The Young and Disenchanted

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Yellow Fever

It happened again, you fell asleep on the wheel. You wake up to the sounds of cars honking around you, people passing by a shouting expletives and throwing finger signs and speaking in a language you dont understand, totally drenched in sweat, you look like you just took a swim in the lagoon. Sounds of the newest Dbanj song are blaring from your car radio. You look around quickly, say a word of apology to the passers-by, start you ignition and move your car forward. But alas, you only moved about 2 feet. Goddamn it, your air conditioning is not working, you are stuck in a traffic jam and you have to keep your windows down and enjoy the loud noise that surrounds you.

You look over at the danfo (small public transport buses) and you see a young lady, you would eye flirt but you are just way too pissed to work your mojo right now. On any other day, a sweat drenched lady with her shirt half buttoned down would be quite exciting to any heterosexual male. You look more closely at her and you see she is wearing a look on her face akin to someone about to take a crap, so not sexy. She looks squeezed like a sardine in the vehicle sticking her face out the window for a gasp of fresh air.

The young lady in question sits in the packed danfo, a slave to the sweat. She unbuttons the top two buttons of her shirt and looks at the window and notices a man in a car looking intently at her. She shrugs, whatever tickles his fancy, I m gonna try and get some air so she sticks her face out of the window. The guy sitting next to her has been basically copping a field the whole ride but she cant complain, 5 people are sitting in a row meant for 3, her thighs are so together they almost look like they are one piece. Behind her, an elderly lady continues to preach. She is shouting amidst the noise and in the traffic, she has been talking for the last 2 hours they have been in traffic telling the crowded bus to repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. The young lady almost has a good mind to tell her to shut up but she knows that the rest of the bus will tell her to keep quiet and ask her if she got not respect. So she sighs and continues to look outside.

Two motorcycles/scooters/okada manoeuvre past in between vehicles as they often do in such choked up traffic. One hits the other and it falls down with the passenger on it who hurts his knee. The man driving the okada and his passenger stand up and grab the man who hit them as he tries to make a quick escape on his okada. Its amazing how they just yank him and the motorcycle moves on hitting a car. They proceed to hold him by his shirt and keep yelling at him. In the meanwhile, the owner of the car that got hit comes out and joins in what soon becomes a brawl. The other people in the vehicles watch on as this further complicates the traffic situation that was at least moving an inch at a time. Eventually the man, whose car got hit, gets back in his car, no insurance exchanged or nothing. He is satisfied to have vented some of his frustration by hitting the okada man in the eye. The okada man and his passenger, who were hit, get back on their okada and continue to wade through the traffic congestion.

In the midst of this mayhem, you would be missing something not to mention the men and women who manage to sell their wares in the midst of this traffic in the hot sun. From the man selling sausage rolls, cold drinks and candy to the man who sells paintings, rat poison and cane chairs. The traffic jam is like a supermarket, visa and mastercard accepted although I doubt you will get it back if you decide to give them your credit card.

The traffic picture isn’t complete without the white couple in the jeep behind you. Their windows are wound up, they have their air conditioning working and they are being driven by a chauffeur and I kid you not they seem to be drinking white wine or champagne in the back.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a snapshot of what traffic in Lagos, Nigeria can be and is actually based on some of my experiences commuting in the city. Hell hath no fury like a traffic jam in lagos, stuck in a vehicle with no air conditioning. I think I ll take freezing cold Siberia for a $100.

The title of the blogpost is from AC/DC, as an 80s baby I love me some 80s classic rock. It your boy!

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This entry has actually been a year or so in the making… Recently I’ve been thinking a lot more about my relationship with religion. I was raised Catholic and although I believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I’m not so sure about little-boy-rapists, thieves and hypocrites. I’m not saying that any religion is perfect, but rather that one should strive for matter over content – that is, to seek spirituality rather than to constantly apply rules and labels to what some call “faith.” With that said, allow me to ruminate.

