By Leena Mohammed
I’ve been on exchange here for seven months, and I haven’t listened to this much Rap & Hip-Hop since I was sixteen. It took a bit of reflection, but now I have a pretty good grip of why I have solely listened to this music since coming here. To put it simply: It’s “black people’s music”.
In Sudan, by the time I turned thirteen I had listened to every Tupac album on record. I used to love the video for I Ain’t Mad At Cha, where he gets shot after exiting an events – eerily similar to his actual fate. It was also special because it told of a close childhood friend of his who converted to Islam in jail. Being Muslim myself, I loved that he was talking about accepting his friend’s new faith.
Around that point I also started digging into the back catalogues of the Hip-Hop game. That meant full discographies of A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, Erik B & Rakim, and basically every All-Time-Greatest-Rap-Records list I could find.
Every kid in Sudan knew Tupac, you could find his name graffitied everywhere on the walls in Khartoum. For me it was inevitable; my brother had me listening to him from when I was ten. Yeah, 50 Cent was big back then too, but that was just cute stuff you listened to in order to keep up. The real stuff was underground. The Immortal Technique’s and Last Emperor’s were fire to my soul, this was intelligent, highly stimulating rap. For some reason their rhymes got me rebooted like nothing else could.
At about fifteen, female rappers became my best friends. Foxy Brown’s verse in Affirmative Action more famous male peers had offered. I can’t tell you how much that meant for a girl who honestly thought she’d be a music producer when she grew up. Seriously, I was inseparable from GarageBand.
Through Queen Latifah’s U.N.I.T.Y I blissfully discovered feminism. I badly needed it. I was growing older, my English had gotten better, and I didn’t like the lyrics of the rap I was hearing as much anymore. Plus, the game was getting weak (i.e. Souljah Boy and G-Unit). I started to listen to rap less and less, till eventually it became something of the past. I was more than comfortable with indie bands, folk, and rock; white people’s music.
Living as a minority for the first time in my life was a whirlwind I did not see coming. I studied in Malaysia for two and a half years before coming here, and other than being the biggest chick (width and height) everywhere I went, I had no problem adapting. Going to the supermarket was easy, my Malaysian friends and I paid the same price for public transport, and all the international kids got to bitch about student visas equally, even if they were only from Singapore. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I passed off as a Malaysian pretty easily.
Here, the number of people that I could relate to pretty much diminished to zero overnight. The angst of Hip-Hop finally made sense to me – I finally got it. I couldn’t be more grateful for those rappers out there who were translating the angst I felt for me.
When the environment you live in becomes a place of infinite unfamiliarity; when your misfortunes are brought up and lathered on your face on the daily, and when family and friends become nothing but pixels on your computer screen, music somehow rises to become a source of indescribable comfort. It is an instrument of surprising mutual understanding. I hope you too, find solace in what you head-bop to and comfort in your own Hip-Hop.