So I usually use this blog as a rant/ promotional tool but today I’m going to try my hand at some “serious” journalism.
I recently read an article by my tour-mate/brother from another mother DLabrie which he wrote in response to an article by Mr. Davey D about regionalism in Hiphop. DLabrie’s article also served as a chronicle of his introduction into Hiphop so that is the angle I will take, please enjoy, comment, and encourage others to do the same.
My rite of passage into Hiphop was a long one but let me preface the saga like this: I currently reside in Atlanta Georgia, the current hub of “urban” music. I moved here in 2000 just as the spot light was beginning to shift this way, before that I lived in Myrtle Beach, SC and before that Charleston WV, neither of the latter were music (let alone Hiphop) “hot spots” so it wasn’t until I got to the A that I felt like I was somehow in the cultural loop. I am not one who subscribes to the concept of fate but I do find the timing of my arrival to Atlanta to be quite telling. I came to the city with big dreams of Hiphop greatness just as that same city was on the brink of becoming a Hiphop Mecca. Thus my exposure to Hiphop regionalism came at a time when the cultural and regional tides were changing, it is because of this that I feel my point of view is poignant enough to merit the writing (and hopefully reading) of this article.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves, let me start at the beginning…
Like I eluded to earlier my entry into Hiphop was a slow one. Even though I was born in 1982 and thus into a Hiphop world, I didn’t grow up on it. As a kid I listened to the classic rock ‘n’ roll of my parents’ generation so my first favorite emcee was Bob Dylan (go back and listen if you don’t agree, Dylan was spittin’ in my book he’s the prototypical “white rapper”) anyway it wasn’t until I was in the 5th grade that I started really finding my own music, the first Hiphop recording I ever bought was Ninteen Naughty III by Naughty By Nature and at the time I was living in West Virginia, far away from any epicenter of Hiphop culture and honestly I was just entertained by the other worldly nature of it. By 6th grade I had moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and. Due to it’s status as a tourist attraction and central location on the East Coast, I was exposed to a lot more music. This was at the dawn of the West Coast invasion of the Hiphop world and Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and Snoop’s “Doggystyle” were ruling boom boxes. I promise if you would have seen footage from one of my middle school dances without knowledge of the location and saw how that party got jumpin’ once “Nothin’ But A G Thang” came on you would have sworn you were in Long Beach not Myrtle Beach. Then of course there was 2Pacwhat more do I need to say. The Death Row stuff mixed with Miami booty bass that migrated up the coast embodied my whole Hiphop vocabulary and at the time Hiphop was still a guilty pleasure. It all felt so foreign to the life I was living and, mind you, I was still a student of the guitar well fed on a steady diet of suburban angst provided by grunge and metal. Nonetheless groups like Cypress Hill and House Of Pain were mainstays on my friends’ CD changers and tape decks (damn I’m getting old) so my radar was up.
It wasn’t until high school (ugh high school) that Hiphop really became something tangible to me. In 9th grade a buddy of mine gave me a tape which contained cuts from Wu Tang’s “Enter The 36 Chambers” along with assorted highlights from the first string of Wu solos. I wore that tape out and then went and bought every Wu CD (yeah I upgraded) that I could find. I knew I was onto something because in 9th grade gym class all the jocks would clown me (I had gym with 85% of the JV football team and our teacher was the varsity coach) for listening to my Wu tape instead of playing volleyball but they all came back start of 10th grade rocking their Wu shirts. From there I went on to discover more of the east coast hard hitters (Nas, Gang Starr, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, MOBB Deep ect.) and also began to entertain the notion that maybe I could write raps. Not to put my premature style on par with any of those groups but it was something about the imagination and complexity that made me think “hey this is an artform and I am an artist so maybe it’s not so far-fetched.” Even though I was still better than a year away from letting the public hear me rhyme the seed was planted. Add to this mix The Roots who showed me that playing an instrument didn’t exclude you from Hiphop, add that to Rage Against The Machine and you had my first group Pure Irate Souls (founded in 1997) in which I was the front man and to whom I credit with the beginning of my Hiphop life.
