Every other Friday, Michael Alexander writes letters to one of the biggest influences on his life: hip hop.
Dear Big Brother,
Sometimes being good just isn’t good enough. I have always had a problem with just “fitting in.” I was never comfortable being made to fit into something that I really wasn’t. I’ve heard all the name calling: stuck up, conceited, snob, jerk, jackass. Imagine the things they call me behind my back. But you taught me that nobody could make me out to be some sort of villain, and that only I truly know who I am. I still have a habit of creating my own little world, a habitat that was my very own creative safe haven, a place that outsiders needed an invite to get to. A fortress of sorts, infused with musical selections that fit the occasion. Feeling a little rambunctious? The Wu made sense. Pissed off? DMX seemed to always get to me. This was a place that I retreated to and let my mind run amok. That is where some of my most creative ideas have come to fruition. I guess it’s not a big shock that some of my favorite musicians also operate on a different wavelength.
In high school I frequented this creative space very often. At first it was a lot of mix CDs that friends at school would make for me, but then something happened. I heard a song called “Through the Wire,” with some Chicago producer-turned-rapper by the name of Kanye West. Apparently the guy had just been in a tragic car accident and had his mouth wired shut, but still felt the desire to get behind the mic. Big Brother, that may have been the moment where I realized how others also sought you out in their darkest hour. Maybe it’s when we are down and feeling lost; we send a S.O.S. your way in hopes of guidance. You’ve never seemed to steer me wrong. It is in these fragile moments where my creative energy seems to rise to the occasion and my mind is open to the unimaginable possibilities that are still out there waiting to be found. It’s a yearning for hope.
But longing for hope and having a creative mind are just the initial steps. None of these ingredients can amount to anything without action. And let me be the first to reassure you, Big Bro, there is no greater satisfaction than seeing your dreams become reality. I still have my acceptance letter to graduate school posted above my bed. To me, it represents capturing something that you felt was out of your league, lassoing it and owning it. I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel we all possess the capacity for greatness. Remember how we used to make tinfoil hats and imagine we were spacemen? Or how you laughed at my drawings of me dunking the sun through a basketball rim? Perhaps that was a younger me realizing that I had the power to hold the world in my hands.
But today, as I shuffle through my special collection on my iTunes library labeled “K-West”, I sit and reminisce with every Kanye album that came from the stubborn Chicago producer. College Dropout got me through my final two years of high school. Late Registration kept me afloat during a whirlwind freshman year of college. Graduation always reminds me of my online poker phase. 808s and Heartbreak was right after Ye’s mom passed away, and entered this new realm of sound that was never explored before in your world. People argue that it’s the weakest album in his discography, I argue it’s his most daring. There’s a difference. Then there is My Beautiful Dark Fantasy, which I waited up for until midnight the night before its release. You kept telling me to calm down as I threw on my headphones and bumped the album until 3 a.m. in my old studio apartment. I had to listen to it two times through.
To be completely honest, it was Kanye who gave me the confidence to write to you. On his track off Graduation, “Big Brother,” he said “So here’s a few words from your kid brother/ If you admire somebody you should go ahead and tell ‘em/People never get the flowers while they could still smell ‘em.” Writing these letters is me showing my Big Brother that I admire you more than you know. To show you that I haven’t turned into some stale-ass grad student who doesn’t have fun anymore. As I’ve grown, I realize more than ever that there is a time and place for everything. A time to play and a time to work. A time to joke and a time to be serious. I’ve chosen the latter of the two examples because I just got tired of being average. I got frustrated with being a nobody going nowhere fast. So I started doing instead of waiting. Because fuck waiting.
From Your Little Brother,