Every other Friday in Dear Big Brother, Michael Alexander writes letters to one of the biggest influences on his life: hip-hop.
Dear Big Brother,
I had a moment last week when I was running that I want to share with you. I always listen to the same playlist when I go on my Sunday long runs. This time, however, I listened to my Chicago oriented playlist cleverly entitled “Cruel” that features old and new Kanye, Twista and Lupe. “Words I Never Said” came on and something hit me. I was able to finally understand what Lupe was saying, but more importantly, why. He spoke of the broken-down school system, of the inner-city youth and ineptitude of the media reporting. With the rise of the internet and the importance of social media, these social dilemmas are now seen by larger audiences all over the world. So I get it now, Lupe. I understand the road he chose to take with Food and Liquor 2. It wasn’t all about booty-shaking club music anymore; he was going back to making you think as you nodded your head to a nice beat.
But the beat goes on and things are far from better. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone to say with a straight face things are improving. The dollars don’t hide the pain for some, the bright lights don’t stop from attracting the wrong type of attention. Remember when Kanye said, “even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe”? All the makeup in the world can’t hide heartlessness, nor all the money make you immune from ridicule. So what should I do to better understand this, Big Bro?
Two of the most recent rap albums that really drilled home the mantra “wake up” and made you realize what’s going on were Control System by Ab-Soul and R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike. I know you’ve been annoyed with my recent barrage of text messages regarding the whole NSA ordeal, but you have to admit that something is awry. Jay-Z questioned it on “Justify My Thug,” asking: “Mr. President, there’s drugs in our residence/tell me what you want me to do/come break bread with us/Mr. Governor I swear there’s a cover up/every other corner there’s a liquor store fuck is up?” I know you can’t stand when I try to invoke politics in our discussions, but we can’t keep ignoring the elephant in the room forever.
Politics as usual played a role in my ignoring some of what Lupe was trying to convey through his songs. Remember Lasers? Remember the album he didn’t even support because it was taken away from him? I was beyond pissed about this. I boycotted even when he chose to give a $10 concert at our university. I instead opted to buy buffalo wings from Leona’s, because eff that guy. You noticed my slight disgust when I thought I’d to choose between seeing Lupe or Atmosphere at Soundset last year in Minnesota. But it was no big surprise that you would have had to kidnap my entire family and hold them for ransom, and the only way to free them was to watch a 30 minute set by Atmosphere. I chose Lupe. So with a live band, revisiting Food and Liquor and The Cool hits, all while a tornado formed in the background, Lupe threw down. I forgave him.
Now, while it’s fine and healthy to try new things and experience new adventures, it has to be equally important to know the foundation as well. “You can’t know your future without knowing your past” (or at least I think that’s how the saying goes) resonates now more than ever. So this is me pledging to you, Big Bro, to go back and revisit my musical roots to better understand this whole “politics as usual” in the rap game. I was too young to readily identify with what NWA was talking about in the early 90s. I was too silly to fully grasp the significance of pioneers like A Tribe Called Quest or Rakim to your Mount Rushmore of Rap Legends. I feel now is the time.
From your little brother,