Mass Appeal.

March 2, 2010

Tra here (finally, I know).

People know me for liking hip hop. I dress the part, talk the part, I’m from the right neighborhood (FLATBUSH POSSE!). I go to the shows, buy the albums, I write the rhymes, scribble the tags, make the beats, all that good stuff. Hip Hop as of late has taken on many faces: a soundtrack to rebellion and coming of age, a billion dollar industry, a source of social commentary and a magnet for criticism. Throughout my time at my quiet little prep school, I saw hip hop become an outfit, something that kids grew up and put on, but didn’t live. I was considered, along with my partner in crime Sam, a guru of sorts, and people would regularly ask me random questions about artists and albums, as if I were an encyclopedia. This reaction makes sense; where they were looking into a culture they knew they weren’t of, I seemed to just be it, as simply as I breathed. I wanna take this time to share with you guys the moment that I truly found this hip hop thing, through my encounter with the music of one specific group.

Starting way back, I was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn in the winter of 1991. Hip Hop just was. It wasn’t what played on the radio or what was on BET, it just was. It is very hard to describe to an outsider what this means, but imagine what country music is to someone growing up in the plains of Texas or what the brass band is to someone in the swamps of New Orleans. Everything you see, hear, and feel is synonymous with the music. Its not that art is imitating life, or life is imitating art, but that they are both in a constant race to imitate each other, always just a babyhair apart. Hot 97 was always on somewhere, always within earshot. In that way, I had no choice but to be receptive of this culture, it was my own, more than any other I could conceive. Imagine if you can, someone that has lived in a cave since the day they were born. He understands nothing else. To him, the cave is the extent of existence, and every day whatever the cave brings to him he just naturally absorbs, its his definition of being. This early 90s Flatbush was my cave. I was entirely engrossed, but I was also blind to what was actually around me. It wasn’t the world, it was simply a cave. And it was only until after I had stepped out of the cave that I could truly see its essence, its history, and its beauty.

Fast forward years later, to the fall of 2002. I had just started 6th grade, and in these formulative years one begins to understand their brain as their own, and not just an extension of whatever authority stands in front of them, whether it be a parent or teacher or whatever. At this points I had my own opinions, my own belongings, and began to adopt my own style. In this quest for individuality, I had gained a mild obsession with skateboarding. Now, this is before today’s Skateboard P and Lupe Fiasco drenched hip hop culture where skaters rap and rappers skate. Back then, skateboarding through Flatbush got you looked at like a fucking white boy wannabe faggot, and I had to deal with ridicule more than once because of my unique interest. But still, a persistent pre-teen Matthew subscribed to Transworld Magazine, ran through two Mongoose boards until I finally got a Alien Workshops Heath pro model, and of course, played the shit out of every Tony Hawks Pro Skater game that came out. Now, by the fourth installment, THPS was as famous for its soundtracks as it was for its skating, and I was always attentive to the music in the game (partly because I played it my every waking, non skating moment). And here lies the moment for which I’m writing this post. I just cracked open my copy of THPS4 and was running through a practice session, feeling out the new game, when this began playing from my televisions speakers. Listen for a bit before you continue reading.

“No way, you’ll never make it.”

Those words are etched into my brain more than any others in the English language, because those words took me out of my cave, and let me see it for the first time. Here I was, playing a video game about a hobbie of mine that I had seen as having 0 to do with my culture, and out of it came sounds that spoke to my very essence. The ominous riff, the dusty drums, the sporadic yet intuitive scratches of the vocal sample, and then, in a monotone exclamation capping the entropic experience I found myself in, Guru explained to me what was happening, through those six words and the lyrics that followed. This, I thought, is what my mind sounds like. If I could somehow translate my experiences, my thoughts, my emotions, personality, and spirit, directly into sound, this is what it would sound like. After 12 years of seeing hip hop in myself, just by default and at no self willing, I had finally seen myself in hip hop. I found Matthew Andrew  Trammell, a person that was truly just coming into being, expressed outside of me, to me. At a time when no one truly knows who they are, I had a moment where I completely understood who I was, and what it sounded like. That moment changed my life.

Throughout 6th grade I became avidly obsessed with this song, and later on Gang Starr as a whole. As time would pass I would hunt the music that sounded like this, discovering Illmatic and Reasonable Doubt and Ready to Die and later on Midnight Mauraders and Black on Both Sides and Resurrection and all the classics that have become the Hip Hop Canon. But nothing will ever compare to the moment where I first heard Guru’s voice. That will stand as a pillar in my life, that shaped and continues to shape who I am in the deepest corners of my subconscious, and the most faint images behind my eyes.

It was announced recently that Guru went into cardiac arrest and was in a coma. He just underwent surgery and false rumors of his death spread widely last night on the internet. This news came as a shock to me; since Gang Starr’s last album, Guru has been present barely above a whisper to his most loyal fans, and there was no indication of bad health, such is how these things happen I guess. The thought of him dying, of the world losing his voice, rocked me to the core in a way that I couldn’t understand. That is, until I really thought about what that song, and his voice, meant to my life. Losing it would be losing a part of myself too abstract to articulate and yet to innate to deny. As I pray for the best, I realize I’m hoping for more than one of my favorite artists to pull through. I’m hoping for the world, for me, to never lose Guru’s voice, to lose that moment.

It’s hard to explain.

-Tra

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