Tag Archives: hip hop

Reverend Mason Betha Devotional: Love Thy Frienemies

Every Monday I will share an anecdote and/or existential life lesson based on teachings from your favorite rapper’s favorite pastor, Ma$e.
“Even Cam get money again.” Book of Double Up, chapter three: epilogue. 

Since I began the Mason Betha Devotional, it was only a matter of time before Ma$e became a headline. A little over a week ago, Harlem Diplomat Cam’Ron told the world that Ma$se became a pastor to protect himself from the streets. The good reverend dismissively refuted said claims. 

The first single from Ma$e’s sophomore album was a Shalamar-interpolating number entitled “Get Ready.” For a project named Double Up, it was only right the Harlemite told the world it was “get money” time once more. After he shouted out several of his constituents, he saved the best for last, Camron Giles, aka Cam’Ron.

 We grow a part from many that we once thought we’d never be able to live without; this was the case with Cam and Mas. Not only were they teammates on the basketball court, they were both members of the hip hop collective, Children of the Corn[er Preachers]. After being delivered when P. Diddy named him pretty, Betha introduced his good friend to the Notorious B.I.G. and Cam earned his own record deal.

Cam’Ron’s star began to rise in 1998. However, after recording a song hymn called “Horse and Carriage,” the former Manhattan Center teammates had a falling out over money and Puerto Rican Judo (Oh, jou don’t know what that is?). 

Cam’Ron didn’t have any follow-ups as big “Horse and Carriage;” and it seemed as if he could have possibly faded into obscurity. Betha not only made an attempt to bury the hatchet with his friend, he wished him well, and prophesied as well. 

Cam got money again. If people never get a shot at a first impression, Killa was the exception. He rapped incredibly well, showed the world that real mean wear and drive pink, ushered in one of the most revered crews in the Diplomats, gave Bill O’Reilly his greatest interview, told 60 Minutes he would move and not snitch if he lived next door to a serial killer, and as he pointed out in a confrontation with Betha, made $140 million in Sizzurp aka Manischewitz for the hood.

The two gents had a love/hate relationship. While their paths have separated, the two will forever be linked to each other. For every falling out on social media, there is a report of the two playing basketball or something like that. Cam’Ron even reciprocated Betha’s ministry with the last song on his Purple Haze album, “Take Em to Church.” Many thought the song was a diss; but it was a friend telling his other friend “I love you brother, please take these lost souls to church.”

The powerful lesson in this is to always speak life into others. There are many friends, family, and constituents I wish the best of luck to that I wouldn’t have too much to say in person. It may be best to love them from afar; but always keep them close to your heart.


Thinking B.I.G.

“Biggie got killed,” were my mother’s first words to me on the morning of March 9, 1997. Somewhere between shock and déjà vu, the moment felt surreal. 

The passing of both B.I.G. and Pac felt like the end of childhood innocence. My world was beginning to expand in sixth grade: I went to middle school on the other side of the planet—northeast Queens—and began taking the MTA on my own to basketball practices. My worldview was becoming larger than my parents’ sphere of influence. The onset of adolescence required a different soundtrack. 

Twenty years later, I am the father to a six year old girl and a father figure to my nephew who is in the fifth grade. I have become my parents because I never want to listen to the nonsense my boy is into. They’re stuck listening to as Cydney says “that old school stuff” when they’re rolling with me.

Cydney and Courtney respond differently to my music. My nephew could care less; he’ll opt to blare Drake or something from his headphones. In my head, I still feel youthful; so if I play something like “Unbelievable” and he doesn’t nod his head appropriately, I feel old. He can’t relate and that’s fine…I did the same thing in 1995.

My nephew and I have talked about the difference between our musical preferences. He feels a similar way 10 year old Chad did about Earth, Wind, and Fire. I will tell him “See, B.I.G. was the greatest of all time. The way Hot 97 plays Drake all day, every day, is how they did with B.I.G.’s records.” My nephew will never understand how essential it is to live and die by the “Machine Gun Funk.”

Cydney on the other hand is her father’s child. Whenever I wear my t-shirt with Ready to Die album cover on it, she says “That’s Biggie Smalls, right? That’s the Notorious B.I.G., right daddy?!” 

If I play [edited versions] of the Brooklyn emcee’s songs, she begins to roll her neck to the beat and jam. She loves “One More Chance” and “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.” But “Hypnotize” is her favorite. 

“Daddy, can you play “Hipmitize?” You rap the boy parts and I do the girl parts.” I’ll cue it up and she mimics that hefty “Uh…Uhh!” that let us all know the King of New York was about to say some shit in ’97.
Cyd wants to be in and a part of everything I do. She at the age in which I can do no wrong in her book. If I like it, she loves it, and she wants me to notice. In spite of being over my “old school stuff,” my daughter wants to be a part of it with me. She knows that music-especially hip hop-is a very large part of who I am. It’s in my walk, talk, attitude, and how I raise her. She wants to rap to instrumentals and play rhyming games.

Biggie Smalls died at 24 years old; he was just a kid. In my thirties, I have had a very hard time taking most things people in their mid-twenties say with seriousness (not you guys, of course). The concept “applied knowledge is power” is a brand new one because life is consistently kicking your ass. 

