I was reluctant to listen to “Perfect 10” on DJ Mustard’s Perfect 10 because “Higher” featuring John Legend on DJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd pulls at the heart strings like the moon on the tides. Until recently, I decided to press play…then left it on repeat…It reminds me of the therapy sessions with my real ones while sitting on a couch, at a kitchen table, or in a parked car with the music playing low. The track isn’t base-driven; guitar strums are accompanied by xylophone strikes and at the end violin notes are present, but unobtrusive. The arrangement takes me to a Hawaiian beach and sets the mood for the kind of intimacy needed for disclosure. Nipsey isn’t rapping—he’s conversing with me (and Big Boy). When he asks questions, I answer without thinking because this conversation is uncensored and judgment-free. It’s just the two of us…Nipsey and I politicking, he’s telling his story and asking me about mine.
You don’t know who swimmin’ naked ’til the tide come in
With Hussle’s business acumen, there is no doubt that he is referring to the words of billionaire investor, Warren Buffet, who once said, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked.” The tide is out, I sit low and sip my tea slow…it’s time to reveal my ocean views…
Fuck where your hoes at or where your Rolls at
Where your backbone, ni—a, where your code at?
Where your down since day one real bros at?
Where them stories that you tellin’ unfold at?
Where your heart, ni—a? Where your soul at?
We got old school ways, we expose that
Ain’t no guarantees, but you know that
Ni—as die every day, can’t control that
We know about the social and economic capital that people use to measure their lives, however, these therapy sessions are about everything else. Where them stories that you tellin’ unfold at? I drift on a current back to 2009 to the conversation between Harry Allen and Jay-Z, which set me on a new voyage. Where your heart, ni—a?/ Where your soul at? My heart and soul is invested in my work.
I connect the rapid-fire questions as a form of self-analysis with a direct correlation to the stand-up character of the rapper, born Ermias Joseph Asgedom. Nipsey is using the Socratic method, because the unexamined life is not worth living, last time that I checc’d. We got old school ways, and we expose that/Ain’t no guarantees, but you know that/ Ni—as die every day, can’t control that. In this conversation, questions are asked that will expose what others can’t see or hear. I remember another therapy session where I was asked what am I running from? I froze then started to overthink because as a runner, I only know what I am running for (my health, a marathon) or running to (a destination), but neverfrom…I thought of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Running” and how he used it as a metaphor for no guarantees and lack of control, but nevertheless he “ran” because staying in the same place will get you nowhere. Heron, a progenitor of hip-hop, is known for “The Revolution will not be Televised” died at the age of 62…I took a deep breath and simply replied: Failure.
That’s why I called my thing, The Marathon (Big Boy: Yeah) ’cause I, I’m not gon’ lie and portray, um, this ultimate ploy like I been had it figured out. Nah, I just didn’t quit. That’s the only distinguishing quality. From me and probably whoever else is goin’ through this, went through this, or is gonna go through this—is that I ain’t quit. I went through every emotion, I went through every emotion with tryna pursue what I’m doing. You know what I mean? (BB: Mhm.) And I think that what, what’s gon’ separate whoever’s gon’ try to go for something is that, you ain’t gon’ quit. That’s, you know, you really gon’ take the stance of I’m gon’ die behind what I’m gettin’ at right here.
Ten years later, and I’m still at it like Odysseus on his odyssey and so many times, I wanted to quit, because my emotions were getting the best of me, ask Marseil, Tammy, Joey and Wendy. Ask DJ, CD and Tiffany where I am in the late nights and early mornings. Ask Derin how many times I was supposed to text to make sure I got home safe from dream chasing? My work is filled with love, loss, joy, and spirit injuries used to silence me. However, there has also been a rhizomatic growth that healed some wounds and produced shit people are not ready for. And I’m not gonna quit. So yeah, “Fuck where your hoes at or where your Rolls at…”
I think that our reaction to being disrespected—we gotta, we gotta, we have to reassess how we react. You know what I mean? I think that, we’ve been known as, as hip hop, to make songs and that’s a part of it. And then, we gotta, we gotta go a step further because I think that it’s like a disease in a body. Once you start givin’ it a treatment it’ll get immune to the treatment (BB:Mhm). And you gotta try something else to kill that disease. So, I think protest music is important, I think that YG was a genius.
On January 14, 2017, I was at the Schomburg Center for Research and Culture’s Black Power 50 Talks: Public Television and the Black Arts Movement for a panel discussion about the legendary public program, Soul and its creator, Ellis Haizlip. It was moderated by Greg Tate and one of the panelists was the legendary poet activist, Nikki Giovanni. At one point, she explained that you need to figure out what to do with your art and references hip-hop and the current president:
“I know that new music is coming…We came here, and invented as we were coming here[sic], the spiritual…gospel, jazz…and we got to hip-hop, but hip-hop now, there has to be something else that expresses our dissatisfaction…The new music is coming because this fool has to be put down and in his place… Hip-hop can’t do it anymore…it’s a business, itself. So, we need the kids to come up and put this son of a bitch in his place.”
I felt some type of way because other than tea, hip-hop is the answer, well for me at least. However, no matter how I felt, there is truth in her words which caused an internal tension, and I have been thinking about it since. The interview used in “Perfect 10” happened one year later on Jan 24, 2018 talking about how to use hip-hop in a different way (read: non-commercial political conscious way aka the way it was originally intended). “FDT” is a protest song, but people are immune to rappers cursing. It’s not like when “Fuck the Police” dropped in 1988. People are immune to F-bombs in hip-hop, and won’t read the fine print (i.e. the intro to the “FDT” video). Nikki Giovanni and Nipsey Hussle were riding the same wave, and its moments like these that I wish the OGs and the young G’s would talk with each other, learn from each other and grow together. This spring, I think I figured it out what Nik and Nip were alluding to, but I am still fleshing it out.
“Perfect 10” plays again, I coast through the last decade of my life and thought of what it took for me to get where I am. It’s still not over, but nothing is due before its time. The marathon continues. I switch to my favorite Nipsey Hussle song, “Perfect Timing”: I know perfect timing feels like I’m too late/And I know I’m still great in spite of my mistakes… Just make sure you cross the line, and fuck the time it takes. That’s where my time’s at, where my mind’s at.