Saturday, September 18, 2010

Remembering My Roots: Rediscovering Hip Hop

It’s been a journey. A dysfunctional relationship at best, this love affair between me and Hip Hop. No, not a love affair. That would be incestuous. I’m not going to get into cliché metaphors and analogies, personifying the 4 elements into the ideal partner or something. No, it’s already been done. I’m just going to tell you what went down between me and Hip Hop in the most lucid of terminology…family. I am a child of Hip Hop Culture.

Part I – Childhood

My earliest childhood memories are of custom leather pant suits, furs, Gucci velours and Bally shoes making appearances through clouds of smoke at parties in Boston-Secor Projects in the Bronx. The laughter and swearing was drowned out by the sounds of Kurtis Blow and Kool Moe Dee filling the room from grandma’s hi-fi. Uncle “so-and-so” will give us a dollar if we show him the new dance moves, so my sister and I do the worm or the snake. I want to do a windmill, but there isn’t enough room. I am hearing that Aunt "what’s-her-face” is dating a member of the Sugar Hill gang and I am somehow related to one of the founding members of Sugar Hill records, Sylvia Robinson. At least that’s what my birth father told me. He said a lot of things. Amidst the liquor, the smoke with the many different smells and the parade of animal skin fabrics around the room, I never knew who was related to me. The only thing that promised consistency was the bass-line and drum snare, the voice and the lyrics that rose from the record player every time we had a family function.

Realizing I was a true b-girl by the age of eight, I found a home and comfort within the culture of Hip Hop music. I remember walking the streets of the Northeast Bronx with my childhood friends in pursuit of an empty, refrigerator shipping box. Though a fridge box was ideal, we were small, so any sizeable cardboard box would do. Hector with his boom box, blasting Shawn Brown’s “The Rapping Duke” over and over again. The repetition of the “Da Ha,  Da-Haaa, Da-Ha-Ha, Da-Ha-Haaa” stuttering rhythmically through the speakers was the little drummer boy to our junior hip hop crew brigade. The hunt was on. The box was found on the corner of Bussing and Grace Avenue or behind the C-Town grocery store on LaConia Avenue. Our victory dance, a series of side-steps, waves and uprocks. Maybe a kickstep into a scissor glide.  Either way, we did celebrate.

That cardboard box, larger than all of us combined, found its way to our block by the grace of God or Grandmaster Flash or whoever you pray to before you close your eyes at night. That cardboard box, lost all of its dimension and original purpose for existing as 5 little kids stomped, tore and flattened the shit out of it to make it dance floor appropriate. You see, this is how we recycled trash in the eighties. Boxes became dance floors, plastic caps from quarter waters were transformed into game pieces for “Skelly”, crack vile caps were objects for scavenger hunts and old mattresses? Trampolines, of course!

I’m still a kid and it is still the eighties. I take the number 2 train to 125th street with my grandmother every day. The train station is splashed with illustrations of names and of cartoon characters that aren’t on TV and colors upon colors everywhere.  I am angered by the nerve of someone called “RJAY79” who insists on scrawling his ugly name with black paint all over some of the pretty pictures. I later learn that RJAY’s crime is called “buffing” and warrants a well deserved beat-down. The station reeks of urine and beer, but the pictures set the tone for the wonders about to follow anyway.

On the platform, I feel the rumbling of an oncoming train on the soles of my Kangaroos. It’s coming fast and here it is, barreling through the station. The forming winds from the speeding steel, taking my breath away and blowing my mind at once, there she is.  The mighty 2 train, the red train, now covered in bright colors with the name “RIZE” on every car. I think that writer was my favorite. His colors were always so bright and his hand at bubble lettering inspired me. The train door has stopped before me and  RIZE’s bubbled out name separates and allows us entry into this moving art museum.

The inside of the train car is similar to the train station: random pictures and words lacking cohesion because each piece sprayed comes from a different hand, a different mind, a different artist. I learn about Ronnie and why she’s a slut and someone has left her phone number for anyone that wishes to have a good time. Someone appears to be angry with me, because “FUCK YOU” is written about 25 times in black paint. There is a picture of a girl with big red lips and big boobies. There is a picture of a boy’s face with a huge hat and a crooked smile with a shortened line separating the top row of teeth from the bottom. Bubbles, Angles, Wild Style, cryptic for some and code for others. My mind was most certainly entertained on our 20 minute ride to 125th street.

Who knew, 8 years later, I would find myself running through the tunnels between 66th street and 72nd street trying to beat the train as I got my ups on a wall in the darkness? My one attempt at becoming a graff writer, I got my tag “KSeRA” on a subway tunnel wall. As electrifying as it was, I nearly shit my pants. Needless to say, I developed even more love and profound respect for our graff artist like RIZE, Lady Pink, SLAVE, KADE 198 and the many other Krylon soldiers that gave us the gift of color and gave us a voice during a time when New York City was otherwise very gray and very bleak.

Now, the subway tells you where you’re going with an automated voice announcing each station. Back in the day, a covered train spoke to you and told you where you needed to be. Corporate advertisements have replaced ghetto folk art.  A ride on the el was a journey. Now, it’s just a commute.

Stay tuned for Part II

Comment Q&A: Is there a musical culture that is deeply ingrained within you? Are you a child of Hip Hop? What are your fondest childhood memories? Share your experiences in the comment box, por favor.


  1. OMG!!!!! thats what I'm talking bout.. thats that REAL SHIT!!! thank you

    novel idea

  2. I love this! I saw your link on Cafe Mom & am enjoying your blog thus far. I grew up on Reggae & Dance Hall so I too had a love affair with music, still do!

  3. Aisha, Novel...thank you. I'm working on Part 2 in my head right now. I hope you guys enjoy what shall follow and THANK you for following my blog. I appreciate the support.