Common Good Atlanta is a culture of writing. While committed to providing access to higher education in prison, we also believe that writing remains one of the most important instruments for human dignity. Much of what happens within prisons diminishes human dignity — it is an active stripping people of their distinct human characterizations, a suppressing of their distinctive voices, and a diminishing of their self-worth. But the ability to formulate, defend, and articulate a point of view reclaims the distinct human dignity that we believe remains inherent.
This journal is a testament to the powerful, generous, brilliant, whole, and deeply kind people who have served time in prison. Their words speak for themselves.
Letter from the Editor
August 24, 2021: Hip Hop Issue
In this issue of Hourglass Journal, three writers consider the theme of hip hop: the culture, the music, the assumptions, and the changes through time. The results are a study both in cultural unity and experiential diversity.
Each writer, Dominique Harris, Michael Clark, and Mufasa Ajanaku, approach their subject through a different lens, from a different life experience, and with a different goal, and yet their ultimate conclusions ring in harmony with one another.
Dominique rejects the mainstream, white assumptions about hip hop and Blackness, narrowing in on Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera’s claim that “hip hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism.” Rather than an oversimplified – even exotified – view of hip hop from the outside, Dominque tells an insider perspective that shows the nuance and contradictions of hip hop culture in a way that is fundamentally incompatible with all of the stereotypes.
Michael tells the story of his proximity with hip hop music from his childhood and an early love for Eminem, through his incarceration and relationships with artists behind bars, to reflections on his changing understanding of what hip hop means after his reentry. This is a story of entering and understanding the culture of hip hop, from liking it for its edginess to living and understanding the experiences in the lyrics.
Mufasa’s manifesto is part poetry, part stream-of-consciousness essay, reminiscent of a Big Rube interlude from an OutKast album in his native Southwest Atlanta dialect combined with philosophy, vulnerability, and critique. A lifetime of experience in and love for hip hop drives Mufasa’s criticism of its current state in the mainstream, a state that lacks the spirit in the music of his youth.
Dominique, Michael, and Mufasa offer the readers of Hourglass an education.
An education in the ways that music can influence a culture, tell its stories, and stand as an archival narrative of struggle and loss, love and connection. According to these writers, hip hop is of the people, by the people, and for the people – an implicit and explicit indictment of how it’s discredited by those who, in Dominique’s words, respond before they understand.
As much as this issue has been an education for me (not least of all in that it is my first issue as editor), I hope these writers’ work is an education for each of their Hourglass readers as well. At the very least, you may find the songs and artists they reference making their way into your Spotify queue before long.
I want to thank the three writers featured in this issue for their hard work, thoughtful writing, and patience with their newbie editor. I also want to thank Jonathan Shelley for his assistance at our Hourglass writing studio and Joe Boris for his spectacular work on the author’s portraits. And a final thank you to you, Hourglass reader; may you learn and grow with us this issue, and return for the next.
From the Editor: Kathryn Higinbotham
I welcome your submissions to Hourglass Journal
Please reach out to me with ideas about nonfiction, poetry, fiction, short documentary films, podcasts, artwork, or any other creative endeavor. Our team will support your project throughout the publishing process.