Hip Hop and CARICOM Turned 50 Last Year—So, Now What?
Patrick A. Howell
MY GODFATHER is Tio Papito, my mother’s brother and so many times my favorite uncle. In some ways, he was even more inspirational, or at least more instrumental in my development, than Great-Uncle George Westerman or Leonard Percival Howell. Tio helped me repair my first busted bike tire with a kit from an Albertsons grocery store in Land Park, Sacramento. El Padrino was a Panamanian police and firefighter. Bang bang! He bought me my first cap gun. Pow pow! And he bought me my first rap album. Boom boom! It was UTFO’s “Roxanne, Roxanne” (1984). Something about “Roxanne” catalyzed spirits. It was the new spirit of our people and our ancestors coursing through this world in a different form … again.
Then I reminisce, think back to nearly 30 years ago, reminisce for real. In those first days on the Bay Area’s Oakland-adjacent UC Berkeley campus, listening to my cassette player transformed my mind and spirit. In a city adjacent to the one run by Congressman Ron Dellums, in the time after Los Angeles’s mayor Tom Bradley and before President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris, listening to Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990) and Tupac (2Pac) Shakur’s sophomore album activated and militarized an already-militant psyche, inculcated by my father, Dr. Bing P. Howell—which in this day and age just means unapologetically knowing precisely who you are.
That “contraband” had been smuggled into a home roosted by my Trinidadian father, a professor of American and world histories (in fact, the co-founder of the Alternative to Western Civilization program at Stanford University that would be publicly maligned by Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Education William Bennett). Listening to it at such proximity to my eardrums and heart, I knew that this was very, very, very dangerous stuff. Tipper Gore, wife of future US vice president Al Gore, tried to tell us as much by creating Parental Advisory labels, which might as well have been brand certifications of authenticity.
2Pac trumpeted militaristically on behalf of an entire generation:
Eventually, I knew that I would find my way
After the darkest night always comes a brighter day
And some would say that turned away is all you’ll get
I just said “Bet” and never let ’em see me sweat
’Cause in the end, I knew that I would have it all
While nonbelievers were prayin’ for my downfall
And some would call and tell me that they wish me well
But in my heart, I’m knowin’ that they wish me hell
We were all chosen by Thurgood Marshall, the judicial Houdini, who legislatively and supremely paved our pathways decades before. We had our very own magical incantations with hip-hop; we had our own vocabulary and our own music evolutionary science. We had our own spirits from the soul of our people. We possessed and were possessed by the conscious hip-hop elixirs and militant rhythms of a new season of global transformation.
In the classrooms? It was poet June Jordan, sports sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards (after Tommie Smith and John Carlos but well before Colin Kaepernick), and American Book Award–creator Ishmael Reed all day long. But on Telegraph Avenue, in the dorms and on campus, after classes and in between? It was Chuck D, conscious hip-hop, and gangsta rap. When I reminisce about all of this? My God, for real. And, yeah, I’m thinking about Joe, Margaret, David, Bennye, Sydney, Megha, Rob, Anthony-Tony, and Keith. I’m talking about Sandra, Eden, Chris, Brian and the Afro House and those divine, decadent house parties put on by the Alphas and Omegas on Durant Avenue. I’m talking about Diatribe, a campus magazine I co-founded as an alternative to the student-run independent paper Daily Cal.
Yeah, my God, for real.
II. A Half Century, Not Out but In, Black Hornets, and a CARICOM Baby!
Gennike A. Mayers
My great-uncle Ulric Cross was the champion of my childhood for all the reasons portrayed in the film Hero (2019), inspired by his life story. Devotion! Keen intellect! A serial manifester of dreams before that was ever a catchphrase in the zeitgeist of world cultures. He was truly the great-uncle I would hear stories about as a child but rarely saw … except on television. Legend. Uncle Ulric was a family legend, whether in the capacity of a Trinidad and Tobago diplomat, a High Court and appellate court judge, a highly decorated and distinguished World War II veteran, or a co-founder of the education NGO Cotton Tree Foundation. Our proud island nation knew of him and in some way benefited from his indefatigable dedication, wisdom, and public service. And in my home? He was a living legend with whom I actually shared a bloodline. I was stung … infected by this black hornet. Let me explain …
In my first job as a trainee journalist with a local television station, I had the thrill of my lifetime—interviewing Uncle Ulric. He shared the story of Kristallnacht, in which the Nazis encouraged Germans to riot against Jews between the nights of November 9 and November 10, 1938. Nearly 100 Jews died. In the wake of this event, Uncle Ulric enlisted with the British Royal Air Force in 1941 at the tender age of 24. He was young, adventurous, and idealistic. In addition to defeating Hitler, the whole idea of being in the RAF was simply romantic to him. He earned the nickname of “The Black Hornet.”
When I reflect on my trajectory as a budding broadcaster, multilingual journalist, interpreter, translator, and humanitarian communications specialist with diplomatic training, I realize that my one-on-one interview with this larger-than-life icon was a seed in my soul that would bloom into the me that I became. He inspired me in ways I can only now wholly appreciate. As I learned his story, I saw parallels with my own—pursuing journalism, yearning for travel and adventure, working on the African continent, and returning to the homeland to serve the nation. Telling his story? It gives me life.
