In part 2 of ‘The Spiritual Boxer: An Interview with 52 Hand Blocks Specialist Kawaun Adon Akhenoten 7(Click here to read part 1)’, Kuwaun shows that he’s much more than a pugilist. He laments the cultural decline of New York City, discusses Brooklyn Hip-Hop’s West Indian roots, and describes the goals of a movement known as Constellation.
Kawaun Adon Akhenoten 7 (Left) and Daniel Marks (Right).
Scott “Tre” Wilson: What would you say is the biggest difference between Brooklyn in the 1980’s and Brooklyn in 2011?
Kawaun Adon Akhenoten 7: It’s Soft (Laughs). It’s soft and there are no rules, parameters, respect, esteem, regard, or swagger. The Brooklyn of old, we held ourselves to a standard. Although we weren’t masterpieces of men, we were gentlemen. We still knew how to conduct ourselves and work a room, block, or community in a way that we became some kind of hero, so to speak. We were villains, however, the people of the community looked up to us because we never did anything that was too much out of the way. We had a respect. There was a certain plethora of honor. There was an enhancing of character. Even in the way that we dressed. You would never catch us with our jeans sagging. We always had a belt. We were what you called “dandies.”
I don’t know what this (the current state of things) is in Brooklyn. We don’t even carry the torch anymore. New York period doesn’t carry the torch. We’re last in everything. We had a beautiful camaraderie with us. For lack of a better word, it was like a patriotism that we had tied to our community. We don’t have that. That’s all but gone. Brooklyn, and New Yorkers for that matter, we’ve failed ourselves. We’ve totally failed ourselves. We do not adhere to the code at all. When I say we, I’m saying Brooklyn because I’m still a part of Brooklyn. Brooklyn will always be in me, but not to the degree that they’ve taken it.
Scott “Tre” Wilson: Were you surprised when Blood and Crip sets started popping up around New York City back in the 90’s?
Kawaun Adon Akhenoten 7: No, actually if you read Street Kingdom you’d find out that I had a hand in that. Again, the code. These guys, they’re my loved ones. Crips, Bloods, they’re Black. But they (New Yorkers) don’t do it with the same valor, with the same esteem that our brothers on the West coast do it. I would love for the brothers to organize themselves and turn this thing into what it really was supposed to be. You have Bloods like Lil Wayne. You’re a rapper. You don’t know the first thing about this “ism.” But you can just run your mouth and they just give you a star on that. You don’t have to do anything for it. You don’t have to become a zip. You run your mouth Su Wu 318. Blah blah this, blah blah that. Bloody this, bloody that. Because you’ve got bread, you’ve made it. Your credentials mean nothing now. I respect them both, because they’re our people.
|Omar Portee aka O.G. Mack, co-founder of the United Blood Nation. The UBN started on Rikers Island's George Mochen Detention Center in 1993. Since then, they've become one of the most dominant gangs in New York City.|
I’m partly ashamed of it. Why? Because they have no set boundaries, they have no set laws, no rules, parameters, nothing. They start with rules, but now anybody can get in. That’s the problem.
Scott “Tre” Wilson: Brooklyn rappers seem to work hard to maintain their ties with Hip-Hop’s Jamaican/West Indian/Caribbean roots. Why is that?
Kawaun Adon Akhenoten 7: Yeah. If you look around you that’s basically where we come from. We come from West Indian roots and American roots. Not to take anything away from America. America is a beautiful place. This is one of the best places in the world for you to strive and survive do something. But those of us from other countries and other cultural backgrounds, we bring something to the game that nobody can bring. We watched our fathers, mothers, uncles and so on and so forth come here and work really, really, really hard at something. For some reason, this thing is in our DNA. Not to take anything away from American people, but we take it to the extreme. Just like with the 52 thing, I’ve seen American dudes be like, “Yeah that shit? We nice, but I ain’t trying to be practicing that shit. I’m about to smoke this motherfucking blunt,” or what have you. We (West Indians/foreigners) don’t take it like that.
|Brooklyn Hip-Hop collective The Boot Camp Clik have always shows strong Reggae influences in their music.|
For us it’s money. Second, it’s to have honor with what you do and treat it decent. My mother always tell me(Kawaun imitates his mother’s West Indian patois): “Don’ t’row away anythin’ old fi nothin’ new. Ya see mi? So ya master your ting, and make sure dat it stay master. Ya see mi? So when ya walk out deh, everybody know who ya are. When ya do a job, ya do dat correct and to the best of your ability. Even if you a street-sweeper a sweep dog shit, collect di dog shit properly so that when man and man come and see road ‘Yo, who collectin’ di dog shit? because dis place look clean, man. Yo, It’s him.” Because you never know who’s coming to ask.
So this is why we do what we do. We stay to our roots because our roots is centered and grounded in ancestry. Certain people don’t do that. Again, not to take it away from our American brothers and sisters—they beautiful. They do some beautiful things to, even the people from down south. But they have more of an interest in their ancestral heritage. I think that’s what it boils down to. This is why we want to stay close to our roots because it’s ancestral.
