Friday, December 30, 2005

sugar brown

i'm an eighties baby. grandma.ster f.lash and the furiou.s five and k.urtis blow and all them other folks was before my time, i mean yeah i was alive, but i was still cutting teeth and trying to kick sim.ilac, so it's not like i remember what it was like when things started to blow up. so yeah, i remember breakdancing and stuff, and i know sug.arhill gang lyrics, but for real, for real, that's before my time and i couldn't get in on that. the first song i remember claiming as one of my favorites was it takes two, with rob bas.e spitting "i wanna rock right now!" i was like, maybe seven. i loved that song. i loved, "i'm bad" by ll k.ool j with his ka.ngol hat, that my cousin usedta wear, too. when i was little, commercialization of the house party music was happening, what with the fa.t boys having a movie and all. i remember hearing big d.addy and k.ool m.oe de.e on the radio. it's a part of my childhood. my teenage cousin had every record ever made, and i remember coming home from school and marveling at how important and strong queen la.tifah seemed, and how she made me feel like that too. between her and publ.ic en.emy, it wasn't long before i wanted to know more about what it really meant to be black in this country. whatever militancy lies in this heart, whatever afrocentrism i ever tried to learn, whatever interest i had in racism, classism, and politics was partly a result of the attitude i saw in them. hea.vy d and the bo.yz, digital und.erground, d.e la s.oul, and dj jazz.y j.eff and the pr.ince made me happy and made me wanna move. ro.xanne shan.te and mc ly.te affirmed my self esteem by letting me know that it was okay for a woman (or a girl) to be unashamed about having skills.

as i got older, hip hop got older. complexities emerged that changed the game and changed my attitude towards rap music. mc h.ammer happened. ice happened. ic.e-t and n.wa happened. c. delores tu.cker happened. so all the while i was loving sheep and a tr.ibe called quest, i was conflicted. see, the energy i got from watching public enemy's fight the power video and listening to the dope collaboration on self-destruction had me scratching temple like those dudes from naug.hty by n.ature, cause i realized that hip hop - that's not that simple. my parents (my role models) were shaking their heads. i was concerned about commercialism and values. hip hop started being associated with the violence in our communities. some of the rap music - the most sensationalized, the most talked about music - was insulting to me as a young woman. the subject matter of guns and drugs was so prevalent. and i recognized that it was about some people's reality. but that was a reality that i didn't want to support, that i didn't want to listen to, that i didn't want to associate myself with. i was trying to be positive, to think positively, to get myself out of the many traps i saw lying in wait for me in my hood. i felt no loyalty to the music.

so at an age where perhaps many of my peers were getting deeper and deeper into it, i found myself consciously pulling away - a personal protest, if you will. the activism of one. i didn't buy any rap, from the age i was old enough to start buying things until the ripe old age of 25. my stations of choice became the ones that those of us in urban markets all recognize as the "grown folks" stations that had 30 or 40 and over clubs and stuck to the oldies and what r&b still didn't have rap in it. neo soul was an oasis for me - a place where i could hear contemporary music that didn't fit the canned r&b formula or celebrate raggedy value like most of the rap on the radio. of course, i listened to the "hip hop and r&b" stations sometimes. seemed like all the r&b artists had rappers step into the middle of their songs in the early/mid 90's. i loved me some m.ethod man and m.ary j. talking about all they needed to get by. i didn't miss it when the streaked across the sky like a brilliant comet. diga.ble pla.nets had me feeling some type of good.

but still, i wouldn't claim hip hop. it was like some neighbor i used to play with as a child before i moved away and we lost touch and lost love and lost loyalty. dr. dr.e's it was a good day, s.noop's gin and, and big.gie's one more chance were guilty pleasures. and t.upac got shot. i mourned. but i also shrugged it off as them lying in the bed they made. live (rap) by the sword (violence), die by the sword... all it did was confirm my disappointment in the direction of the music and the culture. j.ay-z's reasonable doubt happened without being a major event in my life. sea.n' capitalization on's popularity sickened me. lil's and f.oxy brown's lyrics disappointed me more than they affirmed my feminity. the materialism was killing me. the empty lyrics were killing me. the attitude of young men and women my age who were emulating this mess was killing me. me and my jazz and r&b records were doing just fine without rap music.

and then i saw bro.wn su.gar. sweet little movie, it was. it made me realize that the fact that i even cared about the direction of the music meant that there was something more to my relationship with hip hop. (that plus the fact that the soundtrack had me just as happy as i wanted to be). i thought about it. and thought about it. and realized that personal protest aside, hip hop is a part of my life, period. the culture is the culture of my generation, and i can't shake it any more than my mom's generation can shake soul music. i realized that hip hop was less like an estranged neighbor and more like that blood-related cousin that be acting up, and you can't stand 'em sometimes... but they still family. and then it happened.

i was at my cousin's house, hanging out with him, his wife, and their friend, who had brought over some cd's that we were listening to. and i wasn't even paying attention to what i was doing, but the friend noticed that i was really enjoying the cd. really. like nodding my head, eyes closed, girl-you-in-another-world-forget-ca.lgon-i-want-what-she-got pleasure. and it came together for me. i went to the store and bought the cd's that were playing that night - mo.s de.f's the new danger, and c.ommon's be - changed. my. life! LOL! i couldn't play those cd's often enough. they fed a need that i didn't know i had been starving. i hadn't bought a rap album since h.eavy d & the bo.yz' no.thing but love and queen la.tifah's almost 10 years prior. i felt so much better knowing that i could simply duck around all the bovine excrement and go straight to something that would actually entertain me, inspire me to keep writing, and make me feel good about my generation.

so now i'm on this making-up-with-hip-hop mission. forgiving myself for being so unilateral in my youth. encouraging myself to embrace the sounds i like. i'm starting forgive some of the subject matter of materialism, listening around it and between its lines to see if there is something of substance there. sometimes there isn't. sometimes there is. but the door is open now. for example, li.ttle bro.ther has busted right through it with dope beats and dope lyrics. l.ate registra.tion stays in heavy rotation. so even though i have refused to watch 106 & p.ark since its inception, and i haven't watched videos in about ten years, and even though i can't get with that twin.s mess, or that jone.s foolishness, there is hope for me and hip hop, yet...