By John Pring
An international collective of disabled hip-hop artists has brought its message of cultural activism and disability pride – along with a fierce attack on government cuts to disabled people’s support – to the UK.
Krip-Hop Nation was founded by Leroy Moore in the US, but the movement has expanded internationally and its line-up now includes Birmingham’s Lady MJ Warrior, and musicians from Germany and Uganda.
The six-venue tour finishes on Saturday (29 November), when they perform as part of DaDaFest in Liverpool, following appearances in Manchester, Walsall, east London (as part of the Together! Disability History Month Festival), Stourbridge and Preston (28 November).
Their most explicit lyrical attack on the cuts comes in Politricks In Da Mix, which includes the lines: “The prime minister says that ‘we are all in this together!’/Yeah sure many have to wonder/While he collects a paycheck/And with the other hand cutting disability benefits.”
Members of the collective have also been delivering workshops on how to achieve “disability justice through music”, as part of their tour.
Moore told Disability News Service (DNS): “We say in the workshop that disability is a culture, a history, a movement. So people can hopefully lean on the community, lean on the history and lean on the art.”
He said that disability arts had an “extremely important” role in activism, and that “the activist movement and artists need to really come together”, as they had many times in the US.
He said that “cultural activism is very important” and songs that talk about what is happening to disabled people “really give another avenue to get that message out”.
“Sometimes, so-called politicians turn off when they hear a lecture, but if you put it in a song hopefully more people will listen.”
Moore said attitudes to disabled people in the UK had changed since his first visit in 1996.
He said: “The government and the media are attacking poor people with disabilities. I didn’t see that back in ‘95-‘96.
“Once you get media and the politicians talking the same talk… where can you go? So trying to beat that down is hard.”
Moore said the Krip-Hop movement was now “gathering momentum” around the world, with plans to visit Africa in 2016.
Although there is discrimination against disabled artists in the UK who cannot secure major record deals, Moore said that talented disabled musicians were still ensuring their music was being heard.
He said: “They are still doing their work underground, they are still doing their work on YouTube.”
His message to disabled musicians, he said, was that “your music is bigger than the industry”.
Another of the Krip-Hop Nation line-up is the disabled writer, musician and producer Rob “Da Noize” Temple, who currently performs as DJ and on keyboards for Rapper’s Delight Featuring Wonder Mike and Master Gee, two of the original members of the pioneering US rap group The Sugarhill Gang.
He told DNS: “It is an image-driven industry and we understand that, so we are carving our own little niche out, whether it is a novelty to them or they laugh or giggle, we are not worried about that because we can bypass that and put our own stuff out.”
He said: “Our theme is ‘we can do anything’ and if you believe in that and they see it, maybe their awareness will open up.
“I’ve been putting out records since 1980, and I had a record out every year in the 90s but if you never saw me you would never know I am disabled. It just goes to show it’s just a matter of perception.”
Despite having about 7,000 songs in his publishing catalogue – including the huge 1982 hit You Can Lay Your Head On My Shoulder, the first record put out by the hugely-successful Jive Records – Temple was never signed by a major record label.
He said he hoped that Krip-Hop Nation would help to draw attention to the fact that both he and other disabled artists – both in the US and around the world – had been marginalised.
He said: “I was told by major labels, ‘We couldn’t sign you because of your arm, we couldn’t market you.’”
Temple said his message to disabled musicians in the UK was that “we can do anything, just believe in yourself and what you are doing.
“Sometimes you have to work out your own system, but believe you can achieve, believe that you can do it, and don’t allow yourself to be placed inside a box.
“That is my message and that is why I have never stopped and never given up. I have had the opportunity of touring around the world DJing with the pioneers of hip-hop. They gave me the opportunity, and that shed light on the whole Krip-Hop movement.”
The UK tour has been supported by Disability Arts Touring Network, a group of organisations and venues – including DaDaFest in Liverpool and the Together! festival in Newham, east London – that are committed to developing disability arts, with funding from Arts Council England.