A year ago I went to a discussion on my campus about Islamophobia. While listening to the other people present (all of whom had grown up in the West), it became clear to me that the word Islamophobia can have very different connotations depending on the geographical and cultural perspective of the person talking. Most people think of the words “jihad” and “terrorist” in this post-9/11 world when the topic of Islam comes up, which makes perfect sense sitting in a brownstone on New York’s Upper West Side. However, as the conversation went on and the participants were asked to give specific examples of Islamophobia that they had witnessed, I realised that as a Nigerian my experience of this phenomenon was considerably unlike that of those who weren’t from my part of the world.

I was living in England at the time the September 11th attacks took place. I was there when the London bombings of 2005 happened. I had seen the television reports and heard the hostile comments that painted a picture of the average Muslim as a rabid fanatic hell-bent on destroying the values of democracy that make “Western civilisation” the best of all human societies. Although I could go further into the problems of this level of stereotyping, I think I may save that for another entry. The discussion actually made me think for the first time about the ways in which Islamophobia works where I come from. Because Nigeria wasn’t directly affected by 9/11, the whole “terrorist” discussion didn’t initially come up with regards to Islam (again, thanks, panty-bomber). What does seem to be a problematic issue back home is the relationship between Muslims and Christians. Nigeria is split roughly 50/50 in terms of religion between these two groups. The Muslims live predominantly in the northern part of the country, whilst Christians occupy the south. My city, Lagos, is probably the most diverse in the country because of its status as the commercial centre, and for the most part Muslims and Christians happily coexist side by side there. In other parts of the country, however, this isn’t necessarily the case.

The news has been filled recently with stories of “deadly religious clashes” in Plateau state, which is in the “Middle Belt” of Nigeria (the dividing line between the “Muslim North” and “Christian South.” The violence was horrific – burnt babies, men mutilated by machetes, women wounded in indescribable ways. Although this violence is labelled as religiously-motivated, other factors such as scarce resources, a lack of education and the consistent failure of the Nigerian government to build a cohesive national identity over the past 50 years are probably more central to the issue. Many people on both sides of the religion line see each other as so fundamentally alien, despite the fact that we are all citizens of the same country and the many intersections in our history, cultures and languages. I’ve heard Christians I’m close to call Muslims “uneducated,” “polygamous” and “close-minded” like these are terms exclusive to Islam. My cousin has told me stories of being called an “infidel” by her Muslim classmates as a child, classmates who just a day earlier had sat next to her and called her a friend. And when you’re struggling to scrape by as a farmer and water gets scarce, it’s probably easier to take your frustrations out on the person from a different tribe and village than on the gun-protected officials who don’t perform the tasks they were “elected” to do.

I was just reading an article by David Goodhart for a political science class in which he argues that the more diverse a society, the harder it is for it to be cohesive. This may be true, but I find it impossible to accept that Nigerians are so dissimilar from one another that they cannot possibly find a common ground. Islam and Christianity are no more radically different from one another than a Yoruba is from an Itsekiri. A friend invited me to Friday prayers on campus last week and listening to the lecture, I heard nothing that I hadn’t heard in a homily at a Sunday mass. I can’t speak for other places but in the context of my country, I think that these supposed “differences” between us – whether distinctions of religion, ethnicity or class – are being exploited and exaggerated by leaders seeking support for their kleptomaniac ways and bullshit “ideologies.” Of course, this is only politics as usual but seeing a man sob after his wife was buried in a mass grave with his children nowhere to be found, one may have to start rethinking some things. Nothing will ever change in the country if its people don’t have a sense of community with one another, regardless of whatever superficial differences we perceive among ourselves.

P.S. This Jill jawn right here is beautiful… even though it really doesn’t have much to do with this post, that line always stands out for me. Sura 31:18, by the way, reads: “And swell not thy cheek/(For pride) at men/Nor walk in insolence/Through the earth/For Allah loveth not/Any arrogant boaster.” Good advice to live by.

