TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Jitu tha Jugganot

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The hip hop legend Nas has said hip hop is dead.

Many fans would disagree, but for different reasons. Some would point to the record sales of platinum and multi-platinum performers such as 50 Cent and Eminem as proof of the genre’s vitality.

Yet hip hop sales have been falling, or actually plummeting. According to music industry statistics compiled by Nielsen SoundScan, hip hop sales have declined more than those of the industry at large: almost 47 percent since the year 2000.

Apparently the fans who shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars have become satiated with years of the materialistic idiocy of “playa” rhymes and the sociopathic, KKK-sponsored fantasies of gangsta rap.

But with those fans having moved onto other genres, have they left hip hop’s bloated and bullet-ridden corpse in the street?

And how did hip hop move from being a diverse, ranging series of styles in the mid 1980s to one led by a dynamically political vanguard around the hub of 1990, only to collapse into misogyny and violence by 1993?

Some of those who make the most passionate argument that hip hop is not dead are those who have been engineering the return of the music’s social and political consciousness. Classic artists who never left such as Public Enemy, KRS-One and Brand Nubian, come-back grown-ups such as X-Clan, and relative newcomers such as Talib Kweli, all prove that hip hop for adults is the indeed the shining star.

And then there are the artists who are richly talented and skilled, who’ve fought rhyme battles and real ones, who’ve paid dues in the community and struggled up from obscurity for years, who are only now beginning to gain their place in the moonlight. One of those artists is Chicago’s Jitu tha Jugganot.

In 1991, Jitu tha Jugganot still belonged to Chicago outfit Ten Tray. Despite gaining some success, including placement on the record label Polygram, the band eventually disappeared on the crowded hip hop tarmac. But Jitu himself would not go away, not least of which because he is a seasoned organiser and neighbourhood leader with Chicago’s respected Kenwood Oakland Community Organisation.

When he’s not onstage, Jitu teaches Afrikan-American history at St. Leonard’s Adult High School, the only accredited secondary school in the US set up for former prisoners. There he’s enjoyed enormous success with students, and the respect he’s garnered as an activist and as an MC have earned him special credit with music producers who produced his 2006 album Necessary Ingredients at no charge. Such respect also comes from having won the Battle of the Iron Mic, and from being a four-time MC battle champion at Wild Hare.

Tonight we’ll listen to my feature conversation with this titanic MC. Jitu spoke with me via telephone from the offices of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organisation. Occasionally you’ll hear the sounds of his colleagues doing their daily work, which at one moment included vacuuming the office.

For legal downloads of select songs, or to buy the album Necessary Ingredients, click here.

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