Remember once upon a last April when I wrote this, apparently, “illmatic” attack on the rap industry? What I intended as more of a creative treatment of a wholly personal parenting decision in the form of a break-up letter, for the sake of my young daughters, caught a bit of fire when The Huffington Post re-ran it, and the naysaying haters came out of the comment woodwork.
To be fair, the slew of comments I managed to get through ranged from collegial agreement to venomous vitriol to staunch, but studied, opposition. What surprised me most was how so many readers managed to miss the positive things I had to say about what I see as the positive elements that make up such a vastly varied, and difficult to pigeonhole, genre. (Proof that nobody reads through to the end anymore? Trust me, you’ll want to on this one)
Which is why I was thrilled when the King Of Kid-Hop, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, agreed to spit some of his own, personal, counterpoint over here on the blog. If you are unfamiliar with Skidoo you will certainly want to familiarize yourself with his body of work, (from former tour-mate of notable acts like Run DMC, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and the P Funk All Stars – to reigning champ of the family friendly Kid-Hop Kindie scene) after reading his post and watching him and his daughter flow over go-go infused, homemade hip-hop funk on his hit video at the very bottom.
“With help from dozens of musicians, Skidoo stays lighthearted while rapping about arguments with friends, road trips with families and clouds that race. But his songs recognize the challenges and changes that all kids face growing up, like butterflies in the stomach.”- STEFAN SHEPHERD. NPR
Anyway, he needs no further hype from me. I’ll let him tell you, himself, about the beneficial aspects of the culture and craft as they apply to raising a daughter of his own.
5 REASONS WHY I RAISED MY DAUGHTER A RAPPER
My daughter is witty, funny, style conscious, stubborn, loud, and sometimes self obsessed. Yep…she’s a rapper. For real though. And with all the negative expectation that we battle as dedicated hip hop artists, I want to shine a light on the other side.
Sakara Lyric Sullivan, aka Saki, aka MC Fireworks is now 12, and for the last 7 years she has been a nationally touring rapper. She’s played Lollapalooza, the Smithsonian and the South Bronx, she’s been featured in USA Today and on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and she’s been on an album with Bay area conscious rap king Gift of Gab and on a track with Brooklyn’s own MTV battle rap champion Breez Evahflowin.
After more than a decade of rapping, producing and touring myself, I made the conscious decision when Saki turned 5 to bring her into the creative, controversial, crazy world of Hip Hop. As I now watch her bloom into a rebellious, quick witted headstrong adolescent, I’m still glad I did. Here’s why.
1. HIP HOP IS INDIVIDUALISTIC. Crazy characters, wild names, first person narrative, stories about overcoming the struggle….to quote Nas, “Street dreams are made of these.” All biting and beatjacking aside, rap has always been a world where the most solidly defined individual will stand out. Especially in its origins in the 70s and 80s and in the heyday of the early 90s known as the Golden Age, creativity was king and a well developed persona was the main tool of the trade.
Teaching my daughter to love herself and shine even in the face of adversity while evolving her own unique personality with confidence, sometimes I gotta quote Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest… “Cuz if I don’t say I’m the best, tell me who the hell will?”
2. HIP HOP IS SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS. While it’s true that artists like 2 Live Crew, Lil Jon and Tyler the Creator have made a splash and a pile of cash through manipulation of shock value, some of the most shocking acts have been boldly uncovering the truth and telling stories that aren’t on the news. Public Enemy’s scathing verbal attacks on the inherent racism of Hollywood, the American government and even 911 response times were delivered via the vehicle of funky, memorable anthems. MOS DEF skewered the bungling of the Katrina aftermath in “Katrina Clap”, and most of K’Naan’s career is about mixing the beautiful melodies and rhythms of his African homeland with a true understanding of its present condition.
Saki needs to understand the world she is soon going to occupy as a full fledged citizen, and there’s no better way for her to learn than through the art of passionate scribes speaking out for the unheard.
3. HIP HOP IS BRILLIANT. With literally ten times more lyrics than the average Pop song, a Hip Hop track has more time to fully flesh out its message. And yes, sometimes flesh being fully out is the message, but at its best, Hip Hop is more lyrically philosophical and thorough than any other musical form. On Rakim’s “Mystery (Who is God?)”, the master lyricist begins with a poetic description of the evolutionary origins of the universe, then follows it all the way to the emergence of man from the mind of god. Let’s see Miley Cyrus try that. Del the Funky Homosapien raps on the Gorillaz song, “Clint Eastwood” from the perspective of a ancient spirit released from the snare drum to psychically possess the musicians and spread a mind expanding message of unity. And that managed to be a major radio hit!
Saki’s mind is voracious, and songs like these sharpen her intellect while she dances, almost like a musical form of speed reading. Because it rhymes, she remembers it, and because she remembers it, she thinks about it. The brilliance is contagious.
4. HIP HOP IS ENTREPRENEURIAL. From its history to its practitioners, Hip Hop is a culture that knows how to make something out of nothing. With no instruments except turntables, a musical style was born when godfather DJs like Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc originated the style of playing the breaks from popular dance records in repetition, creating the looped beat that allowed rappers to rap and breakdancers to dance. It was spread at park parties where they used electricity from the streetlights to power their speakers. From those humble beginnings emerged a musical genre as widespread and influential as any in the world. Many rappers came from poverty and desolation and used nothing but their wits and style to end up on top. The story of Hip Hop is that of brilliant underdogs scheming their way to their dreams.
As Saki enters a world of constantly changing business and technological landscapes, I love watching her absorb the spirit of the hustle. At shows, people ask to buy a CD from her and end up walking away with three. That’s my girl!
5. HIP HOP IS POSITIVE. When Africa Bambaataa began making parties happen in the South Bronx in the 70s that would later be known as the very beginnings of Hip Hop culture, he was doing it as an alternative to gang violence. For decades Hip Hop has united communities and spread awareness, both on a personal level and on a cultural and even global level. From the spiritual and intellectual tones of some of the Golden Age’s best and brightest rappers such as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and Queen Latifah, to the political, historical and even dietary diatribes of KRS-ONE and Dead Prez, Hip Hop can use its awesome power for good. Like Superman.
It’s a strange, complex, beautiful and heartbreaking world that Saki is about to jump into, and I don’t want her only ideas of positivity to come from the dumbed down Disney model. There’s a lot to think about as she forms a life, and the sooner she understands her own power, identity and choices, the better.
In conclusion, I have to say that when I was young, I used to hate tomatoes. It was weird…I loved ketchup and tomato sauce, but I hated tomatoes, because they were pasty and pale and disgusting. It wasn’t until many years later that I had an actual real tomato, fresh from an organic garden. This wasn’t the nasty, tasteless, bloated thing I was used to from huge corporate, poisonous mega farms. This was an authentic, beautiful, colorful thing, bursting with healthiness and flavor. And I loved it.
I’m not gonna try to tell you that most Hip Hop isn’t of the tasteless, poisonous, mega farmed variety. I’m just gonna tell you that I’m raising my kid on the good stuff. And she loves it.
Peep these skills!