Le sigh – and another stay at home comes to an end. In 3 days time I’ll be sitting in the Atlanta airport after a vigorous patting-down and grilling by airport authorities (thanks, underwear bomber) waiting for my flight back to NYC and my last semester of college. Although I’m excited for this final stretch and to see all my people back on campus, I’m really going to miss home. The thought of trading jollof rice and the heat of the equator for greasy pizza and North-Eastern snow is wild depressing, especially because this trip home has been particularly enjoyable. My father, feeling adventurous, decided that we should make a trip to Senegal. Yesterday we returned home after spending 6 days in Dakar, which is officially one of my new favourite places in the world. It’s where the French Riviera and the West African savannah had a love child raised by a North African nanny. It’s considerably less chaotic than Lagos, and much more of a walking city. I loved the fact that the buildings were so close to the roadside that you could reach up and touch one of the brightly coloured shutters. It was fun practising my (rusty) French with market traders. And poulet yassa with un peu de pili pili? Heavenly.

Of course, it being a city, the hustlers were out in full effect. Every time we walked out of our hotel, we would be approached by an Abdul/Amadou/Yuyu who would smile and hail us with a “Bonjour!” hoping that we hapless tourists would be persuaded to take him on as our guide (for a few thousand CFA, bien sûr). If only they’d known that we were Nigerians: mon cher, you can’t scam the original scammers. But that was the interesting thing – they didn’t seem to know that we were Nigerians. I got asked if I was everything from Senegalese to Ethiopian, but never my home country. Given recent events, I’m sure most would tell me to be grateful that people don’t think I’m Nigerian. It’s been an interesting pattern since I’ve lived abroad, people thinking that I’m not from West Africa. I’ve been asked if I was from the USA, Kenya, Botswana and even Fiji (yeah, that right there got the side eye). I don’t think there’s anything about the way I look that suggests that I’m not a Nigerian. And as I grew up here, it’s even more baffling to me. Maybe motherfuckers just aren’t that perceptive. Or maybe I have a “non-African” air about me that throws people off – perhaps I don’t come across as your average African.

This is something that has plagued me increasingly throughout my life. What is it about me that makes people think I’m from Brooklyn rather than Ofagbe? Why don’t I come across as “authentic”? I guess the ideal place to begin answering that question would be to figure out what the “typical” African is like. Let’s begin with appearances: according to an African-American security guard at my college, African people are black.  As in, we’re all on that chocolate/ebony/midnight type skin tone. I guess my brown skin fails the first test – thanks, Scottish great-grandfather. Second of all, African women don’t wear their hair the way I do. In Lagos, I stand out when my hair is fro’ed – most women here have their hair relaxed, in braids or in weaves. If they do wear it natural, it’s cut short like a man’s. Second fail. What about the way I dress? West African women are supposed to wear ankara (traditional cloth often sewn into dresses or a skirt and blouse), and love them some gold jewellery. I guess my skinny jeans and wooden bracelets fail this authenticity test. Other ways in which I don’t measure up: I don’t speak any African languages. My accent has lingering traces of South-East England and New York City. I didn’t go to secondary school in Nigeria. I’m not poor. I like Russian literature… the list continues. Everywhere I go, from the streets of Dakar to the sidewalks of NYC, people seem to enjoy reminding me how I’m not really African. Yes, I have a Nigerian passport, but because my appearance and experiences are not typical, I’ve somehow lost my African-ness (if, indeed, I ever had it) and fallen into a no-man’s-land (after all, with a name like mine I can’t possibly pass for a real Westerner or as being from any other part of the world but West Africa). As a friend once told me, my “bourgeoisie” background which enabled me to fly home 3 times in as many months for my sisters’ weddings undermines my claim to being a “real” African. Mon Dieu! – I am, vraiment, in the position of being a member of the colonised elite that Fanon and so many others have written about. Caught between the world of the colonial power, which my education has given me some level of access to, but to which my skin tone denies me full entry, and the world of the colonised subject which my socio-economic status has moved me out of reach, what am I to do?

Following along this reason, I guess Leopold Senghor, Chinua Achebe and other intellectuals like them are also not legitimate Africans. Neither are any of the Africans that attend my university. Although some of them pass more “tests” than I do, surely their failure of others means that they too are condemned to flounder in the frustration of being an undefined hybrid, of not being fully able to “belong” to their respect homes.

