Its the early nineties… Stanmore Bay New Zealand.
I’m a snowy haired undercut-rocking class clown, obsessed with NBA Basketball, making mixtapes from the radio and making my friends laugh.
The school disco reigns as the highlight of the form 2 (year 8 ) social calendar, kids would give their eye teeth for a Aqua and Purple Charlotte Hornets Starter jacket and a pair of rusty coloured Origin Jeans, Reebok pumps were a status symbol, and a having Shaquille O’neal rookie card was looked upon like owning a Rolls Royce Phantom.
Relationships were simple, ask a mate to write a note on paper, give it to the girl you liked, asking if she would go out with you, if she said yes, great, you had a girlfriend… and it wouldnt be at all unusual to not say a word to one another until your friends pushed you together at the disco, where you would share an awkward bonafide (double entendre) hugdance to “I swear” by All 4 One or “One Sweet Day” by Mariah and Boyz 2 Men.
(It was c00l 4 b&s to abbrevi8 with numbers back th¥)
Those were the days where Hip Hop and R&B reigned supreme, Montell Jordan told us how he did it, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Boom Shake the Room” cassingle was played 35 times on repeat at lunch time on a shiny black Teac Cassette player (with auto rewind and twin tapedecks; *Ugh* *What?*) and TLC were at the top of their game, even your Dad had a copy of Crazy Sexy Cool in his car and your Nana knew all the words and dancemoves to “Waterfalls”
Kids would form a circle at School disco’s to worship other kids dancing to “Whoop there it is” by Tagg Team and “Sweets for my Sweets” by CJ Lewis, it seemed like the only white artists around were Michael Bolton and Kenny G and since I had never seen a slam dunk montage on NBA action cut together over the sweet sounds of an Alto Saxophone, I was having none of it.
It wasn’t until the release of Greenday’s ‘Dookie’ in 1994 that I can really remember anyone I knew listening to anything aside from “Black Music”, Nirvana’s classic ‘Nevermind’ had been out a while and was just starting to gain momentum with some of the kids I hung out with, and many of them started taking up the guitar. But not me. I stuck with what I knew, I had no time for “That head banging music” as my mum would call it, I didn’t trust it, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” seemed so angry and depressing to me and the kids who had always listened to that kind of stuff seemed to come from the wrong side of the tracks, and it seemed that it made them want to either beat you up or commit suicide.
I think at the time I was having too much fun to really buy into what the grunge/punk scene stood for, I would have felt like a fraud, brooding and listening to Bush, and it probably wasn’t until the 1997 release of Foo Fighters “The Colour and the Shape” that I really gave any form of guitar-centric music a try.
But in the meantime I was forming a bond with a close friend that has stayed with me until this day: Hip Hop
Now, as I have mentioned in one of my other blogs, it can be shaky ground being a hip hop fan when you’re a middle class white guy, I’ve always been aware of the type of dudes labeled “Wigga’s” who have adopted the Black American culture so much that they have warped into this bizarre characture, rocking silver-blue Wu-tang Jeans and stocking caps and talking using MC hands at all times, (gesturing like Busta Rhymes in “Woo Ha” even when asking Nana if she wants a glass of Cordial)
When you’re from a sleepy beachside retirement community like Stanmore Bay, saying something like: “Im’a fuck yo bitch ass up Homie” sounds as out of place and unnatural as I would have sounded asking for a “pineapple fritter and two dolliz chups” in a Bodega in Brooklyn. So through my Hip Hop appreciating career, I have been very conscious of not being one of “those” white hip hop fans.
I always thought my obsession really started with the release of 2pac’s “All Eyez on me” I used to listen to the Album on repeat for hours at a time, and I’m a little embarrased to say i could still probably recite “Ambitionz as a ridah” from start to finish in it’s entirety. There was something about 2pac’s lyrics and flow and the way he seemed to spit rhymes angrily, deep from the chest that struck a chord with me, which was strange because as a 12 year old white kid from New Zealand, Makaveli and I didn’t really have much in common. Nonetheless I was obsessed with the East Coast/West coast battle, and DeathRow record’s rocky last few years; Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre’s controversial departure from the label. And of course Pac’s death.
I remember seeing it on the evening news and going completely numb, I must have played “I ain’t mad atcha” 50 times that night.
As time went on and popular culture lurched its way through the 90’s many forgettable and sometimes frankly embarrassing phases, music began to change with it, and after a while I began to appreciate Rock Music, I remember seeing Foo Fighters perform Monkey Wrench on the MTV video music awards one year and really losing my shit, I mean I’d been aware of them but that was the first time I can remember thinking:
“Wow! Its like Grunge, but not shit!”
And so for the next few years I dabbled in some other genre’s
It was with the release of “Hello Nasty” by the Beastie Boys that I started to take notice of Hip Hop again, they were very popular at the time and “Intergalactic” was getting regular rotation, however one afternoon after school, I sat down to take off my filthy popcorn smelling school socks, and saw this:
The Roots ft Erykah Badu- You Got Me
There was something about this song and video that made me sit up and take notice, these guys had something different about them, from the other Hip Hop I had listened to in the past, an intelligence and an honesty that sat well with the person I was growing up to be. Within a few days I had their CD “Things Fall apart” and found out that they were actually a band, rather than the usual MC/DJ combination that had was common throughout Hip Hop. I dug out their older albums Do You Want More?!!!??! and Illadelph Halflife, and also their live album “The Roots Come Alive” and began to listen to them whenever I could, finding a deep appreciation for the fact that there were a group of skilled instrumentalists (lead by the now legendary Questlove) crafting the beats, and consistantly being blown away by the skillful wordplay and deeply poetic lyricism of Tariq Trotter (Black Thought) The Roots mainstay MC (and in my opinion the best MC ever).
This also lead me to finding other incredible Artists like: Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Jurassic 5, and reintroducing me to A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, who I had missed on the first time around.
To be honest my opinion of Hip Hop in the last few years is very much love/hate, it can be difficult to own up to being a hip hop fan at times, especially with the amount of horrendous horseshit spewing forth claiming to be Hip Hop music. I’m not surprised I sometimes get sideways glances when I refer to myself as a fan of the Genre. I always feel I need to be ready with a disclaimer: “Nah, not what you’re thinking I mean, good Hip Hop, ever heard of Chali 2na? P.O.S? Brother Ali? dudes like that! guys with skill”
But alas by then its too late, in their head I’m at home, fashioning some Grills for myself out of my grandmothers bracelets, badly photoshopping myself into a Photo with Master P and throwing on the latest Big Bear CD:
Big Bear really took an interesting direction with this cover, he was lucky to find such a pimpalicious group of Blunt smoking Silk Robe-wearing Grizzlie Bears, but you gotta hand it to him. He made it and now hes living the dream.