En Vogue, Tony Tony Tone and more musical artists from Oakland could help answer this question. In this episode we meet two gentlemen creating a documentary that will help others do the same.
The second part of today’s podcast explores Hip Hop from two angles you may have not known existed.
* Krip Hop Nation, an international network for artists with disabilities.
* Hip Learning, using the rap element of Hip Hop to help children learn science and more!
So stop what you’re doing
Prepare to hear the words they say
The only way to do it…
Press on the button that says Play!
… Oh snap, #Bars son!
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4. Hip Learning
What’s good family!
Happy Black History Month to everyone…
even if you don’t feel that’s something you celebrate or even really acknowledge.
The simple truth, if you are on this planet,
chances are great that you have been impacted by African American people. There’s so much from the world of invention, science and culture. An unfortunately, that’s not discussed during the other 11 months of the year.
Today’s episode includes a recent piece for Gatewave Radio that shows how sometimes people are like pieces in a puzzle. If one piece is missing, that full puzzle can never be complete.
Following the Gatewave piece you will hear more from two brothers who in their own way are expanding Black history. And , making sure we know, that includes people with disabilities.
Are You ready?
[Audio: “I know you’re gonna dig this!”]
[Audio Mix: “En Vogue, Tony Tony Tone, Digital Underground and MC Hammer!]
Today, the question, Who is Joe Capers?
In the 1980’s and 90’s artist’s like , En Vogue,
Tony Tony Tony,
all had a few things in common.
They all were based in Oakland,
each made their way to the top of the charts
and Joe Capers.
In order to find out who is Joe Capers,
I spoke with two gentlemen from California’s Bay Area.
First up, Leroy Moore, originally from the east coast, raised in Connecticut and New York City.
I’m an activist, journalist and author. I also started what’s called Krip-Hop Nation with a K. It’s an international network of musicians with disabilities. My disability is Cerebral Palsy. I had it since birth.
I found out about Joe Capers when I was doing radio. KpFA out here in Berkley. They had a radio show about people with disabilities. Joe Capers was blind African American man here in Oakland in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. He had one of the first accessible home studios at that time.
That’s a full recording studio in the basement of his home. All sorts of Oakland artists from MC Hammer to En Vogue and others you may have never heard of recorded at Joe’s studio
Leroy learned of another person who could help further answer the question… who is joe capers?
I got a call from Leroy one day, he said “Naru you knew Joe Capers?” I was like yeah Joe?
Meet Naru Kwina , an Oakland California based artist and teacher. .
Joe was just the coolest guy with the biggest smile.
Joe played the base, the drums the keyboards so he was a master musician.
TR in conversation with Naru:
Was Joe doing more of the production? Was he just kind of the studio owner? What was he actually doing?
Listen brother! His studio was called “J-Jams Studio: Joe did everything. He had his mix board in Braille. He recorded, he engineered he mixed, he produced. He did everything that you could every possibly do in the studio. And he had the greatest ear I have ever been around and I’ve been doing music over 40 years of my life. If you had one note or one little thing off he knew and he would call you on it. You know because he was blind you thought you’d get away with stuff.
Joe was a professional and demanded that those in his studio acted the same. Naru, who is also a rapper, and went by the name Quick back then, recalls the time when Joe instructed him to memorize his lyrics and not use written notes in the recording booth.
I’m in the booth one day and I had my little paper… like nah he ain’t gonna know… [laughs] he was like bruh, I could hear the paper rattling in the booth. And he sent me home. He sent me home and told me not to come back until I knew my lyrics.
So he was really dedicated to the music and that dedication is still with me and when I started having my own studio and production I always said nope don’t come in here with no paper, learn your lyrics.
[Laughs] So I got that from Joe!
Learning more about Joe, Leroy was surprised others didn’t know him.
Oh my god, this man needs to be recognized in Oakland because he really changed the Oakland sound of Hip-Hop and Soul.
During that conversation between Naru and Leroy the idea was sparked.
When I said you know somebody outta do a film about Joe, he [Leroy] said why don’t you do it. I said man, I’m not a film maker man… he said but yeah you know people. Reluctantly, I took that upon myself.
there’s lots involved in the process.
