Sometimes I wonder if I’m turning into a curmudgeon. How did I get here, I wonder, where only yesterday I was thumping bass in my Camry and now see it fit to lecture the youth about the lack of message of in our music. What’s next! I mean am I about to be that guy who tells kids to get off his lawn? Am I going to be that fellow who loses any modicum of “hipness” and start saying shit like “when I was your age chatting with people was actually in person.” Wait, do they even say hip anymore? This is the introspection that seems pervasive when I listen to hip hop these days.
In a way, this is only natural. We grow up listening to music and the things we heard, saw, and experienced as youth becomes the basis of what we consider to be decent and good to the soul. This is why every successive generation insists that their music and movies were the gold standard; my father insisted that Marvin Gaye and Etta James were the quintessence of music and would not budge on the topic of 007 that Sean Connery was the best James Bond of them all. I thought this absurd; though I do agree with my dad (RIP) about Marvin and Etta, everyone knows that Roger Moore is the best James Bond of them all. Every generation is thus a prisoner of their moment and define greatness through their experience–all else seems like rubbish.
But perhaps there is something beyond generational perspective to my feeling that hip hop has changed and seems almost irrelevant. I barely listen to the music I grew up on when I was a teenager and in my days running around from Miami to New Orleans sowing more oats than Quaker. A once instrument of message has turned into a clang of disturbance as too many emcees are reducing rap to utterances of “killings niggas, fucking hoes and stacking Benjamins”. In the process, culture is killed because culture can’t survive if music is turned against it. The same drums that defied slavery, oppression, and Jim Crow is seemingly turned against the people to peddle materialism and has become a billboard of corporate consumerism. Emcees turned into reverse Harriet Tubmans; leading masses into the bondage of materialism and convincing impressionable youths to be debt laden indentured servants.
But then my rant is met head long by a divergent music that takes a swerve from the garbage peddled as hip hop that seems omnipresent. I dip and dive between hope and hopelessness when it comes to hip hop this way; disheartened when I hear the likes of Jay Z digging the grave for our culture only for hope to be risen by a dope emcee who reclaims hip hop from the clutches of clowns who smoke our people like we are Dutchess. This precise thing happened a couple of days ago when I was on Twitter posting one of my article and searched “depression” to send out a couple of tweets to some folks a write up I penned relating to people pleasing to some who might be struggling with sorrow
So I typed in depression and the top tweets were of course from either the rich or the famous and not too many stood out initially. Until I ran across a particular tweet from Wale that read as such:
“If u are somebody strugglin with mental illness ,depression, anxiety .. you not alone ..that shit don’t define you . And FUCK anyone judging”
Wale said what I’ve been expressing for years and in the process took yet one more chip away from the wall that is depression which imprisons way too many behind the cells of loneliness. The most pernicious aspect of depression is the thought that you are facing a monster alone. I speak of this from experience for I’ve had my bouts with ennui enough to know. The minute we give our hands to sadness and withdraw is when sorrow becomes a black hole. For a famous rapper to take the time to actually give voice to those who suffer without a voice is something that awed me.
Music meets message! I know about Wale to be honest, not in the “oh that is my boy” type of way for I never met him. But Wale is from DC and I grew up in the DMV. I’ve listened to his music before and his work is legendary in the chocolate city for finally putting DC hip hop on the map. For as long as I could remember, DC was always the stepchild of the hip hop family. Hip hop was born in New York, birthed in Philly, and grew up in the A. Yet somehow the limelight missed DC as hip hop expanded north to south, traveled out west and then transverses the globe. DC kept saying “hey what about me” as the hip hop culture in DC was often overlooked and we were only known for politics or go-go.
Wale changed this. Wale put DC on the hip hop map and took us from sideshow to main stage. I say we because I still have DC in my heart even though I’m now in Colorado. Wale’s sound was unique yet fit the time; he was able to fuse needed content with head nodding beats. This is what I always expected of hip hop; seriously I’m not that old man who complains about loud music. I just want music to edify me as much as it entertains. But somehow along the line, I forgot about the music of Wale and in the process kind of gave up on hip hop. Although I occasionally listen to hip hop, especially when I got into my Weeknd phase (link), I mostly tuned out after growing dispirited with the lack of depth that hip hop had become.
