MoDo has decided to give us “The Rap on Rubio.” She says we gotta start makin’ changes, as Tupac says. And Marco Rubio is doing just that as he leads a desperate white, male Republican Party away from country to gangsta. (Maybe someone should tell her that it’s time to start talking about Tupac in the past tense.) The Moustache of Wisdom is all fizzy again today. In “When E.T. and I.T. meet ID” he squeals that innovation is alive and well in India. Just look at these start-ups. Here’s MoDo:
Not long ago, scrolling for a movie, I saw that “Notorious” was on.
How can you resist Cary Grant as an American spy in Rio recruiting Ingrid Bergman to seduce and betray a Nazi played by Claude Rains?
But it turned out to be a very different “Notorious,” one about the rise of gangsta rapper Biggie Smalls, a k a The Notorious B.I.G., his artistic relationship with Sean “Puffy” Combs at Bad Boy Records in New York and the bloody East vs. West feud between Biggie and Tupac Shakur, a star in L.A. who spent his final year at Death Row records.
Like the 1946 “Notorious,” the 2009 gangsta rap saga offered sex, strife, danger, gats, Champagne, a strong immigrant mother and trust issues. Crack replaced uranium as the perilous substance. The movie climaxed with Tupac getting shot in a car on the Las Vegas Strip in 1996 and then, in retaliation six months later, Biggie getting shot in a car in L.A.
Little did I know, as I brushed up on gangsta rap history, that the topic would soon spice up the overture to the 2016 presidential race.
Gangsta rap used to be a reliable issue for politicians, but they were denouncing it. Now Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is praising it — and right at the moment when Republicans are pushing the argument that guns don’t kill people; it’s a culture glorifying guns and violence that kills people.
The ubiquitous 41-year-old — who’s on the cover of Time as “The Republican Savior” — looked as if he needed some saving himself Tuesday night as he delivered the party’s response to the State of the Union address in English (and Spanish). He seemed parched, shaky and sweaty, rubbing his face and at one point lunging off-camera to grab a bottle of water. He needed some of the swagger reflected on the Spotify playlist he recently released, featuring Tupac’s “Changes,” as well as Flo Rida, Pitbull, The Sugar Hill Gang, Kanye, Big Sean, devoted Obama supporters Jay-Z and Will.I.Am, and a Foster the People song about “a cowboy kid” who finds a gun in his dad’s closet and goes after “all the other kids with the pumped up kicks.”
Rubio told GQ that he loved the documentary on Tupac, “Resurrection,” and his song, “Killuminati,” and that 30-year-old hip-hop is now “indistinguishable” from pop. (Sorry, Tipper.)
He said that Tupac, who loved Shakespeare and called “Romeo and Juliet” “serious ghetto,” wrote poetry. Tupac’s “Changes” lyric — “You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do what we gotta do to survive” — could be an anthem for the busted Republican Party.
Maybe Rubio is siding with West Coast rap in an early bid to nail down California’s 55 electoral votes. But in The Atlantic Wire, Elspeth Reeve argues that, message-wise, it would make more sense for the ambitious G.O.P. senator to go with B.I.G., who had “up-from-his-bootstraps small-business acumen” and a mom who immigrated from Jamaica and ended up, as Biggie rapped, pimping an Acura with “minks on her back.” Tupac’s mother and stepfather were Black Panthers.
Asked by BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith about this recently, Rubio said that he was in school at the peak of Death Row music and preferred it.
He demurred when asked if he had learned any life lessons from Tupac — “I don’t listen to music for the politics of it” — and noted that mostly, rappers were not “condoning a certain lifestyle” as much as reporting on “what life was like in South Central.”
One-upping Paul Ryan and his heavy metal playlist, Rubio noted that the real name of Pitbull — also born in Miami to Cuban parents — is Armando and that Tupac has a lyric citing Bill Clinton and “Mr. Bob Dole.”
In 1995, Dole railed that human dignity is demeaned when “sexual violence is given a catchy tune.” And, in 1992, Dan Quayle met with the daughter of a Texas state trooper who was fatally shot by a man who said he’d been listening to Tupac’s “2pacalypse Now,” with lyrics about “droppin’ the cop;” Quayle said such songs should not be published.
Rush Limbaugh mocked Tupac when he was shot in 1994 outside a New York studio where Biggie was recording; and he recently re-broadcast his 20-year-old rant about America losing its soul: “Look at 2 Live Crew’s ‘Me So Horny.’ You know what that’s about? It’s about the destruction of the female vagina by a bunch of men having a good time.” (Sounds like a description of retrogressive Republicans in 2012; when the Violence Against Women Act passed the Senate on Tuesday, Rubio voted against it.)
