First of all, I want the reader(s) to know that ‘I am Hip-Hop.’ I have been a fan of Rap music and the culture since I became infatuated with L.L. Cool J’s “I’m Bad” back in the fourth grade. Sure, I had heard Rap music before—Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, and others, yet Cool J’s “I’m Bad” served as the narrative to my life and the soundtrack to my ‘Black Cool’ at a time in my life when I desperately needed it. The song’s lyrics hypnotized me because of the speaker’s braggadocio and bravado that inundated every line within the bars that composed maybe his best masterpiece to date. I even called myself “L.L. Cool G” to my elementary peers who had only had vague and minimal brushes with Rap/Hip Hop. This was 1987-88. I was a fourth grader at a 95% white middle school and my neighborhood was all white, except for my family. Yes, Rap music connected me with my race to an extent.
Now, my father had instilled the sticktuitiveness and pride in myself and my sisters as it pertained to the Black American struggle in the United States, but he and my mother were Civil Rights babies, and I was of a newer and different generation of Black Americans; Generation X and, for the most part, Hip Hop heads. Yes, I understood, respected, and revered the previous generation of African American’s who paved the social, political, and economical way for my peers, but I felt different. Just as many of my Negroidian peers did. We had something else to say and nothing to prove or validate to the American ethno-social hierarchical structure. I was, and, ‘we’ were, Hip Hop.
It can be difficult growing up around people that do not look like you nor have the same ethno-specific and nationalized, if not internationalized, experiences and perception as you, particularly when you have no foundation. My sisters were lucky enough to be raised in an all-Black neighborhood until their teens, yet I moved to the predominately white suburb of Germantown, Tennessee, outside of Memphis, at the age of three, so I never really had physical roots, though I did have the psychological and ideological ones, in the Black community.
As I grew older, I used Rap music as a conduit to relieve my stress of dealing with social and academic prejudices that ran deep within the schools that I attended, and the music served as a cathartic vessel for me. I excelled in English, particularly the literary aspect of the discipline and realized that the music that I so much enjoyed was better than anything I was forced to read for my classes and the summer reading lists I received at the end of every school year. Steinbeck had nothing on Poor Righteous Teachers or KRS-One or Ice Cube or my local Rap heroes (e.g. Playa Fly, Gangsta Blac, Skinny Pimp, or Alkapone). I began to see Rap as an art form; poetry put to music. In most cases, I analyzed the bars to a song just as intricately as if they were novellas or novels. The same literary devices I used to dissect a ‘Literary’ masterpiece were the same techniques I used to analyze my favorite Rap songs. They were much more than songs to me. They were stories. And from the moment I heard Rap, I knew I wanted to tell stories like my favorite artists did— stories of hurt, pain, anguish, triumph, humor, and all kinds of irony. I would just do it without rhyming and a dope ass track.
My parents were neither fans of the Rap genre of music nor the Hip Hop culture, so I never even thought to become an M.C. Though my first cousins were musicians (pianists, trumpeters), I never wanted to become a producer of beats, I always loved the lyrics and the redefining of the English lexicon in which rappers obliterated and reconstructed.
I was a lover of ‘words’, and since my parents always stressed the importance of formal education, I chose to delve into English Literature and attempt to make my mark there. I eventually earned a Bachelor’s degree in English, a Masters degree in English Literature, and received a certification in African American Literature as well as logging numerous hours in Doctoral work towards a PhD in English Literature. Wrote a book; a collection of short stories entitled “Kim; The Story of John” and have published scholarly works in Black Magnolias and presented and lectured on literary criticisms at several national conferences in the past few years—always staying true to my Hip Hop origins; cadence, intelligence, extratextual, subtextual, inter and intratextual references, as well as ‘keeping it real’ (delineate that for yourselves. Rap fans will know what I mean. It is extremely difficult for those outside of Hip Hop or even ‘Black’ culture to create a definitive definition to what ‘real’ is).
Ironically, Rap music, which my parents, like most Baby Booming Blacks, proclaimed a fad and deemed a bunch of gibberish, foolishness, and mumbo jumbo, has morphed from a party and neighborhood block soundtrack to a celebratory and poetically cathartic tool of empowerment for Generation X and Millenials as well as a public and private conundrum as it pertains to the image and perception that Black Americans receive throughout the U.S. and the world. It is now one of the prominent and hottest areas of study and discipline in the realm of academia via the research of national scholars such as Michael Eric Dyson, Boyce Watkins, Mark AnthonyNeal, and Cornel West and numerous others who mesh the content of the music with the academic and scholarly traditions and connotations of Sociology, Political Science, History, and even Theology.
It bewilders me, more than ‘love’ confused The Godfather of Soul James Brown in his song ‘Bewildered’, that the same music that is often vilified and condemned as being antithetical to the struggle for societal respect for African Americans as well as an outlet for untalented and unskilled ‘artists’ has become a talking point and platform for public notoriety and fame from everywhere from media outlets such as CNN to prestigious universities such as Georgetown and Cal-Berkeley. During my undergraduate and graduate studies, I would have never thought that a decade later, I would be lecturing at academic conferences defending and explicating the content, worth, and relevance of Hip Hop music. It makes all those years of studying literary theories and schools of thought somewhat worthless except for the fact I have utilized the aforementioned to aid and assist my efforts in bringing credibility to my favorite musical artform—Rap. I am proud to be a product of the Hip Hop Generation and a consumer of the highest selling musical genre on the planet. I am Gee Joyner, and yes, I am Hip Hop.
- Gee Joyner