist at all.
RZ: No, but I mean like putting on a show…maybe this is just obvious but like all the visual components of it.
MB: Oh yeah, like when you talk about “Opportunity, Please Knock,” you know, it’s very important, they were very colorful and dressed real colorful for that production and always wanting to try to give the sprit a lift and bring joy to what the situation is.
RZ: And you’ve been working on your father’s legacy also…
MB: Even Oscar had a difficult time being the channel for this art to come through, while at the same time handling the business side of what it means to leave a legacy. He valued what he had. He valued how he could write and he mused, and he knew it was something special! But he had difficulty with how you take that and deal with the whole marketing of that, you know what I mean? And the fact is he really shouldn’t have to. That’s for management, publicists. Etc. So there was a struggle there that my family and I are still dealing with today, because the fact is, he left without a will, he left without dealing with the business side; he didn’t really like dealing with the business side. For those of us who live on, it’s like he did a lot because of all he didn’t do, by not leaving things a certain way, it kind of ties our hands, it makes it more difficult for us to do anything with the material. I was the one who was trying to get the publishing catalogue together, seeking to understand where things stand and who owns what and what’s left over and how we’re gonna get this packaged in such a way that we can make more of it. It’s like good Lord, all these people out here with one stinky little song and they’re just getting paid and going everywhere and you got a thousand really great ones, and we’re just sitting up here trying to figure out when the next gig’s gonna be. Because we’re not taking care of that business side.
Therein comes the struggle for me because really, if I’m the artist, it’s hard to really handle the business, Dad would always say, “you don’t need to be the one handling that part, we need to produce, we need somebody else to handle that because you should just be doing the show,” ‘cause he valued my talent and valued what I could bring to the show. But it was like good Lord Jesus if I don’t do something, who’s gonna handle the business? Nobody’s handling the business, and therefore we’re going to keep struggling like this and this is ludicrous, so I know how much I appreciate the work, I know I think it’s the bomb, and I’ve witnessed audience reaction to quite a bit of it. I’m also the one mostly in my family who’s aware of most of my father’s stuff because I was paying real close attention and trying to figure it out and understand “oh Dad, how does this go? What is this from? What play does this go in? La-la-la.” Let’s get the catalogue in order to exploit it, and nobody likes that word, you know what I mean? But it meant exploit to the point of popularizing it.
Shakespeare was great, and some of the other great poets they made us study in high school and so forth but gee whiz! If some students could see the kind of poetry this man would write; the sonnets; these pieces called “long songs.” Man! Shakespeare? He wasn’t even always rhyming and somebody would have to explain it to me. But when it comes to Dad’s poetry, No, hell no, it was straightforward, you could understand this stuff and it had rhythm and always rhymed.
So sometimes now it’s very hard to feel like I have the fight in me which is needed to get this material more popular. In the back of my mind this Dad of mine really never wanted to be cut up and sold off into little bitty pieces; he was very resistant when he was alive.
RZ: It would be easy to think that it’s about making money from it, but it’s actually about getting it out.
MB: In the cases where it’s a balm, like there was a balm in Gilead, like something you put on to soothe something, like something you might think about to help put you in a framework that might help progress you? There’s a lot of that kind of material. While I do want to live in a house that’s big enough for each of my kids to have their own room, and feel confident that they can go to college. I always say, we have a goldmine but it’s just chunks of gold; we gotta turn it into bracelets and necklaces and earrings so people can get their hands on and they can make use of it. We have to put it in a form that people can get their hands on it. I’m probably just not good at it; fundraising, sponsor-raising, finding people to invest in what it is. He didn’t pass on the genius in business gene to me either; I got a lot more than he seemed to take, ’cause I’m an artist, too; my grandfather was a real estate man and my years of schooling and so forth did at least put me on another framework to start my own label and to learn and to figure out what the publishing business is and all that. But after a while you start raising a family and it just becomes very difficult to see how you can push it forward, especially when the person who left it left it in such a way that is a legal nightmare, and he knew better, so what does that say? It says “you have to forgive your father and move on and do what the hell you know should be done.”
