Scene 4: Hip Hop on Pop
by Memoirs of a Seatfiller
It’s now October 2004 and I’ve been working for a few months and finally have money in my pocket. It’s a Friday night in New York City, hanging with my girls, and we are on our way to the club. I’ll paint a picture of a typical night… with some borrowed lyrics or song titles from 2004:
After a long day of work we love to “Change Clothes” and put our dancing shoes on to “Drop it Like Its Hott.” As we shake our “Goodies” the boys say, “Hey Ya!….I Like the Way You Move.” I say duh because “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.” But the only guys in sight are “Freek-a-leeks” and they are vying to be “My Boo.” One guy says I have a “Confession Part 2…Girl you Wanna come to My Hotel?” I say my mama didn’t raise a “Naughty Girl” besides “You Don’t Know My Name” so just “Lean Back” before I “Lose It.” Now I’m a little “Tipsy” and try to “Move Ya Body” but end up dancing in “Slow Motion.” I realize that I’m not gonna find “My Happy Ending” here so I say to my girls lets “Leave (Get Out).” They say “Yeah!” this place is “Toxic” so how ‘bout we “Let it Burn.” After much thought I realize “This is my sorry for, 2004. And I ain’t gonna mess up this year no more.”
Ding! You’ve Got Mail… “Join us for the first ever Hip Hop Honors. We will celebrate the genre of hip hop music and recognize it’s visionary artists.” Yay! I love going out with my friends and dancing to Biggie and Beyonce. This should be fun… who doesn’t love the Beastie Boys, Fat Joe, or Nas. But who the hell are these people… Rock Steady Crew? DJ Hollywood? Grandmaster Flash?
I went to high school, in the late 90’s, in a suburban town in northern New Jersey. The closest thing to the ‘hood that we had was Boulder Run. That’s the town center where a few rebellious kids would skateboard, in jeans 3 sizes too big, and heckle the patrons of McDonalds. While West Coast and East Coast were feuding in an all out gangster rap war – we were playing hackey-sack, listening to Rusted Root and Dave Matthews Band. So I guess you could say I have some things to learn about hip hop music.
It’s been a few months since my memorable night hanging out with Snoop Dogg. I’m now back at Hammerstein Ballroom for what I hope is another exciting evening. Will this compare to that? Who will I meet tonight? Maybe Snoop will remember me? (Insert chuckle here). Miriam came back for round 2 as well as my friend Joe. We filter into Hammerstein Ballroom and get our directions for seatfilling duties. “Tonight will be a little different. The celebrities and guests will be in assigned seats, in the balcony, along the perimeter of the room. You, the seatfillers, will be standing on the floor as the audience in a concert style. Feel free to dance… sing… we want a lot of energy!” Interesting…. So we won’t be sitting amongst the celebrities? Damn! I’m now resigned to the fact that my chances of mingling with the elite are slim to none. So what else am I gonna get out of this?
Miriam, Joe and I manage to position ourselves front and center. We are about 3 rows from stage. Holy crap these seats are awesome! If I was paying for this ticket at a regular concert, these seats would be insane! The stage manager starts the countdown to taping. “We are on in five, four, three….” Out come the hosts Mc Lyte and…Vivica A. Fox. Vivica A. Fox? What the hell does she have to do with rap music?? Well I guess if you date ‘50 Cent’ you’ve earned a spot…? “Hip hop is an ever changing culture that reflects the experience of society through 4 elements: Disc jockeying, emceeing, break dancing and graffiti art.” That’s hip hop? Huh? I took all those hip hop dance classes…shouldn’t I know about this? It’s confirmed…this white girl has a lot to learn.
Well learn I do… Some of the pioneers of hip hop are featured and a video montage is shown on each: KRS One, Public Enemy, Run DMC, Sugar Hill Gang, 2 PAC, DJ Hollywood. Even the presenters have made their mark in this community: Fab 5 Freddy with Debbie Harrry of Blondie, Salt n’ Pepa, Ice-T, Doug E. Fresh, Foxy Brown, Wyclef Jean and P.Diddy. Even Al Sharpton puts in his two sense. Al’s always got something to say…Up next a video hip-hopumentary describes the Graffiti movement from the late 70s into the 80s and how it evolved from vandalism into a political/social art form. Wow. I’m totally blown away.
As the night progresses, the live performances send electricity through the air. It’s an edible feast of audible appetizers. The Beastie Boys kick it off with “Here we go.” Wait a second… who are these guys? Last time I checked the Beastie BOYS didn’t have gray hair. It’s weird when your idols get older… trading in their Addidas for Easy Spirits and poppin’ Terazosin instead of Ecstacy. Nas comes out and performs a duet with his father, jazz musician Olu Dara. Whatever. Last week I got to clean the shelves at my dad’s pharmacy… top that. Fat Joe pays homage to the tipping point of rap music with “South Bronx.” Fat Joe then transitions into his song “Lean Back” and the crowd goes insane. Oh my God… is this happening? Is this a flash mob?! Pre-flash mob?? Everyone simultaneously performs the “Lean back, lean back.” I’m now complete. Kid Rock comes out and shows the DJ skills that brought him onto the music scene.
Mc Hammer comes out… yes that’s right MC Hammer… and he performs “Unconditional Love?” Whattt?? No 2 Ligit 2 Quit? No Hammertime?? No ballon pants??? I feel robbed. An appearance is now made by DJ Jazzy Jeff and Kid Capri. The guy from Fresh Prince of Belair? He’s a real DJ? Sugar Hill Gang does props to their classic “Rappers Delight.” One of the most entertaining guests of the night, on stage with Public Enemy, my fave… Flavor Flav. If the Duracell bunny ate some crack and chased it with a 5 hour energy drink… he would have nothing on Flav. I wonder who he’s wearing? Does that clock come in my size?
As the night concludes, I can’t say I had any celebrity interactions…or got to dance on stage… or was offered any hallucinogenics; but, I did have an invaluable experience which opened my eyes to a world which I was previously ignorant. The genre that materialized from the basements of the South Bronx has ripened to a social, cultural and corporate phenomenon. It’s emerged from a time period when it was used as a platform for individuals to express their struggles through lyrics, dance and artwork. Hip hop’s message often times reflected the increasing depredation of urban poverty, crime, drug use, street violence, and gang rivalries. It’s been criticized that the direction of hip hop has become too pop and mainstream, losing the message of the roots of its origin. But I think just as other genres of music have experienced an evolution, hip hop continues to reflect the changing lives of its artists and audience. Hip hop and rap music should be respected for its history and place in society, but not condemned to one ethnic or socio-economic group. If it is to be recognized as an art-form… art has no enemy except ignorance (or maybe Flavor Flav). Tonight I graduated with my GED from the sKool of Hip Hop…which has earned me some street cred…well at least on the street of Boulder Run.
I always knew I had an alter ego inside this Gemini body…who knew she was a rapper. It took the hip hop honors to allow this diva to be born. NWA has nothing on me. Word up fo’ shizzle. Here is me… Nikki nizzle my dizzle