dream hampton is a writer’s writer. A grown up around-the-way-girl who can talk politics and liberation theory with the same ease as the lyrics to her favorite songs. Last week I shared the first part of our sit-down and still wasn’t even close to sharing it all.
Last month we met at what has got to be the busiest Whole Foods in the country on a gray, not so sunny day in Los Angeles and shared a raw food brownie, and one of the dopest conversations I’ve ever had.
From abortion to hip-hop, to how to make it as a creative, to Black women’s role in our shifting economy, nothing was off the table. dream hampton was open, honest, and willing to share, not just an hour out of her amazingly busy schedule, but also the lessons she’s learned throughout her two decade long career.
Clutch: As someone who has come up seeing your work from college until now, people like you and Bonz Malone, and Toure’ coming up in the whole generation of hip hop journalism, do you think that that’s still alive? Because I know often times Toure’ is always talking about how journalism is dead and go find something else to do…
dream hampton: I kind of twinge when Toure’ goes on those rants, but he said something one time that was so real and undeniable. He was like, “I wouldn’t advise you to be a telephone operator right now either.” And it’s true, people are being replaced. Hip-hop journalism is being replaced in many ways by these gossip sites.
I was talking to a friend of mine who’s a man and his personal life is being gossiped about right now. And I was showing him an example, because that made me look at [the gossip sites] on some anthropological shit…and I went to one, Bossip, and they had a list of all the women Lil’ Wayne had slept with and a list of all the women Drake had slept with, and all these people weren’t even famous. No one on Drake’s list was famous, but Rihanna.
Clutch: So how would you even know?
dream hampton: Right, exactly! So these become the stories about the artists whereas I used to try and write about the music. And if it was about their life it was about some dramatic kind of lifestyle thing, not a list of who they fucked or whatever.
Clutch: Do you think there’s a lane or a space for those people who are interested in the real stories?
dream hampton: Well, I think that’s what I was trying to say. Increasingly the answer to that is no. And they’re very few outlets—and this isn’t just about hip-hop journalism, this is about music journalism. I think that Spin is out of business, and all of these magazines that kind of began in the ‘70s like Rolling Stone and Cream, are on their last legs. Or they’re so big, they’re too big to fail—like a Rolling Stone.
In terms of a new brand entering the marketplace—I mean Vibe reentered the marketplace, but with diminished returns. And I’d argue not just sales, culturally, you know? So I think that the most interesting stuff is happening online.
I happened onto hip-hop journalism and it was about timing. So I can’t ever tell anyone how to do what I did. It was really about that Malcolm Gladwell, Gladwellian notion of being…in an Outlier situation. Which for me meant being in New York in a certain era, the early ‘90s. So you can’t tell anyone how to replicate that. That’s like being in Sillicon Valley in the ‘80s.
Clutch: That’s pretty interesting because as someone who loves writing and loves music it’s a little bit depressing and disheartening to see those examples that you grew up on are kind of just gone.
dream hampton: Well if you love it, you do it. It’s the same thing with the music. People who grew up on this and think they’re going to be the next Jay-Z…there’s a rude awakening. Even if they have the talent and the drive, which, that’s Jay’s combination which is so lethal. A lot of people have drive, like Puff. But they don’t necessarily have the talent. But drive will get you into the millionaire club.
If your dream is to be Hov, that model…the foundation that it’s built on has dissipated. You have to be creative, because what he did—what we did, the generation that made hip-hop—created the bubble. And they created that bubble out of nothing. It’s not like record labels at the time were like, “Oh let’s give a rapper a million dollars.” They weren’t thinking that at all. They were giving it to Freddy Jackson and Luther Vandross, you know what I mean?
Clutch: Recently, I saw your film, Black August Hip-Hop Project, so what prompted you to make the film?
dream hampton: Well, I wanted it to be a fundraising tool for the political prisoners that we work with. They have attorney fees. They have family that they haven’t seen and we try to raise money through the concert to make that possible, and I wanted the movie to be an extension of that.
I want more people to know about Black August. Some people had heard about it, but they didn’t live in New York so they never came to any of the concerts.
Clutch: I remember hearing about the concerts when I was here [in Los Angeles], in ’98. I had just graduated from high school, so I was like, “I can’t go.” But I would always hear about them…For me it was interesting to sit on a different coast and still hear about all this stuff going on.
dream hampton: It opened our eyes to travel to Cuba and to South Africa, and then members of the Malcolm X Grass Roots Movement went on cultural exchanges and brigades to Venezuela, to Tanzania, without any rappers or artists with them. So it was important work and I thought that people should see that we tried to do this kind of work using hip-hop.