Listen to B.I.G. or a ‘Pac interview. They sound like kids who think they know more about life than they actually do. If that was your 23 year old cousin, you would listen intently and say in the back of your mind “Shut up! You don’t know shit!” However, reckless abandonment made that time in our lives so much fun.

For some reason, our generation doesn’t see B.I.G. as a kid we would ignore. His words still sound profound because it takes us back to that time in life when we looked at him as our big brother. The generation before us think of him as one of their homies who shared a similar struggle. We all have surpassed him in age and experience; but that’s the power of music. 

While “Blunts and broads, titties in bras, menage a trois, sex in expensive cars,” still sounds like a hell of a time, I’m listening that shit in an office thinking to myself “Once I get off work, I have fifth and sixth graders to coach, my daughter wants attention, and the other day I had an awesome ass date where we did laundry.” But there’s a brief moment I picture the week when “Hypnotize” went from the new song everyone tried to memorize to learning the words in memoriam.

Twenty years from now, Cydney and Courtney will hear “Juicy” somewhere. At 26 and 30, they’ll recall being the kids in the back of the car that looked up to me.

A Tribe Called Quest’s New Album Rollout Brings The Feels

A picture of A Tribe Called Quest at the Kanye show I was too late to see them at.

A Tribe Called Quest is releasing their final album, We Got It from Here, Thank You for Your Service, next week. While I am more than certain that the project is one of love, life and celebration, the title itself makes me feel a way.

I read the New York Times article, Loss Haunts A Tribe Called Quest’s First Album in 18 Years yesterday. It was a heavy, yet beautiful. I had this unidentifiable feeling looking at pictures of Jarobi with a graying beard and Q-Tip-who seemed to never age-beginning to look like a man in his mid-forties. The world and myself have been waiting for “A-E-I-O-U…and sometimes Y” to get it together and lace us with new music; but not like this; but I understand.

A Tribe Called Quest means a lot to me. I’m from Queens. I’m from St. Albans. “Back in the days on the Boulevard of Linden” is not some classic rap lyric to me; it’s my reality. I drive past the block that on November 19 will be renamed “Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor Way” all of the time. My grandfather’s wake was held at the funeral home right across the street from the Nu-Clear Cleaners Tribe stood on and filmed the music video for “Check the Rhyme.” 

The Midnight Marauders’ music was the soundtrack to the hardest period of my life. The October 2011 release of Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest prompted me to listen to their whole catalog repeatedly. Timile, Cydney, and I were in the process of relocating from Buffalo to Virginia. Cyd left with her grandparents October 14, I drove Timile down the weekend of the 20th, and I worked in Buffalo for an extra week, completing the move October 31st. 

Virginia was a very tough time because I was by myself. I spent all day applying for jobs at a Starbucks, visited Timile in the hospital during the evenings (only for a half hour at a time because her parents told me I had to sneak around and hide), and spend time with my daughter at the in-laws with vigilant eyes watching me as if Cydney wasn’t my child. 

Q-Tip and Phife’s words, Ali Shaheed’s soundscape, and Jarobi’s spirit were the only friends I had in Virginia during those three weeks. Living in a place that was nothing like my stomping grounds, the music was all I had to cure my homesickness. I needed their playful lyrics to express what was a complicated time and abstract thoughts. My mother was just starting her first round of chemotherapy, so even there I was feeling depleted because I had spent all of my time being there for others. I had my big brother, Barry, and my good friend Donnell that I could call and vent to. To this day, I can barely listen to the album Beats, Rhymes, and Life in its entirety…its darkness and frustration with changing times give me Vietnam Flashbacks to those evenings.

However, I can listen to “God Lives Through” from Midnight Marauders all day and not get tired of it. It was the perfect ending to a perfect album. That was the victory lap of a time that can never be replicated. So when it plays, you just vibe out and remember the struggle and hard times with a melancholy smile. It’s the welcomed kind of moodiness, if that makes sense. If one asks me how I feel about living in Virginia five years ago, it’s a pleasant sadness I think of very fondly. Timile Brown may have still been alive; but that was the beginning of the Single Dadventures.

*Does litmus test to see if I can write with Beats, Rhymes, and Life playing. Turns Midnight Marauders back on…Beats was too distracting.*

Reading the Times article yesterday afternoon was interesting. Jarobi lamented on how traveling and recording this last album was taking a toll on Phife, who had been living with diabetes since 1990 and succumbed to the disease March 22, 2016. The click bait articles are trolling by using headlines like “The Final Tribe Album Killed Phife” or some shit that I’m exaggerating to get my point across. Some people are just not going to understand; but I do.

The phrase “Now I can die in peace” is often a joke; but the sentiment is a real thing. I truly believe that Malik Taylor knew his time on earth was coming to an end. The only thing he had left to do was make right with his friend since four years old, Q-Tip, and lay down some Tribe music. I have witnessed people “transition,” in which they stick around on earth until a few more things are in order and then let go. They see the world very differently. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is why Q-Tip said that he had a very hard time listening to Phife’s vocals on this new album. Other than him no longer being with us, there is probably something very different about the timbre of his voice. Those who are transitioning sound different. 

