Hip Hop Call-And-Response: Talib Grabs The Mic

What happens when the fans control the flow of a hip hop show with a fan-driven call-and-response?  Where will the journey take us when we voyage out of our own hearts and minds during a concert?

As I mentioned in Part One of this Call-and-Response Series I want us to explore the complexity and celebrate the immense diversity of our concert experiences, whether that means looking back to the past, examining the now or imagining the future.

And whenever the opportunity presents itself, I always want to give the mic to the fans and let them respond to a show that’s moved them.

That said, we’ll wrap up this series here in Part Two by voyaging  into the mind of one fan Talib. We’ll give him the mic so he can respond to and reflect on some off-putting remarks said by an artist during a recent Eyedea and Abilities concert in Chicago.

Talib’s story will engage you.

And it will take you to places that you maybe haven’t gone before.

It will also challenge you to do something that we don’t normally do at concerts.

When we go to concerts we usually go to escape from our own minds and don’t go much further than that.

So rarely do we get to see what’s going on inside the minds and hearts of our fellow fans.

And it’s only when we get outside of ourselves to see what others are feeling and thinking about the concert that we truly feel the life-changing power of the live music experience.

So without further ado I’ll now pass the mic to Talib so he can share his story with you and thus complete this fan-driven call-and-response.

Talib’s Story

It was late May, or maybe even early June, of 1993. My older sister and I, along with some friends, decided to go see the new “gritty urban” movie Menace II Society by the Hughes brothers.

Like good little theatergoers we arrived early at the Harlem and Irving Plaza Theater in Norridge, Illinois. Where we were greeted by huge lines, 15-inch subwoofers, barking bass lines, the beginning summer heat with faint hints of asphalt and the cheap smell of bootleg cologne and perfume, and finally a mix of the Police looking as intimidating as they could possibly muster.

The Police hailed from the surrounding suburbs of Norridge, all white and with that look that they’d bust you in the head as soon as look at you. Old White Police with guns securing a movie about black urban youth with guns. Why? Well, there were concerns that the theme and violence portrayed in the film would attract gang bangers to the “quiet” bordering and primarily white suburbs of Chicago, like some 104-minute celluloid Cyrus from the movie The Warriors.

The fear of the establishment and surrounding white bubble called suburbia was in the reality and very conscious that the theater would be ground zero for young angry “minorities”. Who, as non-rational hyper-emotive criminally-minded types, would most likely run amuck after viewing a movie that, as the media argued, glorified violence and drug use.

So imagine lines of black, brown, and white youth (and this was interesting because the white kids didn’t all look like their black and brown counterparts. Okay, some of them did; you know, they had the early ´90s white-boy Vanilla Ice kind of faux “hi-top fade”. They were the Italian, Polish, white American kids of the Harlem and Irving area who were curious, I suppose, but not identifiable through cultural artifacts designating them as a part of Urban culture…which we know really means Black and Latino culture, right? I mean, urban culture is a marketing tool now, but at the time, Urban designated you as the “other” to be excluded) with all the urban fare of baggy pants and the like, being watched quite openly by many, if not half, of the police force of this ho-dunk suburb.

Well, as I said, we arrived early and went to a Coconuts record store to see what was out.

I had just finished my freshman year at a North Side high school, basically a South Side (Roseland! Woot! Woot! as they say) Kid surrounded by people who would act black or “urban” – but were in fact so far removed from the actual experience they aspired to emulate, it only made them into so many “gangsta”, “G-Funk era”, Al Jolson minstrels of the 1990s. But a lot of rap acts were doing it too, so I guess it was alright.

It was very strange to me, though; the few Black folks at my high school often communicated themselves in the inauthentic, authentic Nigger way, that as a racist society America creates as the voice and the acceptable form of agency (and regrettably, too many of my Black and Latino brothers bought into that inauthentic voice of the stereotypical hyper-masculinized thug.

