For hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco, deciding to accept the invitation to take part in “The People Speak” was easy.
“I realized it’s just an extension of what I normally do — upset the system,” he said.
Fiasco’s performance Tuesday night took place as a promotion of the upcoming documentary, “The People Speak,” which highlights the importance of social activism.
The event featured clips from the documentary, readings by Fiasco and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and a panel discussion featuring documentary producer Chris Moore and Penn sociology professor Tufuku Zuberi.
The theme of fighting social injustice dominated the performance, which began with Fiasco’s reading of Muhammad Ali’s protest against the Vietnam war and continued with McDaniels’ recitation of the lyrics of the Public Enemy song, “Fight the Power.”
Moore took the stage following McDaniels’ performance and gave the disclaimer that, “As you can probably tell, I do not represent rap in any way.”
He went on to explain the premise of “The People Speak,” which is based on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and Voices of a People’s History of the United States, which Zinn co-wrote with Anthony Arnove. The two authors, along with Moore and actors Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, executive-produced the film.
Excerpts of the film featured McDaniel’s reading of David Walker’s inflammatory abolitionist pamphlet, Appeal, which encouraged slaves to rebel against their masters.
The film also included Fiasco’s recitation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s Petition Against the War in Vietnam, Don Cheadle’s reading of Frederick Douglass’ West India Emancipation speech and John Legend’s performance of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” — a song condemning racism against African Americans in the United States.
Moore stressed that the messages of these texts are timeless.
“‘Power will never give up power without a struggle,’” he quoted from Cheadle’s reading of Douglass. “What we’re trying to say is that’s true always.”
McDaniels echoed this later when he addressed the problems of religion and politics in the U.S.
“You guys have the capacity to change the world,” he said. “It ain’t a politician that’s going to do it for you, it ain’t a preacher that’s going to do it.”
After denying his allegiance to either the Democratic or Republican parties, McDaniels declared himself a member of the “hip-hop” party, which he proclaimed embodies the idea of social responsibility.
Fiasco ended the night with a speech on “the union of struggle” — the bond forged by people united in opposition to injustice.
Of his experience working on the film, Fiasco simply said “It made me proud to be an American.”
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