(Todd A. Smith)
The constant question asked in the film “Brown Sugar” starring Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan was when did you fall in love with hip-hop?
As the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of hip-hop on Aug. 11, I began thinking about my love affair with hip-hop and why it means so much to me and my generation.
Because of my age, I cannot remember a time in which hip-hop did not exist on the radio.
But because of my parents’ age, I was told by them that hip-hop would not last.
My parents told my sister and I that history books would remember hip-hop as a fad and who could blame them?
Just prior to hip-hop’s explosion with Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979, disco music had taken the world by storm.
But just like that, with a snap of a finger, critics had declared that disco sucked, and the fad ended.
Therefore, if disco music had failed and it had actual singers like Donna Summer, spoken word music did not stand a chance.
However, 50 years later hip-hop and country music dominate the charts.
Furthermore, hip-hop culture has created billionaires, or near-billionaires, in Jay-Z, Dr. Dre and others.
Hip-hop has ventured off into fashion and electronics.
More importantly, hip-hop taught people of my generation about the importance of investing in self and owning one’s intellectual property.
Since many investors and bankers did not believe in or understand the artform, the hip-hop community created its own moguls.
My generation had heard horror stories of R&B, blues, jazz and gospel greats getting robbed out of their intellectual property and the generational wealth it would have created for their families.
In fact, many of the early pioneers of hip-hop, like Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers who co-wrote “Rapper’s Delight” but did not receive credit for it, got cheated out of their wealth because they did not understand publishing, etc.
Therefore, my generation whether they desired to get into music or any other creative business, learned from those mistakes and even more billionaires like the Tyler Perrys of the world came from the hip-hop generation.
But hip-hop always represented more than just capitalism for real hip-hop heads.
The culture represented the voice of the young generation.
Just like the previous generation had artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and John Lennon to speak to their plight, beginning in the 1980s younger kids had artists like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Public Enemy and N.W.A speak about poverty, the crack epidemic and police brutality in a brutally honest and unapologetic way that was much more brazen than the singers from the 1960s and 1970s.
And my favorite rappers did not just talk about things that happened on a national or international scale like the musicians before them, they also talked about things regionally or locally as if they were representing us on a more personal level.
I can remember my sister Tisha purchasing the “Escape” album by Whodini and “King of Rock” by Run D.M.C.
I can remember going to the Budweiser Superfest with my sister and cousin Chris, seeing L.L. Cool J for the first time.
I can remember purchasing my first rap album “Back in Black” by Whodini, which I can remember being highly anticipated before it even dropped.
I can remember one Christmas getting “Bigger and Deffer” by L.L. Cool J and all my classmates knowing the lyrics to the single “I Need Love” verbatim.
I can remember loving the Black pride in Public Enemy so much that I got my parents to take us to one of their concerts.
However, I can remember Ice Cube opening for P.E.
And when he opened his mouth, the ex-N.W. A member spit so many profanities that my father forced us to leave before the headliners even hit the stage.
My mother also co-signed my father’s hatred for Cube especially after she saw him as Doughboy in the film “Boyz N’ The Hood.
Ironically, now my mom’s favorite rap song is “F Tha Police” by N.W.A.
And my dad said his favorite movie is “Straight Outta Compton.”
Ain’t that a bleep.
No worries because although my parents did not like explicit music in the house, as soon as they would drive off my sister and I would jam “Nasty B****” by New Orleans rapper Bust Down.
Around the same time, Houston started finding its voice in hip-hop thanks to “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” by the Geto Boys.
I can still remember KHOU (Houston’s CBS affiliate) interviewing Willie D and the boys in Fifth Ward, Texas after that breakout song took over the airwaves.
Right after that, my mind was blown when I heard “Something Good” by U.G.K.
From that moment, those trill boys from Port Arthur, Texas have been my favorite rap group.
Rest in Peace to Pimp C.
Around that same time, I saw a movie called “Juice” and was mesmerized by the character Bishop.
Then I saw the video to the song “Brenda’s Got a Baby” and stopped calling him Bishop.
Now I knew he was Tupac Shakur.
And by the time “I Get Around” and “Keep Ya Head Up” came out, he was my favorite solo rapper.
His one-time friend turned nemesis The Notorious B.I.G.’s wordplay blew my mind the next year and he became my second favorite solo rapper of all time.
I went to college in Baton Rouge, La. not too far from the hometowns of artists that made No Limit Records and Cash Money Records household names.
And I move back to Houston right before the Swisha House and other northside Houston rappers became the biggest things in hip-hop since sliced bread.
In a nutshell, the best and hardest moments of my life have become better because of the hip-hop I listened to at that time.
Whether it was upbeat party music or social commentary, there were always artists that spoke to my mood at that time.
And for that I am truly grateful to hip-hop.
Even though I am on old head now and don’t like much of the mumble rap, I still love the artform that defined my entire life.
Thank you hip-hop and here’s to 50 more years.