The heavy feeling that is sitting with me in lieu of this final Tribe album is one of completion. I have been trying to see them live ever since. I missed them a few times in New York (I was late to when they opened up for Kanye West at the Barclay’s Arena in 2013); but things happen the way they are supposed to. 

I think I was unconsciously searching for a closing to an emotional void. For the past five years, there has been a lack of vulnerability on my end. I am used to my emotional processing being an internal process that even in times of wanting to shed tears I literally can’t. It’s time for things to be different. So I guess with the last album dropping November 11, 2016, I can say to friends that helped me through a very tough time-Timile, Donnell, A Tribe Called Quest-I got it from here, thank you for your service.

Remembering B.I.G. 20 Years After the Death of Tupac Shakur

It’s only right I used the pic with the Morehouse shirt

Deuteratagonist: the second most important character to a protagonist that may switch from being with or against the protagonist, depending on the plot or conflict.  There is no better word to describe the dynamic of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace in their individual Greek tragedies.

Today marks the 20th year that many of us remember where we were when word was widely publicized that Tupac succumbed from his gunshot wounds (Slow clap for that alliteration).  No one thought twice about Pac dying from the drive-by that occur ed on September 7th.  Like he did two years prior, everyone thought the rapper would survive from his wounds; until it actually happened.  September 13th has become a day of remembrance for generations x and y, as we universally and collectively play tracks from Shakur’s extensive catalog.

This morning, I watched the newly-released trailer for the upcoming biopic of Shakur, All Eyez on Me.  In the less than two minute clip, the producers included a dialog between contemporaries Pac and B.I.G., portrayed by actors Demetrius Shipp Jr. and Jamal Woolard.  I immediately switched from my Spotify playlist entitled “Pac,” and opted to listen to The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die.

Two September 13th’s before Makavelli’s passing, Frank White’s debut album was released.  Ready to Die hit New York City like a typhoon.  There was no such thing was being anywhere within the five boros and not hearing one of its 17 tracks-or one of the remixes-blaring from a tape deck, radio, or a lyric being quoted in everyday conversation. I won’t delve into this anymore; there are hundreds of thousands of words dedicated to the greatness and impact of the album with the chubby baby with the afro on the cover.

One can’t tell the story of the Thug Poet and King of New York without heavily mentioning the other.  Their careers and legacies have been intertwined since their respective beginnings.  The majority of the public was introduced to both emcees between 1991 and ’92.  When Heavy D and the Boyz performed on In Living Color, Tupac-who was well known in hip hop circles but not a household name-can be seen dancing on the stage right next to Puff Daddy, who had already signed the Brooklyn emcee.  There were a few issues of The Source magazine and see pictures of the two as they stood side-by-side and grimaced for the camera with middle fingers up.

Both rappers heavily alluded to dying young.  They either spoke it into existence or inherently knew their life’s work wouldn’t have their significance until they left earth.

While revolving around the use of words, rap is a competitive sport.  In time, the closest allies become almost always adversaries.  In just about every era, there are two that stand out more than the rest of the pantheon.  Collaborative freestyles with “My nigga B.I.G. right beside me” become “If Fay had twins, she’d prolly have two Pacs.”  There could only be one king and both knew it.

In spite of being ready to die, both Shakur and Wallace are proof that there’s life after death.  Their words and influence have lived on 20 years after both were gunned down.  In less than six months, we will all play “Hypnotize” repeatedly, just as the kids did on the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn during B.I.G.’s final ride through his neighborhood.  And on March 9, 2017, there will be some written words about a connection between these two deuteratagonists as well.

So on this day, throw some ice for the nicest emcees. *cues “I Get Around” to follow “Unbelievable”*



The Answers To Life’s Questions Always Find You


We never receive what we pursue with fervor until we acquiesce…I have been reminded of this by way of searching desperately for a sample to one of my favorite songs.

Ever since his cameo appearance on Trinidad Jame$’ “Southside,” I have been a fan of Atlanta indie artist, Fortebowie.  He is one of the most creative rapper/singer/producers I’ve heard in a very long time.  In his music, Fortebowie flips fairly obscure samples.  Half of the fun in listening to his music is trying to find the original song he lifted to create a brand new song.

Sampling is an art form.  It’s a form of audio manipulation that takes a a creative ear to perfect.  In almost forty years of audio production, engineering, and knowledge of musical theory, my father couldn’t sample as well as I can on his best day.  Because of this, I appreciate someone who can do this beyond well.

On his 2015 project, Something Else About Bowie, there is a song called “Wrong Girl.”  In the first verse, I listened as Bowie apologize to all of the hearts he’d broken.  Attempting to justify himself, the last four bars made me pause:

“Only love one muh’f*cka and she won’t let me rest.  Runnin’ round in my mind, doing laps.  What the f*ck?!  Tryna act like she irrelevant; but I don’t give a f*ck.  But my mama know, and my daddy know, and my n*ggas know who run my world.  And until she comes back…I’m f*ckin’ with the wrong girl.”

