What a Time to Be Alive (As a Hip-Hop Fan)

Sure, things are absolutely crazy right now. Animals are roaming the streets, the environment is the only thing thriving, cities are going on their first full month of quarantine, tornadoes are wreaking havoc, and it is absolutely impossible to find toilet paper anywhere. But did you see that RZA vs. Preemo though?!

I really hope I’m not getting to be too repetitive with my posts, but with all of the content being released, it’s so hard not to talk about it. These past few weeks have been one for the books for hip-hop and despite our current situation, I’m so excited that I’ve gotten to watch it unfold. If you know me personally or even if you’ve read my blog before, you can tell that I have a bit of an odd taste given my age. One of the guys that I work with, Tony Moore, who is extremely well-respected throughout Philadelphia and who I am very lucky to have by my side (that’s not me sucking up, I promise!), always tells me that I’m an old soul. I always knew that, but my girls also know that I can fuck up some Natasha Bedingfield if I’m drunk and feeling nostalgic. At the end of the day, I’m a youngin’ and I like what I like, whether it’s gangster rap or top 40 songs. But I always felt sad that I wasn’t around or old enough to comprehend the hip-hop music that was created in the 80’s and 90’s-the music that has formulated so much of who I am today. It’s upsetting that I couldn’t appreciate J-Dilla when he was alive, or that I never saw Talib Kweli and Mos Def perform together as BlackStar because every time they try to tour together one of them cancels. It breaks my heart that the only Tribe Called Quest release that I got to take in was Phife Dawg’s last, and it really sucks that I am the age of Common’s daughter because we all know I am the woman for him. But I digress. What I am trying to say is that so much of the hip-hop that I appreciate, I didn’t get to enjoy in its time. That doesn’t make the music any less important, and if anything some of those songs have aged like fine wine. But it sucks that I didn’t get to see it released.

And that was up until the infamous hip-hop battle that took Twitter by a storm occurred just a few days ago. That was the first time I felt like I watched something really incredible happened. As the chat blew up with my favorite artists, from Black Thought, Method Man, and Jill Scott to Hi-Tek and Erick Sermon, it felt even more intimate than if we were all in a crowded nightclub together. They were all in their homes, watching the same screen that I was watching, with the same names scrolling by. They had that same bit of excitement when they saw legends commenting in the chat, and to see them shower each other with praise was super endearing. But what really snapped me back to reality in a “pinch me I’m dreaming” kind of way was that in the mix of all of the celebrities and strangers commenting were some of my friends! Familiar usernames of people that I haven’t seen in years or those that I frequently collaborate with in Philly were popping up, expressing their excitement and how much this meant for them and for hip-hop culture.

Celebrities, strangers, and friends even took to Twitter while watching the battle to live-tweet their thoughts. The feelings were infectious, and I must say, it was like watching a bunch of kids in a candy store. They were asking for shout-outs, song requests, and everything in between. The interactions between everyone were just so refreshing and collective that it didn’t matter who you were because everyone was just so honored to watch such an event happen. One of the cutest moments was how RZA, who was having sound quality issues for most of the night, could not figure out Instagram live to save his life. Premier kept shouting out people who were joining, himself even in awe at some of the names, but RZA just wasn’t able to figure out how to see them! So he finally says in a very exasperated voice that all he could see was Jazzy Jeff’s name, to which Jazzy Jeff excitedly responds “WELL THAT’S GOOD” in the comments. To see an OG like that respond to another icon was so damn cool. Desus and Mero were absolutely hilarious in the comments section, with Desus frequently commenting “hip-hop hip-hop hip-hop” to reference a phrase he always says when they discuss an old school hip-hop segment on the show. He even took to Twitter to tell a story about the one time he saw DJ Premier out and asked him about a sample and got completely ignored. Mero at one point asked for a song that had already been played and got completely dragged by other celebrities, which was hysterical. I love Mero, but he was like a child getting bullied by all the teenagers. Tiffany Haddish kept trying to shoot her shot at RZA with comments like “RZA looks like he can change a tire on a car” or “RZA looks like he can pop lock”. Same girl. Same. When I joined about half an hour in, they had 200,000 people watching. Anyone and everyone in hip-hop were there to watch this event that had only been announced just days before. This included some old school treasures like Kid from Kid n’ Play, Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, LL Cool J, newer school artists such as Denzel Curry, A$AP Mob, and Travis Scott, and even actors like Michael Rapaport and Dave Chapelle (which are both no surprise), Idris Elba, and even Danielle Fischel, aka everyone’s first love, Topanga! I know it may just seem like I’m name dropping, and trust me this isn’t even half of the list of people I was able to note down, but it was just so cool.

