Dozens of essays ago, I wrote about my college roommates, Devin and Walter. In 2005, Walter was a recent seminary school graduate, was 11 years our senior, and worked as an administrator at Morehouse College. Despite our difference in age, the three of us got along.
One night, the three of us sat in our living room and chatted and Little Brother’s second album, The Minstrel Show played in the background. We heard Phonte say “It all started back in ’99 when times was hard/North Carolina Central but we called it the yard/” and Devin felt compelled to ask Walter, who received his bachelor’s degree from the same school, “Did you know Little Brother?”
Walter replied, “No. I’ve never heard of them.” Devin went on to explain they were a rap group, based out of Durham, North Carolina and attended “Central” around the same time. It still did not ring a familiar bell to our oldest inhabitant.
Months later, Little Brother happened to be on Morehouse’s campus to promote their album. I missed their meet and greet because I had a class; but Devin made it. En route to my next class, the history of hip hop and African American studies, Devin ran up to me with excitement as I opened the door to Brawley Hall.
“Chad! Little Brother was just here and I got their autographs!” Devin exclaimed. He continued “I saw Walter on my way here and I asked him once again, ‘Are you sure you don’t know these guys?’” as he referred to the autographed faces on his poster.
Devin paused for dramatic effect and dropped the punchline “Walter looked and said “That’s Thomas, he was my roommate during his freshman year!” So I told Little Brother and they said they are going to come to our class today and Walter will meet us up there.” Walter and Rapper Big Pooh lived together for a year.
As promised, Little Brother showed up and spoke to our class. In the middle of their conversation, Walter crept into the room, and both Phonte and Big Pooh said “Oh shit, I know this guy!” and the three embraced. Pooh told the whole class Walter was his roommate years ago.
After an impromptu cypher between Little Brother and a couple of our classmates, a few things happened. One, both members of Little Brother told me my verse was good and I’m nice (so no one can ever tell me I’m not good at what I do, ever). The second was they invited Walter, Devin, and me to their next concert in Atlanta in a couple of weeks.
The concert happened and Walter had the time of his life. Little Brother brought us backstage, offered us some of the chicken wings which was a part of their rider, and we all talked for a while. It turned out, their singer, Darien Brockington, were also friends who sang in a gospel choir together at North Carolina Central.
Thirteen years later and a reunion album after a 10-year hiatus, Little Brother released May the Lord Watch and I listened to it incessantly. “Right on Time” was one of my favorite songs because of its jubilant spirit, message, and Darien Brockington sang with his college friends, for old time’s sake. When I watched the music video for the first time, it made me smile. Despite their misunderstandings, trials, tribulations, and pitfalls, there was Little Brother, Darien, and another member of their crew, Chaundon; in their forties, having a great time with their friends. It made me think about my group of college friends, whom I-and we all-transitioned from boys to men with, as we made music in Magnolia Park Apartments in the aughts.
Our collective consisted of 2nd Ave (Devin, my roommate), $B (Brandon, my best friend who I also attended high school with), Mac Mayfield (Kofi, whom I write about all of the time), SP aka Scott Mumbles (Scott, who I also went to high school with but transferred out of Morehouse after his freshman year), CJ (our resident r&b singer), and Pacman (Olafemi, we had every psychology class together for two years). There were others who were a part of our syndicate at one time or another, such as Chase Julian and KJai; but the first five mentioned and myself were the core, who spent many hours in my home studio.
Our sessions always started the same way. A couple of guys would come over and we would all talk shit and goof around. One person would say one thing and it sparked an idea. I would tell the guys “give me about 15 minutes,” I would exit the conversation and begin to make a new track. Within the alotted timespan, there was a new beat and everyone in attendance began to write.
As we recorded music together, we watched each other grow up. There were moments of joy, shed tears, arguments with women and family, and whatever descriptive emotion one could imagine. They saw me talk about this girl, one most of them knew, whom many of them convinced me I should take her out on a date, and eventually, Timile became another member of the group as well. We’d seen it all as we created something the whole team believed in.
The last sentence has been on my mind for quite some time. Of everyone I mentioned, by name, a few paragraphs ago, the music business was not their dream. Everyone wanted to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, scholars, and businessmen; but me. However, all of them believed in me, so much, if I made it happen and big as a rapper/producer, they would have put their aspirations on hold to give it a try. To this day, this still blows my mind.
As I trudged through writer’s block and self-doubt, looking for inspiration to create music again, I called a few of my friends up and asked them if I wasn’t too far off. Each person on the other end of the phone said “Yes.”
It seems as if the last person to ever know how great we are, is us. Everyone lives in their own head with their shortcomings. Often, those doubts hold us back. It isn’t until someone comes along and tells us “Yo, you are fucking awesome” when we shake off those negative thoughts and begin to take a step towards our desires. If only I believed in myself a fraction of the amount my college friends did, I couldn’t even begin to think what life would be like.
I gave up on my dreams in the music business well over a decade ago. I made a sacrifice and chose Timile over the one thing I wanted since I was a little kid. I do not regret my decision because a beautiful story came of it, one which would have haunted me all of my days had I opted for music. The music died when Timile passed away; until recently.
I needed a story and life experiences to ground me. I became a writer in which the best way to market myself required all of what I’d learned, going back to those days with my friends in Atlanta. Somehow, everything I walked away from, came back. It didn’t happen when I wanted it; but it was right on time.