i was raised in an afrikan centered household. literary works by steve biko and frantz fanon resided on the bookshelves and the last poets and gil scott heron were in perpetual rotation on the record player. at five years old i made my first ghanaian flag out of felt fabric, paste, and yarn, which proudly hung on my bedroom closet that my sister and i shared for years even after i upgraded to my own room. i learned how to meditate as a child and read the autobiography of malcolm x at 9 years old. and yes, i celebrated kwanzaa every december.
i was born into a microcosmic world that fostered intellectual growth and analytical critique of the status quo. already marginalized on the world stage by our skin tone, we were further pushed past the fringe by our family. they never quite understood our natural hair, why my father always wore a colorful dashiki amidst a sea of somber black at funerals, or how to properly pronounce the word kwanzaa, even after years of seeing us celebrate the holiday. my parents railed at the societal norms that kept us complacent and unquestioning. in lieu of acceptance they took on pride and never looked back. and inside of that cocoon i was nurtured to become- a conscious being.
when i began writing, i never questioned what my subject matter would be, i just wrote. i never thought about what my music would be labeled as because i simply wrote from my perspective. what i had learned, my thoughts, my feelings, my story. when the music began gaining popularity, i was frequently asked whether or not i considered myself to be a conscious rapper. initially, i was hesitant to accept the label. i didn’t want to be trapped inside of anyone’s box, suffocating under expectations of who and what i should be and preconceived notions of who and what i was. i saw how the politically conscious rapper was dismissed as irrelevant and maligned by blog subscribers as automatically wack and i believed the hype, like everyone else, that a conscious rapper could never make it.
i had watched for years as nas struggled with himself, oscillating between the explicit lyrics of songs like “oochie wally” and empowering anthems like, “i can”. it was almost like the smart kid in school who joins in on bullying the underdog. not because he wants to, but because he fears that by NOT doing it, he will become uncool by association. now, don’t misunderstand me, i know that a person has many aspects to their being and it’s their choice to express every part of themselves creatively. i GET it. so what was my dilemma? i grew up in the hood, but i never used the word nigga(it was like a curse word in my family), never sold drugs, and didn’t have a penchant for louis or gucci, so why should i be vilified for not rapping about it?
Being conscious is not necessarily synonymous with rocking an African centered aesthetic(even though i like to do that too), it’s just being completely and unabashedly unafraid of using your brain. you know, that 3 lb biocomputer resting above your neck? it’s being able to analyze and decode everything around you, instead of feebly accepting what’s dictated as normal, or cool, or even true. it’s about intentionally stepping outside of the margins if that’s what it takes maintain your freedom. freedom of speech, freedom of will, and freedom of thought. whether consciousness is political, cultural, or spiritual is irrelevant. it’s about being open and aware to what’s happening in this world and beyond. since when did that start being uncool? oh yeah, when the record labels recognized how powerful an influence hip hop had over the youth and decided they wanted to take it in another direction. they couldn’t have young people getting knowledge of self from rakim, political awareness from krs one, and a seething anger at the oppressive system from ice cube, now could they? and its not that these artists weren’t marketable. they ALL went gold or platinum(but i thought conscious rappers couldn’t make it).
slowly but surely, the ones who had next were watered down, drug dealing automatons who all espoused the same unthinking message: do ANYTHING to get EVERYTHING. i am among the few who remains utterly opposed to this motto. it’s by design that we are programmed through radio programming(see the connection?) to like, promote, and fan these artists who say NOTHING. i will not do or say just anything just so i can get put on. i WILL write about how we can get free, through any means necessary. i could give a damn about acceptance. if i can look in the mirror and accept and be proud of myself at the end of the day, that’s what matters. that’s what my parents taught me from birth and it’s ME. so, at the end of the day i am a conscious rapper and proud of the label. cuz like my sis E. Badu say, “i stay woke.”