And again, I primarily wanted it to be a fundraising tool. I donated that movie to my organization, the Malcolm X Grass Roots Movement, and I’m hoping that they will use it to make money for the political prisoners in the same way that the concerts have.
Clutch: In light of the protests that are going on right now in Libya, Egypt, and across North Africa, how can we as Americans—or African-Americans—kinda reach back to bridge that cultural divide? Would it be just money?
dream hampton: I mean, I don’t know. I long stopped calling myself a Black Nationalist. For me it became outdated, not just as a phrase, but as a philosophy damn near by the time I was 19. But Pan-Africanism, for me, will never be an outdated idea. The idea that the continent and the people of the Diaspora—and people who support it—believe in the self-determination and the independence of the people to govern themselves. People of all races who support correcting some of the interventionism of the 20th century, quite frankly, be it colonialism or post-colonial corporate raids.
We all have [cell phones] because of a mineral in West Africa. And because of that mineral, whole regions are destabilized. So there’s a responsibly—there’s a direct responsibility that we have—as citizens, as consumers, when it comes to Africa.
Clutch: Everything going on in the world right now…people protesting their government…
dream hampton: Well, I think that in the ‘90s we saw the collapse of communism. It’s obviously not dead, because it’s alive in fucking China—the biggest emerging economy and most populous country in the world—is still communist. But the narrative about the fall of the wall of Berlin, the fall of Soviet Republic…what we’re witnessing right now is the collapse of capitalism, but no one calls it that, especially not here. That’s [America’s] whole religion. That’s your real religion. It’s not Christianity, it’s capitalism. It’s consumerism.
So the idea that we can’t buy ourselves out of a certain crisis, that we can’t bully ourselves [out of it]. We actually have to look at our foreign policy and the way that we fucking treat people and what we support. America has lost its moral authority, quite frankly. I was just listening to an interview and Michael Eric Dyson had someone on [his radio show] who was saying essentially the same thing—that America has, in supporting so many of these dictatorships when it was convenient for them, forfeited their right to have any kind of moral authority around being the ones who get to define what democracy is and looks like.
Clutch: As capitalism begins to fall, and poor people just get poorer, where do you think that leaves Black women?
dream hampton: Octavia Butler was always one of my heroes and she imagines this world. This sort of post-capitalist word where people don’t drive cars anymore because gas has become too expensive. Which this summer they’re saying gas is gonna reach $5 a gallon because of Libya, so it becomes present. In all of her narratives that she constructs there’s always a Black woman who’s at the center of any kind of redemptive movement. So I see us being very connected to our humanity. Very connected to the earth and very connected to our children.
And I’m inspired by things that are happening in places that are already experiencing post-capitalism, like Detroit. Where urban gardening, where people farm and trade their services and skills and it’s an exciting time for me to be home. Because there are lots of different models of surviving that are happening in Detroit right now.
When I was a kid it was about the shadow economy of this other kind of hyper-capitalism, which was crack. But that’s not true anymore. Crack is played out—again back to Malcolm Gladwell—it reached its tipping point. It wasn’t about a war on drugs or anything, it was just about niggas getting sick of crack.
Clutch: So what’s next for you? I know you have the film, are you going to write your own memoir?
dream hampton: I would like to write my own memoir, so that’s part of it. And I’m just out here looking to do TV and stuff like that. I’m excited.
Clutch: As a director?
dream hampton: Directing, writing, everything. And I’ll just keep doing that. It’s what I’ve been doing and it’s what I want to do. And I don’t think—I mean back to the Toure’ thing—with anything that has to do with the arts…if you can’t live without it, you have to be so passionate about it to do it. And your passion can’t be about being known for doing it—it has to be for the doing of it.
There are emcees who never got signed—41, 42—still waking up rhyming every day. This is their passion about rhyming. They’re not going to make a living at it. They drive a ConEd truck or they’re doctors or surgeons or podiatrists or they run a fucking chain of grocery stores, but in order to like really make a living off of this you have to have a lot of passion. You have to be organized and disciplined—things that I’m not always—you have to have humility. Because there will be times when people will be like, “Oh you’re awesome” and times when people are like, “Oh you suck.” I’ve experienced both of those things, you know? And I’ve watched my friends experience those things. I’ve watched my friends be famous and not be famous. I’ve watched some of my friends stay famous. I’ve watched some of my friends be broke and not be broke, you know? You just have to really love it, whatever you do.
I think that’s just true in life. You should just love what the fuck you do.