In 1987, I was ten years old. This means, by simple addition, I was twenty in 1997. If there is a more influential age to grow up in....an era where hip-hop went from minor commercial attention to a mainstream juggernaut, with grandmothers comically rapping in advertisements, wedding ceremonies consisting of flashy, Sean "Puffy" Combs-produced club hits and the overuse of such words as "balla"....if there was a more influential era to submerse yourself into, I don't know what it is.
It was more important than punk and it had much more to say to it's listeners than any extreme music genre that exists. Rock may not have been dead, but it sure as fuck had no message or meaning behind it, no matter what way you try to validate concerts such as Live Aid, etc. Rock grew tired of itself. Extreme music had already started to gravitate towards it's current state, which involve an unspeakable elitism and jaded opinionism. Hip-hop was speaking TO it's listeners instead of thinking they had the right to speak FOR them. If they did choose to speak for the masses, it was done with a respect and frustration that was understandable. Plus, on top of all of that, even platinum hip-hop artists in that era were still pretty damn broke. Major labels swooped in at this time to take on certain artists. Most had no real manager behind them, just a friend down the street that seemed acceptable for the role. More often than not, I'm willing to bet almost every contract signed was almost 100% in favor of the label and most artists were just happy to escape their everyday struggles, but if just for a moment.
Then again....what the fuck do I know? I'm still who I was twenty four years ago when I was introduced to hip hop: just another white kid from the suburbs. Actually, not even the suburbs, but a town in one of the most bland and unimportant (but, beautiful) states in the country, New Hampshire. Though I lived only an hour and a half from Boston and only six hours from New York City, where this culture I had accepted as my own was thriving, I may as well have been on the moon.
I guess that's my point. Life-changing art forms, soul-speaking inspirations, thought provoking revelations.....you don't find them. They, in turn, find you. Without abusing the tired cliches, hip-hop is absolutely more than music. I don't believe that it's just a lifestyle. I believe, instead, that it is a medium-spanning culture and art form which gives it's listener, reader and receiver the gift of deciding how you want it to affect your life. Hip-hop can be either an escape, or the catalyst towards motivation that would have never been garnered through other grounds.
After hip-hop found and guided me, I took it in then as I do now. It's always with me, and there are moments, such as now, where I am reminded how much of my thoughts and daily life were influenced by it. I never felt the need to carry the official representative flag wherever I went, as when time went by I noticed others were compelled to do. It never became more prevalent as later in these years, once the west coast was being given alot of attention, specifically during the N.W.A. years, followed by Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" and the whole Death Row Records affiliated family, and finally the epic rise and death of Tupac Shakur. Somehow, it even infested the most unexplainable of places. Here I was, Ryan McKenney of small Dover, New Hampshire, a chubby kid with a ghostlike complexion that loved hip-hop, loved the beat, but couldn't quite grasp most of the west coast gangsta rap that was emerging. Why? Because I didn't live that life and no goddamn way was I going to even act like I did. Evidently, some peers of mine disagreed. They wanted their lives to imitate the art that they had now surfaced to embrace. Except, to them this meant moonlighting as the rappers that they listened to. All of a sudden (as ridiculous and laughable as this may sound) red or blue rags were hanging from back pockets of oversized, sagging jeans. Kids were forming what they referred to as "posses"....I'm not joking. I wish I could remember some of the names that were come up with for them. It was hilarious. Hats were being worn every way but to the front. Lanky white kids that had never left the state were dawning leather necklaces emblazoned with the outline of Africa. Fifteen year old kids were walking with a limp and trying to cut their stringy hair into a fade or attempting to have cornrows for no reason other than they saw it in a video......all of these young, naive idiots wishing that mean streets or culture-rich boroughs existed in little Dover, New Hampshire and never realizing how much better off they were that these mean streets weren't there (though, the culture-rich boroughs would have been nice...). In this place, the threat level was green.....and that's why all those kids get this:
Maybe it's judgemental of me. maybe I have no right to have had a problem with all of this, but the truth is I had no choice. After hip-hop found me, I felt as if I owed it something. I felt as if I shouldn't ever do anything to insult it, and watching bored, fortunate kids try to take these very realistic forms of expression and contort it into something of their own, something that they felt the need to imitate, much like the reason school shootings were blamed on Marilyn Manson and demented teenage murders are blamed on television programs like Dexter, watching these impostors (or perpetrators?) just pissed me off...made me disgusted with the identity theft occurring. I think the thing that pissed me off the most was that I knew it was only a matter of time before the culture was completely compromised, leaving us quiet die-hards nothing more than memories.