A Hip-Hop Memory: One night when I was about six my father came home with two copies of Run DMC’s Raising Hell despite having three children. My brothers are five and seven years older than me and were, in those early years, my guides in navigating the new waters of hip-hop. The way my brothers reacted it was if my father had chipped off pieces of gold for them. My father, an attorney, got the cassettes–I can see them now with their purple covers–from a client if I remember correctly. My brothers popped their tapes into their radios and we went crazy flopping around like breakdancers. At the end of the night though the cassettes belonged to my brothers. I figured my father would be home with my own copy the next night and when it didn’t happen, I sheepishly asked my father when he would bring home my RUN DMC cassette. He looked at me as if I had turned into a six-year old rapping frog: “How am I going to bring you a copy of Raising Hell?”
I was reminded of this memory frequently while assembling pieces for Specter’s hip-hop issue. Many of the pieces returned to childhood and other such innocent times. Our pop culture often trades on nostalgia and hip-hop is no different. Some of the best rap songs recall the struggles of growing and the indiscretions of the teen years–Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You,” Ghostface Killah’s “All That I Got is You.” In our lineup up, Bro. Yao’s audio contribution, “Speaker” recalls a time when the music and the people in awe of it were coming into their own. darlene scott’s poems, “David spends the day admiring the girls’ legs” and “Baby Sister (just says no)” conjure for me both the confusion of a burgeoning sexuality and the drug panic of the 1980s.
But there are other things besides questioning nostalgia happening here. Women, often degraded and shoved into the background in hip-hop music, write in these pages about the consequences that come with hip-hop’s obsession with women’s bodies as objects. Mecca Sullivan’s novel excerpt, “She Woke up With the Words in Her Mouth” is particularly affecting while Tatiana Richards Hanebutte’s “For Skinny Girls Who Considered Cornbread When Their Thickness Isn’t Enough” brings a funny look at the subject.
And of course there is the language. Rap as a musical form shares with literature an intense focus on words. All the authors here delight in the obsessive wordplay of your local emcee. Michael Kaufmann’s “Land of A Thousand Rappers: Protagonist” recalls the abstract precision of Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele days. Meanwhile, Michael Jones’s “Bebop/Hiphop” skitters along like a beat from Aquemini-era Outkast.
The playlists for Side A and Side B are how the issue sounds to me. These are the songs suggested to me by the rhythms of the words and by the themes explored in the issue. Pump these playlists as you read. Shit, make your own playlist based on how the words in this issue hit you.
So, here it is, Specter Magazine’s Hip-Hop Issue: Side A & Side B, pure heat, pure funk. I hope you enjoy the pieces as much as I enjoyed assembling them. I hope you throw your hands in the air and wave them as if you no longer care. At least many will echo with you like your saddest hip-hop memory or your favorite rap song.
[author_info] Rion Amilcar Scott is the guest editor of the Specter Hip-Hop Issue. He has contributed to PANK, Fiction International and Confrontation, among others. Raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, he earned an MFA at George Mason University and presently teaches English at Bowie State University.[/author_info]