The Young and Disenchanted

Posts Tagged ‘The Roots

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.

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I came to the realisation that nothing lasts forever early in my young and disenchanted life. When I was eight, my dad casually dropped the fact that we were moving from Nigeria to the UK into conversation while we were on a family vacation. Aside from the massive culture shock I suffered moving from Africa to Europe, I also lost all of the friends that I’d made at my primary school (oh Corona V.I…). This, by the way, was back in the 90s, way before Facebook and Skype. The only way we could have kept in contact was through letter or phone, but the crappy Nigerian mail system and my parents’ iron grip on any means of communication (I can’t be mad, them international calls are hella expensive) pretty much wrote that off. Of course, I made friends at my new school, but I couldn’t help but remember the ones that I’d left behind in Nigeria – Ada, Ezinne, even Ugochi who threatened to fuck me up that one time ‘cos I called him stupid. I don’t remember feeling particularly cut up about the abrupt ending to those friendships – I guess maybe at that age, your emotional bounce-back muscles are pretty flexible. If only shit stayed the same when you get older…

I’ve lost a couple friends along the way through less outwardly dramatic ways than moving to another country. There are the twins from my secondary school who suddenly stopped speaking to me one day, which for some strange reason didn’t bother me much (may have been that I’d made one too many Coming to America jokes about their Jherri curl juice – no jokes, they had Jherri curls). There’s the girl with whom shit stays awkward ‘cos we share the same friends, but we’re no longer on the same page. And, of course, there are the men.

The end of a platonic friendship is always pretty bad, but a romantic relationship is always the worst. I mean, think about it: getting romantically involved with someone generally involves putting yourself in a vulnerable position emotionally. There’s all kinds of corny text messaging, hand-holding (bleugh) and heart-to-hearts that have you believing you and this other person might really have a connection. As much as I want to convince myself that I’m immune to this relationship stuff, I have to admit I’ve had my moments when I crave that happy coupled-up feeling. The last time I had this feeling, it didn’t last long. The guy involved, well… let’s just say he caught me at a time when I was feeling particularly vulnerable. If I’d been my usual cool-calculated-and-perfectly-aligned self, maybe I wouldn’t have found myself agreeing to enter a relationship with someone I had previously just been acquaintances with. I soon realised that I needed to take a step back: me and the dude didn’t really know each other well enough for my commitment-shy self to be a quality girlfriend. And that’s where the problems began. I should probably explain that at this point, I wasn’t trying to end the relationship, but rather to slow things down and get my bearings. I didn’t think either of us knew each other well enough to place the label of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” on each other. Apparently that was equivalent to me saying that I wasn’t interested, and warranted being ignored in public and, I suppose, being “technically” being cheated on. What annoyed me was that every time I tried to bring up the situation, this dude would insist that he wanted to be with me, but then I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks on end. And yes, I could have called, but he was the one who had initiated the relationship – I thought it only right that he ask my ass on a motherfucking date, especially as I had put in work to let him know I was more than willing to give us a shot.

If there’s one thing I learned about myself from this experience, it’s that I truly appreciate the value of honesty. I think too few people have the balls to say what they really feel in a relationship situation. If, for example, you’re not really into a person you should let them know early on, rather than lie to both them and yourself in an attempt to avoid an awkward situation. For fuck’s sake, LIFE is a big ball of awkward situations. At some point you’ll inevitably end up being walked in on while on the toilet, say something dumb on the internet or have to end a relationship with someone. It sucks when you have to be the “bad guy” (or the one hit with a faceful of eau de poo), but you just have to (wo)man up, take two and talk it out. In the situation I described, I ended up being the one who had to take the initiative to clarify where we stood with each other time and time again. Like Amy, I wanted to say “YOU should be stronger than me.” Shame, instead he was longer than frozen turkey.

In the end we decided that we would be “friends” – a little tricky to do if you’re not friends before things get complicated, but I got tired of talking after a while. I think the reason why I got so wound up about the situation to begin with is of my compulsion to never leave end loose. Maybe it’s a result of my nomadic existence, but I hate not being able to draw a line under something and be assured that it won’t pop up again in the future to bug me. If a relationship ends, I want it to be more or less permanently so. Those friendships that ended with my moving to England are the perfect example of that – it’s sad that I lost my childhood friends that way, but we all knew the deal, accepted it and moved on with our lives. Of course, there are certain relationships you can’t ever really get go of, the ones that change you fundamentally, the ones where your heart still skips a beat when you see their name somewhere, or their number on your caller-ID. This wasn’t one of them. My point is: I think when two people (or at least one) realise that whatever drew them together in the beginning has evaporated into thin air, it may be time to just let it go, and that the ending process should be as quick and painless as possible.

Or maybe that’s never possible unless you move to inner Mongolia. Let me know.

P.S. Title’s courtesy of the legendary Roots crew (who I’m seeing for the 4th time in concert next week :)).