My relationship with hip hop started about four years ago. In my second year of college, I was one of those students who somehow convinced myself that I could maintain a decent GPA, be involved with a bajillion different organizations, work a part-time job and internship and somehow still maintain some semblance of sanity. Yeah, that was fun.
But I put myself through all of that to see what ‘stuck.’ Barely a year and a half out of high school, I still didn’t quite have a grasp on who I was. I mean, that’s what college is for right? To ‘find yourself’? At least that’s what I thought. Anyway. In the midst of all this ‘finding myself,’ I remember a friend of mine and I having a conversation about hip hop, something I had only recently begun really exploring. He suggested I hear out Blue Scholars, a Seattle-based hip hop duo that rapped about more than just booze and bling and had sick beats to boot.
My first song of choice was ‘The Ave,’ and after one listen, I was hooked. I eventually made my way through their entire self-titled album and the follow-up album, ‘Bayani.’ Geo’s smooth and confident delivery and Sabzi’s head-bobbing beats were like nothing I’d heard before in my limited knowledge of rap and hip hop. But what grabbed my attention the most was their use of hip hop to talk about actual issues. Hip hop as a form of activism?! What?!
Before then, I had listened to many of the hip hop artists on mainstream radio like Ja Rule, Fabolous and whoever else was popular at the time. But it all sounded the same, non-hip hop artists included. Songs were always about love, relationships, drinking, partying, blah blah blah. Same ole, same ole. But the Blue Scholars were different. Whether they were rapping about their love for the Pacific Northwest, particularly Seattle, how they’re just ‘Ordinary Guys‘ or about bringing the U.S. troops home, for once, I felt a sort of connection with the music.
At a time in my life where I was struggling to define my political identity, it felt like Geo was speaking for me [and much more articulately too]. As I listened to a variety of other artists including Native Guns, Typical Cats, Mos Def, Common and Lupe Fiasco and learned more about the dimensions of hip hop culture, including breakdancing, dj-ing and graffiti, the bond was solidified. I think the turning point was seeing how empowering it could be; giving people of color an outlet to voice the concerns and frustration they were feeling, connecting people through their common struggles. Hip hop, as a culture, was seemingly transcendent and transformative, able to help build, inform and engage social movements. So from time I first heard ‘The Ave,’ I quickly fell in love.
Ever since then, it’s been a little bit of a rocky relationship to say the least. Hip hop has slowly become more and more a part of my identity whether through the way I dress or the music I listen to or just being more dominant in my overall interests. But like any relationship, there have of course been growing pains. I wondered where all the female emcees/breakers/dj’s/etc. were. And why weren’t there more Asian Americans in the game either?
I witnessed the continued objectification and degradation of women and their bodies. I worried about the on-going commercialization of just about every aspect of the culture. I became uneasy with the notion that I may have been walking a fine line between genuine interest and cultural appropriation. And I always asked myself whether or not I really knew what hip hop was, or if this was a questions I’d even ever be able to adequately answer. I still struggle with these questions from time to time.
Hip hop is by no means perfect or the answer to all of our struggles. Goodness no. But it’s powerful, there’s no denying that. It’s given voice to communities that might otherwise be unheard. As part of the community of hip hop aficionados, I like to think of our love for hip hop as a healthy relationship process; we’re growing and evolving together and pushing each other to be better. And you know what? For all the above reasons and more that I just can’t quite put into words, that is why I fell in love with hip hop.
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