Those lines summed up exactly how I was feeling during the summer of ’15.  After things ended with my ex, I began dating my “What If” girl.  Shortly into our courtship, I knew it wasn’t going to work out.  It would have never worked out between us; however I may have been a little more patient.  I wasn’t over someone I was very much in love with.  As a means of proceeding through life with no unanswered questions, this period was something that needed to happen.

While thinking about how I related to Fortebowie, I began trying to figure out what was the sample in this song.  After doing some searching, I put into the Twitter universe that I was looking for the sample in “Wrong Girl.”  Fortebowie replied saying that he’s keeping that a secret and the fans just have to find it.

I scrubbed out Fortebowie’s vocals on my computer.  I tried to speed up the sample to see if I recognized the voice.  I Googled the lyrics.  I downloaded Karaoke apps to scrub out the middle frequencies of the track and then play into Shazaam to see if it would recognize the sample.  No matter what, Shazaam kept telling me that the song sampled was “Wrong Girl” by Fortebowie.  I would leave it alone for a little while and every few months, I would try again to see if someone on the internet had found the answer.

What often prompted me to try once again to look for the sample was another person on Twitter asking me if I had found the sample.  The searches got shorter and shorter.  Knowing that one day, probably the day I truly said “fuck it,” the answer would find me.

On Monday morning, something prompted me to look for this sample one last time.  Well, the honest answer of what inspired me to look was that once again, those four bars-and other parts of-the first verse were ringing true in my life.  Nonetheless, I looked for all of five minutes.  The first result that popped up in Google’s search engine was Fortebowie’s Soundcloud page, where he originally posted “Wrong Girl.”  I decided not to look there because I had repeatedly and no one had yet to find the answer.

The next morning, I saw a Twitter notification in which someone asked me had I found the sample to “Wrong Girl.”  I replied that I still hadn’t.  Immediately, the person said “Wrong Girl by Latrelle.”

The lightbulb went off in my head.  I knew exactly who Latrelle was.  Because the sample was slowed down, it sounded like a man singing; but it was a woman.  Latrelle was a singer that was signed to Arista Records in 2001-2002.  She had two singles, “Dirty Girl” and “House Party;” both produced by the Neptunes when their music was ubiquitous.  I loved “House Party” and was looking forward to her album being released.  However, it was shelved indefinitely.  “Wrong Girl” was the second-to-last song on her unreleased album that of course, was on YouTube.

Repeatedly listening to what I coveted for over a year, I decided to Google “Latrelle, Wrong Girl, and Fortebowie.”  The first thing that popped up in Google’s search engine was Fortebowie’s Soundcloud page.  THE ANSWER TO MY QUESTION WAS THEE ONE PLACE I HAD BEEN IGNORING BECAUSE I HAD LOOKED THERE REPEATEDLY AND COULDN’T FIND IT.  SOMEONE FOUND IT A MONTH AGO!

By nature, I’m both assertive and proactive.  It is beyond difficult for me to stop looking for the things that I am “looking for.”  I feel as if I can find the answers quicker than the universe can reveal them.  I guess this is my way of manifesting “faith without works is dead.”  In the bible, Jacob was dealing with a lot.  One night, we literally wrestled with God until God blessed him.  Jacob had to literally be subdued in his hip.  Most people don’t exhaust their resources until divine intervention steps in.  I try to live my life doing just that.

In Defense of Lauryn Hill

The world is finally fed up with rapper/singer/CP Time enthusiast, Lauryn Hill. Citing she has “difficulty channeling her energy with time,” Ms. Hill apologized to her fans after being welcomed to boos at Atlanta’s Chastain Park over the weekend.  Now everyone wants to come at her neck.  At this point, a late Lauryn Hill is a part of the experience…I would feel slighted if I went to her concert and she was punctual.

I understand the frustration with Lauryn Hill.  Since August 25, 1998, I have been beyond disappointed in her.  Since she stepped into the cypher and out-rapped Sketch and Frank-ay (Haaaay-Hoooo!) in Sister Act 2, we all knew she was a true one-of-one.  Going toe-to-toe with EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) award winning Whoopi Goldberg, she stole the show in every scene.  Somehow I-we all-knew there would be more of her.

In 1994, I met Lauryn Hill backstage at a Gerald Levert concert in Baltimore.  The Fugees were the opening act in which my father-a keyboardist for Gerald-said they had the smallest room on every stop.  She humbly took the time to chat with my sister and I, two nine year olds, who were fans that kept calling her “Rita.”  In 30 years of being around musicians-legendary and amateur-Lauryn Hill was the nicest of them all.

In 1996, The Score  changed my life.  She bodied her two cameos on Wyclef’s 1997 solo debut, The Carnival (“See the serpent play tricks/run game like the Knicks/build you up just to lose the championship/”).  “If I Ruled the World” and mere adlibs on Cypress Hill’s “Boom Biddie Bye Bye (Remix) built anticipation for the greatest hip hop album of all time: Lauryn Hill’s solo album…so I thought.

The first single for Miseducaion was “Lost Ones,” and “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” followed shortly after.  She was primarily spitting bars and I was pleased.

I had to wait an extra two weeks after the release date for Columbia House to ship the album to my house (Remember those days?!).  By the time I received my copy, “Ex Factor” was the new single; and I expected her to do so, a la “Killing Me Softly.”

I listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and felt hoodwinked by the first two singles.  To this day, I REFUSE to listen to “Every Ghetto, Every City,” just to say I have yet to listen to Miseducation in its entirety.  You could have scientific evidence that it is the greatest album of all time and I still wouldn’t.  At thirteen, that evening in September ’98 was when I learned “do not have expectations.”

In the past forty-eight hours, think piece after think piece have cited many of Rita Louise Watson’s faux-pas without looking past the surface.  Yes, being on time is a given when working in the music business.  However, what we love about Lauryn’s artistry is ultimately what has been her tragic flaw.

Social media has made everyone a critic or  writer.  People opine with little-to-no context or experience in the entertainment business.  Because I own the Sister Act 2 DVD, I know that Lauryn Hill and other cast members had a high school graduation ceremony onset because they missed their own.  When we were first introduced to Lauryn, she was sacrificing milestones of her youth for the sake of our entertainment.  If it wasn’t for Salaam Remi’s remix of “Nappy Heads,” Ms. Hill could have been back in Newark, NJ and we’d all wonder “What happened to that girl who played Rita?”

Blunted on Reality flopped and Columbia Records gave The Fugees a minimal budget for their follow-up.  For those who don’t know, often a second album is a chance to recoup the record company’s financial losses from the first.  Clef, Pras, and Lauryn used their cash advance to build a studio and created an album no one expected to sell 17 million copies.

L-Boogie was only twenty-years old and fell in love with her band-mate.  Things got complicated.  After heartbreak, she regrouped, fell in love again, gave birth to a son, channeled it into her creative outlet, and used her platform for others to see themselves in her pain.

What was your life like at twenty-two years old?  More than likely, it was full of ideals and shit had yet to get real.  Yes, Miseducation is a masterpiece that deserves all of its accolades.  Lauryn Hill made an album years above her cognitive, emotional, and spiritual state…even if it is the tales a side-chick.

Because Lauryn sold priceless artwork, the listening public clamored for new music.  People wanted to continue to grow up and with her.  In 2002, Hill released the Unplugged 2.0 album and a couple of singles after.  The Fugees attempted to reunite in 2005; both Pras and Wyclef blamed Lauryn for no album or tour coming to fruition.  Since then, Lauryn has spent eleven years being late to shows and did a bid for not paying taxes (I wanted write her while she was in jail.  But I had a problem channeling my energy into remembering; my heart was in the right place).

At forty years old, Lauryn Hill looks weathered.  She sacrificed her youth for the sake of us.  People are irate because they spent their hard-earned money to see her live.  She has been saying to her fans  “I have given y’all my life,” and all people care about is “When you gonna give us more?”

Hurt people hurt people.  The jilted lover has become the heartbreaker that we, the people, keep giving chance after chance, hoping that things will be different.  For the heartbroken, the love they receive is never enough.  Often, this creates a self-absorbed bubble one lives in; impervious of how their actions affect others.  After nearly 20 years of justifying and hoping for the best, the inevitable breakup has commenced.

Give “Ex Factor” a listen…Lauryn Hill has become the Wyclef she once sang about.


Meme Crush Monday: “My Era vs. Your Era” Makes You Sound Old


Attention 70’s and 80’s babies: your age is showing…and we are becoming our parents.

The meme posted above is one that I arguably hate the most.  What prompted me to write about this one was the popularity of the #RunningManChallenge: 90’s Atlanta bass classic “My Boo” by the Ghost Town DJ’s syncopated drums rattle and out of nowhere, people start shuffling their feet back and forth.  I find it to be very entertaining.  But since it’s the internet, everyone has an opinion and people whose age begins with thirty are starting to sound old.  I’ll get there…

Back to this particular meme.  Someone in their early twenties could have put it together; but the sentiment is often shared by people much older.  A picture of hip-hop poster child, Nas, lighting a cigar while donning a white t-shirt, shades and adorning lots of jewelry.  In comparison, one would say a leader in ever-evolving landscape of hip-hop, Young Thug, has blonde locs, tight clothing and his legs crossed.  All of this insinuates that former pities and is lambasting the latter in what is “real” hip-hop.  Clearly whomever made this meme and those that concur with its message have never looked at Melle Mel, Kurtis Blow, or any hip-hop act before Run DMC.  The original emcees at the forefront of the movement dressed and their not-so-complicated rhyme schemes were more resemble Young Thug more than Nas.

curtis low
I’ve seen Young Thug wear this ensemble…
Melle Mel

Music is the soundtrack to life and rarel-if at all-does one genre define multiple generations.  There’s only hip-hop and “classical” music (in which that’s an umbrella statement for various forms of western musical styles).  What makes hip-hop unique is that it is a culture that is driven by music.  So, we’re at this crossroads in which those of us who grew up with it are watching it continue to evolve at its rapid pace while we are beginning to slow down.  It’s youth-oriented and the first generation to grow up where hip-hop always existed are now sounding smug, elitist, and like our parents who we once rebelled against; saying that they “just don’t understand.”

