Tag Archives: Hip Hop

My Layered Love for Kanye the Artist

Post written: January 5th, 12am.

Sooooo I was supposed to be editing my essay right now but instead i am following Kanye’s epic rant currently occurring on Twitter.  Why is this more important than editing an essay on the community organizing of African Diasporic women in Toronto as part of my application to Graduate School (deadline in two days)?  It’s not.  But I’m caught up.  And Kanye has inspired all of this creative energy that academia cannot currently satisfy.

The magic and twisted sickness of social media that allows you to feel connected to someone you have never ever met and probably never will…is scary…yet…boundary breaking.

It is so crazy that Kanye is ranting like this hours after I started and then deleted a post I was preparing to write about my love for him (instigated by my avid fascination with his VOYR video diaries – a behind-the-scenes look at the Watch the Throne tour).  This is a love for Kanye the Artist, not Kanye the Man.  I cannot speak on Kanye the man, because I have never met him and  maybe never will, which is totally ok. I am not particularly interested in speculating on who he sleeps with, how he feels or why he does what he does, in a gossip-column/reality-tv style which although sometimes entertaining (I am definitely guilty of watching more than a few segments of Wendy Williams’ Hot Topics) often leaves me feeling as though I lost brain cells between the time I started and the time it ended.

But I do retain the rights to my initial intention for posting.  I love Kanye.

I think it is a generally agreed upon fact that he’s a love him/hate him kind of figure in pop culture.  But I know that a lot of people – especially people who try to create simplistic categorization in Hip Hop like “conscious vs. mainstream rap” (which I hate – maybe that’s a rant for another post) – generally assume I would be on the hate him bandwagon due to my affinity/identification with Black feminism, community activism, alternative education, critical analysis, etc.

Nope. Wrong Assumption.  I love him.

The adrenaline is running…I don’t know if I can even get to sleep now…from Wall St. to the London riots to Chicago murders…I sit everyday and ask what can I do to make a difference…” – Kanye

Now don’t get me wrong.  It is a critical love.  It is a turbulent love.  It is a love that comes with pain and sometimes…a little embarrassment.  But it is also an inspiring love.  A love that can sometimes provide me with motivation.

And that to me is what makes Kanye so special.  He invokes sooo many feelings inside of me because he brings such a layered, nuanced, complex and raw way of being that I cannot compare to anyone else in current Hip Hop/popular culture. 

I mourn the departure of College Dropout Kanye and recognize with sadness that he will never and can never return to that person again.  I also screamed and rhymed along with every song until my voice was hoarse for Watch the Throne Kanye two months ago at the Air Canada Centre.

His video for Monster made me cringe and hurt inside, wondering why he would conceptualize female bodies as lifeless props and reflecting on where all of this twisted misogynistic hatred for women inside of him derives from.  However his performance of Power on Saturday Night Live left me speechless; captivated by the beauty, brilliance, passion and simplicity that he created utilizing the female form through ballet.

His infamous interruption of Taylor Swift made me embrrassed inside for him as I saw him stumble and stutter.  His interruption of Mike Myers during Hurricane Katrina made me raise a fist in the air nodding encouragement through his stumbling and stuttering and whispering affirmations of “Yes Kanye…tell them!” at my TV screen.

Kanye’s 2009 short film made with director Spike Jonze “We Were Once a Fairytale” left me feeling so sad and disturbed me for days wondering about his mental health and the risks of creating on the edge as an artist.   His 2011/2012 VOYR video diaries leave me with energy and inspiration that make me forget small things like my need for sleep as I become more comfortable answering my desire to create, create and create…

I’m on a pursuit of awesomeness.  Excellence is the bare minimum.” – Kanye

What is the purpose of an artist if not to invoke feeling? To challenge? To push? To go to the uncomfortable places and expose the beauty and the ugliness and everything in between? So much of Hip Hop and mainstream media in general is boring because it is about superficial commercial nothingness – it sold out to the institutions that continue to demand the dehumanization of the population in order to maintain our acquiescence to the status quo.  As a result FEELINGS – real feelings, real expression of the layered and raw feelings we all have all the time, feelings that push us into action and movement – they are not given space to breathe…they are dismissed as crazy…maybe it is crazy to want to feel in this world.