I mean let’s be serious; our concepts of femininity and masculinity aren’t generated historically from the most well-thought-out places, but rather from extremely problematic conceptual places, of descriptors employed by power relations between the patriarchal hegemony of the state against the bodies resisting those designators which hinder one’s agency) – as it ties into the trope of the White mythos of America and who is included in and excluded from this myth, to substantiate the claim of what are accepted normal bodies and behavior. Basically, the “Us and them” factor.

I mean, KRS-One as well as my own relatives from the West and South Sides of Chicago would echo the same sentiment. You can love your neighborhood, but you don’t have to love poverty and the baggage that comes along with that (or my all-time favorite, “Act your age and not your color” – yikes, huh?) So it was odd to see non-blacks act like blacks, but it wasn’t the kind of black acting I grew up with – of resisting these stereotypical archetypes that we have, that already define us before we even leave the womb: stereotypes you either saw on TV or in your neighborhood, if you grew up actually in some of the “grittier” parts of Chicago – and if you were fortunate to have adults that cared, you knew that you didn’t act “niggerish.” Meaning you didn’t act the way white supremacists have defined you.

The album of my freshman year was Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. Everybody was buying it, playing it, reciting it, and I’d no idea what was going on. Until one day a friend said, “Listen to this”…and I was shocked. The sounds, the violence, the rhythm, the beats. The 20-dollar sack pyramid and the lyrics. Really, I knew this wouldn’t be accepted by my mom, but everybody that year was bumping The D-R-E. I wanted to fit in – and to be honest it was a sonic feast. So when I see The Chronic at Coconuts that day I ask my older sister to buy it for me, a very big deal too. That was the first tape that would begin my collection of music.

Immediately, when we get in the car to drive back to the movie theater, I ask my sister to put the tape in and let that shit bump. With expectation I wanted my sister to acknowledge, I don’t know really, my individuality (ironically from consuming the same shit others are consuming) or my attempt at fitting into what was, I felt, the space for young black males to fit in during that time. I wasn’t too concerned that she was not enjoying the album like I was – my enjoyment being, in fact, nothing more than thinking this little rectangle with spools of tape so fragilely erased with a magnet would bridge or simply allow me to fit into my strange new surroundings. She was quiet.

We watched the movie. We left, I asked my sister to play the tape again, and if you’ve never seen Menace it isn’t the most violent movie, but the Hughes brothers do an excellent job in creating the tragic and dramatic atmosphere that could actually be seen in some form or another in Chicago, and I’m sure to a greater extent in Los Angeles (the film’s setting). She did as I requested, and asked a simple question of five words: “Are you listening to this?”

On December 3rd, 2009, I saw a great show with Eyedea and Abilities. Eyedea has blown me away ever since I first saw him at the Chicago Blaze Battle in 2000 at the Metro, and any time Abilities has blessed the ol’ 1s & 2s it is like seeing Ravi Shankar play the sitar. There is this weird moment, and I not sure when or how it happens, but it is like the artist and instrument become one – if you’ve seen great musicianship you know what I mean.

It was a lot of fun, even though there were no Heads there. I mean, there were lots of white people; I was very much intrigued by this, because by their clothing, language, and interactions, interestingly enough these cats were Frat-Boy Chad types from Wrigleyville. I mean, it is no big surprise; most shows I’ve been to rarely have a significant number Hip Hoppers of color. But regardless of color, I’m accustomed to seeing Hip Hoppers at Hip Hop shows and not the rabble of Wrigley with backwards Cubs hats, striped button-down shirts, and girls with ridiculously large purses. When I heard Jeru The Damaja’s the “Da Bichez” in between E&A, I looked and to my amazement I was one of two reciting the lyrics, dancing, and doing my 31-year-old B-God stance.

