+ By Rahsaan “Wordslave” Eldridge + Illustrations by Andrew Katz
You never thought that hip hop would take it this far . . .
– from “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G. (né Christopher Wallace)
August 11, 1973 is recognized as the day that hip-hop was born. Kool Herc is considered the founding father, and other early pioneers, including Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa, helped usher in the culture by developing dj-ing techniques as well as cultivating environments that embraced and encouraged expression through the movement of break dancing, the visual art of graffiti, and of course emceeing. These elements grew and spread from the streets of New York into a global force that inspired an emcee in Baltimore to use it to teach the youth, took a kid from Annapolis High School to sharing the stage with some of his musical heroes, and once got an awkward teen in Ft. Washington, Maryland, up off the wall to eventually travel the world, in part, off the strength of the rhymes he wrote.
I wasn’t at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in August of 1973 but the effect of Kool Herc’s work on the turntables that day far surpasses a few teenagers bumping and grinding in an apartment rec room. A simple back-to-school jam thrown by Cindy and Clive Campbell in the Bronx, New York birthed a cultural movement that has evolved into a billion-dollar global industry. But before hip-hop was big business, at its core, it was cultural expression. That culture has transcended the boroughs of New York and now, 50 years later, is being celebrated around the world, including here in Maryland.
Jamaal “Black Root” Collier remembers being “born into Hip Hop in November of 2000,” when a college roommate played “Africa Dream,” featuring Brooklyn emcee Talib Kweli. After the experience, he started taking the art of freestyle more seriously. He hosted rap battles in Towson University’s student union building, and started writing rhymes, recording, and performing at local shows in Baltimore. He’s now an international performer and full-time teaching artist who uses hip-hop as a vehicle to support cognition and induce active listening and critical thinking skills. Hip-hop did that.
Big Slop (Spittin’ Lyrics On Point) remembers his initiation as a rap fan when, as a child, he saw Public Enemy on TV at his grandmother’s house. He was drawn to the powerful vocal delivery of front man Chuck D and the brash production style of The Bomb Squad, the group’s in-house production team. He didn’t know then that he would become an artist, but at that moment, he fell in love with rap music. As a student at Annapolis High School, his known appreciation for rap music led a friend of his to commission a rap about their lacrosse team. At the time, Andy Hall wasn’t an artist, but he’d been rhyming along with his favorite rappers and figured he understood cadence and flow, so he obliged and wrote his first rhyme. Since then, he’s developed his own style and has opened up for some of his heroes, including Redman and The Roots. He’s currently an emcee and percussionist for the Annapolis-based band The Grilled Lincolns, who perform at some of the premier venues between Washington, Annapolis, and Baltimore. Hip-hop did that.
- raised on hip hop –
cereal bowl of crunch berries
at mama’s kitchen counter
will put much flava in ya ear!
In the fall of 1994, an acne-faced middle schooler attended a neighbor’s house party. He’d moved over the summer, so he didn’t really know his classmates or most of the people at the party. He stood alone, hands in his pockets, holding up the wall. Conversation was sparse, clumsy, and awkward. Then the dj dropped one of the biggest rap hits of the year, Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear”:
“Just like Uniblab . . .”
When the beat dropped with that boisterous opening line, the party exploded! Guys and girls put down their Fantas® and rushed the floor with jaws dropped and hands waving in the air. The awkwardness and teenage angst melted into sweat on the dance floor, where the middle schooler spent the rest of the party. That once shy teenager, now called Wordslave, has traveled the world as a performer, and is a five-time author, singer, emcee, and front man of his own band. Seems he just needed an icebreaker, and hip-hop did that. █