Just in case you haven’t noticed, I think all of this right here is bullshit. To all the people who have questioned the authenticity of my West African-ness: are you fucking serious? The fact that you define “true African-ness” just highlights the extent to which your mindset is dominated by colonialism. In case you forgot, when the British, French and Portuguese came it was them who drew a line between the “native” and the “citizen.” Your denial of my African-ness is you repeating the exact same ideology. Here’s the wonderful thing about identity: it’s fluid. This means that it doesn’t follow a set of rules or fall under a single list, especially in the context of Africa. I have the freedom to shape my own African identity, to accept what I was given, change what I don’t like and embrace the new. Just because it doesn’t match up to your personal definition doesn’t make it less valid. If you tell someone that their Western education makes them un-African, you are suggesting that Africans can only learn within the context of Africa. If you tell someone that their clothing makes them an outsider, you are saying that Africans can only dress in an African way. If you tell someone that speaking English instead of Wolof highlights a colonial mentality, you are claiming that Africans are only truly African when speaking “native” languages, and underscoring your own colonial mentality.  In other words, you are making a monolith out of the people of this incredibly diverse continent and reinforcing the very stereotypes that are keeping this continent down.

I think it’s important to make it clear that I am in no way, shape or form privileging my own experiences as an African to those of others: my American education doesn’t make me “better” than someone who went to the University of Lagos. Although I’m not going to engage in the “Western” vs. “non-Western” debate here, I’m definitely not okay with the privileging of Western ideals and standards over the many African ones. What I do what to emphasise is that difference – even when that difference comes from outside of the African context – is what makes Africa so vibrant and beautiful. Part of what I love about being African is the fact that you can see so many different cultural influences at play within our societies – for example, the way Dakar is a totally different kind of African city to Accra because of their histories.

In summary, I don’t believe judging people according to how “African” you think they are in order to make yourself feel better is doing anyone any favours. We’re ALL African, period. And especially to those who tell me these things as we both sit in an American university classroom – c’mon son. Fuckouttaherewiththatshitson. Africans, “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery” and fucking do better.

And with that said, let me go find some rice and beans to eat. I’m starved.

P.S. Title is from Fela’s “Gentleman.”

At some point during my sophomore year of college, I stumbled across the book Colonize This!, a collection of essays written by women-of-colour feminists. Each essay is written from a different perspective – Indian American, Chicana, Muslim – but many share a recurring theme: how to reconcile their cultural identity with their feminist views. One essay that struck me in particular was written by a Nigerian woman. She discussed how, as a child, the role of cook/cleaner/wife-in-training defined her position as the only girl in her family, and how she rebelled against this imposed identity as a result of her exposure to feminist literature while studying in the USA. Now, I 100% sympathise with home-girl on this tip. If I had brothers and I had to watch their lazy asses play Nintendo 64 (holla!) while I washed all the motherfucking dishes, I would have become an only child by virtue of the cutlass there would have been some problems. But even without brothers, it was definitely emphasised when I was growing up (slash still today) that I would have to ensure that my domestic skills were up to par in order for me to “make a good wife.” I used to resent this pressure and told anyone who would listen (all three of them) that I would make my husband cook when I was married. Now that I am older and wiser I see that the words of my youth were unduly rash. Why? Well, for one thing, I’ve learned how to cook. And I LOVE it. Seriously: cooking is one of the most fabulous, sexy, empowering activities that I engage in on a regular basis. I think Nigella Lawson was the catalyst for the unleashing of my inner domestic goddess: I once analysed her cookbook for an English class and fell in love somewhere between Coca-Cola Ham and Deep Fried Mars Bars (which, despite sounding absolutely revolting, hold a strange power of fascination over me). Plus, she’s a total hottie. Besides the point: I have now embraced the wonders of domestication – something I thought would be accepted with open arms and empty stomachs by all. But apparently not.