Following E&A Jel and Doseone came on the stage, and I was excited because I’ve enjoyed their first Anticon Records joint. Jel’s beats were full of kung-fu drum kicks and 100-steps-of-death bass lines, and then there was Doseone (whom I’ve enjoyed on compilation albums but have not purchased [wink, wink: downloaded]) getting into his thing, with a verbal onslaught of thick polyrhythmic verses not necessarily rhyming, breath-controlled dominance, and simply a blending of the human voice with instrumentation creating a very intense marriage. All in all I was enjoying myself and the challenge of deciphering the almost scat, doo-wop-like delivery of Dose.

Then it happened: Dose in a nasally voice asking the crowd something to the point of, “Do you know who Rhymefest is? He called me a Faggot…” Which was followed by some pseudo-posturing of some kind of macho, bullshit crotch-grabbing and strutting bullshit. The crowd eats that shit up and then there is this fervor incited by the aggression presented and these Wrigleyville Frat-Boy Chads, Trixies, and Bettys get all, “Bro!!!!”

I was pissed. I mean, first, this wasn’t a Hip Hop crowd with people who have cultural, or personal, historical investment. It wasn’t a crowd of people who would even necessarily know about the Scribble Jam Battles or the roots of Hip Hop as an offshoot of the Black Power movement. It was a group of predominantly white people visibly removed from Hip Hop culture, cheering at the spectacle of conceptual or metaphorical violence from the denigration of being called a “Faggot” by Rhymefest.

One of the reasons this really turned me off was the use of the word “faggot” by both Rhymefest and Dose. Which is a trope brought into Hip Hop from the greater hegemonic structure of the American discourse of normalization, through the exclusion or othering of that which isn’t included as normal. Enacted by a guy who, in a battle with P.E.A.C.E. of Freestyle Fellowship, presented himself characterizing P.E.A.C.E. as the recipient, or desirous, of Dose in a homoerotic manner. Whom [Dose] in the battle talks about fucking in the ear and all this shit, followed by non-decipherable rhythmic chatter – and to be quite honest; Hip Hop comes from resisting that type of language of designation.

The idea that Dose would, one, bring up a battle with Rhymefest that to my knowledge happened years ago – continuing the aggression toward and demonizing of homosexuality as that which is non masculine or deviant male sexual behavior, to a crowd that has little to no idea of the cultural groundings of Hip Hop as resistance to hegemonic discourse of normality (based in what was once Puritanism, now turned white Anglo-Saxon Protestantism); and two, to do so in the city where Rhymefest is from, was too reminiscent of East Coast-West Coast for me.

I mean, let’s be real: if Rhymefest mentions a rapper that is not on the same level of record sales as he is (which isn’t to say that quality equals quantity), Fest is probably doing that rapper a favor. You see, it’s the spectacle aspect, which immediately becomes present when art becomes a spectacle commercially. Because I have to question who or what does the spectacle serve, and to whose interest — if what we choose to battle is one another, in the language of abuse and violence we are trying to escape through Hip Hop?

So I stood there pissed, and seriously like the only African-descended cat there all Hip Hop, and said to my friend, “It is time to go.” I refuse to listen to some guy who, while talented, masks content with gimmick; who trashes a Chicago Emcee who has done so much for the community prior to his own success. (N.B.: I don’t own any Rhymefest albums; I’ve seen him at underground shows, and in particular one on New Year’s Eve 1997, in the attic space of a supermercado on North Ave. and Kedzie.)

It was disappointing, because my sister taught me to listen; and as I listened to The Chronic and understood the meaning behind my sister’s words, and I listened to the Dose, it left me thinking, “Fuck, from plantations to radio stations, why aren’t we saying something of valor?” Leaving the hate and anger for those people and institutions that have exploited and continue to exploit, for the purposes of the new bloody planetary global order?

Thanks again to Talib and Moira for contributing to this Call-And-Response Live Fix Experiment.

Let’s Keep It Going.

What did you think about Talib’s story?

What needs to change about hip hop culture’s  call-and-response?

All photos by Colleen Catania

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