With his name and his residence in conservative Orange County, California, Maurice Bradford could be an attorney or an accountant. But instead he’s Macarone, a self-styled “rap activist” who is carving out a niche as a hip-hop spokesman of the political Left. Messaging Matters caught up with Macarone after his recent performance to benefit Cenk Uygur‘s Wolf PAC:
When did you discover your interest in performing music, and what you did to pursue that interest?
As far back as I can remember, I had a desire to perform. I started doing music in the garage with my friends and family, which is still what DOP Inc is to this day, a family. I had a group called Nutthouse with some of my homies and eventually my little brother Trashman and my cousin Hitman. We performed the Orange County/Los Angeles circuit and released several underground hip-hop releases while developing a local following. We graduated from recording in the garage to recording in the kitchen. Eventually we graduated to professional studios.
Who are your biggest musical and artistic influences? Do they include rock and even punk in addition to rap and hip-hop?
My biggest influences probably come mostly from hip-hop, like 2Pac, Public Enemy, NWA & Ice Cube; however, I am a big fan of all music and a lot of my influences come from Rock/Classic Rock/Punk/Ska/Reggae as well. I love Rage Against The Machine, Rise Against, Sublime, Bob Marley, Barrington Levy, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, Guns N’ Roses and more. I have always believed that true creativity doesn’t have a genre. I also love blending my music with different styles to see what we come up with, as well as reaching back to the roots of hip-hop for inspiration and motivation. One of our goals is to be inclusive, and we aren’t scared to try different things to help us achieve that. I love the flexibility of the guitar even though I can’t play it, and I love to use it in my music.
How did you become involved in the political process, or, more broadly, the big issues that affect you, your family and friends, and many Americans?
George W. Bush is probably most responsible for my wanting to be involved and vocal about the political process. I used to write what most people would call “Gangsta Rap”. Bush made me want to make “Political Gangsta Rap” that talks to the listener about “politics” but still sounds like the other music in their iPod. I have always felt a connection with the struggle and with the people in the struggle. I want to show people that the struggle isn’t colorblind, poor people come in all shapes, sizes and of course, colors. I have always been a fan of people who fought oppression, poverty, police brutality and corruption. I often look to people like MLK, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, Kathleen Cleaver, Cornel West and others for quotes and inspiration when I write music. As I grew into a man, I could no longer continue making music that was, in my opinion, “useless.” Sure it might sound good, but the music I grew up listening to not only sounded good, it meant something.
You’re the father of two young sons. How does fatherhood affect your political consciousness?
Being a father is an honor and a gift. But it is also a responsibility that you gotta be all in with. I don’t know my father at all; while I had great uncles, cousins and a grandfather there, I was mostly raised by a grandmother and by a single mother. Being raised by two strong women who played the role of both mother and father, I think, gives me insight into the current American struggle that a lot of rap artists may have, but choose not to use in their music. For example, we know there is a “War on Women.” Well, there is also a “War on Children.” By default, the “War on Women” affects kids. Mix that in with cuts to education and social programs, etc. and those are the issues I have lived through on one side or the other my entire life. Rapping about being a Dad is not very sexy, but in these times I feel it is important.
Your last album, The Propaganda LP, and, from what we hear, your upcoming album The Propaganda LP II, incorporate political activism to a large degree. This is a big, and some might say risky, step. What made you decide to do this?
My first solo studio album, Life’s Sentence, was a turning point. It was different than the Nutthouse stuff I did before because it was just me, my thoughts and my feelings. It was the most successful album I had been associated with at the time and it told me that I could get away with making music my way. I knew I probably would never be a big major label artist, but I was OK with being a respected indie artist and saw that I could make a little money at it too.
Some people may think that going 100 percent political on an album is crazy if you are trying to “blow up” and be a star. Of course, I would love to make a lot of money and perform for a living, but underground status is OK with me. Record companies don’t want to sign people like me, they want the status quo. Life’s Sentence showed me there was an audience for someone not of the status quo.
The name of your own independent record company is DOP Inc. What does that stand for, and what does it signify to you?