I just contacted people who had cameras, mics and I had to contact all the artists. I literally probably have 6 or 7 hours of interviews. Everybody from MC Hammer, Digital Underground, Dwayne Wiggins from Tony tony Tone and other people who just knew Joe on a personal level or recorded with Joe… who were closer with Joe. Some of the more interesting interviews are from people you would never heard about who Joe touched in a particular way. I could just say that he’s still here with us because all the people he touched and how many people still think about Joe.
What began as a 15 minute documentary about the career of Joe Capers has morphed into much more. Running his own studio known as J-Jams wasn’t solely a business venture. This was back in the error when recording music professionally required significant investment.
Large studios charged hundreds of dollars an hour for studio time.
Joe was changing like between $20 or $25 an hour r. The quality of sound was on par with anything coming out of these big studios. Joe knew the music that we were doing. He understood it better than some of the engineers who were in these big studios who were used to . doing rock music or folk and country. Joe understood the R&B and the Hip-Hop… the need for that bottom.
While the music might be about that base, for Joe it included the chance to offer help and encouragement.
He was also a teacher. He would take young kids off the street from time to time. Some people were actually living with him. He would teach young kids to engineer. Pretty much gave at least two people I know roofs over their heads until they got their act together. They might have been out doing some street business and he didn’t really want that. So he was trying to teach people another way to make money and be successful.
Joe Capers taught newly blind people independent living skills.
Making a documentary takes a lot of patience and research. It also takes creativity. Not only in the traditional sense as in the filming and writing, but also in the approach to resolving real challenges that inevitably arise.
In order to make up for a lack of video footage of Joe and artists in the recording studio, original animation is being incorporated into the film.
And I am pleased to report that plans are included for audio description, making the film more accessible to those with vision loss.
When complete the film will be distributed by way of local public television, online, film festivals and live screenings.
Events developed around the release of the film will include a live concert focusing on emerging artists including those with disabilities. The concert will be an annual event taking place in August. in Oakland, this now has significant meaning.
I wouldn’t say we, I helped but Leroy was the most instrumental…
Every August is now Joe Capers month in Oakland. That’s the first Black Disabled man that’s been recognized by the city of Oakland.
Here’s how you can help contribute to the success of this film
I’m working on some more funding right now that’s why it’s slow going. Everything’s been like a labor of love out of my pocket. And Leroy put some money in as well.
I have a nonprofit, it’s called Alternative Minds Foundation and so all our stuff is going through there with this film. It’s a 501-3C so everything is a tax write off for people who want to do that.
And just later on just telling people about it when it comes out. That’s probably the best way you could help spread the word.
It sounds like these two are the right choice for telling Joe’s story.
Leroy, through his work with Krip Hop nation, an international network of musical artists including
rappers, dj’s, producers, dancers, spoken word artists and others, all with disability; have already presented an award in recognition of Joe’s contributions. This award was presented to his family in Georgia.
Naru who had a personal relationship with Joe, while not as familiar with blindness, did gain what some may see as a simple lesson, but in fact is one that advocates have spent a life time trying to convey.
My understanding about a person who was blind is very limited and probably very skewed. Being around Joe was very refreshing. He was just a regular person, did regular things. Loved to joke and laugh, play tricks on you and all of that stuff. He was just like we say, a regular Oakland Cat!
[Laughter fades out]
This is Thomas Reid,
Oh my God, this man needs to be recognized.
for Gatewave Radio.
Audio for independent living!
[Audio: Taken from Rap Battle on MTV
“There’s no charity in a rap battle!”, Sway]
The first time I thought about Hip Hop and disability was just prior to me losing my sight. It was the fall of 2003, I believe it was MTV2 who was airing a rap battle. One of the contestants included young rapper by the name of Blind Fury. I remember thinking his opponent was corny. He got stuck on the blind and disregarded the fury.
Blind Fury by my account was indeed better and should have won that battle. He was more lyrical,
had a method for finding out visual details about his opponents and he had multiple flows. I realized the perception of Blind Fury’s talent was based on his disability.
Why would blindness limit the ability to rap? It’s vocal, what’s the big deal.
Yes, battle rap might require the ability to quickly gain information about your opponent, but Blind Fury was making that happen too.
Eventually Blind Fury took his place in history with his success on BET’s 106 and Park’s Friday Freestyle.
