After staying up late to watch Soul Beat (the only means to watch music videos in Detroit if you didn’t have cable), I fell in love with De La Soul’s Buddy remix. I already had their 3 Feet High and Rising tape, but this version of Buddy was different- it added A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, Leaders of the New School, and Monie Love (known as the Native Tongue Clique). I woke up the next day excited, jogged to Detroit Audio on 6-Mile, and plopped 5 bones (half of my allowance) for what was called a “Maxi Single.” I popped that tape in my Sony WalkMan and strutted all the way home.
The other half of my allowance went to the Middle Eastern man at the gas station for a pleather African Medallion! I remember feeling proud wearing it around my neck. I starred at the red, the black, and the green and tried to make sense out of it. I was not familiar with Marcus Garvey or too much pro black stuff back then. All I knew was this African Medallion was in the De La Soul video and I had to have one. This was around the same time Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing was released and I was in awe of the racial overtones of the film. I left the theatre feeling partly mad, sad, confused, and addicted to Public Enemy’s Fight the Power single. My grandfather did his best to explain things to me, but it was hard. Outside his stories of growing up in the south; I was unaware of any types of racism or what it meant to black & proud because my whole city was black. I didn’t experience any complicated race relations because I was always surrounded by one race. I didn’t understand that being black meant being the “underdog,” that you could positively express yourself though being Afrocentric, and celebrating your heritage can be a cool thing. That same night after seeing Do The Right Thing; I stayed up ‘till almost midnight drawing Public Enemy’s famous targeted b-boy logo on my denim Levis jacket. I was all in.
The brief African takeover of hip-hop culture didn’t last long enough. By the mid-90s it seemed every track was about a drive-by, or a booty shaking. Of course there were/are emcees such as Talib Kweli, Common, Mos Def, and Dead Prez that at least continue to keep the conscious side of hip-hop alive and somewhat relevant. But the scales are far from balanced. To want to be a truly “Afro-Conscious” rapper is considered the same as wanting to be a “broke rapper.” The self-empowerment, integrity, backbone, and internal fortitude needed to wear your heritage and politics on your sleeve as an aspiring hip-hop artists is desired by very few. No one “keeps it real” because everyone wants to “keep it radio.” Where does this leave today’s youth? It seems no one wants a message driven song as a ringtone: just a party record. This is where we’re at but it doesn’t mean it’s where we’ll always be. What goes around –comes around and what’s old played out can easily be born again for a new generation. The undergrounded Himanshu Suri, Don Trip, Finale, and Invincible are emcees heavy in substance and proof that the fire of conscious hip-hop is burning low; waiting for its next rise.