Every other Friday in Dear Big Brother, Michael Alexander writes open letters to one of the most important influences on his life.
Dear Big Brother,
I’m a product of my environment. My mom taught me very early on that everybody is special in their own way. Growing up in Oak Park, Illinois allowed me the opportunity to have friends that came from different backgrounds. Even today, if all members of the crew go out for a night on the town, we look like representatives of the UN. Music is one of those beautiful things that allow diverse groups of people to bond with one another. I never cared if a guy was white, black, pink or purple. If they could spit or make a decent beat, they had my attention. Listening to music made colorblindness work in my favor.
I remember distinctly when you showed me another side of you. I was so used to seeing guys who resembled me on the mic. You even tried really hard to sell me on Salt-N’-Pepa, but they just didn’t vibe with me. But I’ll never forget when Brandon let me borrow The Slim Shady LP. There was a lot of buzz going around school about this new rapper named Eminem. Big Bro, I didn’t even know what the guy looked like, and the album cover didn’t help. You even told people how I thought his name was spelled “M&M” like the candy. The cover just depicted two figures peering at a car parked on a bridge, with some legs dangling from the trunk. At that exact moment, I should have realized that this Eminem character was going to be like nothing I had ever heard.
Most of the content was very explicit, about killing some chick named Kim, or the Ken Kaniff skits that were comedic and yet disturbing. And I never knew a man could hate his mother so much. To this day, “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” is still one of the most unbelievable songs I have ever heard. Imagine if I would have judged this guy off his album cover alone. What if I didn’t pop in his CD just because people were saying he was “some white guy trying to be black”? You’ve called me a lot of things in the past, but close-minded wasn’t one of them. Under your guidance I’ve learned to let go of such ignorance, and embrace situations outside my comfort zone.
Imagine if I wasn’t able to grasp this life lesson early on. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to meet some of my best friends on the planet. We may not share the same skin complexion, but we love each other like brothers. Steve and I still bump Bone Thugs N’ Harmony and Twista at ignorant levels like it’s the first time we’ve ever heard the songs. Or compadres like Adam or Bobby, who share the same admiration for a new Kanye track as myself. Remember the look on Dom’s face when we were front and center at North Coast this summer to see Big Boi? It was one of those moments he and I will never forget. Not just because we were seeing a hip-hop legend up close, but because we both appreciated what an MC like him meant to you.
Big brother, you took an immature boy and readied him for manhood. You allowed me to see that not only one color was allotted to your spectrum. Peoples of different skin tones could equally appreciate your musical manifestations. But you can’t blame me for taking a second glance at that one guy I saw on the train a few weeks back. The guy in a full suit and some nice polished black shoes, bumping Jeezy on his iPod. I know you’re asking how I knew it was the Snowman; it’s because nobody does the adlib “yeaaaa” quite like Young Jeezy. Before I exited the train, I caught his eye and simply gave him a nod. It was a silent salute of sorts. Who would have known that two random strangers could bond over a rapper reminiscing about trapping bricks in the South?
But as I reminisce about hearing Eminem putting duct tape on his estranged lover, I realize that was a big moment for me. That was the point where I wouldn’t allow skeptics to cloud my judgment. I wanted to choose for myself. I didn’t care if my mom would probably take away my TV and stereo if she heard one of those songs. To me it was worth the risk, to venture off into a musical landscape that I’d never seen before. You were right. Being colorblind never felt better.
From Your Little Brother,