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Exclusive: Davey D speaks truth to power at SF MusicTech

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At the semi-annual SF Music Tech conference, Raw Story sat down for an exclusive interview with Oakland-based journalist and hip hop impresario Davey D.

He stirred up controversy in workshops and panels by pointing out that record label “greediness and shortsightedness” have killed innovation.

His central argument, that majors hurt artists who are better off working around them, drew a surprising amount of applause in multiple industry-dominated rooms.

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The conference, organized with precision by zooming networker Brian Zisk, earned press attention for digital music business topics including new platforms, mobile music, promoting your band, industry bitching, and the future of web radio.

Writing on the increasing irrelevance of major record labels, Mike Masnick of Techdirt drew attention to a particular audience member who insisted to a monetizing panel: “If the major labels are such a pain to work with, why work with them at all?” That audience member was Davey D. He was tweeting throughout the conference Monday afternoon at Japantown’s Hotel Kabuki.

Raw: Now that your radio show Hard Knock Radio is in syndication, how do you think that will affect your impact on young people?

Davey: I think the game has changed now because a lot of the commercial infrastructure is not doing as well as it should. And when I say that I’m not talking about ratings-wise, I’m talking about you don’t have a passion for a lot of these things in particular communities. And I think two things are happening. Community is being re-defined. It’s not necessarily geographical anymore it’s like-minded people. If you happen to be in Georgia and I’m in New York we’re like-minded and so be it. We build community. But also I think the other thing that’s happening is that getting information to people is important too. So we just try to do that at this point in time.

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Raw: You have shown that the academy needs to be thinking a little bit differently about how journalism is taught in this country. There’s a hip hop perspective, people that are not reflected in the narrative.

Davey: People not reflected in the narrative is more like it. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a hip-hop thing anymore. I think one point in time hip-hop perspective made a lot of sense. But right now it’s been redefined, it’s been used incorrectly in many ways and it’s not entirely accurate in 2010. I am hip hop and so when I come to the table I bring that experience just like I’m black and I bring that experience as well. But I think our conversations now transcend some of those lines. I walk in and I am that guy. Its a certain type of maturity. I don’t worry about being put in a box. I am who I am.

So when we come to the table I think we talk to an audience that identifies with hip-hop but even now I think our message and perspective speaks to everybody. Part of it is because information has been so maligned and so distorted in many of the places that people traditionally go. Quite naturally we fall into a role of talking to multiple audiences and speaking what I call truth to power. And our thing is to be passionate, engaging, entertaining and honest with our audience. And understand, you know, yeah there may be other perspectives, this is our perspective. And you build around it, or you challenge it. Maybe it’s just a seed that’s planted, other times it may be an underscoring of a point that was kind of made but not really highlighted and maybe it’s something that we turn you on to that’s new.

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Raw: Dr. Robert Jensen at University of Texas in Austin says neutrality is an illusion.

Davey: Absolutely. I’ve always said that. He’s one hundred percent right. Especially as news rooms became extensions of the sales department in a lot of ways.

First of all, some newspapers are looking at what’s going to be generated on their website. They’re looking at Google trends and all that. The second thing that goes on is that because you have sophistication and understanding what the market will bring in terms of, like, well we got a bunch of people over here but not there. Activists have not kept pace, which is a shame. I know people talk about media reform and media justice. But if you don’t know who the program directors are and the news directors are and who are the main people making decisions for the community that you want to bring media justice to, you’re not fulfilling the job that needs to be done. Because you’re not understanding to the extent that they’re dipping in and psychologically influencing and damaging your audience.

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So let me give you an example, like I’ve always told people. Watch the news. I have feeds from all around the country so I see the template. Most of the news is a template all around the country. It’s all the same template. Everybody got a 7 on your side, they all got the feel-good story.

Watchdogs are good, because you can inform people what’s going on. But for anybody who is an organization if you don’t have a media creating team, if you don’t have a journalist on your staff, then you’re missing the boat. There’s two types of journalism. There’s the quote unquote objective and then there’s, like, I need to inform the people what’s going on. I need to make sure that all the folks in my neighborhood understand our perspective. From us, because that’s where it’s coming from. So this is why we’re doing the march. This is what happened. Here’s the pictures from the march. Here’s our video of the march. Here’s what you see. At this point in time, everybody who has a stake in a particular debate is going 155% to show their part of the story. So it’s on you to make sure that you get your people and show them what’s going on and let people click a button. That’s what Glenn Beck says, that’s what y’all say. Let them decide.