RZA went in with the advantage of having an extremely thorough Wu-Tang catalog, but my money was on DJ Premier. His song selection ranged from Mos Def’s “Mathematics” to Jay-Z’s “D’evils” to even Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man” as he “reached into his pop bag”, pulling out all of the stops. Some received that one pretty badly, even saying that it was their time to leave the chat, but others indulged Preemo and recognized just how versatile his production was. However, RZA came out on top, playing some of the craziest tracks to grace hip-hop. One of the dopest rounds, in my opinion, was when they went head to head with Nas tracks, with Premier saying “you got a Nas I got a Nas”, just to dominate that round. In fact, Nas, Biggie, and Kanye West were some of the only artists in RZA’s selection that weren’t Wu-Tang affiliates, making Premier’s catalog that much more impressive since he was able to hold his ground. We all know Wu-Tang ain’t nothing to fuck with and RZA definitely reiterated that. Some rounds were extremely difficult to choose one producer over the other. For instance, RZA played Method Man’s “You’re All I need”, seemingly taking the round just to be followed up by Premier spinning Biggie’s “Ten Crack Commandments”. Even when RZA finally played “C.R.E.A.M.” which was inevitable, he still managed to get an excited and shocked response from the audience, only for Premier to level it off with Gang Starr’s “Mass Appeal”. Despite the intensity of every round, each song choice was able to garner a response of amazement and bewilderment. Some people reminisced over the importance of that track while others were unaware that that person created the magic behind that piece.

But despite the competition aspect of the Instagram live, there was nothing competitive about it. It was the most beautiful interaction, especially as RZA told stories of how he wanted to impress Premier in the ’90s, only for Premier to tell stories of how impressed he was with RZA. It was a beautiful celebration, full of supporting one another’s timeless classics. There was no shit-talking, even just for fun. It was genuine excitement over what the other person played, and it was really amazing to experience. As if that wasn’t sweet enough, RZA’s children could even be seen at some points jumping in the frame and dancing to the music. After almost thirty rounds, despite them saying it would be the last one for about ten of those, they both ended with songs of inspiration and hope for the current situation, with RZA playing Wu-Tang’s “A Better Tomorrow” and Nas’s “I Gave You Power”. The topics then shifted as RZA spoke about the positive impacts of the quarantine on nature and veganism, even telling a story about how he saw butterflies in his yard, giving him hope. Premier then took a moment to preach about the importance of standing up for our Asian brothers and sisters as they are being targeted, even shouting out Steve Aoki. It was a beautiful contrast to how hip-hop is often portrayed, showing the beauty and importance of the culture, and demonstrating just how inspiring it can be.

One of the other incredible pieces of content to bless our devices this past week was Black Thought’s Tiny Desk Concert from the comfort of his home. Black Thought is easily one of the greatest MCs of all time, and if you didn’t watch his ten-minute long freestyle I HIGHLY encourage you to do so. I promise, living in Philly has absolutely zero effect on these thoughts, although it does bring me immense pride. Sitting in the beauty of his simple yet elegant home rocking some slides, plaques and awards given to the legendary Roots crew grace the background. Unfortunately because of the circumstances, he had to perform solo to a backing track, but that didn’t take away from the feel. He opened up with “Thought Vs. Everybody”, one of the three new tracks that he debuted during the concert from his new Stream of Thought EP. The song features heavy-hitting lyrics with political stances including topics like police brutality, Jeff Bezos’ obnoxious amount of wealth, Colin Kaepernick, and live-streamed deaths. He raps each impactful word with nonchalance, showing just how talented he is. He then continues to explain his new EP, the purpose surrounding it, and the importance of staying creative during the quarantine. As a result, he is doing a series of different creative outlets on The Roots’ channel, which he explains is not only for others but for his own peace of mind as well. He then performed “Yellow”, that will be in the upcoming Broadway musical, “Black No More”, which Black Thought collaborated on with John Ridley from 12 Years a Slave. The show is an adaptation of a 1931 George S. Schuyler sci-fi novel, which touches on a racial experiment during the Harlem Renaissance. The song has a big band backing track, playing to the theatrics of Broadway without compromising Thought’s incredible flow. Lastly, he performed his third latest track “Nature of the Beast” ft. Portugal. The Man. Featuring a much more futuristic beat, he begins the song singing beautiful lyrics of hope and wonder. The video cuts into a video clip featuring the singers of Portugal. The Man., a rock band, singing a rhythmic and hypnotic chorus that calls for unity since “we are going through the same thing, going through the same shit”. The song, an incredible take on this current situation even directly mentioning the terrifying COVID-19, left me in tears, and I am so thankful that I heard it. The Youtube comments were flooded with nothing but praise, exclaiming that this wasn’t a concert, but rather a masterclass because of the status of the incredible Black Thought. 

