Updated: Aug 19, 2021
I grew up in a household where music was everywhere. Way before I even knew what Hip Hop was, my mother was digging in the crates. She had a massive collection of ’60s and ’70s R&B and Soul records, and she was always on the lookout for more.
I remember being dragged to thrift stores early mornings on the weekend. And the joy on Mama’s face as she would comb meticulously through stacks and stacks of records. It never seemed like she was looking for anything in particular, but I always knew when she found a gem. Her face would light up with a happiness I rarely saw in everyday life.
Her record collection was one of the lenses from which I would come see the world. It was that integral to my life. From breaking her records as I failed to catch one thrown at me as an imaginary frisbee or ninja star from one of my brothers. Having my first crush on a grown woman in the form of Chaka Khan on an album cover. The way Sunday cleaning seemed to go faster when listening to ‘Songs in the Key of Life.’ These were amongst my fondest memories from childhood. And then there was Marvin
Marvin Gaye looked like he had been through a lot. To my child’s eyes, he looked sad. And as a kid from California on the cover of ‘What’s Going On,’ Marvin Gaye looked cold. When I was old enough to ask about the man on the album cover, Marvin Gaye was dead.
The album cover for “What’s Going On” looked like a movie. For the longest time as a kid, I assumed it was. The grizzled man looking towards the distance, asking a question he already knew the answer to. Hoping the answer is somehow different. But it somehow never is. Still, he asks. And I listened.
Mama didn’t play a lot of Marvin Gaye albums, and I don’t even know why. I grew up to learn about the clean-cut crooner. The one who could drive the girls crazy by just holding a note. The one that would collaborate on whole albums with equally pretty and talented Tami Terrel. But that Marvin I didn’t know till later. When it came to being played in our household, only one record got into the rotation. And “What’s Going On” was it.
Mercy me, This album sounded like the world was falling apart. It was scary but beautiful at the same time. I didn’t fully understand it when I was young, but I knew something was wrong. And I didn’t know if it could be fixed. It sounded as if Marvin hoped it could. And because he believed I did too.
Years passed, but time did not stop. It never does. The so-called Crack Epidemic made headlines and black boogeymen at the same time. Immune systems proved deficient; way after, orgasms were forgotten. Multiple wars, multiple recessions, can’t eat tuna; fish filled with mercury. I still believed.
First black president of African descent, police punishing with brutality. Our military fighting battles daily because the war never really ends, even when your home. Weapons of Mass destruction massively destroy millions. Black lives brought to you live by the nightly news, pleading the obvious, getting tear-gassed and gaslighted. What’s Going On?
Mom passed away. Her albums, either broken or in someone else’s collection. My brother, a DJ, kept that part of her alive. He passed away a year later. I rap.
I first got into hip hop in junior high school. Almost immediately, I started performing. I was a horrible rapper in 8th grade. I was trying to be gangster in a town filled with G’s.
Bang, Bang shot you down/ You just got your ticket to the underground/ The underground I’m talking about ain’t the streets G/ The underground I’m talking about is 6 feet deep/ 8 shots to the head/ man I knew that nigga was dead/ All because of a fight, fools trying to prove they might/But they don’t play the game right/ So they started to run Oh No!!! He got a gun!!!/ One shot, two shot, three-shot dang/ And everyone with a bang/ And the nigga that thought he was bad to the bone/ Got his name etched out in a tombstone
I tried my best to marry the conflict I had with gangster rap and how my parents raised me. To come up with a dope track. My bars were off, as you can see. Hopefully, no one still has that song. The group was called Juvenile Style. I kept rapping.
In high school, I started getting into underground hip hop. Souls of Mischief, The Pharcyde, Wu-tang Clan, Black Moon, Nas, and so many others who put out dope music between 93-97. I kept rapping.
I went to college in Atlanta and met some of the most creative and ambitious people I have ever come into contact with. I got involved in the game’s business side, promoting music, going to shows, and expanding the range and style of artists I listened to. I kept rapping.
Back in San Diego, I joined a music collective. For about a decade, I continued my musical journey. I met people who continue to use their passions to make our city better for all. I stopped rapping.
Life goes on. I got married. I had kids. My past was becoming more and more distant. But the world kept going.
As I mentioned earlier, my mother died, and my brother died a year after her. My grandfather passed away a year after my brother. I was named after him—the most challenging 3 year period of my life. I still don’t rap.
The Trump presidency normalized in public discourse what America has always been just politely tucked away in the shadows of acceptability. In many hearts but rarely spoken. The country exploded. What’s Going On?
Marvin’s hope was proving misplaced. He was right about the world falling apart. We have seen this movie before. There have been way too many sequels. I started rapping. I wanted to honor the music I grew up listening to. I wanted to honor the people who shaped me. I wanted to keep the craft I spent years pursuing.
Dyskreet, Acromic, MYO, Pheonix, Spurge, and Marvin, thank you for helping make this vision even a possibility. Mixtape coming soon. I’m rapping.