“Last night…last night it changed all…I really had a ball”
On Monday, I was in hip-hop heaven. As I watched The 2nd Annual Hip-Honors on VH1, where rap heroes like LL Cool, Ice-T, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Salt-N-Pepa, Big Daddy Kane and the Notorious B.I.G were honored like kings and queens, I was locked in a euphoric state of nirvana for two hours.
It wasn’t just the mere sight of them, their statements, or their flashback videos. What got the hairs on the back of my neck standing at attention were the breathtaking performances by icons that were in their late 30s and 40s but still had some hip-hop fight in them.
In addition, and what cannot be overlooked, was that I was watching an example of Chuck D’s prophecy come true: the offspring of hip-hop culture had become the gatekeepers capable of producing this genuine experience through a corporate vehicle that was the culture’s nemesis no more than two decades ago.
This was the moment for us 30-plus cats, normally battling the forces of time (i.e. kids, jobs we don’t like, etc.), to pause and relive our youth and reminisce about the good ‘ol days. It wasn’t all good, though. The late ‘70s and entire ‘80s were a frightening time for black teens. Crack, guns, Reagan – a confluence of events that, if you lived in the innercity, led to the development of your “hoodlum-detection radar.” At a glance – an enemy baseball cap, scheming look or hoody pull slightly too low – it went off, and you were out.
Throughout all of this we had a soundtrack to our lives in hip-hop music, a music that captured what was going on in our world and reflected our feelings in our own culture-coded language. You felt like you were in a select club filled with tens of thousands of other young brothers and sisters where strict adherence to the dress code, slang and B-Boy/girl attitude were the necessary requirements for admittance. And in this club, none was more celebrated than skillful practitioners of hip-hop, particularly the MC and the DJ.
In a time when Jesse Jackson was running for President, Al Sharpton was staging protests and Minister Farrakhan was scaring the hell out of white folks -- though some of us recognized their leadership and even joined their movements -- the rapper was our direct leader and we followed them with our ears, minds and hearts. This is what the honorees represented to many of us who came of age during that era. They were our peers taking advantage of a musical platform to define who we are and what we feel to the world.
As I watched Nelly do a great job of looking like a miniaturized James Todd Smith, the Furious Five transform the room into a 1980 Bronx park jam, Salt-N-Pepa give today’s young women a clear picture on how to be intelligent and sexy without being reduced to anatomy, and T.I., Common and the Roots’ Black Thought recite (with varying degrees of success) Big Daddy Kane’s witty lyricism, I remembered how I followed and looked up to MC leaders then. I remembered how they gave me hope, food for thought, plus taught me some dance moves in the process. I remembered how the movie ‘Boyz-N-The Hood’ (also honored last night) gave an East Coast kid a birds-eye view of West Coast hoods and color-coded gangbanging long before Snoop knocked down the buildings, or the Dipset movement.
My wife who is a dance instructor told her students, many of whom who were born in the ‘80s, to watch the show for informational purposes. It filled her heart with joy (not to mention doused her face with a few streaming tears) to see some of the dances she teaches her students today and did in the parks and in famed ‘80s hip-hop hotspots like Union Square and the original Latin Quarters being performed to perfection on the TV screen during primetime. It validated her experience.
On Monday September 26, 2005, if only for one moment, it validated that experience for us all.
Fahiym Ratcliffe is the former editor-in-chief of The Source magazine.