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Chicken Soup for the Hip Hop Soul 2

Posted Mar 18 2006

The second of three stories I submitted to this popular book series. This particular piece deals with lessons I learned about defining success as I tried to balance my college courses and love for hip hop.

For as long as I could remember, I had been a bit of “techie,” a nerd if you will, fascinated with science fiction and shows like Star Wars and Robotech. When I had a chance to receive a higher education, I immediately tried to decide between majors like computer science and aerospace engineering. I was going to make Star Trek a reality. Up until then, I was on the path to getting a good, well-paying career. This all changed the day I actually set foot on campus.

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson was the keynote speaker at my college orientation program and I was stunned. Here was this grown, distinguished looking man, speaking to us in hip-hop vernacular, making references to Das EFX, and even busting a few rhymes. He was quite the entertainer and inspired us to work hard and persevere. I quietly approached him afterwards and he embraced me in a bear hug like we were old pals, even giving me his contact info in case I wanted to talk more. Everything snowballed from there.

See, besides science fiction, I was infatuated with hip hop. I’d listen to the college mix shows religiously, swap tapes with the homies, and try my best to emulate the graffiti I saw on the walls. Listening to artists such as Chuck D, Rakim, KRS-One, Poor Righteous Teachers, Ice-T, and even NWA had sparked something in me. I began to look at society differently, questioning the status quo, and began to see how systems of inequality had impacted my own life. I was inspired to give back to the community. But I never saw hip hop as more than a hobby, even if it was beginning to consume my life.

By second semester, I had lost nearly all interest in any of my technical classes and stumbled across something called “Be Bop to Hip Hop,” which was being taught by a Dr. Robin Kelley. It sounded interesting, but I was skeptical. Still, I signed up, and was completely blown away. This was one of the most challenging courses I took, yet one of the most enjoyable. We talked about the political significance of the Afro, the Puerto Rican influence in hip hop, and hip hop’s roots in history and tradition dating back decades, if not centuries. The music and culture was put into a larger societal context. I was introduced to other scholars such as Tricia Rose and numerous grad students who were working in this field. I was amazed that people got paid to study this stuff. Coming into contact with established professionals asking the same questions, through a culture I revered, validated many of my own experiences and thoughts. I never imagined that I would receive this type of education in a college setting.

As you can imagine, my days in engineering were finished. While other friends pressed on, it just wasn’t in my heart anymore. By my sophomore year, the most technical thing I did was press “record” as I dubbed some mix tapes.

I eventually ended up with a dual career as a DJ and educator, even dabbling in journalism once and awhile. You might still catch me watching an X-Files marathon, but when I decided to become more than a mere fan of hip hop, my whole way of life changed. I embraced self-sufficiency, sought creative outlets for self-expression, and rebelled against cultural norms I felt were stifling growth.

But sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I would just played it safe and got a nice stable job, something with a fancy title. I’ve tried from time to time, but it just hasn’t worked out. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against a nice, stable job with a fancy titles. I have just become more particular about the situations I get myself into. I wouldn’t be happy being defined by my employer, I want to be defined by how I live my life. The intention of attending college was to get in a structured, logical world that would provide some sense of security. Ironically, it led me to a nomadic lifestyle that often leaves my pockets empty and my family frustrated. I wouldn’t have it any other way. (November, 2002)

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