Have you ever listened to an album 100 times, 200 times, maybe more? Reward of repetition, entering the Inverted World, like when a coach says, be the ball. 2004, I’m fleeing the west coast in a white convertible Mustang, top down, girl inform me, all my senses warn me, lyrics that disappear into the nothingness of Nevada. As the Sagebrush State gives way to Utah, top up now, the lyrics refuse to leave, they surround me. But your lips when we speak, are the valleys and peaks of a mountain range on fire. Vocal poetry with instruments, landscape, a main character, me. The sunset scene, doing 80mph, bottle of Mountain Dew between my legs, volume as loud as it will go. I lie in Motel 6 beds at night, the road still with me, in motion, music still playing in my head. Every 200 miles or so I need a break, push in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ CD, Californication, temporary fix, can’t replace The Shins. I was happier then, with no mindset. My thoughts wander back to an old Kevin Costner film, A Perfect World. He’s driving with a kid in the car, points ahead, that’s the future, points out the back windshield, that’s the past, then says, this is present, enjoy it while it lasts. Costner’s right, I’ve escaped, I’m in a time machine, as long as I keep pressing play.
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.