One thing was missing though. None of these groups lived or grew up anywhere near me. New York may as well have been outer Mongolia as far as it seemed from South Carolina. These dudes dressed, talked, and acted different from anyone I knew or anyone that I knew knew for that matter so as interesting as it seemed it was still foreign.
Enter Outkast. I was still in 9th grade when “Southernplayalisticadillacmusik” dropped and believe me it opened a lot of peoples’ eyes and minds including my own. Here they were two dudes from Georgia (one state away from SC) who were really spittin’. It wasn’t booty bass but it was definitely southern and most importantly seemed familiar. Big Boi could have just as easily been chillin’on Racepath or The Hill (that’s some Carolina knowledge for you) as the SWATs but also they were really rapping on the level of a group like Wu Tang at least in my mind. From there I discovered Goodie Mob and the rest of Dungeon Family, started my band, played shows (I played for 200+ people when I was 17) and started to be more proactive about finding new music. This vision expansion didn’t just include Hiphop but music in general as I started being introduced to independent music of all genres, this lead me to dig deeper and discover labels like Rawkus or groups like The Arsonists and Heiroglyphics. Though my scope of influences were broadening and my fledgling style as a rapper was borrowing from artists all across the map it was still the southern music mainly Dungeon Family but also some of the “proto-crunk” music like Pastor Troy, and Drama (another South Carolinian who migrated to the A) that felt like the most authentic. My indie rock friends didn’t get it nor did the “underground” heads but I saw and felt something in the Hiphop of the south that made me want to rap and more importantly made me feel like I could.
I moved to Atlanta after graduating high school and up until that point the idea of regionalism was something I couldn’t wrap my brain around. I had just cut my Hiphop teeth in a virtual no man’s land as far as rap was concerned and since I had to look outward to find my rap I didn’t see Hiphop as coming from any one place but from everywhere. But my arrival to Atlanta in 2000 coincided with Atlanta’s rise to prominence on the Hiphop map. At first it was exciting. There I was, proud of my southern pedigree that had for so long been a hindrance. Now that was a commodity and I was living in the city that everyone was checkin’ for as far as rap goes. I had arrived. But with any rise to prominence comes the inevitable backlash. I witnessed it first hand as cats in Atlanta who had moved there from other places started pouring the hater-ade. New York and East coast dudes were saying rappers from the south didn’t have lyrics. The West and Midwest cats were saying the South was just a bunch of biters who dumbed down previous styles to make it big. The hate ran so deep that dudes on the come up who had lived in Atlanta their whole lives were bending over backwards to sound like they came from anywhere but Atlanta. I was confused suddenly my gift became a curse.
That’s when I had to look at what I wanted to do as a Hiphop artist and realize that it’s foolish for people to generalize about some one’s music just because of what part of the world they come from and it’s definitely foolish to fall into the trap of self-loathing just because other people are sour about such and such regions success. The south has a deep-rooted musical tradition that predates Hiphop, in fact James Brown (RIP) The Godfather of Soul, easily the most heavily sampled artist by Hiphop producers is from the South (another South Carolina to Georgia transplant) so when the Hiphop spotlight finally made it’s way to Georgia it was really just coming home.
Anyway that’s just how I feel, what I’m trying to get across with this whole tirade is this: don’t let your home address hinder you don’t let your zipcode define you as an artist but also don’t let other peoples narrow minded ideas of how things should or shouldn’t sound, dress, talk or whatever make you resent your roots. Just because it’s where your from doesn’t make it good but it doesn’t make it bad either and no one is above being influenced by where they live. Embrace it. It’s 2009 and Hiphop is global and you have rappers all over the world rapping in hundreds of languages many of whom have never been to The Bronx, or LA or Atlanta and they aren’t sweating it. The music breaks down the barriers and that’s what makes it so beautiful.
So in conclusion let me just say, it’s easy to say “Imma do me” or “Just do you” but I’m not going to tell you to “do” anything I’m going to say “BE you” there is a difference, and that difference is what separates the leaders from the followers.
that’s all I have, thanks for reading,