Back to the #RunningManChallenge that acted as the inspiration for this post.  A few days after this began to pick up steam, here came the old people talking about “That’s not the running man!”  There have been memes and videos reprimanding and lampooning these kids for having a little fun.  My peers pointed out that the running man was a dance made popular in the late 1980’s and early 90’s that looked a little different.  They’d say “These kids have the nerve to do something simple, jack the style, and call it the running man?!  The nerve!”  They sampled it.

Twenty years ago, the complainers grew up with hip-hop in which many of their favorite songs lifted portions of r&b, soul, and disco records, rearranged them over looped drum breaks and called it sampling.  Their parents who grew up on Motown, Philadelphia International, Stax, etc. heard these songs and said “That’s not music!”  They just didn’t get it.  Maybe they bought “Rapper’s Delight” or “The Message” when they were released; but the genre still had roots in disco and was more reminiscent of the music they grew up with.  Because it’s youth driven, the next generation-us-made our own interpretation and pushed the genre forth.  The less recognizable it became to our parents, the less worth they saw in it.  My father is a professional musician who has virtually lived in a studio for forty years.  With all of his knowledge of music: theoretically, technically, and historically; he could never sample and manipulate and Earth, Wind, and Fire record like I could.

Nineteen years ago, twenty year-old Harlem rapper and shiny leather enthusiast, Ma$e released his first single “Feel So Good.”  The track sampled Kool and the Gang’s 1973 hit “Hollywood Swinging” and Kelly Price word-for-word sings the chorus of Miami Sound Machine’s “Bad Boy.”  What’s the difference between this and some twenty year old’s shuffling their feet back and forth in place and calling it the #RunningManChallenge?  The same people who immediately blurt “What you know about goin’ out, head west, red Lex, TV’s all up in the head rest?” are being subjective and hypocritical.

We often discredit this newer incarnation of hip-hop and its purveyors and pity it.  Saying that it’s not “real” hip hop.  Our parents said the same thing about hip-hop in comparison to the music they grew up.  Fifty years ago, the parents of Baby Boomers said the same thing about The Beatles.

Do I like everything that I hear nowadays?  No.  I’m not supposed to.  I listen to some of the music my almost ten-year old nephew, five year-old daughter, and fourteen year-old cousin like and this “This shit is dumb.”  Am I gonna doing some of these dances they do?  Nope.  But I’m not gonna knock it, either.  I remember being their age and my parents not “getting” Wu Tang; but we could find common ground in Method Man’s incarnation of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need To Get By.”

I guess I say all of this to say to those of my era: let the kids have something.  It may not look like what we know and love; but be happy that the music and culture we love and call our own is still at the forefront…when people just knew it would die before most of us were born.

The Gospel According to Nipsey Hussle Pt. 2

I wake up before 5 am.  There’s an intrinsic fulfillment that I get from starting my day before the daybreak.  It isn’t easy to do because as much of a morning person that I am, I am equally a night owl.  If doesn’t matter what time I go to bed, when the alarm on my phone goes off at 4 am and I hear that sample of the Dynamics’ “Happy Song,” I get energized and feel like it’s time to get the next day started.  The song that starts my day is “Keys 2 the City” by Nipsey Hussle.

The song is in g minor, so to me, its bright moodiness sounds strikes me.  At first, there’s synth lead on top of a light guitar strum and a soft drum pattern that feels sleepy; then it fades out.  Then comes a one measure vamp that crescendos into a vocal sample for the chorus.  The song begins like how I feel every morning: a little tired and I feel like laying back down, take a moment to get myself together, and shortly after I’m energized and ready to start my day.

The first two verse of the song are braggadocios.  Nip is boasting about how amazing his life is, the money he has, the women, and blowing on some of the finest chronic that is grown in his home state of California…so I’ve been told.  I think we should all feel as if our lives are amazing.  We need that.  Life is hard, and one of the things that keep us going is this self-distorted sense of self.  Almost anyone of celebrated success will tell you are that after God, what is responsible for their accomplishments if an almost cartoon-like belief in self.  Not only is there anything wrong with faking it until you make it, it’s the first step in disciplining what one wants from a dream, to habit that evolves into a lifestyle.  You appreciate your equivalent to Hussle’s “Louis V, Gucci?  Maybe/Nieman Marcus.  Blue Mercedes” much more.

Verse three is much different.  As the third chorus begins, the drums go mute and comes back during the vamp going into the verse.  Neighborhood Nip starts off saying that almost every major record label passed on his demo because his gang-banging past made him a liability.  There was no feeling upset that things didn’t work out, he came up what would be his mantra of “Fuck the middleman.”  He released his albums Bullets Ain’t Got No Names Vol. 1 & 2; and that’s when everyone began to see his vision.  Radical ideas with different mindsets are what change the world. 

Almost everyone with formulaic success is disposable and can be replaced instantly.  Because of this, there will be people who do not believe in what you’re doing.  Once people are in a position of authority or power, their job is to maintain and further their success by not meandering too far outside the box.  Everyone isn’t going to understand and they’re not supposed to.

