Hip-Hop Junkie

Hip-hop, rap, freestyle, beats, bass, breaks, MC, laying down tracks, mixmastered, the mic. Summer of ’84, the beginning, Jam On It by Newcleus is playing; I’m outside a breakdance circle watching Marcus in awe. Legs fluttering through the air, propellers of his windmill. I don’t know it fully at the time, but the music is my cross-cultural bridge, a window into my black friends, Taliaferro, Alphonso, Terry, Tracy, Dennis, guys who live defacto segregated in South Arlington, or Hall’s Hill. The songs, the lyrics, aren’t their truth or mine, artistic expression, usually African-American, black mind creation; we interpret, make meaning. I start by memorizing the lyrics of Whodini, people used to say that you had a big mouth and now I understand what they’re talkin’ about. I find the DC stations on the dial, hear the infectious rap through static. Teenage years bring the Beastie Boys, N.W.A, Run-D.M.C., Will Smith; the Alpine in my Pontiac can’t go loud enough. My college roommates get me hooked on Pete Rock & CL Smooth, school me on Harlem, Chicago, lotion for ashy brown skin. They try to give me a fade, but the sides of my head just go cream-colored, no blending. We listen to all the MCs, talk about who rhymes superior, poetry of words, acceleration, intonation. Eric B. & Rakim, Brand Nubian, Tribe, Ice Cube, Redman, Method Man, names like superheroes. I see Tribe and De La in concert, meet Chuck D, his Public Enemy audio history, middle passage, Black Panthers, slavery. 1996, winter, The Smallest Bar in the NYC, me wearing khakis and an oxford, delivering drinks, my hip-hop night, lots of Biggie and Craig Mack. Reese, grew up with LL, comes in from Queens with his boys, freestyling. Years later students stare in disbelief when I recite all of My Philosophy by KRS-One, word for word. Hip-hop grew up with me and I grew up with hip-hop. Much older now, the CDs and cassette tapes are mostly gone. A few months ago I’m the middle-aged guy in the Prius, Fight The Power blasting out to the gentrified streets of San Francisco. A man at a stop sign stares at me, raises his fist into the air, gives me a nod. I feel like a hip-hop hippie, old days gone, Phife Dawg dead, MCA too, once a hip-hop junkie, that will always be true.

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