A recent offer to make a sick male friend some soothing ginger cola was met with the reply that he did not want to “domesticate an educated woman” by subjecting me to the indignities of the kitchen. Now, I know that this came from a place of kindness. However, my outer inner proud African woman felt somewhat affronted (inner dialogue: “What, you don’t think I can make it?? My ginger cola-making skills aren’t good enough for you??? What in the hell do you mean by this????” – P.S. I never said my inner proud African woman, despite her wonderfulness, was altogether rational). On the one hand, it was lovely to have a man not want to take advantage of my cooking skills (ahem, African men I attend college with). On the other, I’d never thought that doing something domestic would be somehow be seen as compromising my status as an educated woman. My mother, who holds two degrees, doesn’t play with her skills in the kitchen (and especially her cake – mmmmm, I hope she’s making cakes for Christmas this year so that I can grow fat and merry :)). Both her domestic nature and her intellect work together to make her the wonderful woman that she is – one doesn’t necessarily contradict the other. First of all, cooking isn’t easy – there are plenty of women who can hold their own in a philosophical debate who cannot cook for shit. Anyone who can wield a knife, whisk and chicken breast without causing grievous bodily harm to themselves or others is a real OG. Chuuuuuuch. Secondly, I’m not certain that domestication is such a bad thing. I mean, if a motherfucker can’t cook, how are you going to eat? What if you’re chilling in a warzone in East Africa with your mercenary army, AK-47 in hand, no Chinese takeout spot in sight and just some goats at hand? (I’ve thought this out a little too well…) I mean, don’t get it twisted – this applies to women and men. Even though I will cook for my future husband, he had damn well take some classes at the Culinary Institute and be prepared to get busy with the Magic Mixer. Motherfucker, what if I come home late from work?? What are you gonna do, stare at the cooker in hope? Pause. I’m not with it.

I’m also not sure how I feel about the idea of domestication being an imposable concept. I think that there is plenty of power in being able to cook and clean: just imagine if your mother decided to not cook any more. My mother did something like this once. It was not a good look. Being a position of serving others does not necessarily equate to being subservient, I’m slowly realising. Not only is it an expression of love, like my girl Bimala says, it’s also a way of showing strength. Take it from someone who is making a regular gig of cooking dinner for 10 people just because – that shit takes MIGHT.

All I’m saying is: I don’t believe that my strong African womanhood is depleted by my puff-puff making skills (shout out to the Burundi meatballs) – rather, I believe they enhance it in all of its intellectual, political and slightly crazy glory.

Let me know how you feel in the comments.

P.S. Went back to my girl Jilly from Philly for the title – LOVES this song.

Kumbaya

Imagine a world of no conflicts, a world where everyone believes in the oneness of the human race. A world where people of all races sit down together and share equally in the wonderful resources the earth has to give. Africa and the Middle East are peaceful regions. The distinction between the third and first world, the developed and the developing, no longer exist. Racism, tribalism, xenophobia are all things of the past. The human race respects nature and the environment is safe. On that day, human beings shall hold hands together and we shall sing “Kumbaya” in unison.
Now to the realists/cynics amongst us, this vision of the world is unattainable. For such a world to exist we would have to give up the selfishness which marks us individuals, part of what defines us. While I do generally agree that this Kumbaya existence in unattainable, I do however feel that as humans we have the responsibility to try our best to eliminate bias and prejudice in every area of endeavor.
The reason I’m even thinking about this “I have a dream” scenario is because as an African, and specifically as a Nigerian, I come across all sorts of bias and prejudice in my daily life. I have always been of the opinion that education and exposure helps to lessen ignorance and hence helps to stem the tide of bias. It then surprises me that as a Nigerian that people, educated or not, are more concerned with what ethnic group I belong to than anything else about me. I say this because within the context of Nigeria or even Africa, people find it hard to place my ethnic group based on my name and hence I get all sorts of questions, “Are you really Nigerian?” “Are you this tribe, that tribe or the other?” – all of which are typically wrong. I am yet to meet a Nigerian even when I was in the US who wouldn’t, knowing that I’m Nigerian, ask as a follow up question to “What is your name?” what my tribe was.
Now there are people that would blame this on the colonial strategy of divide-and-rule. The colonial rulers played one tribe against the other to ensure easy rule although before the colonialists came, I am sure tribes were conquering each other and fighting. You would think over time people get over certain prejudices. Then again, it’s almost 50 years after the end of colonial rule and to the best of my knowledge Nigerians and Africans in general have been traveling to other lands and getting educated on the bigger picture. I say this because from my own experience, going to study outside my country provided me the opportunity to see the issues that are affecting my country outside the lens of tribalism. It gave me a sense of the bigger picture in the sense that I began to see my fellow Nigerians not as people of this or that tribe but as my fellow Nigerians. I also began to see my fellow Africans as brothers with whom I could share some common experiences. I would even venture further to say I see African-Americans as cousins of some sort and, in the complete Kumbaya state of mind, I judge a person by their merits and not by their skin color or culture. Of course as a human being, I’m not immune to all forms of bias, but I try to not let these biases be the major decision-makers in my life.

