Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Audacity of Hip-Hop

When I was about eleven years old, one of the more highly regarded older kids asked me what kind of music I liked. I didn't know what to say. My parents usually had the radio tuned to the oldies station but I wasn't going to embarrass myself and say, "Oldies!" So instead I said, "Michael Jackson!" I still got made fun of because in Utah most kids were into heavy metal.
During my public education years, the diversity in Utah was nearly non-existent. I remember only two other Pacific Islanders that were my age in grade school. As a child I listened to music either according to what my parents or friends listened to but the music didn't really connect with me, I mostly liked it because of peer pressure.

My childhood and teenage years were a much different experience than nearly all of my peers and my musical tastes tended to coincide with those same experiences. In my life experience I really wasn't worried about love, cars, parties etc. My top concerns were helping my parents make enough money so we could eat. There wasn't any genre of music that related to that experience until I heard hip-hop.

Not only did the subject matter connect but the beats as well. The beats hit hard like life. Then if they threw in horn samples, I felt like Rocky when I listened to them.  Sometimes they had an eire treble to them which somehow connected to me because of how strange my life was. I used to subconsciously bob my head with them. While driving, people would constantly be staring at me bobbing my head in the next car. Sometimes they would even mock me by mimicking me.

I remember one day I had called my father and told him I wanted to go on a church mission for two years. He advised me that I should graduate college first. I couldn't disobey him and felt ashamed of all that I had done wrong in my life. I drove to First Dam in Logan and parked. Staring at the stars through the sunroof, I cried to God. The mix tape I was playing suddenly started to play 'Juicy' by Notorious B.I.G.

When Biggie, aka Notorious B.I.G., started rapping, "Yeah, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I'd never amount to nothin'…
and all the brothas in the struggle, you know what I'm sayin'?" I felt like he was talking to me. Biggie continued on, "Born sinner, the opposite of a winner
Remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner." With all the sardines, or pilikaki as my dad called it, that I ate in my lifetime I felt like dis dude and I connected. Then the chorus came on:
"You know very well who you are
Don't let em hold you down, reach for the stars"

There I was staring at the stars, praying and this lady was singing to me 'reach for them.'

That song hit me in the right place at the right time. Over the years hundreds of different lyrics and hip-hop songs have connected to me like that night. I remember Nas saying, "that buck that bought the bottle could have struck the lotto." Those words said to me to have a positive attitude and not wallow in the sadness of a bottle. Wu-Tang had a song called 'Triumph' that most the rappers just bragged about their skills. I remember feeling their passion and feeling how I could triumph over anything. Phife Dawg, on the song called 'Wordplay', said, "cuz if I don't say I'm the best who the h@$# will?" After hearing that a young unconfident kid from West Valley started to gain self-esteem to the point where he could write to the University newspaper and express the unfairness that his hip-hop CD got kicked out of the weight room stereo for a 311 CD.

To me the old, true hip-hop is underdog music. I feel like my whole life is an underdog story. I find it hard to relate with the privileged, entitled or coddled. Hip-hop music, to me, is always at it's best when the artist is so hungry that all the passion and emotion comes out.

My father went to prison and I quit school to go on a mission. While working to save money my brother and I had previously both formed a hip-hop group, ATP or Afakasi Posse(we thought afakasi was spelled afatasi). Now we both wrote a lot and battled each other on the mic a lot. It will probably sound lame so I'm going to edit some in order to not get too preachy but here are some of the lyrics I wrote during that time of struggle:

Since the day I was risen/ pops had us under oppression/...
foolish pride had him wreckless/ he held the whole family strangled and breathless/
the media set forth a lifestyle/ of big money bling-bling and high profiles/
Had him captured in the chains of hell/ nearly dragged to an eternal fell
Taking down the family as well/ the youngest had courage to rebel/ as the heavens started to swell
With prayers and tears to fill wells/ ... My pops was soon alone in a cold cell
After the nuclear explosion/ and destruction by erosion
Rises the phoenix from the dust/ with eyes lowered and wings tucked
This constant opposition/ got my muscles ripplin'
An' I'm ready to start fire/ runnin' on straight desire

It might seem lame but to me it signified to me that even through the tragedy we would all arise out of it, like a Phoenix out of the ashes.

Fast-forward to February '11, without hands, driving down the street in 'Ol Betsy, I found myself in the toughest underdog situation I had ever experienced. One song that hit me hard was 'All of the Lights' by Kanye West. 
When this song came on my immediate thoughts were to tell everyone to turn their spotlights on me because I'm about to do something amazing. I'm about to make a comeback from loosing my hands. For the most part the words that stand out to me are, " turn on the lights in here babyTurn up the lights in here, baby
Extra bright, I want y'all to see this
Turn up the lights in here, baby
You know what I need, want you to see everything
Want you to see all of the lights!" I vowed while I cried right there to show everyone, just put the lights on me.

The other song that connected with me was 'The Show Goes On' by Lupe Fiasco. Most of the lyrics hit me but the third verse particularly:
"So no matter what you been through
No matter what you into
No matter what you see when you look outside your window
Brown grass or green grass
Picket fence or barbed wire
Never ever put them down
You just lift your arms higher
Raise em till’ your arms tired
Let em’ know you’re their
That you struggling and survivin’ that you gonna persevere
Yeah, ain’t no body leavin, no body goin’ home
Even if they turn the lights out the show is goin’ on!"

It says to me that the playing field may be unfair but the last thing I'm going to do is quit. Again, while tears streamed down my face I was inspired to keep pushing even when it got hard.
Hip-Hop's origin is that of coming out of adverse conditions and when it comes out there are sometimes diamonds in it. Those diamonds brang hope to a hopeless me and deserve partial credit for any success I may have achieved.

That is why, even when on my mission with companions that despised hip-hop, I defended it. It is why when a young man gets up in front of the congregation and says all hip-hop is evil, I instantly say to myself, "that kid doesn't know what the hell he's talking about!" It is why when I hear a prominent African-American, who sings in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, say, "99.9% of all hip-hop is bad!" in front of a large audience at the tabernacle, I
instantly reject that thought. Because sometimes hip-hop or music can give someone a power that, in my opinion, is second only to love, hope. That is one of the powers of music.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Joe glad you liked it. Can't wait to shoot that commercial :) I'm growing a beard as of right now. Cant guarantee it too long though

  2. Uso (bro), we share the same understanding of life's struggles and how it relates to hip-hop. I love hip-hop for the same reason and how it's a tool to get me through life in a positive way. Like you said "oppositions"'ll always be a flip coin in life's situations. Thanks for sharing your life's experiences. And blogging about it, could help those going through the same thing.

    Thank you,

    1. Sole, glad you enjoyed! Thanks for reading and posting a comment. It really helps me to hear encouragement and I wanna write more.
      Fa'afetai tele lava

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks for the positive feedback. I need to hear it to help motivate me so thanks