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‘Which Side Are You On?’ Rapper B. Dolan On Corporate Power & Making Racists Afraid Again

Posted in Austin, Journalism, and SXSW

B. Dolan was my favorite discovery of SXSW, an unabashedly political rapper from Rhode Island, and also an anti-corporate activist with Knowmore.org. I caught him during the same show where I saw Wheelchair Sports Camp and I knew we’d have to talk more.

It took until early last month before we finally connected with an interview, and then another month (thanks to the distracting spectacle of the election) before I finally put his words up on this site.

Thanks, B. Dolan, for taking the time to talk, and for your patience in seeing this published!

Kit O’Connell, Approximately 8,000 Words: Talk to me about what it’s like to play a huge commercial event like SXSW, especially the impact it can have good and bad on a community or your career. We had anti-gentrification protests at the event this year, in fact — is this something you take into consideration, as a politically aware musician?

B. Dolan: To be honest, I have to work hard to enjoy SXSW on any level. For those reasons and others. It is a huge commercial and industry event. Sometimes it feels like a necessity, but I’ve learned that it’s almost never an enjoyable performance experience. As an artist, you’re sort of rushed into a venue that’s never prepared to deal with you. You’re lucky if someone will give you a bottle of water to use onstage. You perform for your Austin fans essentially, and are paid an incredibly low fee if at all  We always give it our best, but it’s hard for that magic thing that happens between audience and performer to live in that environment.

The only SXSW thing I look forward to is seeing friends from around the world, and different genres and tours in one place, but at what expense really? By contrast I visited Treefort Music Fest this year and was really inspired. I think cities, fans, and artists should start asking more of their festivals.

B. Dolan performs at The Met in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on july 11, 2015. (Flickr / Tony Pacitti)
B. Dolan performs at The Met in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on july 11, 2015. (Flickr / Tony Pacitti)

KO: We’ve lost so many great musicians this year. I remember you reacting strongly to Prince’s death on social media. What is the impact of musicians like this on your career? Who are your big influences?

BD: Prince and Michael Jackson were two of my earliest influences. That combination of showmanship and musical ability had a really big impact on me as a kid, and made me want to do what I do now. So, their impact is sort of impossible to overstate. The loss of Phife Dawg was also really sad this year. I feel like that’s been overshadowed a bit by Prince’s passing but I’m still feeling that absence too. A Tribe Called Quest obviously paved the way for emcees like me to exist, and Phife’s part in that will always have a special place in my memory and heart.

KO: Tell us about the ‘Make Racists Afraid Again‘ hat. How did that come about? What do you say to “liberals” who argue violence or threats against racists/fascists make us “just as bad”?

BD: That criticism has certainly come up a few times, and I think it’s worth addressing. When I conceived of the hat, I wasn’t intending it as a threat of violence. I was more referencing the fact that racists used to be ‘closeted’, because they knew their beliefs made them unwelcome in society. You could lose your job, lose your friends, and yes maybe even get your ass kicked for spouting racism.

What Donald Trump, the Brexiters, and other right-wing nationalists and white supremacists have been doing emboldens racists, and encourages them to come out into the open, band together and claim public space.  I’m privileged to have traveled extensively and to have seen how Antifa organizers in Greece, Germany, and other parts of Europe have dealt with this kind of thing for years. These problems aren’t uniquely American or even unique to this moment. First it’s a white supremacist rally, then one of them buys a house and starts letting like minded bigots move in. After that, people of color or queer people in the neighborhood start getting beat up or worse.

Before it gets to that place, Anti-Racists need to be willing to put their bodies in between bigots and their targets.  If you are a cis white straight man like myself, this doubly applies. The hat came about because I wanted to wear it and make my position known.

KO: Beyond racism, what do you think are the most important issues facing us right now, and how is that reflected in some of your songs?’

BD: Not to get all Bernie bro, but I really do think corporate money in politics and decisions like Citizens United vs FEC have undercut every other issue. They’ve almost completely destroyed our ability to govern ourselves. Things 85% of the American public is calling for are denied to us by corporate interests. Our water is privatized, our pay is downgraded, our protections and basic human rights stripped away. I don’t see how we can even begin to address any kind of reform in the face of an owned system like that.

KO: Tell us what’s next for B. Dolan and Strange Famous Records.

BD: This week is the one year anniversary of my last official LP “Kill the Wolf” which I’ve just finished touring the world behind. I’m writing for a couple different projects, all or at least some of which I hope will see the light of day next year. We’ve also got a live LP and DVD in the works that I hope to release by Christmas.

Strange Famous has got a very big announcement coming up soon, but I’ll let them make that and keep the spoilers to myself. All in all I’m pretty damn excited for the next chapter.

Thanks for the interview!

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