The cutest of the live videos has easily been Anderson .Paak and his adorable son. They started up something called #Fridance, where they tease new music on Instagram live, putting together fun dances for others to learn while bringing on frequent collaborators like Kaytranada and YBN Cordae. I’ve already tried to find his new song “Jewelz” which has successfully gone viral without even dropping, earning itself a dance and live instrumental versions. People all around the world have shared videos to their Instagram stories, copying the steps while adding their own touches. He also teased a new song with YBN Cordae after they collaborated on “RNP”. He went on to perform a new take of his song “Come Home” from his home for The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, with each member of The Free Nationals playing their own parts through a video call from their at-home setups. He changed the lyrics to the chorus, singing that he’s “begging you to please stay home”, reiterating the importance of following the guidelines of the quarantine. He’s also contributed to other viral challenges such as the beatbox challenge with Omarion, encouraging creativity throughout the time at home.

As I mentioned in my last post, Finding Inspiration in the Unknown, a lot of DJs have taken to Instagram Live, one of them being Questlove. Well during one of Questlove’s sets, the most adorable thing occurred. As Quest was DJing, one of his team members tapped his arm to get his attention, handing him a cell phone. He had no clue who was on the phone until you see him start to chuckle slightly, grinning from ear to ear. He’s in visible shock as he realizes he’s talking to Stevie Wonder, trying to maintain his composure, expressing how much he loves playing his songs. While putting the phone against the mic so that the viewers can hear him speak, Quest is still clearly extremely surprised, much like the viewers. As he realizes his music is about to fade out, Stevie tells him to call him later, to which he responds, “I can call you?!” He could barely get himself to put on the next record because of his nerves, but seeing interactions like these because of how drawn we are to communicating with others during this time is absolutely glorious.

Another instance of getting to see Questlove nerd out during this strange time is an interview he did with Jimmy Fallon, where they video chatted with Mike D and Adrock from the Beastie Boys. The Beastie Boys came out with a new documentary in 2020, taking to the Tonight Show as part of their press tour. However, I’m almost positive that Questlove is the only one with the guts and the credentials to criticize anyone in hip-hop history, no matter what time the music came out, so it was a joy to see him speak up and explain the one problem he had about the movie: the underwhelming portrayal of the release of Paul’s Boutique. It led to Jimmy and Questlove reminiscing over when they bought the record and hung up the artwork on their walls. Quest went on to even explain that although the group wasn’t happy with how that album did, the people that bought the album had a life-changing experience, himself included. He even said that that album was one of the reasons he had to get into music. He genuinely looked hurt that they didn’t see quite how amazing it was, and it was beautiful to watch. Even the songs that they felt were duds, he absolutely loved, and you could see just how much this bothered him. Quest went on to share how he got into Beastie Boys, tying in his experiences with their music and his life in Philly. Jimmy showed off his records that he collected, impressing even Quest, who got some answers to some of his questions as a fan and avid listener. Mike D and Adrock even got a chance to talk about their changing views on feminism, homophobia, and other topics that they had been criticized for, showing them in a truly matured light. It was amazing, and to see people come together in the comments section and share their own experiences with listening to their music and how important this interview was to them was so incredibly wholesome.

The truth of the matter is that we don’t know what is going to happen. We don’t know how long we will be in our houses. Anything is possible, and unfortunately, we don’t have many answers. However, another thing we don’t know is if a lot of this content would have been created or shared or perfected in the way that it has been able to do so at this time. Hell, even I’ve had time to work on my music career or find innovative ways to push this very blog that I wouldn’t have done beforehand due to lack of time, or lack of motivation, or whatever other excuses I could come up with. These shining moments won’t solve all of our problems, but they’ll at least make them more bearable. They’ll give us the courage, happiness, energy, and ability to do anything. Hip-hop has given me something to believe in throughout all of this, and it has always reminded me of who I am when I feel like I’ve lost myself. I’m not giving up on it now.

While I’m still going to end this post with my usual goodbyes and thank yous, I’m going to do something a bit different. As always, you can find a Spotify playlist with all of the music mentioned throughout the blog post, including every song from the DJ Premier and RZA battle. However, every week I’m also going to make a small list of some releases from friends of mine who are pushing through during the quarantine to make incredible music for everyone to enjoy. If you would like to be put on this list, please DM me on Instagram or leave a comment below with a link to the Spotify song. Keep creating and make sure to follow the blog for more content every other Wednesday. Stay safe♥

M11son “In My Eyes”

Yung 4reign“Find My Way”

Anthony LyricAudio Diary

Markis Precise ft. Fashawn“The Difference”

TauJaun“Overthinkin!”

ShawnWeTrust“Don’t Be Late”

Also a bit of a humble brag but a HUGE thank you to FeedSpot for including my blog on their ‘Top 200 Hip-Hop Blogs’! Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my baby and supported me whether emotionally (we all know I’m a bit of a drama queen) or by continuously sharing my posts. Super excited about this. Nothing but up from here!

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