But a random tweet by Wale a few days ago led to a conscience decision for me to listen to his music. So I stared researching more about him and his life and was awed by the journey he traveled. I’m no fan of mainstream media these days, but occasionally the Washington Post puts out a gem. In the article titled “DC’s Wale Wrestles with Fame and Anxiety (link), this nugget about Wale is found:
He made it happen by learning to detonate syllables over tumbling go-go rhythms, parceling out personality through brilliantly syncopated rhymes. His punch lines were funny enough to make Seinfeld laugh. His metaphors verged on riddles, knotty enough to stump CIA code breakers. He speaks in staccato bursts but can rap in perpetual motion.
In the process of researching Wale, I put on Google Play and started to listen to Wale’s music. I rediscovered what I already knew. I am a man who loves words and understand the power that reside in them. The things we say define us and the ways that musicians manipulate words makes them either garbage of gold standards. Garbage are those who just spit out the same old bullshit; the gold standards are those who choose words with intentionality in order to convey multi-dimensional dispatches. Take the words below from Wale’s song “Dairy”:
I wonder why I sit and cry, Wish I could shed all these tears, I’m down and out, I’ll keep on moving and tryna get out
I don’t know how to move on, Where I went wrong, Wish I could live with no fear, So down and out, I’ll keep it moving and tryna get out somehow, Raised by a momma who? Who? Hate her baby father so, so, She don’t have a problem with, with, with, Saying, “Fuck a nigga quick, quick”
I’m just tryna be the one who never run, But you run away from me, Your girlfriends man cheat, cheat, Why not me the same thing, She can’t see in me what I see in her, This pain she inherit can’t be reverse.
Far be it from me to play armchair therapist but here is one thing I know. Those who are the most creative in life are the ones who have a lot on the mind. As in the mind constantly churns and wants to create for those who are blessed and burdened with the intellect and ability to create art out of empty spaces. Wale is at once sharing a testimony of his own struggles as he encourages girls who grew up in broken homes in his song “Dairy”.
Wale, whose real name is Olubowale Victor Akintimehin, traces his roots to Nigeria and directly to the continent of Ethiopia. Oh I said that right, words are powerful remember, the statement of Ethiopia the continent makes sense when you listen to the music and message here (link). Wale knows first hand the struggle of finding identity, deciphering real from indoctrination, and had enough discernment seek wisdom instead of being indoctrinated. This is why he dropped out of college to pursue his purpose and passion–a degree is worthless if one can’t be original and have self-awareness.
It is said often “real recognize real” but many times it’s counterfeit messengers of consumerism and pseudo-revolutionaries who yap these words—saying “I keep it real” while taking selfies of their breakfast. But life is about perspective you see; we can focus on those who waste their lives away chasing nothing and become nothing too in the process. Or we can pause and search out the real like Wale who are able to meld music with message. Hip hop is not dead; we just have to stop looking for it in cemeteries and find hip hop where hip hop is alive and breathing.
This is a shout out to Wale and all REAL hip hop emcees who keep pushing out dope music. I can still say dope right? Regardless of the adjectives we use to describe our music, one thing is sure, without music this world becomes a lonely and dreary existence for the greatest healer of heart wounds is music and beats. Thank you Wale for being brave enough to touch upon the subject of depression and letting people know that there is a morning once the mourning is over. One day I’ll give you dap in person but I know already you’ve walked a long road of hardship yourself but these hardships are blessings for in time walls that trap us become a great Wale. #Wall2GreatWale
Mangled roots and warped branches yet these things bear fruit. A harvest comes after brokenness.
Check out the music of Wale and if you appreciate hip hop that is able to mix music with message, share this on social media and tweet this link out using #Wall2GreatWale. Check out Wale’s music “Dairy” below and check out the Ghion Cast that is centered on overcoming life and becoming a champion titled “Candle Blowers” which features Raheem Devaughn’s music “Until” in the message below Wale’s video. Raheem also grew up in the DMV, make sure to follow Raheem @Raheem_Devaughn! Stand up DMV! Make sure to follow Wale on Twitter @Wale and tell him @TeodroseFikre says #Tadias. Wale’s music can be found on his website www.walemusic.com
Ghion Cast and Ghion Journal: where music meets message
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.