Before even realizing that yesterday was the official celebration of Hip-Hop’s 40th birthday, I found myself last week reflecting on the tremendous impact and influence Hip Hop culture has affected me throughout my life. What began as just a few songs played during the many family dance sessions in our basement in 1988, became an instrument of bonding, meeting friends and a means of contributing, in any way possible, to keep the art form I developed an immense love for alive and flourishing. Over the course of this week I plan to share my thoughts on Hip-Hop and how it became an essential part of my life.
It all started when I was about 8 years old. Growing up in a big family home in the Logan area of Philadelphia, music was always a big part of our social time. Hip-Hop still hadn’t found its place amid our family outside from the very popular music at that time. With my uncle Antonio serving as the DJ, Michael Jackson, New Edition, Prince, Sugarhill Gang, Whodini, Salt-N-Pepa, and Kid N Play were easily the most common things to hear coming out of the house accompanied by laughter and an all around good time. My cousin Tina was probably the first big reason I knew rap music and lyrics due to her being such a fan of Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D. In 1988, it was because of her that I attended my first concert (Heavy D & The Boyz, Kid N Play and Salt-N-Pepa). Seeing that I was developing a heavy interest in music, my mother brought me my first cassette tape; DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince –“ He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper”. It was safe music for a kid who still wasn’t even 10 years old yet and it had some good songs on it like “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Brand New Funk”.
Growing up during this time I was never the extremely social type. I liked baseball but never played it and would never play football with the other kids during school lunch. Part of the reason for this was knowing I had something called Sickle Cell Disease and not truly understanding the extent of what I could and couldn’t do physically. It was a weird experience growing up with something you were too young to understand at a time when many people had no knowledge of the disease. In 1989, my mother sent me to a camp for children born with Sickle Cell Disease called Camp Love. Camp Love was important to me in not only connecting with and gaining an understanding with people who also had similar issues, but it was also the place where I was exposed to the Hip-Hop music my mother kept away from. During the lunch period there were some kids beating on the lunch table and rapping along with different discussions on their favorite emcees. When it came my turn, I proudly said “Fresh Prince” which drew big laughs from a few of the older kids. I was confused because I knew his music was good, but didn’t understand why he didn’t get the respect I felt he deserved. One of the kids, took me aside, gave me his headphones and told me to hit play on his Walkman. The song that came on was Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – Road To The Riches.
I never heard anything like it in my life and was completely pulled in. The song today is still my favorite Hip-Hop song ever based on this experience, plus it being a very dope song.
As I found out more about other artists, I made it a point to hear every song I was told not to. From NWA, Ice T; if it was seen as a bad influence by the general public I wanted to hear it, simple as that. My family finally had Wade cable television where I was able to watch videos on music shows like The Box. It was then I memorized my first song via music video: “Gangstarr – Manifest”. At this point, Hip-Hop became a large part of my life and I hadn’t even realized it. While in the 8th grade at a new school, the #1 rapper everyone talked about was Redman, who had just dropped his debut album “Whut? Thee Album”. I never heard of Redman prior to this but when I did finally hear “Time 4 Sum Aksion” I had to see what else this wild but engaging emcee was about. The second I heard the Dr. Trevis skit on the album I knew I was in for a new experience. Needless to say I had that entire album memorized within a week or two tops and I still listen to it today. In fact, Redman is my favorite Hip-Hop artist today.
Sidebar: I (shamefully today lol) lied to my mother so she could buy the Redman tape for me. I was unable to purchase it at the time because of the glaring “PARENTAL ADVISORY WARNING” label on the cover. I actually told my mom the sticker was small, so that meant it had a small amount of cursing on it. I’m sorry mom for lying to you lol.
In a way I have to thank my uncle Antonio for being the central part in introducing me to music as a whole and remaining an integral part in developing my love for Hip-Hop music a few years after that. After being stationed in San Diego, while serving duty in the US Navy, he introduced me to West Coast Hip-Hop greats like Snoop and Dre. I, in turn let him hear Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu Tang for the first time. Hearing this new East Coast Hip-Hop was foreign to to him and he especially thought the idea of sampling music with the vocals still present in the track was such a strange idea. He was more acclimated to the thick basslines and keys in the music produced by Death Row at the time. Looking back today I now realize I eventually returned the favor in a way to the man who brought music to my attention in the first place.
These moments were the beginning of when I can honestly say I fell in love with Hip-Hop. What seemed like just music to some, became a tool for bonding and connecting with people through such a universal language as music, to me. Next I will discuss the moments that began to set the stage for me to become involved with the art form as something more than just a spectator.