‘Da’ What is Hip Hop? – Dumi Right (Editorial)
It is easy to get caught up in what hip hop isn’t nowadays. Midst the f#@%ery that is VMA award shows displaying ridiculous antics, that the music on the radio doesn’t reflect the general opinion, and when hip hop journalists seem like gossip artists… (No shots!) Reading this essay from Dumi Right is refreshing and inspiring. You remember what hip hop REALLY is. Sometime’s an “outsider’s” perspective is exactly what we need. Dumi Right is no outsider but he grew up in Hararae, Zimbabwe and has experienced hip hop in a different way than most of us here in the States have. Dumi RIGHT is a member of the pioneering and groundbreaking hip-hop crew Zimbabwe Legit, one of first rap groups from Africa to make a splash worldwide. This is an amazing read about what hip hop means to him. What hip hop is.
“Harare, Zimbabwe – 1980 something
Hip hop to me is a young dude in high school in a land locked country in Southern Africa without any access to rap records in local record stores or on the radio. We got steady doses of Madonna, The Pet Shop Boys, Sting, The Miami Sound Machine, Whitney Houston and if we were lucky, Midnight Starr. The same went for the music stores, you could buy a vinyl copy of Michael Jackson’s Thriller a few weeks after its release elsewhere in the world but you would NEVER find an album by Whodini, Salt N Pepa, Doug E. Fresh, Public Enemy, Run DMC, Mantronix or never mind Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Crash Crew, Steady B, Eric B and Rakim, Afrika Bambaata or any other of the hip hop gems of that era. Hip hop is finding a way where there is none.
Hip Hop is being so grateful that they brought the movie Breakin’ to local theatres; for us it was titled “Breakdance” since breakin’ would not convey the meaning for audiences outside the US. The movie was interesting and had some great dancing scenes but the story line and romance were typical, cheesy Hollywood clichés with unrealistic plot lines and thin on intrigue and weak on dialogue. We still digested every moment in heavy doses, marveling over Turbo poppin’ to Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody.” We were thrilled, awed and inspired. Remembering that Ice T played the role of the lead MC in the club during a critical battle scene is pretty funny too in retrospect.
Hip Hop is relishing the moment Beat Street came to local theatres, the acting and dialogue were a step up from the movie Breakdance, and loving the rich mix of different dance styles, seeing some of hip hop’s biggest pioneers and artisans do their thing and paying to go back and see the flick in the theatres 6 or 7 times on a grade schooler’s meager allowance. After the movie, our “crew” would thrill theatre goers with a live demonstration of our best moves in the front and even the unreasonable and strict theatre owners would relax their usual impatience because they must have realized that something organic and magical was unfolding as local kids adopted the moves from on screen.
And oh yeah, hip hop is learning to pop and break by gleaning things from videos and movies and watching things over and over again even in slow motion on a VHS tape to learn the moves. Hip hop is forming a b-boy crew and having battles downtown Harare in full view of all the people that had come to ‘burg (the city) to have fun on the weekend. The crews Street Syndicate and Masterforce would lock horns in fierce b-boy battles that unfortunately occurred before the age of YouTube and so are largely forgotten and certainly undocumented on film or even with photos. Outside of our crew I don’t know where hardly any of those guys ended up, whether they are still living, many have passed on, and I don’t know if they still care anything about the hip hop we embraced as youth.
Hip hop is that same kid watching in the background as his brother and cousin hit the radio station and became the first kids in the whole country to have their own songs and rhymes broadcast on the airwaves across the nation. Hip hop is seeing a groundswell begin and having been a front row witness to our own rivalries in the same vein as LL vs. Moe Dee or KRS vs. MC Shan, except this was MC Pep vs. M.A.D or Kenny G from Skies as they fought for rap supremacy in the 80s. Stories also remembered and discussed in oral tradition but having never been formally documented.
Hip Hop is rapping over instrumentals by Ice T, Rakim, Steady B or any other 12″ you could get your hands on as your first foray into MC’ing. Hip hop is putting your batteries in the sun or on the stove to get just a little more juice. Hip hop is splicing a TDK tape that got chewed up in your boy’s boom box using scotch tape and a razor blade to salvage the rare grooves you had worked so hard to discover and dub.
Hip hop is saving up funds to go to a studio to record a demo with my cousin after many creative sessions and brainstorming and songwriting sessions and having just enough for a few hours to record. Catastrophe struck and our source tracks on a TDK cassette tape mailed from a producer overseas got chewed by the in studio tape deck and required several hours of dexterity, patience to repair in order to be able to lay down a series of songs – songs that are also now lost to history.
Hip hop is getting exclusive and elusive packages of records by Afrocentric artists like Queen Latifah, Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers while in Zimbabwe and later venturing to the US and meeting those artists and even dropping records with some of them. Hip hop is where I’m at, where I’m going and where I’m coming from. “The only one that can stop you is yourself and God.”
USA – 1990 something
Hip hop is seeing our group pictured in hip hop artifacts like the book by K. Maurice Jones – Say It Loud! The Story of Rap Music and being thrilled, amazed, honored and humbled as I reflect on the fact that our picture is sandwiched between Gang Starr and KRS ONE. Hip hop is having Zimbabwe Legit get a shout from Educator and Hip Hop Scholar Tricia Rose in her book,The Hip Hop Wars as an example of a progressive crew. Hip hop is getting a resounding endorsement from world renowned poet Nikki Giovanni. Hip hop is “Doin’ Damage in Your Native Language.” Hip hop is a mixtape with some of the illest MCs from all over the globe representing over 40 nations.
Hip hop is sitting by a radio in a cold and dark uptown apartment on vacation from school and recording tapes of underground radio shows like WNYU and WKCR and then bringing back those gems to the isolated college town of Blacksburg and letting your friends hear tracks and introducing them all to this new upcoming group called the Wu Tang Clan and this song called “Method Man”. My roommate listened to it 30 times back to back the first time he heard it, that’s hip hop.
Hip hop is going to the record store on album release Tuesday and copping both Midnight Marauders and Enter the 36 Chambers and having long spirited discussions about which album was hotter.
Hip hop is meeting a producer virtually and connecting for a bonus track remix and establishing a 10 year collaboration that spans some of the greatest work you created. Hip Hop is putting out your own music, on your own terms in the best way that you see fit.
Hip hop is having your two kids in the back seat unprompted start to sing the chorus from one of your songs for which you had no idea that they knew the words. “Scene is like a bad dream, brothers need to wake up, got no use for the excuses that they make up.”
Hip hop is keeping your head up and vowing NEVER to fall off and continuing to remain at the forefront of your craft and even while not receiving commercial and mass media accolades, making meaningful music that continues to be heard around the globe.
Hip hop is being persistent in the face of overwhelming resistance.
Hip Hop is truth, lies, life, death, past, present and future. Hip hop is all of us, none of us.
Hip hop is intelligent, brash, peaceful, aggressive, contradictory, fickle, consistent, multi-faceted, misunderstood, clarifying and confusing.
Hip hop is an art form, a life form, a culture, an art,
Hip hop is not, was not and never will be monolithic.
Hip hop is a VOICE Organizing for International Change and Empowerment.
Hip hop throws stone in a glass house and spits into the wind. Hip hop pulls on superman’s cape just to see if the old adage holds true.
Hip hop is the blind men and the elephant.
Hip hop is not what I say it is but at the same time it is everything I say it is.” – Dumi Right
Ben – @DaWhatBenja @DaWhat