“Imani ain’t gonna knot the streets/Gotta keep her close to me/Put that on the man that’s on the cross on my Rosary/Wasn’t always bangin’; but I speak about it openly/No shame in my game, [I] did my thang on the coldest streets/”-Ermias Ashgedom 

There’s a major difference in doing something just for the sake of it and motivation.  Once one finds is, it becomes your mission statement.  I personally can relate to Nip here in some sense because my daughter-and my nephew-are a large part of why I get up at 4 am every morning.  My life isn’t about me anymore and as of the fourteenth of February, it hasn’t for five years.  Collection of experiences that will make up the dash between my birth and death date should be context on how to improve their own life.  Within reason, some of this means treating myself and reveling in the aspects of success.  I personally should try to have more moments like the first two verses of this song that I’m writing about. 

“Who the hottest on the west?  All you niggaz know it’s me/So tell whoever got it locked that Nipsey Hussle stole the key/”

To begin the process of getting my mental wheels spinning, I was listening to “Keys 2 the City” last night.  Cydney heard it playing from my phone and said “Daddy, it’s time to wake up already?  We haven’t even gone to bed yet!”

The Gospel According To Nipsey Hussle


It doesn’t take very long to realize that I am quite a hip hop head.  Not only is it the culture of my generation, but I am engulfed in it.  More than anything, I’m in love with the music.  I like certain emcees and producers and their body of work.  However, there is a fairly short list of people that I will say that I am truly a fan of.

I first heard of Nipsey Hussle in 2009.  I saw him in a magazine and eventually I came across all of the blogs talking about this guy from South Central, Los Angeles.  I hadn’t listened to any of his music because I couldn’t get past his moniker paying some semblance of homage to the comedian best known for playing the Tin Man in The Wiz.   Add to that, he was lanky, had long hair, and an affinity for wearing the color blue.  I unconsciously wrote him off as a Snoop Dogg clone or something.

One day I perusing through the blogs and I clicked on his video for his single “Hussle In the House.”  The track was modernized-yet-wet coasted out version of Kriss Kross’ “Jump,” with the Ohio Players “Funky Worm” and “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 looped up just like the 1992 hit.  When his raspy voice cut through the track saying “Coming straight outta Slauson…A crazy muthafucka named Nipsey/I’m turfed up cuz I grew up in the 60’s/,”  I was with it.  In the first two bars he let you know exactly who he was: a Rolling 60’s Crip and he was giving you a small introduction to this Nipsey Hussle music.

I began to listen to more of his music, and there was more to him than just bangin’ on wax.  Everything that Neighborhood Nip said-wrong, right, or indifferent-he said with such conviction.  He was giving his take on the world and rapped about his truth with such honesty, I couldn’t deny him.  There was one song in which he said “I wish we all could play ball or rap.”  Man, that was beyond real.  Alluding to the two ways that young black men see their way up out of the hood, he lamented that he wished for a better life everyone who was just like him.  I’ve already written about “The Hussle Way.”

In 2013, Nipsey Hussle released his independent album, Crenshaw. which was a nod to the famed street that made him into the man that he had become.  There was a twist to what he was doing.  He gave the album out for free and only sold a thousand copies at $100 each.  Those who bought the album at that price point got their money’s worth in incentives.  He sold those out and made $100,000 in a day and it had everyone in the hip hop world talking.  Jay Z bought a hundred copies to support his movement and took a picture of it with the statement saying “#newrules.”  It was brilliant.

I was more than interested in how Nip came up with this.  I listened to and read a few interviews on how he came up with this.  For starters, the cover of the album is red.  As a crip, that was just something you don’t do.  Nonetheless, he explained that psychologically, red is the color that draws the most attention.  I love the psychology aspect of market research, and he had done that extensively.

In another interview, Hussle stated that his reason for selling his album at a hundred dollar price point was based on a book called “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Jonah Berger.  There was a chapter in which he read about a Philadelphia man who sold cheesesteaks for $200.  At first, people thought that he was nuts.  Eventually, the press-including Oprah-followed, and shortly after, the man had a line around the corner for people wanting this $200 meal that they could get for $193 less literally across the street.

Hussle knew his audience and catered to them.  He wasn’t trying to be successful based on changing what he did t convert new listeners.  He drew attention to himself by doing him and eventually, others would follow.

“It’s not about stepping outside of what I’m known for in hopes of new discovery. What that means less is fans that are better served. I’m more or less focused on fully serving the ones that have connected all ready. That being said its a value over volume thing. if I’m goin to offer a product made with no compromise or concession to the platforms, ect…ect..then the way we sale it has to change.”  Brilliant.

Throughout Crenshaw and it’s follow up (that sold a hundred copies at $1000), Mailbox Money, Nipsey Hussle continued to spread his message.  He compared the music industry and the internet to the wild west where anything goes.  It’s new rules out here and success depends on how you’re measuring it.  In music, the metric is the number of sales while movies do by how much did each film gross.  At the end of the day, every business measures things by its bottom line and residual income is just that.

When I first started this blog, I was getting lots of traffic effortlessly.  I didn’t ask everyone to like my page or do a mass invite; I just threw it out there.  By 2015, the internet had changed how things got shared and my visibility was literally cut in half.  It was time to change things up.  I have a pretty organic and fairly loyal following, and that in itself makes me feel that I am successful.  I’m nowhere near rich; but I’m happy with what I’m doing and where it seems that things are going.

