Musical quest of self
I have always had one great friendship in my life. Hip Hop! Born in the eighties and with American hegemony making sure I was exposed, Hip Hop for almost as long as I remember was a part of my existence. Before my teenage years, he represented fun with a difference. He stood out from the rest with his break-dancing, graffiti, dress code and sound. This made him the coolest thing in my eyes. Seeing that Hip Hop entered my life at a time when I could not speak his most vocal language English, his messages were lost on me in my early years.
Circumstances at schools in an apparent post-racial era, where everybody was trying too hard or too little to be colourblind, made me wake up to the messages that were predominant in Rap music. My English had improved but the situation of the black person worldwide had not. These were two powerful tools in making Rap my inspiration, my crutch and Hip Hop my identity as a person of colour. I held on to him as my most loyal companion. I let him accompany me and guide me on most aspects of my life.
At the same time, growing into a young woman required specialised attention which Neo-soul in the form of Erykah Badu and Angie Stone and later the likes of India Arie and Jill Scott catered for. These women placed the bricks on my heart’s foundation which Salt n Pepa and MC Lyte had already laid strong. Hip Hop spoke to my ego, my struggle, my triumphs and my search for identity.
It was during this time that I understood that Hip Hop was borne of struggle. That when the Civil Rights Movement failed, the Black Panthers were infiltrated, when religion was not enough anymore, when the heroes of the black power struggles were assassinated, incarcerated or otherwise incapable of fighting, the young black people took the one thing that is so essential to black culture; music, and turned it into a spear.
Hip Hop became the expression of warriors. I believe Tupac tried to explain that warpath when he said,
“It's like, you hungry, you reached your level. We asked 10 years ago. We was asking with the Panthers. We was asking with them, the Civil Rights Movement. We was asking. Those people that asked are dead and in jail. So now what do you think we're gonna do? Ask?”
After the Jamaican introduction of DJ-ing and beat-boxing was diversified; “We are here. Deal with us!” became the battle cry for young, black America. It was translated into NWA’s “Fuck the police” and Tupac’s “Trapped”.
Then at some point when Hip Hop became this teenager that did not want to grow up, when the teenager demanded invitations to parties that he was kicked out of for bad behaviour, when the teenager turned adult and decided to brag about how many “bitches and hoes” he slept with, when the young adult was impressing friends by making it rain in the club and yet would not move out of his Mama’s garage; that is when I knew that our paths had to diverge.
Shortly after Hip Hop’s battles became personal and not anymore collective for the people, not long after “Hit em up” and “Ether”, we agreed that it was time to see other people. Hip Hop seemed to have lost touch, not just on the struggle but also on the grioting and educating.
Even fun stories like of the time he left his wallet in El Segunda became scarce. Now when friendship reaches a point where you do not have fun nor share enriching thoughtful moments any longer with somebody you once loved, the unsaid becomes loud. I got last instructions on my ‘Miseducation’ and then became a ‘College Dropout’.
Then ‘I met Roots’. We had encountered before because it is impossible to know Hip Hop but not his godmother. Hip Hop represents the quest of my identity, which I found patiently waiting for me in reggae.
When Hip Hop was not cool to hang out with anymore and I was anyway becoming too old to place value on “cool”. I was taken back to the era where we as a people had hope and believed that everything was gonna be alright. Back to a time when the descendants of slaves demanded repatriation to Afrika and wondered who would pay repatriation for their souls.
Reggae music speaks to my soul, my peace, my transformation.
Now I can be in situations where like Stephen Marley I am “inna di red” without having to throw up my Westside gang sign to assert my position of rebellion. When I listen to Junior Kelly’s Tough life, I realise that speaking on difficult issues does not have to be accompanied by negativity but by clarity.
Nasio Fontaine said that what makes a Rasta is coming up from down under Babylon and elevating above matters. Hence, “overstanding” things, people, and situations. I listen to “Bondage” and rise above it to “Living in the positive”. Elijah Prophet on Piece of Ganja puts a spring in my walk the same way The Abyssinians do with their Good Lord Dub.
Roots speaks on truth but without the pretense and exaggeration that Hip Hop is now so saturated with. Roots got me feeling like a conqueror even before a situation arises. Roots became the mother and I was the prodigal child coming home.
When I listen to Nyabinghi drumming I feel like chanting to spiritual familiarity; a rhythmical resistance to negativity. Roots is concerned with my spirituality. She is concerned with the livity of especially the oppressed people. She speaks pride to the spirit. Like Marcus Garvey, she inspires pride for the black race. Roots is teaching me to elevate over unconstructiveness, to walk out of Babylon with my head held high. She is one who taught me to dance to patience, the one who is teaching me to love with clarity as opposed to loving with urgency.
The urgency that Hip Hop had instilled me to change things that I had limited control over is slowly being occupied by Roots Reggae with a tranquility to accept things that I cannot change.
Both Hip Hop and Roots Reggae are extremely important to me. I can tell my life story in their songs. There are lyrics to every significant time of my life. Their melodies put me right where I need to be. They represent me.
My music has surpassed the form of art and entertainment. My music lives. It loves, it comforts, it transforms, it heals and it restores. My music is the amalgamation of inherited Afrikan traditions and their conscious rediscovery.
My music is the destination that I am steadfast in but still travelling towards. It is a journey of 1 000 miles that I will be taking alongside Perfect. With every step comes personal growth. And with every step I give thanks because I know I am headed to where I should be.