words by Billy "Upski" Wimsatt
this year Billy Wimsatt's book "Bomb The Suburbs" turns 20. Here is one of a three part series of retrospectives on the iconic text.
Bomb the Suburbs is a book I self-published at the tender age of 21, back in 1994. It was the first book written by a graffiti writer. And because I have ADHD, it was really four or five mini-books in one-- on Chicago, hip hop, race, cultural politics, and my crazy adventures hitch-hiking and freight-hopping around the country in search of a hip hop based youth-oriented political movement. It was a fun book. I toured it around the country and eventually sold 50,000 copies.
Five years later, in 1999, I published No More Prisons - a more political version -which sold 40,000 copies. Five Years later, in 2004, I published a really political version called How To Get Stupid White Men Out Of Office. It was a book of case studies of young progressive folks who had actually won or swung elections. It barely sold 10,000. Are you noticing a pattern? My goal was always to help build a new movement to capture the imagination of the hip hop generation and radically change the f*cked up system that wiped out so much of my generation. When I wrote Bomb the Suburbs, I had no idea how to build a movement. The better I got at movement building, and the more effective I became (helping swing elections and passing policies that affected millions of people’s lives), the fewer people wanted to read what I had to say.
To me, this is the essence of hip hop at its best, a creative, truth-telling, revolutionary force of black and urban youth. For example, Kanye having the courage to go unscripted on national TV after Hurricane Katrina and say, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." He changed the dynamics of the national conversation. When was the last time hip hop mattered like that? For the most part, it has been put in a museum and turned into a safe and cute bubblegum commodity and hobby that has very little impact on the world.
The essence is still here. It's in the million hoodies for Trayvon. It's in the Dream Defenders taking over the Florida capitol for a month, making up their own law and calling it Trayvon's Law. It's in Dreamers doing creative actions at the border to re-unite their families. It's in hashtags and tumblrs about micro-aggressions like #ITooAmIowa. It's in folks revealing their true genders in courageous self-expression. It's in hundreds of former Obama staffers writing him a letter not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. It's in Dua Saleh and students in St. Paul stopping the school-to-prison pipeline. And yes, it's in the music of Jasiri X, of Adair Lion, of Invincible, of Toki Wright and so many more. It is anywhere creativity and resistance is found. Even in unexpected places like Beyonce's feminism. And always in the next generation -- from mattress-jumping to Hot Cheetos and Takis.
A few years ago I put out a book called Please Don't Bomb the Suburbs. I was trying to get folks’ attention. I think it's my best book, but it barely sold 5,000 copies. The world has changed. Hip hop has changed. Books have changed. The suburbs have changed (it's where most poor people live now). The South Side of Chicago -- or large parts at least -- have become almost unrecognizable, in bad ways and good.
I'm working the same game I was when I was 14 and 21. How the f*ck do we build a movement to change all of this madness?
Folks today -- the millennial generation -- are a lot more sophisticated about political and cultural change than when I was coming up. I'm counting on y'all to save us. Millennials will be a third of the electorate in 2020. You get to decide everything if you take the power. It's your world now. I am passing you the baton - catch!
Billy “Upski” Wimsatt is a Journalist, Social Consultant, Political Organizer and former Graffiti Writer from Chicago. He is the author of six books and currently lives in New York City.