Put The Needle On The Record: Daryle Lamont Jenkins

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Daryle Lamont Jenkins | photo used with permission

Hello, I’m Alex! I love music! I, like you, also love art, film, literature, geek culture (comics especially), sci-fi, and other forms of myth-making, storytelling, and imagining. I also consider myself a political person in the sense that I want to fight for a world more equitable, sustainable, and just. I’ve often thought that music– a medium that encapsulates so much of the art we consume, from the packaging and visual representation, to music videos, lyrics, and conceptualizing– had a chance to speak to many interests at once. This collapsible, packaged idea is often what draws us to specific artists; rarely are we, as music fans, simply interested in just the sound. It’s why artists like Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce are infusing their music with arresting visuals, films, and truly monumental concepts; this “more than music” aesthetic has defined genres like Hip Hop and punk for the decades they’ve been around.  Still, there seems to be a split in rebellious music from its political roots, despite many new artists taking up the reins in the tumultuous Trumpian time we live in. Can the fervor and passion be rekindled?

As a kid in the south, I remember pouring over the lyric sheets in Public Enemy records and being exposed to so many new ideas, so many brilliant people. I remember trekking to the midwest to go to punk music festivals and discovering zines, socially conscious lifestyles, and the empowerment that comes with DIY– that you can do it yourself outside of mainstream, away from corporate interference. In fact, music and the community surrounding it, particularly punk rock, gave me an avenue to come out as a gay man. So, in the spirit of this, we present a new monthly feature: Put the Needle on the Record! We talk with local activists, community leaders, and organizers and ask them their connection to the music scene, to explore the political potential of those scenes, and to see how music (and other art forms) have inspired them to create, to move beyond just beats, rhymes, and guitars and into the heart and soul of their communities.

When the alt-right exploded into the mainstream a few years before the rise of Trump, all I could hear in my head was the sweet, big-brotherly voice of Philadelphia’s Daryle Lamont Jenkins telling me “I told ya so”. Jenkins, whose One People’s Project‘s mission is “to research and report on who’s who and what’s what regarding right-wing groups, individuals and activities, and encourage society to be vigilant against them in an effort to diminish their ability to function and cause that society harm,” is a firey, outspoken opponent of white supremacy in all of its insidious forms, where he employs the tactic of getting all up in the faces of folks like Richard Spencer and Andrew Brietbart, calling them racist on live television and demanding they explain and expose their position as succinctly as possible so that the rest of us can know to dox, avoid, and protest them if they plan to come to our town. While many have often questioned these kinds of tactics as reductive, presumably preferring to either vote out unwanted elements, boycott with their dollars, or organize their own marginalized communities with an eye towards sustainability, Jenkins always maintained that shouting in the face of white supremacists was also a viable option because counter-protesting galvanizes a united front against racism, giving voice to a movement. Indeed, Jenkins’s approach isn’t one dimensional. Raised on music and art that challenged his very path in life, Jenkins never became a musician himself. Instead he chose to put his energy towards curating and questioning, and towards challenging right-wing extremist viewpoints both within the various music scenes he’s aligned himself with, and in the human community at large.

Jenkins is a fantastic individual, a George Jackson/Winnie the Pooh hybrid with a gentle nature that easily bristles when confronted with hate shouted at the downtrodden. When Trump’s rise helped the alt-right, Nazis and other jerks feel comfortable with being out and about and openly hateful, Jenkins was being tabbed as an expert in understanding and combating this particular strain of sinister politics. His keen sense of interruption and protest has landed him an audience with Rachael Maddow, a television pilot, and the total ire of the SJW-hating alt-right.

In the Maddow interview, Jenkins says he started exposing racists because “he wanted to know where the Klan went after we got our civil rights. When you start seeing the modern-day Klan on your television, you start getting even more curious about what they think they’re going to achieve.” This prompted me to want to find out more about Jenkins’s path to uncovering the darkside. The Key had to the distinct pleasure to connect with Daryle Lamont Jenkins and to talk to him about music, politics, and the beautiful collusion of the two.

Daryle Lamont Jenkins | photo used with permission

TK: You have a unique activist style that seems to be gaining more traction, especially with Antifa tactics becoming more popular. Why did you choose direct confrontation with racists and neo-Nazis as your form of protest? How effective do you think it is and what are your long term goals?

