Getting out `Message' about power of hip-hop

First Person

February 03, 2008|By Felicia Pride | Felicia Pride,Special to The Sun

When I tell people I've written a book called The Message that extracts life lessons from hip-hop music, I receive a multitude of responses.

True hip-hop heads get it. Most of them wonder why such a book hasn't already been written.

Old-school hip-hoppers, those who relish the golden era of the music, usually cock their head to the side, check out my young face, and ask, "What do you know about hip-hop?"

At that point, I usually prove that I've done a little homework by name-dropping recognized hip-hop godfathers like Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. Other times I remind my elders that because a song was recorded before I came of age doesn't mean I can't appreciate it.

But the other response, which is equally common on faces of all colors, is a look of disgust. That's when I have to throw on my educator hat.

Many folks only know about hip-hop through the lenses of BET, or more frighteningly, they take their cues from some misguided media outlet or personality such as Bill O'Reilly, the one-man hip-hop wrecking crew.

In fact, some of my black elders will make sweeping generalizations like, "There's nothing redeemable about hip-hop."

Talk about believing the hype.

Hip-hop isn't perfect. It has issues just like you and I -- serious issues.

I'm sick of unintelligible rappers who worship the holy trinity of chicks, crack and cash; the mainstay of half-naked women in the average rap video; and the selling of souls for a few bucks.

But that's not hip-hop's entire story.

I've sat on more than a few hip-hop versus everything panels where the discussion goes in circles and no clear action plans emerge. I find the good versus bad conversations too simple. I'm a rather complex woman who understands that I can learn from other people's triumphs as much as I can from their mistakes. At its finest, hip-hop is an artistic medium that can accomplish such a task.

Plus, complaining isn't really my style. I'm a hip-hopper. We show and prove.

In The Message, I set out to demonstrate the power in the music; to share my hip-hop and what it's done for me. If hip-hoppers don't reclaim our culture, who will?

Since I can remember, I've deconstructed the themes in songs to uncover the bigger picture (a skill that came in handy during my graduate literature courses) and have quoted hip-hop lyrics to explain situations in my life.

In my day-to-day life, I rely on songs such as Eric B. and Rakim's "Paid in Full," where the revered MC spits, "Thinkin' of a master plan/Cuz ain't nuthin' but sweat inside my hand." Or I will claim a lyric as my motivational mantra du jour like, "I shall, proceed/and continue, to rock the mic" from "Proceed" by the Roots.

The Message highlights songs like the ones above that hold meaning in my life, offer words of wisdom or provide thoughtful affirmations. Each lesson in the book is named after a hip-hop song, and I fuse personal experiences with the rappers' messages.

In an entry inspired by Jay-Z's "Where I'm From," I discuss my Baltimore upbringing and how I understand the true meaning of representing my hometown.

Another life lesson is derived from the classic hip-hop joint "The Choice is Yours" by Black Sheep. In this entry I discuss the power of personal choice and how it can positively or negatively affect our lives.

2Pac is also represented in the book through his song "Words of Wisdom," when I write about the importance of lifelong learning.

Melle Mel's "White Lines" prompts a discussion on the multifaceted consequences that drugs have on users, their families and the community.

LL Cool J's "I Need Love" provides an exploration on the importance of that four-letter feeling in the hardened lives that we lead.

Hip-hop is built upon sampling. Thus, I've taken individual songs with messages, pieced them together and created an eclectic literary mix-tape that features a range of artists including Queen Latifah, Notorious B.I.G., Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, Lauryn Hill, as well as MCs you won't hear on your favorite urban radio station, such as the underrated duo Little Brother and West Coast group the Coup.

These artists provided inspiration for me to explore an array of themes such as spirituality, relationships, family dynamics, faith, hope, ambition, politics and love.

In writing The Message, my initial goal was to share with the world why I love hip-hop. But through the process, I learned that I love hip-hop because it has empowered me to deal with the dynamic of life in all its good, bad and ugliness. The joys and the pains.

When I say we can learn from hip-hop, I really mean we can learn from one another.

Felicia Pride is a freelance writer for UniSun. "The Message" is her first book. She has written a novella for the young adult anthology "Hallway Diaries." She is an all-around bibliophile, who reads, writes, blogs and critiques on her Web site, feliciapride.com.

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