To put my thought process in context, I recently came back to Nigeria after studying in the US, and I am settling in for what could be a year or more in Africa. What has struck me while I have been back is hearing supposedly educated people spew stereotypes about a person of one tribe or another. You can walk through the streets and hear stereotypes that the Yoruba man, for instance, is dirty by nature, the Igbo man loves money and the Hausa man is an uneducated Islamic fanatic who rules and consumes all the country’s wealth. I am from the northern part of the country, where the Hausas/Fulanis are the majority tribes so anytime I tell someone I am from the north, it is assumed that a) I am a Muslim b) I am uneducated (they are surprised to discover I have finished university) and c) I come from an area that is wealthy. Of course all stereotypes have an element of truth: Nigeria is a country with enormous wealth and the north of the country has held power for longer than the other regions. The country is also has an illiteracy rate of almost 50%. The surprising thing about these stereotypes is that there are sometimes physical attributes that go along with them: the tall, skinny Fulani man, the light-skinned Igbo chap, the dark-as-hell Yoruba man and so on and so forth. If you look closely though, these so called physical attributes are almost complete hogwash as many people defy these parameters of identification. It still amazes me that people treat me a certain way because I look like I’m from a part of the country that I’m not. When I am in the northern part of the country, people sometimes treat me with disdain and speak in the language not knowing I understand, whereas when I’m in the southern part of the country, people speak their language to me and are surprised when I don’t understand them.
Now I am not anti-culture, nor do I advocate the adoption of European culture where all ethnic barriers are lifted and Africans sing Kumbaya with a Yorkshire accent. I say this because I have often been accused by people of my own ethnic group of having no respect for our people or culture because I feel we aren’t so different from others. I feel that there is a strong problem when people of different tribes do not take the time to appreciate and learn from each other’s cultures. I feel there is a problem when people of one tribe make it difficult for people from two different tribes to marry. Of course, times are changing and there are intercultural marriages, but there is still a deep suspicion of people of different tribes often steeped in the stereotypes many people already hold. I think there is a problem when as a governor, minister or president in my country, if you don’t provide dividends for people of your tribe as opposed to for all people in your constituency, you are seen as a traitor. Now I ask you how such a country hopes to progress even with loads of oil wealth. Would the US, for instance, expect President Obama to develop only Illinois at the detriment of the other states in the union? That would be ridiculous. It is a problem when people look at political appointments on the basis of ethnic affiliation, not in terms of merit and experience. There are very few technocrats working in the Nigerian government. And they are hoping to achieve the millennium development goals? I call bullshit on that one.