But other Republicans are so frantic to make their party less white and more hip that Rubio’s exegeses on gangsta rap are music to their ears.
Right now, Marco is like a paper doll, trying on different outfits of style and substance as the party oohs and aahs. As Nicolle Wallace, the former adviser to Sarah Palin, gushed to George Stephanopoulos: “He’s modern. He knows who Tupac is. He is on social media.” And “he’s close to the younger Bushes.”
Who could ask for anything more?
Gawd… What a way to start Lent… Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
Every time I visit India, I visit Nasscom, the high-tech association, to meet with the newest crop of Indian innovators. They account for only a tiny fraction of India’s 1.2 billion people, most of whom remain painfully poor, but I focus on these Indian innovators because so many of them today are focused on making India unpoor. India is now spawning large numbers of innovators concentrating on solving poor-world problems, and cloud-based technology tools and open-source platforms are enabling Indian innovators to do this with little capital. As a result, they are much more willing to try, fail and try again (the secret sauce of Silicon Valley). And, as a result, we’re starting to see a merger here between E.T., I.T. and ID. It doesn’t get any better than that.
There is nothing that India needs more than an energy technology (E.T.) revolution that would deliver cheap, reliable power to millions suffering from energy poverty. If every village had some reliable power, plus access to high-speed Internet (I.T.), hundreds of millions of Indians would be able to live locally but act globally — that is, they would be able to remain in their villages, yet have access to the education and markets that could enable them to escape poverty and not have to join the hordes in the megaslums of the megacities like Mumbai or Kolkata.
The most exciting E.T. innovation I saw here was Gram Power. Some 400 million people in India do not have access to grid-based power and, therefore, rely on kerosene, which releases tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and claims about 1.5 million Indian lives a year. Gram Power has developed an answer, says its co-founder Yashraj Khaitan: “Our Smart Microgrid system comprises renewable-based generation infrastructure installed locally in the village [usually solar panels on a cellphone tower], and a proprietary smart electricity distribution system that tackles the three main challenges of reliable energy access in India: theft and pilferage that forms the root cause for 58 percent of energy losses on the utility grid, high capital costs to extend the utility grid to remote low population areas, and intermittent and unpredictable power supply.”
The Gram Power system comes at a capital cost, Khaitan added of “less than that of a solar home system, with a prepaid pricing model suited to our consumers’ disposable income — for just 20 cents per day of recharge, consumers can operate lights, fans, radios, and televisions.” The smart meters “prevent people from overdrawing power and intelligently prioritize different loads based on local conditions.” Having succeeded with their pilot, Gram Power is on pace to reach 20,000 homes and have 100 telecom towers covered with solar panels for generation in the next year.
The most interesting I.T. project I came across was Mettl, which has developed an online assessment platform to help hiring managers “to measure and track skills of prehires and employees” to determine if they can really do a particular job. Mettl can “measure the hard skills which are directly applicable to a job rather than just the knowledge which you have acquired by rote,” said its co-founder Ketan Kapoor. “Up to now,” he added “you could not measure what you can do with what you know. But unless you can apply your knowledge to a level that is useful, it doesn’t mean anything. Knowledge is a commodity available to anyone. It is not a differentiator anymore in the professional market. The differentiator is what you can do with that knowledge.”
Mettl is also developing a proctoring program for Internet-based distance learning so a young person in a remote Indian village could be reliably tested on a body of knowledge and the teacher given immediate feedback. “We are positive that we shall be able to solve the remote proctoring problem and disrupt the online learning and assessment space.”
Now marry these breakthroughs in E.T. and I.T. with one in ID. Nandan Nilekani, a co-founder of Infosys, has been leading India’s Unique Identification project, which aims to give every Indian who wants one a unique 12-digit ID number, backed by photographs, fingerprints and iris scans that can be easily verified online. The system is creating a platform that enables the government to give aid, salaries, health care and pensions much more directly to citizens without worrying it will be siphoned off by corrupt officials or fake IDs. Some 270 million Indians have acquired an ID, with about one million signing up per day, or as, Nilekani says, “one Finland a week.” Once every Indian has a “robust real identity” based in the cloud, Nilekani told me, you have “a platform” upon which you can build all kinds of services — from cash transfers to health records to open online courses.
In sum, when E.T. meets I.T. meets ID, you have a virtuous cycle that potentially can compete with the cycle of energy poverty, broken schools and corruption. While success at scale for these start-ups is by no means assured, they are a taste of what is possible when so many more people on the planet can become inventors, makers and problem-solvers. Anyone who thinks the age of innovation is over isn’t paying attention.
Great! Now lots and lots of Indians can have their lives hacked into, just like us…