Dear Big Brother: Harlem World


Every other Friday in Dear Big Brother, Michael Alexander writes letters to one of the guiding forces in his life: hip-hop.

Dear Big Brother,

I have to honestly say this may be one of the greatest memories we share. There are certain songs that just conjure up an array of memories. Back when I was really into music videos, being able to perform and rap the lyrics from the TV used to be my thing. My first re-enactment was to Bone Thugs N’ Harmony’s “First of the Month.” My cousin and I always took the liberty of performing this song when came on in Grandma’s living room. Jeremy always took Krazy and Wish Bones’ verses, and I was tasked with Lazy and Bizzy Bones’. Our first couple renditions were a bit underwhelming, but the more we practiced, the better we became. It’s refreshing to reminisce on how music can even bring family together.

The ability to perform and rhyme seemed to resonate with me. The one video that especially sticks out featured Ma$e, Puff Daddy (his name at the time) and B.I.G in “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” I mean, the video gave you everything you needed. There was witty lyrical wordplay, dance cameos from Puff and Ma$e, a B.I.G. verse even though he had passed away and even some humor, as Puff played the role of a golfer while Ma$e played commentator. Even at that age, my friends and I all knew that Puff played the role of the hype man. Maybe that’s why we were so fixated on trying to imitate Ma$e.

My infatuation for music only grew when I was at school. I was lucky to be surrounded by friends who loved the same jams I listened to. In Ms. Smalley’s music class, at one point during the school year we would host a talent show. I don’t remember the rules and stipulations she had for performing, but a light bulb immediately went off in my head on what to perform. I held a meeting with my compadres Martin and Fred, and we elected to reenact “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” We all knew Martin wanted to do the B.I.G. Verse, so there was no friction there, but the roles of Ma$e and Puff were left on the table. Now of course, my first/second/third option was to be Ma$e. But I swallowed my pride and agreed to be Puff, while Fred took the lead on Ma$e. Plus Fred had an advantage, because he had the new Ma$e CD Harlem World. To be modest, we absolutely crushed the performance. I even had to print out the lyrics to prepare. I don’t remember the crowd reaction because it was years ago, but I’m pretty sure there was a standing ovation, flowers being thrown at our feet and fireworks set ablaze in the distance.

A few months back, I ran across my copy of Harlem World that Fred made for me while we were in high school. It brought back so many memories. How we used to laugh at some of the interludes like “White Girl” or “Phone Conversations.” Or hits like “The Player Way,” “Feel So Good” featuring Total or even Ma$e trying to impersonate a R&B singer on the closing track “Jealous Guy.” Ma$e had a way with words that made you pay attention. Maybe it was his ability to break up the tension from a serious song with a bit of humor that made me comfortable. The charisma and energy he exuded was almost magnetic. As a youngster, he made me want to be the guy on the CD cover with Harlem World above me.

Now, Big Brother, I know you’re itching to remind me about his tomfoolery after leaving Bad Boy. I’m aware of his time as a pastor and when he then joined G-Unit. But I’m not ever going to tear the guy down for trying something new. I was disappointed he decided to leave Puff, and maybe he regrets it, but life goes on. How can you truly understand what you enjoy in life without exploring different options? That’s the hidden beauty of choice; having the ability to decide is a powerful tool that is only gets sharpened over time.

I miss those days. When things were simpler and easier to enjoy. When you could sing out loud and dance around and people wouldn’t look at you funny. When you could throw on a shiny jogging suit, some dark shades and say “take that, take that” like Puff Daddy. Harlem World is more than just an album to me. Ma$e is more than a rapper to me. The two symbolize a part of my childhood that I hope to always keep with me. I wish I could end all conversations with “take that, take that.” Wouldn’t it be swell to live in that world.

From your little brother,