The same discussion could apply to religion in my country. Nigeria is statistically almost 50% Christian and 50% Muslim. As a young kid from a Christian family, I always wondered growing up why none of the Muslim kids would come and play with me. As I grew up and eventually made Muslim friends in places such as boarding school, it occurred to me that sometimes Muslim parents and Christian parents alike, depending on how fundamentalist or firebrand they are, often discourage their kids from playing with kids of the other religion. Now I wonder, if I had some Buddhist kids around, would my parents have let me play with them? I can speak for Christianity since I grew up in a Christian family. Christians in my country take religion more seriously than the damn colonialist missionaries who brought it to them. Nigerians are highly religious – it’s the only country I know where literally every street has a church or mosque on it. It doesn’t just stop there: in certain volatile parts of the country politicians often use religion to incite violence. The Christians often even argue amongst themselves, along the Catholic/Protestant line, each believing the other is wrong. It is a Nigerian Anglican archbishop that is spearheading the move by the African Church to leave the English Communion for appointing a gay bishop. I find it ironic that one of the most religious countries on earth is also one of the most corrupt. Now I wouldn’t want to make any inferences here on the role of religion in corruption because that’s a whole other discussion.

Now imagine a world rife with conflict, where each group is at another’s throat, where fighting between tribes and genocides are common place. Imagine a world where we murder anything that we perceive as different from us. I think it doesn’t take a genius to see that such a world needs progress. So my dear friends, what experiences in your life sometimes have you wishing for a world of equality and equal opportunity under the sun?

The song I had in mind as I was writing this was “If I ruled the world” by Nas featuring Lauryn Hill. I certainly miss Lauryn Hill, homegirl needs to get back pronto. Nas has always been one of my favorite rappers, dude speaks knowledge, if he listening, we need another “Illmatic” bruv.

I finally saw Nas in concert. It was at the New York leg of the Rock the Bells tour, and it was everything that I’d ever hoped it would be. He came out looking fresh in a white shirt and NY fitted, and performed everything from “Made You Look” to “One Love” (with Damien Marley mixing in his father’s track with it – I cannot WAIT for Distant Relatives to drop). The whole arena was going wild, everyone pumping their fists and getting hype. The energy all around me blasted away the tiredness I felt from getting so little sleep the night before, and I stayed on my feet rapping along like I had a record deal my damn self. Towards the end of the set Nas and Damien performed “Road to Zion,” at the beginning of which Damien asked everyone to put their lighters/cell phones/hands up in the air. Looking around at my fellow hip-hop heads in their thousands, faces illuminated by the electronic glow, all of us caught in the sheer passion and love we felt for this music, I couldn’t help but think of the many millions of souls around the world hip-hop culture has touched.

My first hip-hop memory is of listening to Snoop Dogg’s first album with my sisters (I’m going to discount my brief obsession with MC Hammer because a) I don’t directly remember it, it’s only from my family telling me I was a fan that I even know this and b) those damn harem pants). My dad was (and still is) a huge fan of Dr. Dre and purchased Snoop’s first album – Doggystyle – on cassette. It probably wasn’t the best thing for a 5 year-old to be listening to, but no one could tell me anything – I’d be rhyming along to “Gin and Juice” like I knew what liquor, Long Beach or weed were. One of the first things about rap music that fascinated me was the fact that rappers fit so many more words into the same 3 minutes and 30 seconds than performers of other genres do. My little brain was obsessed with how they came up with so many rhymes – some of them in the middle of lines – and coupled this with a beat that got people doing the head bop with a look of total and complete concentration, finished off with a catchy hook. It was magic to me then, and still is now.

The hip-hop I listened to when I was younger (particularly while my family lived in England) was heavily influenced by what my older sisters liked: Mase, DMX and Busta Rhymes were particular favourites, and probably the reason why I’m still an East Coast girl at heart. Trevor Nelson’s show on MTV, The Lick, further opened up the world of American hip-hop to me. My sisters and I would gather around the TV late Friday nights after our parents had gone to sleep, thirstily soaking up everything from the new Timbaland and Missy joints to The Roots’ latest (the first track by them I remember hearing was “You Got Me,” one of my favourite songs of all time). We didn’t only listen to rap – R’n’B was our shit too (R Kelly, Erykah Badu and Aaliyah – good times), and being a nine-year old girl living in England, I fell under the spell of the Spice Girls. Yeah, I said it – no shame in my game.

