As the first entry, and one befitting a blog titled “Drifting Prolixity”, I would be remiss if I did not at least discuss how this all came to be and what I hope to accomplish. Coming up in the tri-state area (NYC Metro region of the US) as a kid in the 80’s, I had no choice but to become a hip hop head. This meant embracing not only the music, but the culture. From the way we dressed, the way we talked, the way we walked, and definitely who we looked up to. The amazing thing about it all was that it was a subconscious decision, it was just the way things were - and the way they would always be.
RUN-DMC were gods to us back then and you didn’t have to go far or listen very hard before you heard that iconic “boom-bap” coming from someone’s radio. We all knew the lyrics and could rattle them off just as easily as I’m writing this to you now:
“Two years ago…a friend a’ mine
asked me to say some MC rhyme
so I said this rhyme I’m about to say
The rhyme was def and then it went this way…”
If you didn’t know it - or worse - couldn’t RAP it in time with the beat of the song, then you were a sucka just as the title implied. Never mind what they were talking about, because none of us actually knew. We were too young to care about that and completely captivated by the infectious beats of Jam Master Jay. Their collective style set it off and there was no turning back. Not for me anyway.
Other groups came and went, and I quickly moved on from RUN-DMC. Especially after hearing what I thought was the most amazing song ever made. It had this mellow groove and the beat was so simple. The bells in the production sounded like they came from one of my Saturday morning cartoons.
“Another victory…they can’t get to me
So pick a BC date cause you’re history
I’m the authentic poet to get lyrical
For you to beat me, it’s gonna take a miracle…”
I was STUCK. Literally stuck in place listening to the words coming from the radio. It was the smoothest and most clever thing I had ever heard anyone say.
“...now let me tell you who I am
Dramatic, asiatic, not like many…”
The reaction from us all was synonymous - “YO TURN THAT UP!!” It was the first time I had actually paid attention to the lyrics and tried to understand what the artist was trying to say. I was hooked and “Ain’t No Half Steppin” would be the next song I memorized, but this time for different reasons.
My father had tried to teach me a great many things when I was a kid, some of which I didn’t think was “cool” enough at the time to garner my attention. He was a fan of Langston Hughes and Robert Frost. Brilliant contemporary poets that captured the essence of struggle and life from different perspectives - and I could not have been less interested. But Big Daddy Kane had called himself a poet, so things were different now. I picked up one of my father’s books and read “The Trumpet Player”, by Langston Hughes, with different eyes:
With the trumpet at his lips
Has dark moons of weariness
Beneath his eyes
where the smoldering memory
of slave ships
Blazed to the crack of whips
with the trumpet at his lips
has a head of vibrant hair
until it gleams
were jet a crown
from the trumpet at his lips
mixed with liquid fire
from the trumpet at his lips
distilled from old desire—
that is longing for the moon
where the moonlight's but a spotlight
in his eyes,
that is longing for the sea
where the sea's a bar-glass
with the trumpet at his lips
Has a fine one-button roll,
does not know
upon what riff the music slips
It's hypodermic needle
to his soul
as the tune comes from his throat
mellows to a golden note
Those words opened up a whole new world for me. Different from how RUN-DMC or Big Daddy Kane had, but similar enough that I knew they were cast from the same light. At that moment my father was the coolest man in the world, and has been to me ever since.
It wasn’t long after that when I wrote my first poem. I can’t remember what it was about or what my inspiration was, but it made my parents proud and that was enough for me. There were others that I have since forgotten about that got the same reaction from family, I think my Aunt Charlotte even framed one. But at twelve and thirteen years old new “interests” take the place of others and life moves on in the meantime. Girls were now my main objective, but Hip Hop remained at the forefront no matter what - as it does even now.
It wasn’t until college, that I was re-introduced to Langston Hughes again. Hampton University was an enlightening experience to say the least, and it was there where I gained an academic appreciation for what the culture was all about. One of my first assignments during Freshman year was to read Richard Wright’s “Native Son”. I devoured this like a starving lion, realizing again that my father had tried to show me this book a few years prior. I had never related to a book, nor sympathized with a main character in Bigger Thomas, as I had with this one before.
I came home for the holidays, and discussed what I had done that first semester college with my Aunt Sue, a college professor and another who has taught me a great deal in life. She could sense my renewed excitement for literature and bought me the book that would change my life - “Manchild in the Promised Land”, an autobiography by Claude Brown. Sad to say, I could relate to a lot of the characters in this story, but what struck me the most was how Mr. Brown, pulled himself up, embracing education and the arts. Reading of his transformation cut a groove in me that I could not escape. My eyes and mind were opened wide and I was not afraid to express myself anymore.
Nathan McCall's "Makes Me Wanna Holler" (another gift from Aunt Sue), was very similar to Manchild in the Promised Land and pushed me over the proverbial cliff - and I was dead set on becoming a writer because of it. Not just any writer, but one who writes with purpose and depth. Leveraging my own struggles and life experience to create the story, poem, or song while respecting the art form. I firmly believe that those who are most successful in the arts work their creations from the "down-deep". The only real place it could ever come from.