It’s important to me that my first piece of 2020 is about love. With drafts in my notepad on my phone, I began to write notes about my love for hip-hop in December. A couple weeks ago, I explained to my homeboy how I fell in love with hip-hop three times and would title the piece, “Three’s a Charm.” My schedule and my priorities kept pushing the piece back like a rap album.
Last Sunday on my way to write, Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna “GiGi” Bryant transitioned and I couldn’t. My uncle sent me a video of Kobe talking about the lesson he cherishes the most: Is to love what you do. It reminded me of why I started to write this…
Hip-hop is clearly a love of mine, but recently I realized that I fell in love three times with the culture. Wild.
As I think of the little girl who fell in love with hip-hop and the little boy who fell in love with basketball, I see the parallels of how love finds new ways to draw us back. (SN: No, I don’t think Kobe and I are the same–that’s asinine. I am simply highlighting the similarities in the name of love.) Love loves love.
At a young age we fell in love with something that we would dream about and he imagined his jump shot. I imagined being the next version of Salt-N-Pepa. I absorbed the rap element of hip-hop. When Juice came out and Q, an aspiring DJ was air mixing, I started air mixing, too. And to paraphrase Betty Wright, we were earning and learning the things we fell in love with. I used radio, TV and magazines. Of course, Kobe did the same and played on the court.
Kobe made it into the league and became the legend we know him as. I was an active participant in the culture and eventually landed a marketing internship at the Source Magazine while they were beefing with Eminem. For six months, I learned a lot and saw parts of the culture, I wasn’t too happy with it and I chucked the deuces, but there was no love lost.
Ten years ago, I started a hip-hop research project and started reading not just about rap music, but all of hip-hop culture. Learning how Black and Brown youth made nothing into something, I was in love with their magic, genius and resistance. They did that. I was in awe and now armed to defend hip-hop when needed with receipts that would put Rite Aid to shame (why are those things so long?). However, I’m still a student of the game. In the other game, Kobe went up against the greats and the rookies who were coming for the title and crown. Kobe loved it.
In 2015, Kobe wrote a love letter to the game to explain why he left, but that his heart would always beat for the game. Retired with an ambitious daughter who shared his love for the game, love called Kobe back. I watched the interview with Kobe talking about Gigi, and I saw it…the twinkle in someone’s eyes when they talk about what they love. Round three. But this was no ordinary love because he shared it with his protégé whose fade away jump shot was nicer than his at her age.
In 2015, unbeknownst to me, I was learning how to flex hip-hop in education to point where it was disrespectful—and rightfully so. Wait, let me ask you a question: Have you ever been minding your business and then realize that you’re in love? Well, there I was minding my business, reading something some dead white male “scholar” wrote and applying the wisdom, knowledge and understanding of a young Black male who is not considered a scholar and came to the epiphany that not only is he smart, but smarter than the dead guy. Fam…I started to reflect on my writings and which rappers were articulating socio-political knowledge over dope beats with literary devices that we repeated on a daily. It was like a found a gem, but why was so “late” in regarding them in such a way? It’s not new, it’s been in my face the whole time. I tell people that I made the connection between officer and overseer because of KRS-One and that’s before Ask Jeeves searches—definitely showing my age…But, white supremacy. If it doesn’t come from the ivory towers, it doesn’t hold weight. So, for the last few years, in true hip-hop fashion, I have been resisting the academy and using the poetry of rappers to critique everything. I love it. This time, I fell in love with the critically and not so obvious social consciousness of rap music. Now it’s part of my work and I use it to show my students that they, too, are genius and no matter what people say, they are smarter than they think they are. I love my job.
When we fell in love…
As a kid in his room. As star in the NBA. As a dad watching his daughter take the torch.
As a little girl dancing to the beat. As a researcher learning history. As a scholar resisting hegemony.
Kobe once said:
“Always be curious.
Always seek out things you love.
Always work hard once you find it.”
Long live Kobe and Giana Bryant and I hope their love for basketball is a reminder about the love(s) you have and you continue to pursue them.
Peace and love.