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One Man’s Ode to Hip Hop

Summer 1984: Enfield Street in Hartford, Connecticut

I vividly remember that summer as the period of time within my short 9 years of life that I fell in love with the art form known as rap music, and the hip hop culture that accompanied as much. I had a lot going on at that time (so I thought) as I had the 5th Grade to look forward to. This, in addition to being in love with Jayne Kennedy from TV, and having the biggest crush on a young lady that was one year ahead of me in school – Shatice Collins (yes, I remember her name!)

While hanging out with my cousin Elton – I heard Run DMC’s ”Rock Box” for the first time. I grew up in a household where my Pop would play everything from The Main Ingredient to Earth, Wind and Fire to Barry White to The Temptations to Rick James – we would also listen to everyone from Hall & Oates to Michael McDonald on the radio so I was exposed to a pretty eclectic mix of music early on in life.

When I heard Run for the first time (“My name is Joseph Simmons but my middle name's Lord and when I'm rockin' on the mic, you should all applaud….) there was something that grabbed me whereas I couldn’t get enough of that track, so I kept rewinding my brother’s cassette tape over and again and in that moment – my affinity for hip hop was born.

I recall pleading with my Mom to take me to Salvin’s Shoes on Main Street so that I could get a fresh pair of shell-toed Adidas and Lee jeans like my newfound heroes Run-DMC wore. The Fall of 1984 finally arrived and I wore my fresh white shell toes with black stripes to school with my Lee’s and gray Member’s Only jacket. My friends and I would have endless debate as to who was the best MC, with opinions ranging from Kurtis Blow to Run-DMC to L.L. Cool J to The Fat Boys – very diverse points of view and each of my friends had impassioned arguments to support their favorite artists, which made for interesting lunchtime and school yard debate.

Fast forward to the summer of 1986 – my friends and I would be hanging out in the neighborhood then you would hear that familiar whistle that led into Rakim’s “Check Out My Melody” as my brother drove down the street playing the song at an obnoxious volume. We were all used to listening to rap songs that were essentially party records and focused moreso on the beat of the songs vis-à-vis the lyrics – then this cat named Rakim comes along and shifts the entire paradigm where he has excellent beat production AND compelled you to actually listen to his lyrics.

When we thought that it couldn’t get any better – here comes Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy and N.W.A. to change the game yet again as the great decade of the 1980s came to a close. As we moved into the 90’s, my taste in hip hop music took yet another turn upon the discovery of a group from Queens, New York called A Tribe Called Quest. I spent many mornings and afternoons riding to and from school losing myself in tracks such as “Footprints” and “Bonita Applebaum” to “Vibes and Stuff” and my all-time favorite song of “Electric Relaxation”.

I matriculated to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the Fall of 1994 and was in a period where I enjoyed the classic “Illmatic” album from Nasir Jones aka Nas. I was walking from the Bryan School of Business back to my dorm room with my headphones on during my second day of college and out of the clear blue, a fellow student stopped me and we started to chat about hip hop --- that young man was the founder of this site, Tony Hanes. We found that we both had an affinity for hip hop and A Tribe Called Quest in particular and that linkage was the genesis of a relationship that remains extremely strong to this very day. He was there when I needed someone to talk to as we walked around UNCG’s campus until 3 AM, on the day I found out that I was due to become a father at the age of 19. Through pledging Kappa Alpha Psi with 9 other young men to standing as groomsmen in each other’s weddings – I have hip hop to thank for being the common thread in forming that bond.

As the 1990s progressed, rap continued to evolve with the introduction of artists such as The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Outkast and Jay-Z. In conjunction with some of the aforementioned rappers/groups, these musical geniuses crafted the auditory mosaic that served as the soundtrack of my college years and the period subsequent to.

Fast forward yet again to recent times where hip hop continues to change again and is being shaped by young lions such as Kendrick Lamar, Drake and J. Cole. I thoroughly enjoy the narratives that these men weave through the conduit of their music while driving the art form and the culture forward. Hip Hop has played an integral role in my life from a cultural perspective and I look forward to being an interested observer of its continual evolution on a prospective basis.

Ray Wiley, Blogger

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