The other day, I listened to the finale on Crenshaw, and it resonated with me.  Instead of taking a victory lap because he knew what he was doing was going to work, he wrote about how he was just a kid on the streets and with what he had, he found a way to make his gift of being charismatic work for him.


How I Became A Writer

“You haven’t dedicated your life to writing,” my once significant other once said to me.  We were having a conversation via text message at a time in which she was trying to figure out her next career move.  She loved to write and didn’t have the time.  I don’t remember what I said to provoke such a response; and honestly it didn’t matter.  What I do remember is thinking to myself “You do realize that there is a pen in hand tattooed on my arm, right?”  I replied in some capacity about writing music my whole life, so I understood the mindset and process of a writer.

I got the tattoo about ten years ago.  The pen in hand is located at the bottom of my left bicep, it is attached to a large treble clef that starts at the top of my shoulder, and the whole tattoo extends right above my elbow.  The thought was that I have spent a significant amount of my life writing music, so if I never did again this would have played a major role into whoever I evolve into.  I was just a kid and knew that writing lyrics in some capacity would always be a part of my life.
I was always a creative and had a way with words.  Music was and still is my first love, so I often wrote little songs for as long as I could remember.  It wasn’t something serious; but I had always flirted with being a songwriter.
I played basketball year-round since I was eight years old.  In the summer of 1997, I broke my left arm trying to show off rollerblading backwards with a three year old girl in my arms and I fell.  This played a major role in my falling in love with hip hop.  I spent six weeks with my arm in a sling and not on any kind of basketball court, so I was outside listening to the radio or watching music videos on BET all day.  Puff Daddy was running shit at the time, so within every four songs, something of his or an artist on Bad Boy Records played.  “It’s All About the Benjamins” and “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” were ubiquitous; but they were such great songs I don’t think anyone got mad when the played over and over. 

I wanted to be like Puff Daddy: having my own record label and stable of artists and would make mixtapes that were sequenced and played as compilations of what I would want my label to sound like.  I saw myself as the guy who every once in a while would get on a song, say some fly shit and then be out.  My cousin, David, who is two years older than me had already started writing his own rhymes, so in my head he was the artist and I would be the producer.
That August, David’s grandparents and mine took us with them on a cruise.  He, my sister, and I ran amok on that ship.  We didn’t do any of the activities that the other teenagers were doing because we thought they were corny and they were.  However, there were three girls who only spoke French that he drooled over the whole week.  Every time we would see them, David would say to me “Yo, rap something” and he would beat box to try to get their attention.  I thought they were cute and all; but he was smitten, so I just went with it.  We never caught it; but my sister said that she noticed them once trying to mimic him beat boxing and giggling to each other…I guess he was the talent between the two of us.

On the final evening on the cruise, David and I were sitting by the poolside because we didn’t have shit else to do before dinner.  Truth be told, we were just there being kids and he was a little too nervous to shoot his shot and say something to these girls who didn’t speak English.  Or so we thought…

The three girls looked in our direction pointing, and it looked like they were daring each other to say something.  So all three came up to us at once and asked us to rap for them.  We didn’t think twice about it.  We didn’t look at each other and come to any type of agreement of what song we were going to do or anything.  He just started beat boxing “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” and I rapped all three verses without taking a break.  Being nervous kids who were put on the spot, I don’t think either one of us looked at them the whole time.  But yes, this is how I became a writer…Three brown girls from France who could hardly speak English summoning up the courage to ask a fourteen and eleven/twelve year old to rap for them.

It really was the beginning of something.  I didn’t quite know what to rap about at first, so I didn’t for a year.  I have always been a planner and won’t act until I have one.  Writing was and still isn’t any different.  I couldn’t put any words to paper at all; but whenever I would visit my cousin David he would force to freestlye something and it was always trash; but he was always encouraging me to keep with it.  In the fall of 1998, my family moved from Queens to Freeport in Long Island and he lived down the street from us.  We started writing all of the time and I had my father’s old four track recorder, so it was on. 

There hasn’t been a day in these last seventeen years where I haven’t creatively written down my thoughts in some capacity since 1998.  The more I wrote lyrics, the more enamored I became with prose, structure, and the craft.  It became second nature to think of witty and clever things to say off the top of my head for the sole purpose of provoking a response from an audience. 

Come to think of it, my relationship with music and writing is kind of parallel to my own life.  Music was and is something that has always been a part of me.  It is a lot like my parents’ love for me because it has been there for so long it is in my DNA.  Hip hop would be Timile.  Because I learned what love is from my parents, I was able to fall in love with something else because at the root it was very similar; but was something unique to my life’s experiences.  Cydney is my own music.  Through hip hop I created something that brought out the best in me; much of it that I would have never thought I was aware of doing and could have an impact on others.  Because of Cydney, I started this blog and discovered how much I love to write.  Hip hop may have been my first love; but in many ways I have outgrown it.  I’m too old to be a rapper and I have evolved. Nonetheless, it played a major role in who I am supposed to become.  Writing is the applied knowledge based on all that has come before.
These days, music, hip hop, my past life as a rapper all give context to everything that I write.