Get By

Artist: Talib Kweli
Album: Quality
Record: Get By
Release: 2002

[Talib]
Yeah.. my Lord.. yeah

[Verse 1: Talib]
We sell, crack to our own out the back of our homes
We smell the musk at the dusk in the crack of the dawn
We go through “Epidodes II,” like “Attack of the Clones”
Work ’til we break our back and you hear the crack of the bone
To get by.. just to get by
Just to get by, just to get by
We commute to computers
Spirits stay mute while you eagles spread rumors
We survivalists, turned to consumers
To get by.. just to get by
Just to get by, just to get by
Ask Him why some people got to live in a trailer, cuss like a sailor
I paint a picture with the pen like Norman Mailer
Me Abuela raised three daughters all by herself, with no help
I think about a struggle and I find the strength in myself
These words, melt in my mouth
They hot, like the jail cell in the South
Before my nigga Core bailed me out
To get by.. just to get by
Just to get by, just to get by
We do or die like Bed-Stuy through the red sky
with the window of the red eye
Let the lead fly, some G. Rap shit, “Livin’ to Let Die”

[Chorus: Background singers]
This morning, I woke up
Feeling brand new and I jumped up
Feeling my highs, and my lows
In my soul, and my goals
Just to stop smokin, and stop drinkin
And I’ve been thinkin – I’ve got my reasons
Just to get (by), just to get (by)
Just to get (by), just to get (by)

[Talib and background singers]
(ba ba ba, ba da bada, ba da bada, ba da bada, ba da badahh
Just to get (by), just to get (by)
Just to get (by by by by by by)
(ba ba ba, ba da bada, ba da bada, ba da bada, ba da badahh
Just to get (by), just to get (by)
Just to get (by by by by by by)

[Verse 2: Talib]
We keeping it gangster say “fo shizzle”, “fo sheezy” and “stayin crunk”
Its easy to pull a breezy, smoke trees, and we stay drunk
Yo, our activism attackin the system, the blacks and latins in prison
Numbers of prison they victim black in the vision
Shit and all they got is rappin to listen to
I let them know we missin you, the love is unconditional
Even when the condition is critical, when the livin is miserable
Your position is pivotal, I ain’t bullshittin you
Now, why would I lie? Just to get by?
Just to get by, we get fly
The TV got us reachin for stars
Not the ones between Venus and Mars, the ones that be readin for parts
Some people get breast enhancements and penis enlargers
Saturday sinners Sunday morning at the feet of the Father
They need somethin to rely on, we get high on all types of drug
When, all you really need is love
To get by.. just to get by
Just to get by, just to get by
Our parents sing like John Lennon, “Imagine all the people watch”
We rock like Paul McCartney from now until the last Beatle drop

[Chorus: Background singers]
This morning, I woke up
Feeling brand new and I jumped up
Feeling my high’s, and my low’s
In my soul, and my goals
Just to stop smoking, and stop drinking
And I’ve been thinking – I’ve got my reasons
Just to get (by), just to get (by)
Just to get (by), just to get (by)

[Talib: repeat 2x – with background singers]
Yoyoyo, yo
Some people cry, and some people try
Just to get by, for a piece of the pie
You love to eat and get high
We decieve when we lie, and we keepin it fly

Yoyoyo, yo
When, the people decide, to keep a disguise
Can’t see they eyes, see the evil inside
But there’s people you find
Strong or feeble in mind, I stay readin the signs

Innercity Boundaries

I love my old school hip hop. I have so many amazing memories are attached to the songs from 1987 to about 1996. Song from 1993 hold a special place for me. That was the year I graduated high school (I shocked a lot of folks when I was able to walk with my class), the year I became Muslim, the year I began re-discovering who I was. It has been a journey and I continue to develop my consciousness. A week before my 18th birth, I got tickets to go to this hip hop show. I was so hype: Pharcyde, Souls of Mischief, Freestyle Fellowship, and some others. My homeboys all worked in College radio and we were all pretty pumped about the show in South San Jose. But that same night, we learned that Freestyle Fellowship broke up. I never got to see them in concert.

Artist: Freestyle Fellowship
Album: Innercity Griots
Song: Innercity Boundaries [Featuring Daddy-O]
Release: 1993

[Featuring Daddy-O]
Once we have the knowledge of self as a people then we could be free
and no devil could ever enter the boundaries
I stand in the center around all these sounds I see
Blessin’ Allah that I found the key
That’s how we be
We are by no means ashamed of our cultural background
Not a tad bit ‘fraid of change
Look around, it’s the same ol’ same ol’ thang
(Hey, what’s goin’ on man? How you doin’, man?)
Ahh, you know, I can’t call it
Try to maintain, overlooking these boundaries
I gotta be righteous, I gotta be me
I gotta be conscious, I gotta be free
I gotta be able, I gotta attack
I gotta be stable, I gotta be black
Who is that surrounding me?
Enemy enemy you crossed the wrong boundary, poof!
Wicked witness wizardry
Disappear from here and end up in a tree
Crossed the wrong boundary
[Daddy-O]
The sharp shooting wizard but not a Grand Dragon
A chop off the block but my pants ain’t saggin’
Got a strong ass grip but my name ain’t Money Grip
Liked Gladys better when she sang with The Pips
And when it comes to strength I’m surely of the stronger
And when it comes to death I pray my children live longer
Payback’s a bitch, that’s why I never borrow
If the push come to shove I’d do a stick-up tomorrow
With the group thing over and my flat top gone
I’m livin’ kinda lovely, only Allah above me
Provin’ that old time axiom – birds of a feather flock together
Know where I’m coming from?
[Aceyalone]
I see, I saw, I’m the future, the past, I’m me, I’m y’all
I’m the enemy, friend, and the law
The beginner then end-all
The Final Call, the raw
The win, the loss, the draw
The summit, the peak, the wall, the downfall
The energizing uprising black nigger
The wise, the eyes, the dirt
The overall ball, the earth
And most importantly the birth of a new generation of blackness
And we’re forced to set our boundaries

