Sunday, 20 January 2013

Hip-Hop Junkie

Lyrical gymnasts made here
Ah Basingstoke in the late '80's, early '90's.  A shimmering new town full of hope, opportunity, and potential.  Ok, maybe not that.  A grey town centre populated by pigeons, a few punks still hanging on in there, and a writhing mass of teenagers wondering how the hell they were going to avoid marrying the boy with the limp / the girl with the wonky eyes, and living next door to their parents. We worked as cleaners, skived as much school as possible, used fake ID to get into the glory that was 'Martines' (a nightclub under a car park - woohoo!) and busted moves on sticky dancefloors.  It was also hip-hop heaven.  

Your passport outta here!

Given that pretty much every house on the estates on which we lived had either a satellite dish or a 'Squarial' (remember those?) we had gone from getting Spandau Ballet on Top of the Pops to being able to watch 24 hours solid of MTV and how we embraced it.  'Yo MTV Raps' gave me hip-hop history as well as a shopping list for the next time I ventured into London to buy a black leather medallion from Camden market or something on import from Tower Records.  We danced badly, wished we had porches that we could 'hang-out' on, memorised lyrics and watched 'Boyz N the Hood' with the same intensity that we had watched 'The Breakfast Club' five years earlier.  

Maybe it was the teenage desire to mark ourselves out as different and shock our parents but we embraced the stories told by these films and the words of the songs as if they were our own despite the fact that we lived closer to Guildford than we did to a ghetto.  

Terrible 'decks', incredible album
I remember being engaged in a lengthy conversation with a man from the council who had come to fix our radiators and had taken exception on seeing my record collection.  He decided to give me a long, racist, lecture which culminated in him suggesting that I wouldn't turn out to be 'any good' if I carried on listening to black music. He had a point in that some of the language is not to everyone's taste and I would agree that some artists do not promote healthy attitudes towards women (2Live Crew anyone?) but music 'turning you into a loser'? I don't think so.  Hip-hop and rap music did not turn me into a misogynistic, gun-toting, police-hating, welfare-reliant, potty-mouthed hoodlum.  Quite the opposite.  It gave me a medium to channel some of my adolescent fury, a way to indulge my love of language and to revel in fast-paced lyrical gymnastics.  It made me think about how words affect other people and through albums like '3 Feet High and Rising' brought me a great deal of joy.  It also meant that after leaving Microsoft, one of my first paid pieces of work was to write a rap for a Progress Software.  It gave me the skills to pay the bills.

Soundtrack: Hip Hop Junkie by Nice & Smooth

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