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Written byNicholas Trethowan

“Hip-hop is about the human condition; it’s about people’s lives.” – Immortal Technique

In this world, this crazy little blue and green globe, we have sought the purpose and meaning to life for almost the entirety of our existence. Now I wish I could say this piece is about our purpose and meaning in life, but truly that is something only for the individual to find, not as something to be instructed. Yet I, like many others, have found that guidance is always appreciated. The question we then ask, is where do we look? How do we form our own language of expression? How do we cope?

Growing up I was an angsty and rebellious little shit. Confident in my ability to think quickly and assuredly to get out of any sort of trouble, I was forever trying to push the boundaries. Music had always been a source of joy to me, as soon as my jams were on I’d exuberantly break into dance or make believe performances to thousands of people. Needless to say discovering my older and much cooler brothers punk music was not a good mix to my already turbulent childhood. I went from a sweet little kid to a terror almost over night. My Dead Kennedy’s and Rancid phase was especially chaotic for the people around me. It felt like the angry ‘fuck the system attitude’ was MY attitude and the turbulent way it arranged itself felt like an obvious extension of myself. Puberty right? I was a little new era late 2000’s punk. Rage Against the Machine? Give it to me. System of a Down? Hell yeah. Even the lighter poppier Green Day and Good Charlotte, all were my music. And of course my crazy 12 year old self would learn every single word to all of my favourite songs. Every. Single. Word.

And then one day some months later, I heard two songs that changed the game for me: Mathematics by Mos Def and Accordion by MF DOOM. I knew who Mos Def was from some of his early acting and I knew MF was some guy who featured on a Gorillaz track, other than that, I knew very little aside from the fact that rock and punk rock was my life. Those two songs were when I fell in love with hip hop in addition to ‘Hey Ya’ by OutKast and ‘Man on the Moon’ by Kid Cudi, they became the cornerstones to a whole new world and form of expression for an angsty teen. I still loved other music, but quickly hip hop became a part of my life.

Hip hop for me, like so many others, is something more than just an art or music. Maybe it is the way lyricists float with words, delving into your consciousness, exploring concepts and ideas while effortlessly bouncing with the hypnotic drum and kick. Maybe it’s the way it relates to reality by the narratives it weaves that we can all relate to even if not fully. Maybe just simply put, it’s the right flavour for your taste. Whatever the reason, me as a rebellious angry soon to be 14 year old, was transfixed with learning the words to those songs. I would sing along to them until I knew every syllable, every tone and infliction and like all enthusiasts, afterwards I had to, just had to learn more.

Maybe it is the way lyricists float with words, delving into your consciousness, exploring concepts and ideas while effortlessly bouncing with the hypnotic drum and kick.

Opening the door into Hip Hop changed my world view and influenced me to a stand still. A white teenage boy in South Africa who loved rhymes and bars, when most of my peers loved 3!Oh3!, Cobra Star Ship and LMFAO. For me though, it was Guru and Gang Starr, Talib Kweli, Nas, Immortal Technique, BIGGIEJay Z and of course Wu Tang Clan as well as the before mentioned Outkast, Kid Cudi, MF DOOM and Mos Def became the staple of my teenage years. They provided me a sense of rebellion that felt more authentic to me, the points of which was no less angry but more refined and thought out, strategically able to play with your mind, the music and your spirit. It also helped open the doors to the incredible South African hip hop acts so prevalent in our country that had either made a legacy or were making one: Skwatta Kamp, HHP, Mandoza, Max Normal TV, PH Fat and Jam Jarr were just some of those who opened the doors for new waves of emerging artists now.

I felt a communion with hip hop that I struggled to find in a church or a place of prayer. I felt a sense of connection listening to these modern day social prophets speak. From GZA’s Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (or B.I.B.L.E) to Cudi’s flipped version of The Prayer, through the melodies and intentions that explored the spiritual or the existential, there was a sense of religion I felt akin to. It was a religion in the pursuit of knowledge, of truth, bravery and camaraderie, one in which your brothers and sisters are all around, connecting to God every time we put our headphones in or speakers on. And I don’t mean God the way it’s been told for eons. 

“The word of our God is manipulated and twisted by the same system

That is infiltrated and falsely interpreted Jesus

One life, one love, one God, It’s us, treat your neighbor how you would want to be treated

The universal laws of God, don′t look too far it′s right here, us human beings

The spirits right here and I don’t have to see it

Now every time I want to connect with God I put my headphones on

Then I nod, grab my pen, my pad, let it seep in”

Church – Macklemore

I mean God in the way that it is all around us, always. It’s the music we hear and the communion we find. The peace we gather to when the world keeps storming. Learning and exploring. Teaching us to grow the horizons of our lives as we all try to see more: from our history and personal mysteries, our societies and economies, to understand and encourage the accumulation of knowledge. In the words of the God MC, Rakim:

“If you can see, if you can solve the mystery

The answer revolves around your history

So carefully, I drop this degree

Scientifically and realistically”

Simple, rhyming, truth bombs.

And of course, like all things, there are many types of hip hop, all with a unique perspective. Immortal Technique is not the same as 50 Cent and while one is money orientated and the other focuses on social awareness, both have made music that detail the society around them. From these reflections, we see more and more. Understand, if to only a degree, more and more. Music is one of the biggest connectors we have, it is union of all. Physical, emotional, mental, spiritual.

I know that Hip Hop for me has been one of the major passions and influences in my life, but each of us to our own. Rock, punk rock, psych-rock, Jazz, Pop, Folk, Electro, RNB, music connects us all. Don’t listen to music you think you SHOULD like. Listen to the music you ACTUALLY like. Find those genres in your local scene and support the hell out of them. Because what we need now more than ever is unity and communion. Together we do the most incredible things and we do so when we are authentic and ourselves. Find your own version of hip hop and own it. The music we listen to, frames our world so never be afraid to try something new. Keep growing your sound and finding new favourites because every new addition is a whole new step.

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