[Audio: From Wild Style… “South Bronx Subway Rap”, Grandmaster Caz ]
The truth is people with disabilities have been involved with hip hop since its origins.
Leroy prior to his interest in rap was into rock and heavy metal.
Ozzie Osbourne, Metallica, ZZ Top…
He was then introduced to Rapper’s Delight, from the Sugar hill Gang.
[Audio: rapper’s Delight, Sugar Hill Gang]
Back then you bought the record and tried to learn all the lyrics.
This is gonna be cool!
At that time I had a walker . So picture me with my walker going to the subway to the Bronx. Here I am this skinny guy with a walker and everybody around me has muscles, break dancing and all that stuff.
I was just a writer back then . I dabbled in poetry. I always told myself that I want to get in the cypher
If you’re not familiar with the ciphers, rappers would get together to rhyme with one another. A time to test your newly written verse or maybe freestyle. Picture a circle of rappers passing the imaginary microphone to one another. It’s a meticulous process. You wait your turn. And you better be ready because you are going to get instant feedback on your 16 bars, or your verse. This is the place where you truly hone your skills.
While the ciphers were often about seeing who had the better skills, these
groups of mainly African American and Latino young men attracted the attention of the police.
Becoming more familiar with Leroy’s presence, he was soon declared “The Watch Man”.
Because you’re disabled you can watch out for the cops. The cops won’t do nothing to you . When the cops came I used to yell you know, “po po” and they used to scatter. They’d just leave me there with my walker and the cops used to get so pissed off.
Leroy played his position . He listened to more and more music.
When Run-DMC came out and did “Walk this Way” and mixed rock with rap I was like alright this is it!
[Audio: It’s Like That, Run-DMC]
Right before I was scheduled to speak with Leroy, I read an interview he did with Daryl McDaniel’s better known as DMC of Run-DMC fame.
Now, when I heard [It’s Like That] as a young teenager, I lost my [Censored Beep] mind!
TR in conversation with Leroy:
What was that like meeting DMC?
Oh my God, you know, I told him I grew up with you… he’s like no no we grew up together!
For me it’s one of the highlights of my journalism career.
I saw that DMC had a book out about his depression. I also knew that back in I think the late 80’s he had a voice disability. I was like ok, DMC needs to know about Krip-Hop.
And more people need to know about Krip Hop.
In general, people are uncomfortable with disability. They don’t understand what to say to a person, how to act, maybe there’s some fear of even thinking about disability…
You know what I’m talking about because chances are you experienced it from at least one side or both.
Leroy never did participate in any of those early Bronx ciphers, but Hip Hop did get into him.
One important aspect of art and culture, is seeing yourself represented on the screen, on the canvas or stage and in the music.
As a black disabled man, that doesn’t happen that often.
My father had a huge Blues record collection and of course as we know Blues artists were blind… like Blind Willie Johnson.
[Audio: “It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, Blind Willie Johnson]
My father liked Robert Winters. Robert Winters had Polio and walked with crutches…
[Audio: “Magic Man”, Robert Winters]
Wow, there’s disabled Black men that do music!
I think it played a really big part of where I am today with Krip-Hop.
This year is our 10th Anniversary and we have loose chapters…
These include countries within Africa, the UK, Germany and Spain.
[Audio: “Tales of the Krip-Hop”, Rob da Noize Temple]
With the network formed by Leroy and co-founder Keith Jones, the two being disabled activists, the focus continues to be on education and advocacy.
So we saw Krip-Hop as a way to bring awareness around the history of disabled musicians from the Blues to Hip-Hop and really educate and to push the Hip-Hop arena around Ableism thinking around disability and to really say that disabled musicians have been here since the Blues.
Krip Hop Nation produces live events featuring all sorts of artists with disabilities including; dj’s, emcee’s, spoken word artist, dancers and more.
They have put out 4 CD’s including their latest.
Our 10th Anniversary CD just came out on CDBaby.com. It has Wonder Mike from the Sugar Hill Gang, DMC from Run-DMC.
Two names you are probably familiar with, but some might be new…like;
[Audio: “Industry Epidemic”, George Tragic]
Wheelchair Sports Camp
[Audio: “Hard out Here for a Gimp”, Wheelchair Sports Camp]
[Audio: “Cripple Pretty”, Toni Hickman]
Rap music and hip hop culture ironically was birthed to some degree from
exclusion and isolation.
