hip hop:bound by imagination by *larons
Now I ain’t tryna be the greatest
I used to hate hip-hop… yup, because the women degraded
But Too $hort made me laugh, like a hypocrite I played it
A hypocrite I stated, though I only recited half…
— from Hurt Me Soul, Lupe Fiasco
1994. I was in second grade. That was when I first was able to recite some lines to a rap song. I had no clue what it meant to smoke indo or sip on gin and juice, but a seed was planted into my young impressionable mind and music was never the same for me after that. Even though I still played them in my yellow Sony Walkman, the Lion King soundtrack and Gloria Estefan (no joke) just weren’t as cool anymore. Slowly, but surely, I would ignore my cassette tapes and keep my radio tuned to Power 106 and 92.3 the Beat. While there was very little about me that evoked the word “urban,” I knew and enjoyed my fair share of hip-hop, even coming to have a favorite jam while I was in elementary school.
Eventually, there came a time where I began to have doubts about my affair with hip-hop. While there remained an undeniable essence to the art form that was pure and attractive, I had gotten old enough to think somewhat critically about the media I consumed, and what was coming through the speakers wasn’t always something I could agree with—glorification of gang life, degradation of women, weak commercialized crap, not to mention a ridiculous amount of cuss words that I was beginning to associate more with “ignorant” than with “cool.” So for much of middle school and high school, I never really invested myself into hip-hop. I even took off the local hip-hop stations from my presets in the car radio. I convinced myself it was bad music and I did my best to turn away. However, there was something that wouldn’t let me completely say no to it. It was like breaking up with someone but not ever really being able to move on. Or maybe it was simply the fact that it’s the things in life you don’t choose that make you who you are. I didn’t choose to be born in the LA area when West Coast hip hop was peaking, nor to be surrounded by people who always listened to it. Try as I might, I couldn’t run from what was a part of me.
College finally came around and I didn’t have to run anymore. At UCSD, I expanded my knowledge and thinking about many things, one of which unexpectedly was hip-hop. Though surrounded by it all my life, I never came to learn and appreciate the journey it had come through, that it was more than just a genre of music but one out of a few truly infectious cross-cultural movements in the world. I also came to realize that the hip-hop era I grew up in produced a lot of great talent, but also was the era in which people fully realized that they could make money off this whole rapping thing, which paradoxically doomed it and launched it into a whole different realm. With my newfound appreciation, I was able to again fully embrace hip-hop with the same kind of love when I was younger, except I could see that back then, I was barely dipping into all that it had to offer. This time, I was diving in head first.
This brings us to today, a day where my love for hip-hop is something I wear proudly on my sleeve. Many have commented on the state of hip-hop in recent years, and honestly, I don’t know what to make of it. There definitely is a shallow, ugly side that makes you wonder how many more twists and turns hip-hop can take before it comes crashing down. But on the flipside, I’ve never seen more potential for hip-hop to innovate and inspire than ever before. It’s an odd mix to deal with, which is why to me, hip-hop as a form of music is the most complicated to be in relationship with, but in relationship with it is how I’m destined to stay.