Why Hip Hop? Making the Case
This is the text of a speech I gave at the Jesse Jackson Wall Street Summit in New York, NY this year. The purpose of the summit was to discuss the current state of Hip Hop and its economic power. I include this because it expresses the bottom line values and principles of our organization. While I am aware that there are many different definitions of what Hip Hop is, we believe that the principles of the founding fathers (such as Afrikka Bambaataa and Kool Herc) should be honored and maintained.
“It was the early 80’s and hip-hop had become a major influence in the lives of many youth. The beauty of it was that any and all could get involved. It had reduced the prerequisites of being a performing artist to just a pen and a pad. I was hooked on this medium that gave me the confidence that I needed to express myself. I had a lot to say but the people that I wanted to speak to did not want to hear about it through hip-hop. My parents, like most, pushed me towards a career that promised security. Being an entertainer is not typically accepted and certainly not encouraged. What they didn’t know was that hip hop was educating me. I learned about African American heroes and inventors. I learned details about slavery, the Civil Rights movement and my ancestors from Africa. Hip Hop, for the first time, made learning exciting and it pushed me to study and learn more so I could express myself like the artists KRS-1, Queen Latifa and Chuck D. Hip hop influenced me to attend Morehouse College because of its legacy in producing brilliant black men. I wanted to be like the heroes I learned about through Hip Hop. What I had learned made me feel intelligent, confident and ignited me to become even more.
My life at home was fueling my proclivity for artistic expression through hip-hop. I witnessed a lot of arguments and verbal aggression. From an early age, I endured countless painful confrontations between my parents. Years of anger accumulated inside of me with no healthy outlet. Hip-Hop changed that for me. I began pouring my hate, anger, and personal lack of love onto notebook pages. Hip-Hop became my best friend. It was everywhere. It understood me. There were no judgments. Hip-Hop kept my secrets and carried the burden of all that I had been through. But I was still unable to share it with those closest to me, the ones causing my pain.
Years later, in NYC, I found myself struggling to produce music that was meaningful to me and still commercial by record label standards. Eventually, I gave in. I began creating music solely for attention and acceptability. A record deal was in the works soon after, but I feared becoming the person that I rhymed about. Ultimately the deal fell through. The entire ordeal was bittersweet. At the time I was working as a bartender. One evening an organization called Charity Water came in to host one of many cocktail parties to raise money for clean water systems in Africa. I was immediately moved by their approach and began volunteering for them. I decided to write and produce a song to celebrate their work. I knew that I could be myself and using the platform that Charity Water provided only fueled my excitement. The reception was overwhelming.
I traveled with Charity Water to Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. I helped with fundraising during their five-day exhibit by selling a few hundred copies of the song I had written about the organization. Those five days reminded me of why I wrote rhymes. People began requesting pictures with me and asking me to autograph the cds. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I remember pausing for a moment and thinking to myself “Hip Hop is saving lives.” At that very moment I knew what the rest of my life had to be about. I did not want young emerging emcees to have to create new identities to sell their art to record labels whose real interest was not them. I did not want them to have to endure the pain of discovering the truth after many years invested. I wanted to intercede on their behalf, while they are still young and their efforts are still heartfelt and genuine. I wanted to preserve the essence of what Hip-Hop has been to me, a pillar of confidence. I wanted them to feel proud and intelligent and to fuel their desire to learn. I wanted them to experience education through music and make it cool like the artists I grew up on. It’s vital that the youth love to learn. It’s vital that their interests and hobbies are fused with education. It’s paramount that they are inspired to study and learn on their own time, which will only push them to higher education. I want to help them express themselves to the world but more importantly to their parents. When a parent stops and pays attention to the artist within their child, something magical happens.
In our program, we educate about the world we live in. We educate on issues most teenagers have never discussed and have no true interest in until they speak back about it through rhyme. We see many of them touched by these subjects and witness their new education expand their minds and become part of who they are. They can’t wait to get to the next subject and begin to write—they are excited to learn. We also still honor everyday heroes like I did through the song for Charity Water. Having that built-in audience is very important. Having a community of people that thank others for introducing them to your work is essential. This also allows our children to feel what’s it’s like to make a difference and share their art with their parents and show them how powerful their voice can be. Our kids talk about their parents’ response to their music all of the time. It warms my heart to know we are helping kids and parents have conversations about their talent and their passions, as well as many of the important issues we face in today’s society.”