first published in
Willem Rooij & Mario Pfeifer
edited by Elodie Evers, published by Acud Gallery, 2016
Three Afro-American rappers pose as jihadists in front of a flag evocative of the IS. They’re shooting a beheading, a bound hostage knees before the camera: Barack Obama. It fades to videos of bombs exploding in a desert. Should Obama be made to atone for his drone wars in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen? Or, as other video excerpts suggest, should he be held accountable for the fates of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin and every black US citizen murdered by police brutality that he, as the first black president of the USA, was somehow unable to prevent? The rap-jihadists get started with the machete and…
It’s no wonder that the music video Blacktivist by the Brooklyn rap group Flatbush ZOMBiES, uploaded on the 11th of September 2015, became an internet sensation. The play count is over 2.6 million by now. It’s optimized for shock value. Social critique, violence, stylish outfits, jazz infused rap and references to the history of black activism in the USA all come together in the video.
But Blacktivist isn’t only a music video, it’s also one of the three parts in Mario Pfeifer’s two-canal video installation #blacktivist (2015). For the first time in Europe, it will be on view at ACUD in Berlin. A (white) German artist collaborating with a New York rap group to produce a music video that meets the standards of the best clickbait but also functions as part of the artist’s work – it just hasn’t been done before.
Pfeifer unfolds the Blacktivist video in his installation and supplements it with two more layers. On one layer: interviews with the rappers from Flatbush ZOMBiES where they distance themselves from filthy rich rap moguls (It should not make you comfortable that you made a billion dollars this year off of fucking music and endorsements, but you don’t give nothing to the neighbourhood). On the other: documentary footage showing how you can print your own handgun with freely available files from the Wiki Weapon Project. No background check required. All you need is access to a 3D-mill.
Diverse contemporary American discourses collide in the installation – from social justice and racism to weapon legislation and the war on terror – producing a misleading impression of cacophony. At least it seems like the audio channels of the parallel videos have been composed to subtly fade into each other at points so that the shrill metallic noises of the milling machine (on the right) doesn’t interrupt the rap track (left) at all but rather doubles as its percussion. Coincidence or by design? The question stays open, much like the question of whether #blacktivist can be understood as a commentary on the artform of rap itself.
Either way, you could feel reminded that rap – like DJing, B-Boying and Graffiti, one of the four pillars of Hip-Hop culture – was originally a pacifying artform. It developed in the Seventies as the bloody gang wars in the Bronx, fought with pistols and knives, were coming to an end. From then on, they fought with rhymes, words were the weapons. That the rappers who sung about guns and murder would go on to become the most successful, seems at once logical and paradoxical, but also that there was always the “conscious” who in turn criticised this. How do the Flatbush ZOMBiES position themselves in relation to the spiral of violence? You’d have to watch #blacktivist to the end...