Ten years on my music tastes have expanded to include indie, grime, coupé-décalé and electronica, but I still go back to hip-hop despite all the talk of it being murdered by Soulja Boy and other ignorant-ass-dumb-chain-wearing-pseudo-rappers. I like to pride myself on the fact that I mostly listen to what people term as “conscious” rap (you know, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Dead Prez) and the OGs (A Tribe Called Quest, Wu Tang, Biggie), but I do still bump chart rap. I won’t necessarily buy Rich Boy’s or Rick Ross’ music, but I’ll be damned if I’m not the biggest boss that you’ve seen thus far. I made the distinction between my “club shit” and “real shit” a while ago (to be precise, circa December 2006 when I bought Nas’ “Hip Hop is Dead”), citing the over-commercialisation of the game and the lack of imagination that, unfortunately, the rise of the South has brought to hip-hop. Yes, rappers have always talked about money, cash and hoes (at least since the 90s), but they would more than occasionally bring up socio-economic and political issues like the struggles of the average young person coming up in an inner-city ghetto or the realities of police brutality, and do both with the flow that made you go “daaaaaaaaaaaamn!” But that was then. Now, if the Billboard Hip-Hop and R’n’B chart is anything to go by, sex, designer clothes and being strapped when you hit the club is all that defines the music that I fell in love with all those years ago, only now without the allure of clever wordplay or imaginative production. All new rappers seem to be mocking (or reflecting) the intelligence of their audiences, posteuring in their LV-upholstered SUVs. All hope is lost.

Or maybe not. Last weekend, I went to the album launch party of Blitz the Ambassador, a Ghanaian rapper based in Brooklyn. I was blown away first by the fact that he performed with a (seriously smoking hot) live band, his flow and the fact that he played the talking drum. I felt the way I did when I saw Nas perform a few weekends ago, the way I did when I first heard “With so much drama in the LBC/It’s kinda hard being Snoop D-O-double-G”: a bubbling excitement, chills down my spine, and a strange feeling of familiarity, because it sounded like the junction between my childhood and my present. Needless to say, I snapped up his album immediately and I love it. But of course, nothing can ever be that picture-perfect. Towards the end, Blitz made a little speech thanking everyone for their support and love, and then made that comment that so many of my favourite “conscious” artists have made before: “I don’t do this for the money.” Um, I’m gonna go ahead and call bullshit on that. Obviously, artists don’t create music solely for cash – the music industry is far too fickle for that to make sense (for better pay, I’d recommend construction or police work). There’s the drive to share a message with like-minded individuals, to be expressive, to do something that makes you so incredibly happy nothing else could compare. And I feel all of them on that. But seriously? If it really isn’t for the money, why can’t I get your album for free? And why do you get mad when people download your shit if it’s all about reclaiming the game and resurrecting hip-hop? And why don’t you stay underground rather than signing with a big record company? Understand I’m not attacking Blitz directly here, but speaking in general to the artists that look down their noses at the “coonery” of people like Gucci Mane and T-Pain (on a personal note, I’m going to add Kanye and Lil Wayne to my list of people who are making hip hop kind of unbearable). Yes, they lack artistry, but at least they’re being 100% honest about why it is they’re in this game. And they must, to some degree, believe that they’re truly making good music… although what that says about their mental state, I’d really rather not contemplate. All I’m saying is that hip-hop isn’t necessarily dead, but that the non-“conscious” rappers are a representation of one (unfortunate) direction it has taken. I don’t think this is a permanent evolution. I also think the “conscious” dudes need to get off their fucking high horses – YES you make better music, but it really isn’t that life-or-death serious. As far as I’m concerned, all the back and forth and haterade in hip-hop right now is doing nothing for its devotees. Basically, rappers: get the fuck back to making music that gets me so hype I act like a little kid who OD’d on candy, stop using Twitter as a forum for bitching at each other and make hip hop the only love of my life once more.

That’s just my very humble opinion. Hip-hop heads, let me know if you feel otherwise and shit.

P.S. Title is from my main man/future-children’s-father Common: first ever track of his I heard, and still one of my favourites of all time.