Daryle Lamont Jenkins: I have to be honest, it is saying a lot that in this day and age that Antifa tactics are seen as “unique”, as direct confrontation should always be Job #1 when you are advocating for something. Staying on our respective sides gets nothing done. Inserting yourself into places you are told not to be in – in this case in the face of some hate-mongering lowlife – produces results. Having said that, Antifa does have a bit of a caveat that might be particularly unique – information gathering. We are trying to alert the public of neo-fascists that are trying to position themselves in today’s mainstream. It’s more than propaganda because propaganda tends to be esoteric, and Antifa will be a lot more nuanced than that. I can easily say, for example, that white supremacists are embedded in our government, and folks would just nod their head in agreement. On the other hand, if I am able to name names and provide evidence, then people feel compelled to do something about it.

TK: Your public persona grows increasingly public. You’ve been featured by Wired, been on CNN and several documentaries, had your own TV show pilot at one point. How do you balance being a public figure with activism? What are some coping mechanisms you choose to deal with constantly experiencing trauma and anxiety that your form of activism can produce? Is music a part of that coping ritual, how so?

DLJ: I think it is important for me to be public. If you are advocating but don’t want to be seen or heard, while I can appreciate why in many cases, the more [a person hides], the less it becomes about the advocacy and more about that person. We talk often about how the mainstream never gets what we are about. Well how can they if you aren’t telling them what is right? And I am not talking about the media. Yeah, the media spins and can distort things, and we have to learn how to correct the record when they do, but the people that are watching need to see us and we have to speak for ourselves. I most certainly do not want the fascists to tell them who we are. The other thing is the fact that I am a Black man. It’s important to see and hear from more people of color in this particular struggle. I don’t think I have the luxury of hiding, and if I did, it would be unfair for me to use it.

Music is regularly a part of how I deal with things when I am out there doing things. I think all forms of art and culture have been incorporated into my life as I get older. But also as I get further along into being a public persona it becomes more and more important to break away. I always tell people to remember to appreciate that which you are fighting for, otherwise you become a robot that isn’t feeling anything and are only in it for the win. It becomes more of a necessity for me to do that. I am not always on. I will break away to watch my superhero flick (Hey, I have been waiting 30 years to see how they depict a lot of these characters in the movies) or Doctor Who or something (I’m a sci-fi fan, what can I say?) and sometimes I will go to a show. I don’t as often anymore because the energy I had back in the day isn’t there anymore. I keep it for the rallies and such, but I’m spent by the time a show comes up! Last punk show I went to was a tribute show in Asbury Park, NJ for Dave Franklin, the lead singer of the band Vision who had passed away a few months prior. It was an all day gig with an aftershow that started around 11. I paid for tickets for both. I couldn’t even do the aftershow!

TK: What music scenes and communities inspired you? Do you find anti-racism and its ideology and its affiliation with punk rock problematic or helpful or both? How so?

DLJ: Even when I was a kid I gravitated towards music with some sort of meaning. It wasn’t so much to be political because I wasn’t there yet. But it was always the music that had the emotion I was looking for. My father had the Shaft soundtrack album. It was pretty much a requirement in all Black households at the time! The record had a song called “Soulville” that is one of those songs that will still punch me in the gut. When you hear lyrics like “Black man, born free /At least that’s the way it’s supposed to be / Chains that bind him are hard to see / Unless you take this walk with me…” you know you are in for an emotional ride. That’s the Isaac Hayes I remember, as opposed to what folks saw on South Park or something.

As I got older, hip hop was on the radio, and it was good music, but it wasn’t until Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five came out with “The Message”, that it started to become the Black soundboard. It changed the game a lot, but much of it was simply about the times we lived in. When Public Enemy, BDP, and NWA blew up it then changed to a call to arms, and with Black directors like Spike Lee, John Singleton and Matty Rich also getting their movies in the theaters, it was like a 1-2 punch! 12 years of Reagan and Bush, plus the crap NY Mayor Ed Koch was doing to the Black community established our resolve to make sure that we were going to take this and keep it. And we did.