It’s crazy and its delusional before it comes to fruition. You always gotta see the end goal. Everything else, just fill in the blanks.” – Kanye

So yes.  I love Kanye.  It was at the Watch the Throne concert in November as I watched him run from one end of the stage to another in a black leather kilt that I realized I could no longer deny our love (yes I said our love not because I’m crazy but because I believe he has put love out and I am returning it into universal energy…and maybe because I am crazy).  Jay-Z is  a legend.  His following is cult-like and his swag is out-of-this-world-undeniable as only someone with his story can own and wear.  But Kanye…he just had me going WITH HIM.  He invites everyone to come with him on the epic emotional rollercoaster of raw creativity that is his artistry – for better or for worse.  As Shad K said on Kanye in a recent Watch the Throne Concert review: “He just cares more.”  ❤

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Reflections on Hip Hop Authenticity: Giving Props to the Jane and Finch Female Cypher

When my best friend Natasha Daniel and I started Lost Lyrics back in 2007, we described ourselves as an “alternative education through Hip Hop” movement.  Since then we have expanded our scope to include a variety of arts-based tools of learning.  However when we were using that tag line, we would get challenged left, right and centre over whether we were “authentic” enough to be leading a movement that was based in Hip Hop. Countless numbers of men would approach us all the time and “test” our knowledge of the culture, creating all of these universal benchmarks that if we did not reach, then we were not “allowed” to name ourselves as part of Hip Hop.

Example: “Real talks, if you don’t know the lyrics to every single track on 36 Chambers, then I don’t know if you should be teaching the yutes about Hip Hop.”

It became even more consistent when I started working at The Remix Project .  I was the only woman working in a full-time position at this organization that at the time was dubbed “the old boys club”.  Since then, other women have been hired and the organization has grown immensely in a variety of ways, but that first year was all about testing: testing from fellow staff members, participants, graduates, mentors…testing to prove that I was “worthy” of occupying this space.

I have never named myself as a Hip Hop Head…but I am definitely invested and lay claim to this culture; this culture informs my politics, my art, my way of life.  The very fact that me and Tash had the audacity/courage/ovaries to believe that we can build a movement from the ground up based in our own stories and the stories of our students IS HIP HOP.  I am now confident enough to refute the attempts of any individual to define what my authenticity within Hip Hop is – regardless of how many albums they own, concerts they have gone to, articles they have written, or “temples” they have created.

I hold my own…but there are still spaces that remain elusive for me.

I am thankful that I grew up in the Queen Latifah-TLC-Aaliyah-Foxy Brown-Lauryn Hill generation. I know that the swag of these ladies helped me to shape my own layered and complex construction of femininity in Hip Hop and the world at large.  I consistently borrowed from their who you calling a bitch-crazy, sexy, cool-age ain’t nothin but a number-Il Na Na-Ex-Factor-sensuality  as I tried to navigate and define who I was in my style, my relationships and my sexuality.

BUT it still took me 8 years after high school to break my freestyling virginity and step into a cypher for the first time.  Even (or perhaps especially) as an adult, there remained so much anxiety around whether this was a space I was allowed to/able to access and whether I was “authentic” or “skilled” enough to hold it down.  That anxiety still exists to some degree.

I really wish that when I was in middle school, or high school or that even in 2007 when we were first starting Lost Lyrics, that I had seen footage like this: basement garage footage of really young ladies just a few blocks away from my home not proving themselves but BEING THEMSELVES, holding their own space and telling their own stories, without apology…and doing it with so much swag 🙂

Thank you to the ladies of the Jane and Finch Cypher: I’m definitely inspired.

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Revolutionary Love, Revolutionary Courage and Revolutionary Joy

The roots of rap music can be found in numerous locations and one them is definitely in the church: that pastor-on-the-pulpit style of oration that is found in so many churches rooted in the African American community has the rhythm, cadence, rhyme and style of so many Hip Hop freestyles. Dr. Cornel West takes that style and spits so much knowledge in this recent speech made on the 30 year anniversary of Mumia Abu Jamal‘s incarceration.

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Filed under Politics