Young kids from the South Bronx who didn’t have access to much
including instruments so turn tables and beat boxing became its replacements.
Barred from the downtown discos and night clubs; the community centers and parks became their place to party.
[Audio: “This Can’t Be Life”, Prinz D]
Hip Hop is a culture that created an outlet for expression.
It’s common themes consist of stories about overcoming adversity,
rebelling against oppression, yet the disability experience goes mainly unheard.
Obviously this isn’t exclusive to rap ,
but this music with its infectious beats and rhymes is perfectly suited for Communicating all types of information with
the intention of educating.
Whether changing commonly held beliefs or getting young students to recall all types of information.
[Audio: “Hip Science”, Naru Kwina]
That’s where Naru saw a way to use his love for hip hop and combine it with his love of teaching.
While working as an assistant teacher he had the challenge of trying to teach science to kindergartners.
The kids were like “uh!”
At recess I heard them all outside, they were singing this song off the radio; the lyrics were horrible. [Laughs…]
But, man, they knew the whole song….
And a lightbulb went off like huh!…
If I could turn these lessons into music like that and get these kids excited I wonder if they would learn these lessons like they learned that song?
So I did a series of songs about the body and gave them to my students, the CD’s to the parents to take home and listen to and then we did some in class. I mean they caught it so fast, it was amazing.
And so I was just using it in class and people kept telling me you need to market this… you need to do this you need to do that…
I ended up applying for my first grant. It’s a grant called the Creative Work Fund. It was a partnership with this organization called the African Scientific Institute out here in Oakland. We got the grant. $35,000 grant. I was able to produce a play, the CD and pay a lot of people in my community as well to perform and got other artist involved to record with me. That’s about 10 years ago. I’m still doing it to this day. Outperforming , online sales. It became half of my career. I’m still an after school teacher but I do a lot of Hip Science. I enjoy it!
TR in conversation with Naru:
What was that reaction like from the other teachers? Were they cool with this or did you get any negative feedback from them?
They were amazed. First of all I don’t think any of them knew I rapped. I don’t know why but I kind of kept that part of my life separate from working with the children and never realized that was one of my strengths.
I should have been using it all along.
I never even thought it would be anything like that. I just wanted my kids to learn.
And it wasn’t just his kids that were learning.
Shortly after releasing the CD series he received a call from a company interested in the product.
This company, it’s called Overbrook Entertainment and they wanted to buy [laughter] my whole business. I’m like what? I’m not selling my business. And it turns out that was Will Smith’s company. He was in town in San Francisco shooting the Pursuit of Happiness and I don’t know how he got my CD’s but his kids were listening to it. I never finished the negotiations because they were talking about they wanted to have all the marketing … I wasn’t looking to sell. It was like this is my baby right here!
I was like wow, I know I’m doing something now if their trying to buy my company man! [Laughs fade away…]
Doing something now, well that sounds like Naru’s default mode…
He creates music with his daughter who herself is a singer and rapper at the Oakland School for the Arts.
Matter of fact, the first song she ever wrote with me she was 3. It was called love is the thing It’s featured on Rosie O’Donnell Family is a Family documentary. We did a video for it and everything. It was real cool!
Over several summers, the two have written a book that’s now complete and he and his daughter are creating an accompanying soundtrack.
It’s called Panela’s Journey. It’s a very fanciful tale of a young girl who’s struggling with her identity in the world and her place in the world and wondering why the world is the way it is. She seeks refuge in a fanciful place.
That one should be coming out soon as well. We’re gonna have some augmented reality, apps that go along with the book.
Continuing to put out his own music, his latest project should be out soon.
Naru and Strong Soul and we are The Living Room Legends!
I have some links on the blog… Reid my mind .com if you want to check out more on both Leroy and Naru.
Salute to both of these brothers for the good work their doing, truly expanding the culture.
I don’t know about you but I feel like I have to start producing some more content!
n that note, make sure you subscribe to this podcast.
Go to your podcast app of choice and search for Reid My Mind Radio… that’s R E I D.
You can also follow me on Sound Cloud soundcloud.com/t-Reid.
[Audio: RMMRadio Theme]
Thanks for listening.