RZ: But it’s really hard. Just from like doing the research that I’ve been doing on the ’60s and ’70s, there’s so many amazing artists who weren’t interested in the business side of things and who sort of left things in a little bit of disarray—or a lot of disarray.
MB: And your family comes along, and heaven forbid if it was like family that wasn’t even into show business, you know what I mean? I have siblings that aren’t in the business. What if they had to look at all this stuff and say, “Boy, what should we do?” Because even with what all I know, it’s still difficult. But you know, sometimes in spite of ourselves, stuff just gets out there and that little baby gets born and it just goes out into the world anyway. Like Dad wrote the lyrics to Miles Davis’ tune All Blues, he wrote the lyrics to Mongo Santamaría’s melody, Afro Blue. Well, those two songs right there? They’ve been recorded by so many people; if you go to any jam session in any major city anywhere, any jazz jam session, possibly a blues jam session, some at least chick singer, if not any guy singer, is gonna call up one of those tunes probably. And he never got a contract; it was a case where somebody wanted to do it and somehow it made it on a record, it got recorded, some white folks who owned the publishing company on the record label, they get theirs, but Oscar never gets a writer’s share for Afro Blue or All Blues. And sometimes there would be some lean times and Dad might say “we need to look in to that, where’s the money for All Blues?” But the point is, Erykah Badu and Robert Glasper just did Afro Blue, and Dianne Reeves has done Afro Blue, all kinds of people have done it and so the music and the spirit of the lyricist, lives on.
But I would really love to expose more of his prose to the young people because it’s really something. People don’t know about it because he was not commercially active, he didn’t have a record deal or some show on Broadway later—in those last few decades, you know? So people who didn’t grow up hip to OSCAR in the 60’s and 70’s wouldn’t necessarily know him unless their parents played his music. So you do have people like Mos Def, Q-Tip, I heard Cassidy and Nas reference some of daddy’s stuff—that’s ’cause their parents must’ve played it for them but not because they ever caught him on anything, on a show. I was pleased they acknowledged him at the Grammys when he died in ’05; they showed his picture, said the years that he lived. Even though he never took a Grammy and never nominated for a Grammy, but he at least registered something in their commercial music industry.
Dad said, Bob Dylan used to come down, used to come to his shows; I remember one time in New York, Tony Bennett was sitting in the corner taking notes watching the show. And, I mean, many people. Rickie Lee Jones did “Dat dere,” “Daddy, What dat dere.” but she said “Momma.” I feel like any of the real grown up folks in the music business, they probably came across some of Oscar’s material.
RZ: And you write also?
MB: I’ve been writing more these days, yeah. In fact, I wrote a song today; I’m trying to develop a song that helps kick off my concept for whatever it is I’m doing at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival at the end of the month. I called myself…they wanted a title, you know, “what’s the name of you and the band, what’s the group, what’s it gonna be?” I was like “Uh…call it Maggie Brown and the Five Ingredients!” Don’t ask me why…’cause I have five people participating with me, including Bobbi Wilsyn, she was my teacher when I was at Columbia College; fabulous vocalist, fabulous entertainer, ’cause she’s more than a singer and a great vocal teacher; she’s an entertainer. And I look at her and it’s like “Ooh, I see where I get it from!” ’cause she was my teacher too you know, and not just Oscar. Bobbi looks at me as her student and she’s like “Ooh, I’m proud of my student!” So we rediscovered each other lately being in a show that 11 Divas group I mentioned earlier; we’re both in that and she and I have a certain chemistry and effect in that show, and we said hey, we need to do something together so…
Yeah, I wrote something today. I used to always say, I seldom do it for a hobby and I used to have to be pushed, you know, like “OK, we’re in the studio, c’mon Maggie, we need lyrics to this or c’mon we have a deadline!”—“OK, I’ll figure out how to write something.” But now I do write more; I used to always just get like a stanza done, put that over in the songs-to-finish pile. I got a big stack of those! But lately I’ve been figuring out a hook and a bridge, or a chorus and a bridge as well, finishing that last verse, trying to complete my thoughts, you know. When I was teaching at the school, I am not sure if it can be called inspiration or they just pissed me off so much it made me feel like writing something to just sort of get the kids’ attention. Sometimes I would just hope I can slip in a message, if I teach you this and it has a funky little beat that you like, I’ll get my cousin GWiz to put the track together, but if I get you singing that’s what to talk about today or, you know, you want a peace treaty, then maybe it’ll sink in.