Every morning I wake up I pay homage first to my ancestors. I don’t say a word to anybody in my house until I say: “MAFEREFUN EGGUN MOYUBA GBOGBO ORISHA.” This means “My Ancestors.” I cannot do a thing if I don’t first thank my ancestors because without them none of us would be here. They gave the ultimate sacrifice. I don’t care what you do. If you pray to Allah, God, anything, I’m not here to knock anybody’s religion. But I watch certain brothers and sisters. They go and say, “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” to a Chinese whatever. Don’t you know that you’re praying to some Chinese ancestors? Then when you ask them to pay homage to their ancestors, their black ancestors they say “Man, I don’t know nothing about that African shit!” But you’re up early in the morning “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.” That’s their ancestors. When you’re holding on to the bible, you’re praying to some Jewish ancestors. What about your ancestors? What about your Black people?
It’s all good to praise Christ. That’s beautiful. Whatever is making you excel in your life and bringing you to the best you, the biggest you, the star player? You do that. However, always wake up in the morning and pay homage to your ancestors and that’s what we’re doing as a community and as Caribbeans. I mean, yeah we’ll praise God, we’ll praise Allah, but some of us still have grandmama’s picture with a glass of water. Great grandmama. We know who great grandmama is, we even know who great great grandmama is. We know who great, great grandpapa was. We have their names on our tongue because our mother, grandmother, and great grandmother will never let us forget it. That’s why we keep ties to our roots. It’s a tradition.
Scott “Tre” Wilson: I know that you used to rap back in the days. Rappers are always getting extorted and tested by real guys from the neighborhood. If someone had tried to extort you or pull a Suge Knight on you back in the day, how would you have responded?
Kawaun Adon Akhenoten 7: You can ask Dougie. I used to wait—I was waiting for Suge Knight to do that to me. He would have never left that God damned restaurant. He would have never left it. My closest friends are some of the guys from Flatbush. I grew up in Vanderveer. So Henchmen, Wayne Champagne, Kedar, Universal—who you all know as Karl Kani— I mean, I grew up with those dudes. Scooter and a couple of others, I grew up with those dudes. If anything, I get on the phone and (K switches to West Indian patios)“Yo son, make sure dis pussyhole don’t come outta ‘ere.” It’s nothing. Not glorifying it. Doug will tell you. I had it well tight. Nobody extorting this. Nobody. I mean, there’s badder than me but (K switches to West Indian Patios again) Once you’ a badman, you’ a badman. Even when people know they can do something to you, they don’t even want that fight. That’s what I was. There’s badder than me. No doubt there’s much badder than me that wouldn’t even hesitate to kill me.
Even when I was doing this rapping thing, I was always on my badman shit. You can come at me if you want to, but is the fucking juice worth the squeeze, homeboy? You sure you want to do that? You sure? Because we coming for mommy and everybody. It ain’t no big up or none of that bullshit, selling you no wolf tickets and all that shit. We seldom talk. One of my best homies that taught me this whole game right now in England is named Rat. You can do your research on that. I’m sure everybody else will tell you. Ricky, Vinny Vance, Kabian. These the dudes that I grew up with and I am well versed and well trained in that gangster shit, that gunny-gunny, used to the prison life shit. I’m one of the quiet ones. So to answer your question: Hell no, ain’t nobody extorting nothing here (Laughs). Never was, never will be.
Scott “Tre” Wilson: Tell me a bit about Constellation and what you guys are trying to do in the community.
Kawaun Adon Akhenoten 7: Aw man. This is a beautiful thing, Constellation. What we’re doing is we’re going to serve the community in a way that’s uplifting to the community. It’s helping young men become strong men. It’s enhancing their honor. It’s making them masterpieces of men. What we’re doing is something that should’ve been done with us. We’re showing these youngsters, men, women, little girls, little boys, that we’re not afraid of them. We love them. That’s what they need. They need love. They need nurturing. They need protection.
With respect to 52, what we would love to see in the community is for them to put down the guns, and I know it’s not going to happen overnight. If they have to fight, pick up your fists. Get back into this pretty thing. Get back into the art. If you’re going to fight, fight with your hands. Get pretty. Get beautiful. Lump each other up and walk away. Learn to live. Enhance your talent. Enhance your honor. Any punk, any clown, can kill or shoot something in the streets. We want to bring it back to the days when you can talk your talk. You can walk your walk to, but you’re respected for being a man. Not being a coward. Not being gunny gunny. You’re respected for being a man. This is what we’re trying to bring to the community. We’re trying to bring some respect for the sciences. We’re trying to bring some respect for the tradition of ancestors and the tradition of learning how to talk through your differences as well. Communicating in such way that when you speak, people stop and listen. There’s so much garbage in the street right now. There are so many people like these rappers and so on and so forth lying to the communities about what they do and about this and about that. Letting these people see in their minds a side of themselves that once they live it, they can never go back. We just want to tell the truth.
Just yesterday we were doing some research of the 1860’s and we found there was a ship called the USS Constellation that patrolled the shores of Africa waiting for slaver ships that were taking slaves when they illegalized the slave trade. The caption of the boat said “USS Constellation: The Battle for Freedom.” I looked at my brother Daniel Marks and said to him “You know, that’s kind of like us, man. The universe loves us so much that they let us take this name Constellation.” Way before everything started we came up with this name. It’s giving us confirmation that the universe is on our side and will bring us to a point where we have a conglomerate, if you will, a nation of individuals who are steadfastly being imbued with this tradition of honor, gallantry, beauty, righteousness, harmony, self-love, strength, power, and peace.
|The USS Constellation.|
Click here for part 1!