by JR Valrey, The Minister of Information
Naru Kwina is a man, whose life has spun through a good chunk of the most recent eras that define Oakland: The Black Power era, as well as the birth of the Bay Area Independent Local Hip Hop era. You can say he is like a Black Oakland “Forest Gump”, so when he speaks, he pulls from a gumbo mix of thoughts and experiences. Since being just a regular rapper, Naru has merged his passion for education and love for Rap, and expanded his crafts into teaching science through Hip Hop rhyme patterns, with a project known as “Hip Learning”.
Recently Naru Kwina, had the honor of performing at the historic 55th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party. We need to celebrate all of our real holidays aka the holy days where we commemorate the sacrifice that the Black Panthers and others, in the generations before us, made. Naru is doing that, here are his thoughts and his experiences.
JR Valrey: You recently performed at a Black Panther 55th Anniversary – Black Panther History Month event with Saturu, a member of the Panther singing group the Lumpen; what inspired you to want to perform at such an event?
Naru Kwina: I first heard about the Lumpen from Kiilu Nyasha, a former Black Panther Party member who I met when we were doing a Black August event, at the Berkeley Community Theater. She always challenged me to do more political music. She saw something in me that I didn’t really see in myself. Also Bobby McCall, also known as Money B’s dad from Digital Underground, would have me perform some of my political music at Black Panther Party events in Oakland, as well. So it seemed like a perfect fit for me to be a part of this historic event.
JR Valrey: What does the Black Panther Party mean to you? What do they mean to Oakland?
Naru Kwina: I was born in 1965, so I was very young when the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was formed. I’m not sure if I remember seeing the Panthers at such a young age, or if the stories I was told were embedded into my mind. It was a sense of pride all over Oakland when they stood up to the police and patrolled neighborhoods. Personally I am always proud to say that I’m from Oakland, and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense is one of the biggest reasons. I do remember my grandmother, Margret Dyer, knew David Hilliard well. He would sometimes come over to our house. She also knew Huey Newton, since her and my grandfather were also from Louisiana. To this day they are a source of pride all over Oakland. And they serve as a role model for us to do for self and support one another, because we are all we have.
JR Valrey: You are old enough to remember the Black Panther era, yet young enough to have participated in the birth of Hip Hop locally, and you’re still around recording and performing, how would you compare the different eras to today?
Naru Kwina: That’s an interesting question. I generally don’t like to compare era’s, but in this case, I will try my best. As we grow we tend to think differently, and sometimes we glamorize our past. The Panthers did great things, but they also made mistakes. We often forget that they were very young, in their 20s, when they started this; and Hip-hop is no different, it was youth driven as well. It takes a certain amount of ego, to believe that you can make change. It also takes a lot of ego, to get on a microphone and speak your mind, without any hesitation. This is where I see similarities. Both changed the way we look at ourselves, and how others around the world look at us. Both became commercialized after being vilified, in the beginning.
JR Valrey: What’s going on with the Hip Learning curriculum that you have?
Naru Kwina: I have a new project out, entitled “Hip Learning, Our World, Our Planet”. I received a grant from the City of Oakland Cultural Funding project to produce the music and visuals. We are covering various topics including healthy lifestyle choices, climate change, the technological divide, and many other topics. I have a great team of producers and guest artists; too many to name here, but I appreciate everyone who participated in the project. We are producing videos, and will be releasing them in the upcoming weeks.
JR Valrey: Why did you focus your rhymes on creating educational material, rather than being a celebrity rapper?
Naru Kwina: I went the celebrity route, when I first came out; riding around in limousines, popping champagne bottles, dating multiple women at the same time. You know, regular Oakland player stuff. But at the same time, I was running after school programs, and being an assistant in the classroom. I went to teach science, which is a subject that I really love. But the children were so bored. These five and six year olds did not want to hear dry material. One day at recess, I heard a couple of them reciting the lyrics to the rap song “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hoochie Mama”. I wanted to stop them but something inside of me told me to just listen. They repeated every lyric to the song, which is about three minutes long. That’s when the light bulb went off. I can make their lessons fun, by turning them into hip-hop songs, so that’s what I did. And I am forever grateful to all of them for that. It truly changed how I looked at hip hop, and how it could be used.
JR Valrey: What are some of your biggest accomplishments with your Hip Learning curriculum?
Naru Kwina: My biggest accomplishment to me was that my students learned the information that I had created for them. And at the end of the school year, my kindergartners and first graders knew more than the fifth and sixth graders.
Some of our other accomplishments were getting the Creative Work Fund grant, to produce a play called “Hip Learning the Human Body 101 Live”. I also received the Oakland Indie award youth empowerment certificate for 2009 -2010, from the One California Foundation.
JR Valrey: What do you think about the fact that people claim that rapping is a young man’s sport, but musicians like Mick Jagger can still rock into their 70’s, and they are still appreciated by their genre’s fans? What do you think about that cultural phenomenon?
Naru Kwina: That may be very true in the mainstream, but in the Independent underground, it’s just not not true. The majors can control young artists easier than those of us that are seasoned veterans, in this industry. They can push the platforms that they wish and a lot of the young artists are willing to do whatever it takes to get on. Those of us who have seen artists rise, fall, and then they are left penniless by these corporations, have adjusted our mindset to do for self. I think people will still go to see old school hip-hop artists live, but they are not supporting their newer projects. It is more of a nostalgic thing. I’m not sure if the old rock artists are putting out new music, and having fans purchase the new material.
JR Valrey: What do you have coming up?
Naru Kwina: I’m working in the field, dealing with helping people make healthy lifestyle choices, in Black and Brown communities. I also have a solo project out, called “The Gos-Spell”. I also just started a video\film production company, with my longtime collaborator and brother-in-law’s from another mother, Quentin Scales. I am about to start the end of the year fundraising for the nonprofit that I co-founded with my wife, The Alternative Minds Foundation. We will be producing a financial literacy project next year.
JR Valrey: How can people stay online with you?
Naru Kwina: Best way to reach me is to text me a call me.
I am available for shows and school assemblies.
My number is 510 292-5962
My email address is email@example.com
And you can visit my websites
You can also download or listen to my music everywhere on line.