RZ: So that’s feeling good it sounds like.
MB: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah I got a small catalogue of songs for youth. Adults can enjoy them too but I mean, I developed them ’cause I was teaching everything from kindergarten to 8th, and so I had to have something for all levels of understanding.
RZ: And the 11 Divas thing?
MB: Yeah, 11 Divas, a woman named Joan Collaso is a Chicago artist that is well known, well established. She…I think it started out at ETA Theatre on the South Side, they were having a fundraising event; they needed to raise some funds, and Joan said well let me call together a bunch of girl singers, the good girl singers in Chicago, and if everybody will come we know we can sell some tickets and help raise some money for ETA. When you call us and say will we come for that it’s like sure, you know, to help ETA, voluntary too. Great band, all you gotta do is come a little early, rehearse your song, boom, let’s do it. Well of course they turned 50 people away; it was a no brainer I mean, of course, but then you have Dee Alexander, me, Tammy McCann, Joan Collaso, Nannette Frank, Margaret Murphy and so on. So then Dr. Adams from DuSable, she was in the audience, or heard, and invited us to come over to DuSable and do it there; bigger theatre, 400 seats instead. So we’ve done it twice at DuSable over the past year and then just last week we did it at African Festival of the Arts to a really great reception. Yeah, it’s really cool, it’s really, really nice, you know, all of us know of and respect each other; some of us have been friends through the years of these eleven women, but now we really get to check each other out and have a greater appreciation for what we’re doing, what each other does.
RZ: What do you think is the value of music for social transformation?
MB: Doing the show Legacy, it made me realize the resilient spirit of my ancestors, that they weren’t just singing in the field because they were “content and happy to be civilized,” they were trying to hold on to some sanity, they were trying to hold on to some of their cultural traditions, they were trying to still be one with their god in secret as it was necessary at that time. And it’s that resilience, I’m hoping that by teaching youth the contributions of their ancestors it will help them to see the world with more compassion and that it will inspire them to want to build on that foundation that’s been left by the ancestors, that that’s the legacy. Everybody has a legacy. That to build on that foundation should be the goal of our youth; to leave the place better than when we inherited it, not to tear it down for the sake of making money, although we know that the world makes you feel like you just got to have money and things and more and more and shop and buy and have this car and all that, but really, even though I would like to live comfortably and not have to worry that mortgages get paid, or if I want to take a trip to see other parts of the world I want to have money to do that, however, that’s not the emphasis of how I do art. I’m sure because of the influence of people like Oscar and Brother Phil [Cohran] and Abbey Lincoln and many others, that the art, the gift of the talent, the gift of having the ability to hold people’s attention and entertain them to me comes with a responsibility and to not just make money but to make change where change is needed.
RZ: And for the youth, what do you hope for young people in terms of what they’ll get from your work?
MB: Just that an awakening to the great power and the great contribution that is, say like our musical contribution to this country, or our athletic contribution to this country, or our scientific contribution and inventions to this country. That we would want to build on and hopefully imitate more of those kinds of characteristics, and I know it’s far fetched for me to even hope that those kind of people would take precedence over Lil Wayne and 50 Cent and Yeezy, Beyoncé, 2 Chainz and the rest of them, Nicki Minaj and them, but I would just hope that something that I’m doing would help them to respect those ancestors or those contributors, more than these guys and girls who are just pretty much about money, bling, social status and those sort of things. Because there’s real change needed in the world and music is powerful and art and poetry and visual images are very powerful to effect that change and so why not use the power that you have to do that? The goal of our youth should be to build on that foundation and to add their own unique layer to the history unfolding from their actions today. So what I’m hoping is when they see me they might say “yes we can, we are all building, we’re all putting on our own little brick and mortar in these layers of this wall of history, of life, of what has happened here,” they’ll see they have a unique and important contribution to make too. And hopefully if I tell them, they will see the need to do that with integrity, in a way that promotes life, promotes peace, promotes harmony instead of greed although I know so many examples of greed are all around.