By Miriam Gabriel
I don't prefer to gamble as a method of inquiry, but there is one guess I can safely bet on. I bet that most people I will meet in my life know what it's like to have worlds upon worlds, lives within and with lives, that they are connected to, reduced to small, unrealistically opaque or silent of categories. Be it by a mass media piece, by a misunderstanding neighboring context, or by a casual encounter at work or on the bus. And the variegated, pulsating, multiversed world you know will be reduced by the simplest of words.
As a person strongly weaved with, and by, Hip Hop as an artistic and cultural movement, I certainly know what that's like. I know what it's like to be with fellow lives whose first exposure to the movement was reduced to the "entertaining," or the bubble-gum "pop," or the aimlessly "angry." And you feel like you are a part of an anonymous small group of artistic foot soldiers who, for some time or another, breast-fed and breathed and produced hip hop. We open up archival tracks, history pages, intimate memories, and news of global artists and events that spell the opposite. That reverse the quoted spells and re-fill the ink with long-winded sentences, communally-stamped legacies, new work that may not be getting as much media attention yet but we become its media for now. That replace labels with descriptions conveying civil rights' principles, oral narrative, preservation of underclass history, transmission of communal opportunities to make social changes, consciousness raising. And, of course, style: free-flowing, surrendering, sturdy, complex, Afrocentric yet globally influenced and influencing.
So when I call up one of my favorite poet-MC's and environmental/social justice activists (well, more like facebook him, but it sounds more authentic to lie and transcribe events as "call up," right?!) William Copeland, also known as Will See, and ask him to do an interview about just that, about how words can bring down to rubble the most ossified (or, ahem, well-funded) of communicative walls and re-create narratives of self-defined abundance and "underclass" cultural contribution, and I get a yes, I begin to feel a bolder sense of gamble. Renewed risk, incipient yes, but I have a place to start. I have a dialogue to share that begins to shine light on how, maybe one day, I can bet that most of the people I'll meet in my life will wield some way of using words back to un-box the labels and un-tie the community-to-community sound systems from the monitored satellites. I can safely bet on you finding William Copeland in this interview to be an integral example on how to relentlessly report and create narratives of restorative coalitions and ethically-grounded artistry, not only with the words that go into the music, but those "behind the scenes" in the context of the living heritage he is a part of as a native of Detroit, Michigan. In fact, we start the dialogue with a detailed discussion of Detroit. The split between how it is spoken of in mainstream media, and how it is experienced by its everyday citizens and involved agents, is quite disturbing, and with the works of language artists like Will See, is also progressively reversible.
And reversing a disempowering narrative with an honest, empowering one doesn't come without risk, without opposition from some who may have built their lives around separation, even superiority, conscious or unconscious. But it also never comes without hope. It never comes without the guaranteeable result of opening up minds and lives to the desire to connect, to be conscious and compassionate about where one directs their energies of curiosity, creativity, community, power, livelihood, spirit, wit, and memory. And we discuss it all here in this video! I truly enjoyed this talk.
It's odd to read myself talk about guarantees and gambles here. But, just for this time, inspired by TLA artists like Will See, I feel like I can enjoy a moment of foreseeable success for the artist that maintains integrity with what wisdom he/she/they may hold. I even bring that up at the closing of the interview, to which he responds with an adage that leads itself into an impetus. "They say we're all ancestors in the making," he says. The future I want to bet on, because of what I decide to write today, just might become someone else's memory. Sounds like a nice chorus, actually, that I could work on into the writing of a song.
Cheesy, you say? I don't mind. Aged cheese often survives as sharp and pallatable food for thought. That's when you and I know my words will no longer do well here, and watching/listening to William Copeland instead through the link below will bring a lot more lived wisdom, and much more sophisticated, socially transformative metaphors. You'll find an example of just that when you hear the powerful piece he wrote for us at the end of the interview, which only took about five minutes' time.
This is our second TLA Talk with Will See, a powerhouse of community art and activism in Detroit, Michigan and beyond. Thank you for joining us.
For William Copeland's music, videos, and art-related press, please check out his ReverbNation link here.
To further explore his music, or purchse his new album "The Basics," you will enjoy his bandcamp page here.
For the Facebook page, including music, events, and highlights/reflections, please visit, like and explore here.
Also, stay tuned for my next interview with the up-and-coming social critic, author and poet Vanessa Fisher, which is in the editing phase now. I can't wait to share more talks with you.