Raw: Freedom Archives put out the film Legacy of Torture in anticipation of news stories to come. So they changed the narrative, and the mainstream media couldn’t just run the police side of things.

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Davey: We need to always have places where we can put our story unfettered, unimpeded. So when people are doing their research they go that’s the police perspective, that’s the community perspective. Then you can decide which angle you need to go on. If you’re not doing that then what is most likely gonna happen is somebody will look you up on the web. You’re not on the web, then they’re gonna be like, well I couldn’t find ’em.

Raw: Democracy Now has more affiliates than ever. There’s a huge demand for stories outside the official narrative. What’s ahead for you?

Davey: I’m old enough and been around enough and know this business enough that I have a responsibility to be ethical. I don’t try to get out of my lane, like I’ll give you an example. BET does like their little gangster stories and I’ve been asked a few times to be on there. I’m not a gangster, and some of that stuff I don’t know. But they’re comfortable with me. So I’m gonna be the person in the room before somebody who really knows. I have to be really careful not to position myself as being the go-to guy when there are other go-to people for a particular thing. That’s what I mean by not going out of my lane.

I also know that I may be the only person in a room where an issue comes up. So maybe somebody’s interviewing me and says something crazy about immigration. That might not be my area of expertise, but I need to know enough about it to say you know what, that’s not really correct. This is what I understand, and you need to talk to these four people about that. But I can’t let you just sit up here and say something crazy and me not say anything. This is what’s going on with the gang injunction, that’s not really my thing. Like Eric Holder, when he came, the people fighting the gang injunction couldn’t get in to see him. Now I had some personal questions I wanted to ask Eric Holder but at that point I knew how important this is to the community that I’m a part of. For that moment it’s like this community really needs to know about these gang injunctions. That’s being ethical. I didn’t have to do it, I don’t need props for it, nobody needs to pay me. It’s just something that you do when you’re in sync with your community.

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You know, what I try to do and what I think is going to be the success of people going forward is what is your relationship with the people you’re trying to communicate to. What is your purpose? If you are looking at folks as listeners and stats and demographics to be conquered and sold and bartered and bragged about and monetized and optimized you’re gonna miss the point. You have to wake up every day and say I represent a number of voices that depend upon me to speak truth to power on particular issues. And that’s what I’m here to do. And you gotta do it with a conviction and a confidence that you know is reflective of the people that you speak of.

My job is there are people who aren’t in the room and I know from the bottom of my heart that those people need this answered, they need this to be thought of, this needs to be considered. It’s a little bit bigger than me. And that’s the calling of a journalist. It’s always been the calling of a journalist that you spoke truth to power for the people that aren’t in the room. Because we have celebrity-ism and all these other things sometimes we get it twisted and think it’s about us. And it’s not about us. That’s why you have journalists who have given their lives. Like, I’m going out to this war, to report this war because there’s a community of people that need to know the truth and if I die telling the truth then so be it. But I did so for the community that can’t get there.

So where I come from it’s their tradition that you speak truth to power not only because it’s right but also because you know there are people that aren’t in the room. Today, I spoke a lot of truth to power for people that weren’t in the room. I rubbed people the wrong way, not trying to be an asshole, but you know. It’s very easy for Davey D to say you know what I’m hurting for money, I need a job. Who do I rub and who do I network with and how do I get on? And people be like, well, come on through. Or you can sit up there and say there are cats right up there on the block who have been struggling and struggling and don’t even know about this, and I know what they’re talking about. So while I’m here let me ask this question, because when I go back I go back to Oakland. And I’m gonna run into those people on the streets and I’m gonna look them in the face. I can say I don’t owe them anything, but I do, because we have a symbiotic relationship. And they’re gonna be like, hey, what happened at that thing? Well you know brothers, this is what’s going on, this is what’s coming down the pipe, this is what y’all need to do. And I get to ask them, what’s going on in your world?

Sometimes I become better known than most people, oh he’s up on it, but it’s not because I did everything by myself. I have a community that laced me with information and I have that responsibility to be beholden to them. So that’s where I come from.

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(Transcript edited for brevity. Audio contains language unsuitable for some listeners.)

This audio is from RAW STORY’s Gavin Dahl, uploaded May 19, 2010.

Download MP3 audio file

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