For this installment in the 2011 Amoeblog's Black History Month series I wish to focus on the super-talented, politically-charged, Afrocentric Oakland rapper born Rickey Murdock, who went by the stage name of Askari X and was also known by a Muslim name related to the East Oakland Muslim group that he was associated with: Ansar El Muhammed S/C. Currently not musically active, this powerful lyricist and gifted emcee should have, I firmly believe, achieved a much higher level of success in his hip-hop career than he did. He didn't due to several factors, one being that the content of his lyrics was often way too revolutionary & militantly pro-Black / anti-White, so he alienated a good segment of his potential audience.
More notably, his career got stalled due to the fact that he has been incarcerated for a great deal of his teenage and adult life. The artist, whose last album, The Return Of Askari X (a.k.a Rickey Murdock), was released in 2000 by Success Entertainment, is currently in Folsom State Prison, where he has been for the past two plus years. I attempted a few times over the past year, via letter, to reach him in Folsom for the Amoeblog to get some words from him directly but heard nothing back from him, unfortunately. However, I have previously interviewed him on a few occasions over the years. One time was back in the mid nineties when he had just released his second album, Message To The Black Man on Slow Motion Records.
Askari X "Ward Of the State" (1992)
On the title track of that 1995 album he offered up such attention-grabbing, incendiary lyrics as "Message to the Black man in America: Africa’s calling, come home...Asiatic Black man you are God from birth, made up of all the 99 elements of this planet earth. God of the universe, older than the sun, moon, and stars from the holy tribe of Shabazz." At the time, he told me, "The goal of this song and the album is to put out the teachings of the glorious, most honorable founder of the nation of Islam." His previous 1992 debut album, Ward Of The State on Righteous Records, was written while he locked up as a teen and associated with the RBG (Righteous Black Guerillas) crew.
Askari X "Oakland Streets" (1996)"It was when I was in Juvenile Hall and I had a dream where I escaped but when I woke up I was still in jail”, he said of the controversial title track that caused a riot one time he performed it during a park hip-hop show in Oakland. "Ward Of The State Pt II picks up from when I woke up...and explain[s] why they want me in jail, why they put me there. I even go into the trial a little bit," he said of the sequel track that included the autobiographical lyrics: "Living in a juvenile prison because I’m blacker than the swamps in Mississippi where the rain clouds cover up the moon. So they got with me. They set me up like Tonka Toy building blocks cos I talk about honky boys and killing cops/Goddamn judge says I was guilty. And worser than that the fool was Black...The Uncle Tom negro yawned in my face. He sent me up state with an eight year max despite all the mutherfuckin’ facts that I was innocent and I had seven witnesses."
Being locked up behind bars is something no one wishes for, but Askari X has managed to make the most of it. In one interview I conducted with him between prison stints he referred to jail as “the hidden university,” telling me that he wrote much of his rap material there. “The solitude gave me time and inspiration to come up with new raps," he said. As for the initial crime he was convicted of, he has always maintained his innocence. "I’m sure it was a set up...The police said that I robbed a bank and was armed, even though I had seven witnesses to prove otherwise," he told me in a 1990's interview reiterating the lyrics of "Ward Of The State Pt II."
His second album's impressive list of guests included such local artists as the late Seagram, Rappin Ron & Ant Diddley Dog, 3 Times Crazy, Mr. Ill, The Delinquents, & The Whoride, On the album track “3 Strikes" he directly addressed issues that affect those who get caught up in the system and find it hard to break free of getting sent back to prison. But one of the best songs on that second album, and also one of the few radio friendly ones, was "Oakland Streets" (video above). In the song, in the vein of Too $hort's "The Ghetto," he talks about the summertime in The Town when it’s so hot on the Oakland streets people wish for rain, but when the rain actually arrives those same people realize how good the sun was to them. “It’s symbolic for the ups and downs of regular life," he said of the song. Today I contacted one of the folks closest to Askari X to ask him if there was any word on his release. He told me that he had not heard anything from the incarcerated rapper since last year and knew nothing about his future release. Meantime, look for Askari X's music on CD and vinyl at Amoeba Music.