‘It’s food for thought – or rather mind wine’

it was written

“ A slight twist of lime rhyme be chasing down your primetime It’s food for thought or rather mind wine”

Nas’  It Was Written  dropped in 1996. It was the follow-up album to his seminal and foundational (in the annals of hip-hop) album, Illmatic. Critical reception at the time of release was lukewarm; it was a stylistic departure from Illmatic, and critics weren’t ready. However, the album matured in the ears of listeners over time and is now regarded as a cult classic. A yuppity favorite, Lupe Fiasco,  cites it among his most influential albums.

[To make us all feel old: this is one of the first CDs I ever was exposed to. Around  ’96, we upgraded from a grey ghetto blaster to  a JVC sound system, replete with 6 CD changer – courtesy my older brother. This was the soundtrack of those times]

This is one of those classic albums that never strays too far from rotation, with classic songs with classic lines that seem to follow you day to day. There’s no more appropriate way to suggest sitting down and pondering for a second than paying homage to Mr. Nasir Jones… With that: grab a chalice and imbibe some ‘mind wine’.


 ‘Racism still alive – they just be concealing it’  – Kanye West,  ‘Spaceship’ College Dropout (2004)

college dropout

On average, I’ve felt like the beneficiary of race, so I can’t directly empathize with people who have suffered from racism (emphasis on ‘on average’). Besides having to smile and nod at the easy* token black guy comments (which were always in good spirit) I haven’t dealt with too many instances of overt racism. Given hip-hop’s penetrance into pop culture (highest selling genre of the 2000s) and and given the crossover between the street and the mainstream (highlighted by the Kanye West presence, and in a way Jay-Z, who is now the king of pop) I really figured white-black racism was more or less a thing of the past. For every Trayvon Martin, I thought a moment of respite could be found in things like Taylor Swift knowing all the lyrics to Kendrick Lamar’s Backseat Freestyle [1] and Kanye West politicking with high fashion aficionados [2]. Put another way: while the remnants of a racist American past bare their ugly head from time to time, the convergence of black and white in all levels of American culture – highlighted by pop culture – seemed to indicate that the line between black and white in America was becoming grey. So,  a part of me thought people who trumpeted the ‘racism is alive’ horn – as if this were 1864 [3] – needed to chill out.


Was I ever wrong.

*easy in the sense of able to get an easy laugh. A low-hanging fruit in the cheap laughs world



“The CCA teamed up with the DEA, they tryna lock n*ggas up, they tryna make new slaves”- Kanye West, ‘New Slaves’ Yeezus (2013)



You can own a prison in America!


[*learned the hard way not to google-image ‘private prisons’ in creating this post!*]

It’s massively profitable


[The S&P 500 is more or less an index – or indicator – of how profitable huge corporations are over time. Corrections Corporation of America – CCA – far surpassed the profitability of the S&P 500 over the 4 years between 2003 – 2007]

Since the CCA incorporated, incarceration rates in the America have skyrocketed CCAGraph

There is a massive and disproportionate incarceration of minorities

incarceration gap 1

incarceration gap 2

This massive and disproportionate incarceration creates a huge and proportionately lucrative cheap labor force

Inmates from a La Fourche parish jail on a work release program fill giant sandbags in Port Fourchon

“According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.” [4]

And now a word from Professor Chomsky



chomskyracism2[Chomsky is the most cited intellectual of the 20th and 21st Century. He changed the way we think about thinking and almost single-handedly put an end to Vietnam. When he drops knowledge, its often quite abrasive – abrasive at first glance, but more and more true as you think about it]

Racism is still alive, and the numbers are revealing.


[1] “Taylor Swift Knows Every Word to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Backseat Freestyle'” XXL Magazine (2014)

[2] Kanye West Interview – Zane Lowe BBC ONE (2013) – YouTube [Kanye hilariously rants on his frustrations with the fashion industry, passionately describing how he popularized Fendi leather jogging pants]

[3] Jay-Z ‘Off That’ Blueprint III (2010) [Jay spits: ‘Please tell Rush Limbaugh to get off my balls/… its 2010, not 1864]

[4] “The Prison Industry in America: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery” Global Research (2014)

Recommended Reading

[1] “The Prison Industry in America: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery” Global Research (2014)

[2] “Prison Labor as a Business Model” Huffington Post (2012)

[3] “Mass Appeal to Governors: Please Don’t Privatize Prisons” Mother Jones (2012)

2 thoughts on “‘It’s food for thought – or rather mind wine’

  1. Pop culture is a dangerous gauge for what is going on in the greater world, especially when it comes to topics such as this.

    This is and will be moreso an issue in Canada and Saskatchewan in the coming years/elections. Numbers of Aboriginal populations in prison far surpass other races in Canada, and though our prison system isn’t yet privatized, governments are making slow reforms to do just that, firstly, as is likely happening in Saskatchewan this fall, by privatizing food services in correctional facilities. One slow, sure step at a time as we follow America’s lead.

    As for me, sitting in Regina and not New York, I truly regret that I couldn’t be there. Enjoy it well and try not to end up in one of their prisons…

  2. Would’ve been great to have ya! Next trip.

    I did not know that about Saskatchewan’s prisons… This will be interesting to keep tabs on. As private money enters the system, will there be a change in incarceration rate?

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