I gotta be righteous, I gotta be me
I gotta be conscious, I gotta be free
I gotta be able to counterattack
I gotta be stable I gotta be black
I gotta be open, gotta be me and
I gotta keep hopin’ we’re gonna be free
Gotta be able to counterattack
Gotta be stable gotta be black

Getting by Within and Without Innercity Boundaries

I’ve been in a number of conversations about Black identities, Islam, and the broader society. Not all Muslims are amenable to these conversations, others seek to define the limits of the discourse on race and Muslim identity. As sister Safia from Safiyya Outlines noted in a recent comment:

Whenever a Black Muslim mentions Blackness or the Black community in a positive way, a non-Black Muslim will swiftly chastise them for it and usually drop the ‘k’ word while they’re at it.
Just another train that is never late

There are non-Black Muslims who feel entitled to speak as authorities in their critiques of Black culture despite their lack of scholarly credentials or understanding of Black intellectual and cultural traditions. Some take many liberties in their efforts to weigh in on every issue that effects Black American Muslims. There are some who have the audacity to even try to define what is and who is truly Black, even though their exposure to Black culture is within a limited segment of the community. I suppose they feel entitled to define terms of the discourse. In an effort to create boundaries, I will not engage in nonsensical debates. Nor do I feel that I must respond to every misrepresentation that floats around in the blogosphere. Instead, I have decided to try to be proactive in my writings rather than my earlier reactive writings.

Some of the conversations I’ve recently engaged in have explored the challenges Black American Muslims face in innercity Muslim communities compared to those they may experience in suburbia (Let us not forget the situation of those Muslims who live in isolated rural areas). There seems to be two major models for masajid in America: the innercity masjid and the suburban masjid. The innercity model is predominantly Black American, and is usually cash strapped with a large portion of working poor brothers and sisters. The suburban model is predominantly first and second generation immigrant and a bit less cash strapped because a large portion of its members are middle class or affluent. In the innercity Masjid, a professional Black American Muslim may get frustrated because there are no funds to enact certain initiatives, members may have ambivalent attitudes towards intellectuals, or the programing board may be more interested in re-integrating ex-cons than providing scholarships for college age kids, or any number of issues. Within an immigrant run community, an educated professional Black American Muslim may feel invisible. They may exhaust themselves at rallies and fundraisers that support overseas causes, but find no support for things of immediate concern to them such as a trying to buy a car without going into serious riba debt, student loans, or even scholarships for their kids to attend the expensive Islamic school. Looking at the pros and cons of each choice, Black American Muslims can either cast their lot with the innercity community, the suburban community , or to opt out of community life and be a down-low-Muslim.

Black American Muslims like myself are often obsessed with these questions because we have the precedent of integration following the civil rights movement. While we all enjoy the freedom to live where we want to live, many of us look back at the ghettos of the 1950s with some sense of nostalgia. When Black Americans were no longer restricted by discriminatory housing policies upwardly mobile Blacks assimilated into broader society. We see the erosion of vibrant communities and growing underclass and zones of urban abandonment. Integration meant the loss of a viable Black communities, where lawyers and doctors lived next door to carpenters and mechanics, shop owners lived down the block from teachers and artists. Integration created opportunities and losses. It can lead to tensions and conflicts like in my high school and neighborhood in East San Jose, an occasional race riot or shooting.

Of course, the integration of Muslim communities will lead to different dynamics and (a’oothu billah, no shooting). But I have often wondered how my kids (insha’Allah) will see themselves in a Muslim community. I have also worried that my children would be subjected demeaning treatment by children of less than enlightened parents, or that the school administration ill equipped and uninformed by diversity training will contribute to a racially hostile environment (like the one that I grew up in Santa Clara). While I have argued against the development of ethnic enclaves, I still hope that my children will have a healthy sense of their Black identity. I still hope that they can be a bridge continue to care about issues in the Black community, as well as the broader society. In a so-called-post-racial world, would they be just-muslim-kids?

I cannot predict the future, but the decisions Black American Muslim families make will have some serious consequences on second generation Muslims (the children of converts). One of my friends noted that finding an 18-25 Black American who was born Muslim is like finding Waldo. I’ve often worried about the ability of the Black American Muslims’ ability to reproduce itself, as opposed to an entire generation of folks with Arabic names. Could it be that they come from parents exhausted by the social pathologies, some failed movement, or the non-stop fitnah (discord and mischief) our communities seem to be embroiled in? Like all Muslims everywhere, they try as best as they can to chart a course that would give their children a healthy balance of religious and ethnic identity.

I know of a number of Black American Muslims who have divorced themselves from the Muslim community. They are tired of the social and cultural pathologies that run rampant in both immigrant and Black American communities. Many of the Black American Muslims who have left active community life, and often open identification with Muslims, are upwardly mobile professionals. Their issues and concerns aren’t addressed by innercity masajid, nor immigrant run masajid. They often feel like they are in a quagmire. So they opt out.

I don’t have all the answers, but I believe that educated and professional Black Muslim Americans who opt out do themselves and the entire community a disservice. I am not saying that they have to change the entire world, but by doing nothing they will not only fail to create a space for their own healthy community and spiritual development, but they will fail to open doors for others as well. We have to look at our past successes and failures in our history to draw important lessons. I see professional and educated Muslims who can operate in multiple contexts, whether on the streets or in academia, as being able to bridge between the innercity and suburbia. If the city and its suburban outlying areas are linked in the real world, why are they disconnected in the American Muslim community?