DOP Inc is the name of our indie label and also our rap collective of artists and producers. “DOP” stands for “Definition of Propaganda.” If you look up the actual definition of “propaganda” it says: “information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.” Our music is just that: “Hip-Hop Propaganda.” We are aggressive and progressive and very proud of it! We are the music you listen to if you don’t like Fox News!
You’re now making a name for yourself on various national political talk shows, including The Young Turks, Stephanie Miller, and Turn Up the Night with Kenny Pick. How did you begin doing that?
When I stumbled onto The Young Turks website years ago, I was already well into my “political rap” career. One day I decided to see if I could sell my CD’s out of The Young Turks online shop, since they played a lot of hip-hop between segments. To my surprise, they said yes! As a thank you, I made my first TYT song.
Stephanie Miller’s show was a little different. When you call in, you ask Steph if you could be the “official” whatever of the show — “Dog Walker,” “Liberal Cop,” etc. Well, I thought one day, hey, I’m the “Official Rapper of the Stephanie Miller Show.” But I wanted to prove it. So I did a song for her and her Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour. The song was called the “Sexy Liberal Rap” and it caught on with the help of Stephanie and her fellow Sexy Liberal, John Fugelsang.
Kenny Pick is the host of a political talk show called Turn Up The Night with Kenny Pick (disclosure: the author is a co-host of Turn Up the Night). Kenny invited me to appear on his show and started to play some of my political parody songs like “My Name Is Mitt” which is dedicated to Mitt Romney. TUTN welcomed me as a contributor and every few weeks or so I come on and talk politics, music, and whatever else!
Please tell us about Cenk Uygur’s Wolf PAC, and your involvement with the organization.
Wolf PAC is the Super PAC to fight Super PACs and I am a volunteer. Wolf PAC is dedicated to getting states to have a Constitutional Convention calling for an Amendment stating that Corporations Are Not People. Wolf PAC says that our government is bought and paid for by billionaires and multinational corporations, and that the only way the people can take the power back is by getting the money out of politics.
I volunteered for Wolf PAC and have held a couple of events, including a Wolf-PAC Concert/Fundraiser called NO CORPORATE TAKEOVER: A Night of Music & Motion for Wolf PAC. I am also doing a compilation from artists of many different genres, profits from which will go to Wolf PAC. It will be called NO CORPORATE TAKEOVER: Music & Motion for Wolf PAC, and will be out very soon.
Some hip-hop fans may not understand, or be specifically interested in, the activism in your music. What would you say to them?
A lot of hip-hop fans are addicted to what they hear on the radio because that is all they are exposed to. Hip-hop heads who do not get us or aren’t interested in what we are trying to do describes most of our fans before they become our fans. What I say to them is that hip-hop lost a generation, just like the United States did in my opinion. Rap music used to be all about social consciousness, awareness and the fight for change. Tupac or NWA or Public Enemy or KRS-1 used to be the soundtracks of a young black man’s life. I would ask rap fans: do you really relate to what you hear on the radio now, or is your life more like what I’m talking about or some of the others I just mentioned?
I also mix up my approach. I do my normal CD’s like Propaganda I & II, which tend to be on the serious side. But I also do a lot of “political parody” raps too, because sometimes taking a serious issue and using a comedic approach reels them in.
What would you like to accomplish in the next year, in both your music and in politics?
I would like to continue to grow as an artist and Rap Activist. We will continue to build the DOP Inc label and work on growing the Wolf PAC Army and supporting other progressive causes. I don’t ever think I will be a household name, but as long as I can have an impact on some people’s lives and how they view politics and life, I’d be satisfied. I have two sons and a family to provide for, and so I will continue to work hard and be a voice for those who don’t have the outlet that I have. Propaganda II and the Wolf PAC Compilation are both on the way. The fight is far from over, and I plan on being in the mix!
After hearing from Macarone, we think that reaching people through music, even in corporate-dominated 2012, doesn’t sound so radical. We have to disagree with Mac on one thing, though: we think that he will indeed become a household name!