Pilot, Hip Hop Ronin
My oldest sister, Gina, to this day has biceps that’ll make anyone fantasize about being in a chokehold—was sweeter than a swisher, but would kick your ass if you increased her temperature. I wanted to be like her. In her 4’11” stature Gina was my hero, the only smile-inspiring feminine badass I knew in Hood Trenton, and possessed a subtle preoccupation for Jay-Z that was just enough to ignite my 9 year old curiosity for our fellow East Trentonian.
Gina made early teenage decisions to go on nomadic adventures from Philly to New York and back to Trenton with Jay-Z as the main soundtrack. I convinced myself that listening to Reasonable Doubt would give me intel of Gina’s excursion but somehow my hero’s liking for Jay-Z was not enough for me to get connected.
It wasn’t until Brandon, my 5th-grade crush and only competitor that I earned my affinity for Jigga. Brandon pulled The Blueprint from the back pocket of his new Rocawear jeans during free time in Ms. Toussaint’s class, inserted the album into his new portable CD player, and invited me to listen.
From the 2nd grade to the middle of 5th grade Brandon wore the same shirt and jeans, but that day his Rocawear jeans grabbed my attention. These new jeans introduced me to a new Brandon, one who would no longer dream of having; but would do whatever’s necessary to have.
To many, the artist is a hometown hero that connects closer than the earphone to the jack of the very device for people who grew up in an inner-city (whatever the inner city). For us, the view on MTV Jams, MTV Cribs and especially BET, is a life that youths with dreams and humble beginnings aspire to attain. It represents the ultimate measure of success. Our rapping and memorization of lyrics was training and rehearsal. Gina gave me the image and Jay-Z gave Brandon and me The Blueprint to the purpose of hip hop — we were mere puppeteer.
Conversely (and excuse the generalization), I use to think my upper class colleagues at Wake Forest were never able or even willing to “get” Jay-Z, until he earned his way in their tax bracket. And that’s when I realized I was getting more and more removed from Jay-Z the symbol, and more into Jay-Z, the pop artist.
Jay-Z, the symbol with whom I was magnetized created a story that felt familiar and made me feel normal; who, in doing so, created a reason to celebrate and explore other cultures while interweaving lives.
Jay-Z the pop artist meant ostentatious living. Although I skipped the Big Pimpin’ Track, I knew the words and when necessary, it made me bounce my shoulders.
Lost in the music and its convolution— the hip hop Jay-Z was for me was comparable to hating war but supporting the troops. In my mind, our distance grew as his pocket did but yet he was somehow there with me, permeating my heart.
My “it’s complicated” rationale and feelings toward that new wave hip hop were complicated simply because of its double-edged aptitude. Hip hop is more than a genre — it can cultivate yet also kill. Nowadays, there is no formula other than, “if it sounds good and feels good, it IS good.” But bopping to the clinks of pistols isn’t. Brandon neglecting his innate intelligence and inadvertent ticket out of the hood to buy the newest Jordans and the goldest chain is NOT hip hop- or at least, what it should be. Is it?
After we parted in 5th grade, I only saw Brandon once more. He fancied an oversized black t-shirt, and of course black Retro 2’s. Today, I often wonder where he is as Jay-Z bashes the base of my car, in Hood Trenton, and more importantly, stadiums across the world.
Today, my love for Hip Hop has sharpened. Hip hop, is the exploration of cultures and diversification of storytelling. Music, like the voice, should be understood, experienced, deciphered, and decoded into the listener’s interpretation — whatever the culture. Just as the voice shouldn’t be confined to instrument, fantasy, or paintbrush, neither should the listener.
Gina, Brandon, and Jay-Z presented a dope, challenging, and musical world at 9-years-old to me. Though the world and my perspective have changed, the necessity for a Hero, a Big Brother, or a Feeling that can exist through replication, verse and beat has not.
So What’s the point of this?
Well, that sitting on creations is criminal. I’ve always been told to be an example I’m going to unashamedly be me. Love what I love, write how I write, and live how I am lead to. I am going to inspire young women, MC’s, Poets, and artists to do the same.
I celebrate storytelling, music, and perspective by sharing one of the first times I realized I would be an expert of feeling music. Here’s to learning, evolving, experimenting, becoming the next exceptions, and discovering. Here’s to change and all the Brandon’s in the world. Here’s to Hip Hop.
I’m Just a Kid from the Gutter making this butter off these blood suckers…
Special thanks to the good people at the Op-Ed Project and the Mentor who edited the first draft.