|I am Jack's Inner Aging B-Boy. I was born - and I say this proudly - in the
early 70s. I am a Hip Hop Geezer. An Old-Fogey Emcee. I am DJ Geritol
surrounded by a bunch of Similac turntablists. Can you imagine how hard it is
that I, finally approaching the cusp of being one of the "thirty year olds,"
am considered old to my fellow hip hop aficionados?
It's absurd. Atrocious. Ironic. And tragically comical. I am Jack's Hip Hop
The tragedy lies in the sole fact that I knew it would happen to me. I too
once frowned upon anyone claiming to be a "head" (hip-hop fan) that looked a
little advanced in age. When I was at the tender age of 16, anyone who was 21
or older was a walking fossil. To me, they were living monuments to times
pasts - human tape recorders and flesh colored camcorders. I would pick their
brain, thirsty to learn what these wise "old" sages knew of the art I coveted
so highly. They were learning at the same rate I was but all I could think
about was how "old" they were.
Hip hop in the mid to late 80s was evolving and I was approaching
adolescence. I didn't catch the bug until 1984. The first song I heard was
not "The Message" from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five but actually
"Sucker MCs" from Queens, NY-based legends, Run-DMC. I was listening to a
rather popular "rap" (as we called it then - we're way too snobbish and elite
to call it anything but hip hop now) on a DC-based AM radio program hosted by
DJ Conan. There were live "rapper against rapper" battles over the phone no
less and loads of 12-inch singles from the likes of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,
Busy Bee and a smattering of other artists I'm much too elderly to recall.
From the moment I heard DJ (now a reverend) Run speak the first lines of that
classic song, I was hooked. Hip hop has had its hold on me since then, and it
refuses to let go to this day - my golden years so to speak.
(Note: Dr. Jekyll is now Mr. Andre Harrell, a powerful musical figure who was
once boss to Sean "P-Diddy" Combs)
Irony is a precursor to tragedy and, likewise tragedy could be comedy's dark
twin. What else does a man turn to when he's at his wit's end? He goes into
escapes, he finds diversions and, sometimes, he finds humor at the end of his
virtual rainbow. Hip hop has been and will always be that for me, my grand
escape. Even as my fellow fans get younger and younger (do I thank Lil Bow
Wow for that or my careless age group and our own baby-making boom?), I can't
help but still feel 18. Whenever I hear the first "boom-boom-bap" of a song,
I am transported back to my bedroom in Marlow Heights. I am in the hot room
with all my tapes, the rewards of my burger-flipping, mixtape-constructing,
lawn-cutting efforts. I am hearing through my headphones some of the sweetest
sounds I could ever imagine. I don't even hear my mother calling at the top
of her very powerful lungs. I am in total symbiosis with the music. Nirvana.
At that point, I could've won a million bucks and I wouldn't have moved until
Rakim dropped his last verse.
Yet still, I am ancient to these young cats. They ask little in the way of
questions because they have an advantage I didn't have growing up: The
Internet. The Internet is probably the only place you'll find raging debates
on the quality, purpose and other esoteric items relating to Hip hop Culture.
It is a landmine of topics, arguments, rumors and innuendo - not unlike real
life yet vastly different and way more intrusive. I've tried to discuss hip
hop with today's "experts," the mouse-clicking George Bancrofts of hip hop
lore if you will. It starts off leisurely enough, you and this person you'll
never meet (and may not care to) discussing your points back and forth with
not one hitch. Then comes the "backpacker" - this ugly term that was brought
about because of the late 90s "underground" hip hop resurgence - a person
who literally lives, eats and breathes nothing but "the real hip hop." He
usually dresses in what amounts to B-Boy grunge gear. Sweats, sneakers and
the requisite knapsack are part of the uniform. Hats cocked ever so slightly,
shirts adorned with Indie (Read: Independent or "underground) artists' logos
and the like. Basically, you can't tell this person a thing because they've
already downloaded the answers.
They're funny actually. Many that I personally encounter don't know that I've
participated in every "pillar" in hip hop. Those four pillars, breakdancing,
graffiti, DJ-ings (and, in some ways, turntablism) and MC-ing (rapping), are
the markers for being "down"...I guess. I'm aware that because I'm in my late
20s with career plans currently being accomplished and look more corporate
conservative, I am considered less of a hip hop "authority."
I recall one time on U. St in DC, my colleague and I were coming from work.
We were wearing our "power blues," the uniforms of corporate America and we
wore them proudly. Hell, we earned the right to do so. As we pass by a
popular area nightclub, State Of The Union, I see some guys in a circle (a
cipher for the uninitiated) trading verses. We stopped and I hop out of the
vehicle, briefcase in hand, and joined in. Simply put, I dazzled these young
cats that were, quite incidentally, just starting out. Clearly the veteran, I
used a valued trick of the MC trade - freestyling - and just relied on my
gift of words from that point on. Afterwards I gave pointers and notes to
these "young " men about how they could better their flows. They listened
intently and I felt proud - that is until one of them asked why I was wearing
a suit and asked my age. I stated the number of years I've toiled on this
earth and they all looked at me as if I were a mummy. It seems age matters in
hip hop a lot. Do I need to mention that all of these guys were the tender
age of 18. I guess once you get past 19, you should start requesting you
Social Security checks pronto.
I just can't win, can I?
But I understand the reasons behind it. I was once the snot-nosed MC, eager
to wage battle and test my knowledge against older heads. I wanted to one-up
anyone who claimed to love hip hop like I did. I wanted to best them in their
own realm - the one we all help shape to this day. But we old guys have
heroes. KRS-1, considered by many to be the best ever, is well into his 30s
with wife and children. Chubb Rock, holder of a Master's Degree and devoted
husband, is well into his 30s although we rarely get to hear his formidable
skills. Rakim Allah, my personal favorite MC, is 31 years young with a
family. The duo of Gangstarr (Guru and DJ Premier) - college-educated men
approaching the big 40 - makes a fine example that age means nothing in this
game. I could go on and on about past 30-years old MCs, many with day jobs
and families, that are still good, if not better, than their younger peers.
It still doesn't change the fact that I'm getting older. I'm starting to get
that old-guy pouch and I'll be a fool to try a windmill in the shape I'm in.
But I'm proud of how far I've come loving the culture as hard as I have. It's
been good and bad to me, this hip hop thing. I probably wouldn't have been so
thin in high school had I not spent weeks of saved lunch money on Public
Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and others. In the end, it was very well worth
I'm a lot chunkier now, I found a gray hair or three and perhaps I could
stand to cut down on the java. I still know more than any of these seemingly
proficient hip hop neophytes. They haven't even gotten to the best part yet
and I'm still learning from my elders. I might be an old man in hip hop
years, but my mind is better for it. The young people will understand soon
enough. Give it a decade.
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