A friend i’ve, through no one’s fault but my own, lost an incredible and vital amount of touch with came up to me the other night at work and asked me to make him a hip hop themed mixtape. Me, there, always there, always able to be found there, cemented there, with all failure, recession, loss of pride, extinguished dreams, weather of age, pretense to have risen above hopelessness more bare, felt and noticeable to him over that counter than to any other customer, any co-worker. Me there, stranded, the distance between our lives and the caution with which we keep that distance as apparent as ever, and he bridges it with a simple request. All the times i could have swallowed fear, unworth, walked over to his house and knocked on his door. All the times i could have accepted invitation or invited myself, felt my company welcome. All the times i’ve felt it easier to stay at home, shut out all, fall into an all too comfortable hermitry, all the while keeping face that something is being done with this life.
So… i have been listening to not much besides hip hop these past couple of days – palatable, canon, approved hip hop. Just to remind myself how much i love it, how much it is a part of me, how much i don’t fit into any scene or try to involve myself in the music any more than just listening yet still consider it integral to my existence and existence as a music fan. Sometimes it doesn’t feel so. I guess it’s a case of liking and appreciating so much music in such diversity and wanting and being compelled to be loyal to it all. Peaks and troughs, etc.
That i’m some kind of authority on hip hop is laughable. Yet he came to me. This song makes the mix. I think he would like it. I’m making it – designing it – to be as palatable as possible. Strap on your backpacks. It will in no way encompass or give comprehension to hip hop, to all facets of hip hop. The four elements, given, but also it will convey nothing of the geographic diversity in sound, attitude or purpose of the music/lifestyle. Nothing of its varied, overlapping, contradictory, often oppositional political compass, from black empowerment, to misogyny, to messages of youth unrest, to the gangster life, to the suburban life, to life in urban poverty, the usually black, usually male, experience, to hip hop set to counter with dissatisfaction the sexist, money driven kind, to hip hop set to counter that.
Nothing of what drives it and what is developed, and why it is developed, in parks, clubs, schools, parties, studios, bedrooms, radio programmes, the minds of everyone who loves and breathes this music. Nothing of the history, the advancements made throughout, nothing to bridge the kids rapping in the park to its achieved permanence in the top 40. No line mapped between Crime Mob and Sage Francis. No comprehension, just a mix of songs gathered by someone who hasn’t ever lived without this music, yet it has always been a life where i’ve been able to keep it at a distance. It is not my music. It is not part of me. I’m someone who has picked and chosen. This is one of my favourite ever songs.