My thing had always been about underground music that you didn’t hear on the radio a lot, and when I looked for rap records back in the day, I especially looked for indie label records, which wasn’t all that hard to do since it ALL was indie labels.  I was still into my mainstream radio-friendly hip hop and R&B though. The radio was where I got most of my music, that’s just the way it was. And that was important because “We Are The World” came out when I was in high school. It was a gathering of the era’s top artists, black and white who wanted to raise money to help feed starving children in Ethiopia. In 1985, the concert Live Aid was broadcast on MTV and ABC in an effort to meet the same goal and again featured the top artists of that time. Benefit albums all of a sudden became the rage that year, with artists who wished they were on “We Are the World” producing their own albums to address the same concern. The only one I bought: “Sun City” by Artists United Against Apartheid! It was produced to call out that other concern at the time, the apartheid regime in South Africa which was still holding Nelson Mandela prisoner. This to me was a better produced, grittier album and it not only included some the same people that were on ‘We Are the World,” not only did it include hip hop artists where “We Are the World” did not, but also artists that were never even on the radio! This album opened my ears to new kinds of music, and was THE most important album I ever bought!

When I was in the Air Force, I had a rough time of it. I wasn’t a good soldier and paid for it several times during the almost three years I was in. I simply didn’t want to be there, and a lot of the music I listened to at the time was basically speaking to where I wanted to go. Public Enemy was important. I never heard anyone defend Farrakhan or Joanne Chesimard (as I knew Assata Shakur then) before. When I saw them live at Hampton Coliseum, which was right outside Hampton University, I started to change my course in life and that led me to getting so fed up that I cursed out a supervisor and getting kicked out of the military.

The punk scene took a minute for me to get into. I didn’t start getting into punk until 1990, less than a year after I left the Air Force. It wasn’t my thing, although I was curious when I would see punk albums back in the day and the covers reminded me of hip hop albums! I didn’t realize how much influence hip hop had on punk. And that just wasn’t in music or culture. That was also in ideals. I think about how some young idiots in the right-wing today like to call themselves the “new punk rock”, but the problem is what they are doing is actually the same ol’ shit that bonehead crews like Skrewdriver was doing by co-opting the skinhead scene. Punk was never right wing and the punks back in the day made it clear you were not welcome if you came with that bullshit. Especially if you were a Nazi. There were crews that would beat you down in the club if you brought that there. And after I went to my first show, I knew I had a scene I could be a part of. And at this point in my life, I was listening to that hair metal like Poison and Whitesnake in addition to hip hop and R&B! That changed dramatically. I didn’t stop listening to metal though. The metal just got harder! This was when I truly started appreciating Anthrax, Exodus, Testament, and Pantera – whose lead singer sadly kept toying with white power B.S., so it breaks my heart.

I never had a real band, but my contribution to the scene was a little unique. I produced two public access programs. One was called Channel X which ran from 1992-1995 and featured unsigned bands and acts of all stripes, be it punk, ska, funk, rock, folk, alternative, and mostly those I knew from the NY/NJ scene. I hosted that one, but the other show, The Life We Lead was hosted by Pedro Angel Serrano and produced by me. It was moreso about the punk/skinhead scene and it ran from 1996-2001 until we passed the show on to some people in Boston who wanted to continue it up there, and they kept it going for a few more years.

One People’s Project pulled me away a lot from the music scene, but it is my foundation, my roots. I don’t think I would be where I am today without that outlet showing me how to speak out.

TK: You recently went to Georgia to counter-protest the white supremacist rallies in Georgia. What was that like? What were you playing in car on the trip down and on the trip back home?

DLJ: When I drive, I often listen to the news, but when that starts making my eyes heavy, the hardest cuts I can find on Spotify starts getting blasted. Bands like God Forbid – whose members went to the same high school as me (I was a few years ahead of them and we were never in the school at the same time) were blasting just as much as Suicidal Tendencies and Sick of it All was! And Ozomatli. Sometimes I gotta have my funk, so Ozomatli, Urban Dance Squad, Fishbone, etc. was also in the mix! And just as a come down, whenever I leave a rally like that, I always try to remember to put on “Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War!

The following weekend, I rolled down to Tennessee for a racist conference – and I had to do that same ride on June 15 too. I didn’t play a lot of music this ride, but my friend who rolled down with me was pumping a lot of EDM – which always puts me to sleep, but he was driving, so…

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