I did not grow up around Hip Hop. I did not discover her until I was in 5th grade. But I was immediately captivated when I first heard her voice. It was love at first hearing, and my love has never waned.
People often state that music has the power to deeply influence people, the power to reach someone’s soul. Hip hop has touched me in this way; I have often told friends that Hip Hop saved my life.
My love for Hip Hop has also left many people dumbfounded. They can’t see someone like me, an Asian immigrant to the United States, finding solace in something that is engrained in Black culture. I guess they figured I was too busy solving algebra and physics equations, as the stereotype goes.
My parents were one of these astonished people. They couldn’t understand why their son was so fascinated by what they saw, at the time, as people talking really fast with curse words. Why didn’t I catch on to classical, jazz, or rock & roll?
Honestly, I can’t provide an answer to that question either. Hip Hop is an art form created by black folks out of the struggle and marginalization they felt under white American society; and for some reason, when I first heard Hip Hop, I deeply identified with that. That feeling has always been a part of my love for Hip Hop; indeed, it was what made me love Hip Hop. Maybe it was because I was an immigrant, maybe it was because I felt different in a white world, or maybe it was because I’ve been through mental traumas in my life. Even though I can never identify with the black struggle in America that led to the creation and continuation of Hip Hop, I empathized with it, and I knew what it felt like to be different from the mainstream.
50 Cent was the one who really got me hooked. 5th grade was when 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ came out, and man, did that album mesmerize me. “In Da Club” was my favorite song, and I tried to recite every lyric on that album. It was also during this time when I would come home from school excited to watch 106 & Park with Free and AJ. I remember “In Da Club” was on top of the charts for weeks, alongside B2K’s “Girlfriend.”
It was from 106 & Park where I would learn more about Hip Hop. There was a day during the show when the “New Joint of the Day” was Talib Kweli’s ”Get By.” It was my first time hearing Kweli. Little did I know he would be one of my favorite artists and “Get By” would become one of my favorite songs.
When I was in 8th grade, I had a humanities teacher that was also a college student. We bonded really close as friends, and she told me that she spent time performing as an underground rapper. It was her that introduced me to Black Star (and I reconnected with Talib Kweli) and Dead Prez. Musically, I was radicalized. I fell in love with this brand of Hip Hop.
As such, I explored the genre on my own. I discovered Common, Erykah Badu, The Fugees, The Roots—all of which would become tremendous influences. When Kanye West came out, I was thrilled to see an artist that delivered the message like he did. Similarly, two years ago, I was elated to see Kendrick Lamar release his debut album.
I’m not sure what prompted me to write about my story with Hip Hop, but I felt an urge to. Perhaps it is because people denigrate the art, or disrespect it. The art is increasingly becoming white, and it is sad to see. Hip Hop will forever be a black art telling the stories of black people.