i: pieces of a man
Hip-hop is a movement. It is the defiant cry of discarded youth, smoke from the fire kindled by the first born of the permanent revolution. We, the scholars of Fanons, Basquiats and Kanyes, write these songs in the key of life and to the rhythm of 808’s and mistakes. We navigate this life deprived and miseducated, learning and maturing in real time.
Hip-hop has, more than any other cultural or personal phenomenon, shaped my worldview and understanding of life. I am flawed. I am immature. I am simultaneously naive and jaded, the cynical child of parents bred in the bravest, newest of worlds. Those parents themselves have molded my hip-hop mind, giving me the most privileged of rarities; a perfect love, undeterred by a world without space for us.
What does Webster say about soul?
“All I want is a good home and a wife
And a children, and some food to feed them every night”
My parents act as anti-hero in my hip-hop narrative; a Cosby Show antithesis to the Afropessimism of a post-NWA world. Through them I have been blessed to witness a black love banned from television screens and radio waves, an image that challenges the common history of the culture I claim. Above that, they are a silent reminder that this is not a monolith, but a comforting precedent and proof of plurality in a world shaded exclusively in black and white. As I slowly learn how to reconcile the respectable and the revolutionary, I am learning how to love both as my parents do and I have been made to believe.
The love of my parents is unreasonable, an accolade from a slower time, the gift of a calculated existence that I am not permitted. It’s the story that we want and deserve, the myth of a world where the black family is allowed to dictate its own existence. This is the world promised to us in phantom rights and centuries of political tableau, far from the reality that conceived hip-hop. The world we landed in is the result of the widening chasm separating not only the two amerikas, but entire worlds. The reality we inherited moves at a pace that leaves little time to catch your breath. There are more weeds than flowers, and the moments to pause and smell them are rarer yet. Our existence is an audacious us, the product of a turntable world that came with a mixer.
The very essence of hip-hop is the DJ. He’s the orchestrator, a magician marrying totally separate songs and sounds. He reaches into his hat and fails to retrieve the rabbit he put into it. Instead he holds a grenade, no pin.
What comes next is inevitable but unknowable.
My mother turned 50 this past May and my father will soon join her. They are thirty years older than hip-hop, ten more than Malcolm, Martin or Medgar lived to see.
My parents personify the conflict fundamental to hip-hop as a cultural movement. They are divergent characters whose coexistence is unlikely, it has no choice but to produce a singular fruit. The family tree grown from these roots bares the strangest of fruits.The unabashed anger, the exhaustion and exasperation, the unquenchable desire to preserve and protect –the soul– of the black experience is painted by the brash, contumacious brush strokes of my father, and the pensive elegance of my mother. A child of this hip-hop love walks the earth in search of harmony, playing two moves ahead and praying that lightning strikes twice.
We are proof that it struck once,
And we go through the life, we come of age expecting it to strike again.
But that’s thing about lightning. We distantly anticipate the moment, the flashpoint of the storm the may not come. My parents sailed different sails than us, and their African-American dream did not require the African-American Express we (i) lack.
That taught me patience, though. The value of pain and progress, and rising from ashes. My folks is the feather of the Phoenix, but our bird sings a different song. Unlearning. Explaining. It takes time that this world don’t got.
iii: thought i was right, hand to man up i was wrong
Our Hip-love ebbs and flows. Perhaps the most pervasive flaw in our culture-in-utero is that pubescent inability to progress. Our miseducation runs deep. I have made too many mistakes. With myself, my goals, my value, but most importantly, you.
We trip on sundays:
It’s too difficult to look you up or
Look you in the eye
I be taking shit for granted, grabbin clouds up out the sky
Acting like they aint water
But I swear these wood clouds make me smarter
And the mistakes that i make harder,
But ima come clean I aint pushed it farther
Than the mileage we agreed about,
I leave the phone on read a lot,
I aint ducking you its just like
I aint fuckin with me a lot.
And that can’t be your fault and I aint holding that with you
Its up to me to reup,
Quit looking all around me and try looking above
That same sky i tried to steal from tried to lend me some love
But i treat love like gloves and act like we dont need em
That we deeper than hearsay and you know i’m a keeper
But i ain’t been keepin my promises and it’s making me weaker
Cuz i see you be weeping,
And I know you think
That im creepin
I just wanna be that element that we know that you needed
And I ain’t been it,
For the moment
But promises im keeping and some sows that need reaping
Time to reciprocate the dinner dates
And moments waited on me
The least i owe you is that aura you give me that got me different glowing
I just need you to know it,
iv: just me and no you/stayed up till my phone died
Look, this ain’t perfect but it makes life worth it. I feel this pressure to be more than the sum of my parts, some amalgamation of lies told to make me fall in line. But if there’s anything that you’ve taught me, that my parents or this culture imbued in me, it’s that the line is a suggestion. The purest colors, the finest works come free. Beyond the confines of coloring book lines and even the lines that were made to keep me from you, to keep me from me, we exist. That’s hip-hop as fuck. If jazz was coloring outside the lines, then hip-hop is abstract impressionism. And I didn’t even know what the fuck that was until I met you. I didn’’t know what I could be till I met you.
So I just hope you answer this. It ain’t your job and you don’t owe me shit. But I owe it to myself to challenge myself. To ask these questions of where I’m from and where I’m going, rewriting the maps they sold us as scripture. We the new cartographers.
Women are expected to enter this world as caretakers; men are expected to be taken care of. I don’t want that shit. I want to take care, and I want to do better. The lasting lesson this this culture, no, this movement, has taught me, is to take the long shots and savor the makes. I thank you for letting me shoot that shot.
My phone almost dead and I’m pretty sure you’re asleep, and this alone time is the hardest. When it’s just me myself and I, and the mistakes the three of us keep making, self awareness feels more like a chore than a strength. But if hip-hop taught me to question, you taught me to turn that on myself. And I gotta thank you for that. You don’t have to let me.
V: This could be forever baby /or/ Let’s get carried away
I haven’t been there enough, but I hope I can stay for a while. Men are allowed to be seeds in the wind, bound only by waywardness. It is easy to let this be. It is impossible to not be complicit. I will not be dictated by the indecisions of the air I inhabit. I want this seed to land where it doesn’t belong, I need to give the rose its chance.
I started writing this at the end of Autumn. I am allowing myself to stop at the beginning of Spring. I know this flower will bloom.