Reflecting on Hip Hop


In addition to the things I’ve been able to do as an artist I’ve had the pleasure of being an independent recording artist. I love music and dreamed of recording music for a long time. I participated in talent shows with my friends when I was young. I couldn’t sing anything but blended background and I was too shy to take too much of a lead role rapping, but I enjoyed being expressive with my friends. I guess there was an entertainer inside I hadn’t come to terms with yet. When I started to perform publicly as an adult thanks to being coerced into reading a local open mic, things started to change for me.

In 2001 I recorded my first spoken word CD. I was so excited. I recorded part of it in the famous Osceola Studios in Raleigh. It was my first time in a professional studio. Finances didn’t allow me to finish the project there, but the bug had bitten. On that first CD I experimented with blended genre. I got to try my hand at recording songs. With the next project I did the same. I blended poems set over music with poems and rhymes set to music. I was writing hooks and working with songwriters. Soon I started to collaborate with other emcees.

It all led to a record deal with local indie label Amp Truth Records. I was excited to sign my name on the dotted line. It was my first (and only) recording and publishing contract. They released an album domestically and internationally (with distribution through Grindin Records out of Australia). Unfortunately, the owners split and the label folded before we could thoroughly promote the album. I did gain a lot from that opportunity. Through that experience I found myself steadily in the studio. Since then, I have worked with not only emcees, but musicians and vocalists in NC.

This has led to some great work and some great relationships. I draw on these relationships to continue to craft quality work. I also draw on these relationships to help me frame and present Hip Hop to others. I feel a responsibility to help forward the culture and to help spark dialogues that increase people’s understanding of the culture.

For instance, I was asked to talk to some college freshmen about music on the world stage. I thought about what I wanted to cover with them. I wanted to make sure that I made some connections that made sense. I wanted to offer them some new information. I also wanted to use the opportunity to address Hip Hop and how far-reaching it is as both a culture and a genre of music.

Almost every culture has music as a part of it. Music is used to tell stories, it is a part of rituals and celebrations, it is a part of important ceremonies, and it is used as praise and worship. Classical music, opera, and other forms of music have inspired people for centuries. Just take a look at cultural traditions in Africa, Japan, and across the Caribbean. Look at the impact of music in America (Spirituals, Blues, Jazz, Soul, Hip Hop).

Music as a unifying force, a bridge. It can help bring together cultures. It is a way of understanding that is often universal. The musical backdrop can help people find common ground regardless of the difference in the language of the lyrics. If we clap a simple measure (musical term) out together and count them (similar to counting bars, a songwriting term), you’ll see how quickly everyone finds the same pace and stays together. There may eventually be some improvisation, but not at the expense of the group unity. This is an activity I use in workshops. The results are almost always the same. People begin to communicate together in a new language that feels familiar, rhythm. If you start to add other sounds you’ll eventually get a reverie that is on beat and in pace. This is even in a room with no musicians.

Hip Hop culture has had a major impact on popular music in these modern times because culture is an important part of society. When we talk about pop music we are talking about music mediated for the masses. That means that there is an entity (TV station, radio, record label, corporation of some kind) that is presenting the music to the people. As it has become a major facet in pop culture, you can see the influence of Hip Hop on genres of music outside of rap. While the commercial rap industry has captured the world’s attention, Hip Hop music continues to expand its breath as “heads” from various communities worldwide integrate the culture into their musical outputs.

When you talk about the reach of Hip Hop it is with the understanding that music has always been global. Hip Hop is only 40 years old, but it has grown to be an important form of music to communities across the world. What we see when we look at Hip Hop globally is that in addition to entertainment and cultural representation it plays a role as protest music and social commentary.

There is so much to discuss. I hope to continue to share the breadth of possibilities with as many people as I can. My time as a Nasir Jones Fellow at the Hop Hop Archive at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University will definitely be a catalyst for that. Stay tuned! 

Hip Hop and you don’t stop! Yes yes y’all!