The ambitious atmosphere of the Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, gave rise more recently to our “Caribbean queen,” Mia Amor Mottley. Billy Ocean famously serenaded his lover in “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)” (1984) long before our own “Amor” was even elected general secretary of the Barbados Labour Party in 1996, much less prime minister in 2018, and decades prior to her historic bid to become the United Nations secretary general (just watch, she is the frontrunner for 2026). She is a leader among a new breed of fearless Caribbean politicians and leaders who boldly proclaim policy with declarative intention and raw power, reconnecting the Caribbean region and African continent through pure verve and limitless imagination.
Now, the region and the world sense the winds of change as these Caribbean leaders vociferously stake their claim on the world stage—whether seeking compensation for reparations, aggressively advocating for climate action globally, or laying responsibility squarely at the feet of those who pollute the planetm causing disproportionate havoc for the small and vulnerable countries that barely leave a carbon footprint. That’s what I mean when I say, “I am a CARICOM baby.”
III. CARICOM from the Outside In, Hip-Hop from the Inside Out, and the New Financial Systems at the Center
Patrick A. Howell and Gennike A. Mayers
Now, what roots do Africa and CARICOM share, aside from coming from the same slave ports—the same “doors of no return” in Ouidah, Grand-Popo, Jakin, Agoué, and Porto-Novo, Benin; Aného, Togo; and Badagry and Lagos, Nigeria? Aside from planting and farming the American continent’s global supply of cash crops such as sugar, cotton and tobacco? Engineering an industrial economy from our agricultural genius over centuries? And now, having reimagined the culture … again? Then, at the beginning of the 21st century, reasserting our sovereignty in the White House, in CARICOM, and at the United Nations? The answer: We share common origins in our history and ultimately the same destination towards a single legacy.
For the past decade, we have been getting our house—our tribes—in order. This organizing is not broadcast on CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, or The New York Times with the same fervor and zealotry as the First-World banana republic exploits of Donald Trump and the Republican party, beyond all rationale, stuck in its seedy terrorist past of white supremacy, white so-called superiority, and the immense damage their spiritual sickness has done to all lives and souls on the planet for centuries.
We watch as this year a Ghanaian delegation of 100, including the Ashanti king Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, visited Trinidad and Tobago to commemorate the anniversary of the final abolition of chattel slavery in the British colonies on August 1, 1834. “And yet when emancipation came, it was the perpetrators who were compensated and not us—the victims,” the king said earlier this year. “Not only was no possibility of support available, but crucially, no consideration was given to the consequence of centuries of trauma and suffering.”
We watch the countless trips to British suburbs, American cities, and other Caribbean townships by descendants of Nigerian, Benin, and other Ghanaian tribes who participated in the slave trade. We watch Guyana’s president Mohamed Irfaan Ali school a panel of British television correspondents who blithely question the legitimacy of reparations. And what of the fact that Guyana will be the largest emerging growth opportunity in the world thanks to recent massive oil and gas discoveries? What of neighboring Suriname’s multitrillion-dollar oxygen economy? Surinamese president Chandrikapersad Santokhi takes the lead in selling carbon credits under the Paris Agreement, credits also known as “Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes,” or ITMOs. Suriname has around 95 percent forest cover, which serves as a carbon sink to the entire planet. Its vast forests capture more carbon than the nation emits, making it among the few carbon-negative countries globally. Suriname is not only a global faucet washing our air supply; it is also the bridge to sustainability.
Our tribes know that we come from a legacy of kings, kingdoms, and palaces, and the ancestors are pushing us to return to those centers of commerce, trade, and finance as we speak. Look around the planet and you will find that the International Monetary Fund has ranked Colombia, Guyana, South Africa, and Rwanda among the top emerging growth economies globally. Visual Capitalist counts eight African and CARICOM countries among the world’s 11 fastest-growing economies in 2024: Guyana, Niger, Senegal, Libya, Rwanda, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Benin.
From the outside in, CARICOM has designed policy and organized the Caribbean region via a range of functional institutions with critical mandates including education executed through the University of the West Indies and the Caribbean Examinations Council, agriculture through the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), healthcare via the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), disaster preparedness and response via the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), security through the Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), and many more that are overlooked until a crisis hits and their niche area of expertise is catapulted to the forefront.
From the inside out, hip-hop planned, blocked, and strategized a generation into its own army of aspirational entrepreneurs and super-megaton-bomb intellectuals, movers, and shakers. The tribes that made the transatlantic trip from Africa to the Americas are the same ones that have now become a new breed of superachievers in the Caribbean, the Americas, and across the diaspora. Hip-hop has been a defining planetary force in not only music but also art, fashion, society, politics, and culture for five decades. Hip-hop, it turns out, is our constitution, and CARICOM is our organization, marshaling the wills and destiny of a struggle, a people, and a legacy. It is the new esprit de corps of our people, humankind, and our ancestors coursing through this world in a different form … again.
And for those of us who attended various institutions under the guise of proudly affirmed action, was it really UC Berkeley that we were paying attention to as we made our strides so wide, bold, and furiously ambitious? Or was it black hornets stinging CARICOM babies lovingly with their very beings? Injecting that black hornet love into our spiritual mitochondria? Or perhaps, to borrow parlance from O’Shea Jackson, a.k.a. Ice Cube, “Gangsta rap made me do it.”
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