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This Is My Rifle: Rediscovering My Love for Hip-Hop

Posted by Jason James on 01/04/12 | Filed under Features, This Is My Rifle

I had it all planned out- during my 2 week hiatus from Refined Hype I was gonna search through the cobwebs and re-discover my love for Hip Hop. As much fun as I have shitting on everything that comes my way, I secretly find myself longing for the days when I lived solely for this culture and nothing else. Some of my fondest memories are of the years when I spent cruising around the streets of Vancouver with a backpack full of spray cans (Krylon of course. We didn't have Montana back then) looking for those hard to reach spots that I could paint my name across and lay claim to until either the city removed it or another writer covered it with his own name. For a number of years Hip Hop was my entire life and graffiti was my driving force. I would take incredibly stupid risks in the name of "getting up" and when I inevitably got caught, I saw it as nothing more than a necessary obstacle in my quest for artistic supremacy. I loved it with every inch of my heart. Bombing was not just my hobby; it was all I ever thought about. I dreamed of giant vacant lots with huge empty panels that overlooked the city. Blank walls that I could throw my imagination towards and turn into colossal reflections of myself. There was nothing in my life that was more important to me than creative expression and still to this day there is nothing that trumps it.

But naturally I found that there were too many restrictions with graffiti; most notably the fact that it's illegal. Getting arrested never bothered me; it was what I was being arrested for that I couldn’t understand. I always believed that I was adding to the landscape, not taking away from it. However, the law and the government didn't feel the same way and I got tired of spending my time in police cars and holding cells. At the time I was too young for them to do anything about it (roughly 15 years old) and so more often than not they let me go with a slap on the wrist. I guess they figured that dealing my mom was worse than any punishment they could inflict on me and, truth is, they were right. I just could never comprehend why they wanted their world to be so empty and colorless. In my opinion, a world without street artists would be too painfully grey to manage.

I miss it like crazy though. It was through graffiti that I came to love Hip Hop so dearly, and as my artistic direction shifted from paint to words, I fell deeper in love with it. I discovered that while my hands (and natural skill) were limited, words could create pictures brighter and more vivid than anything I could do visually. The art of MCing was infinitely powerful and I was good at it. Whether it was battling, freestyling or writing songs, I always stood out amongst my peers. Unlike graffiti, I wasn't just another name on a wall or some strung together letters to be admired in passing, with my words I could grab the people's attention and hold it. It was the first time in my life that I felt truly significant.

I loved MCing so passionately, and just like my previous affair with graffiti, I would do anything for it. If ever I came into a situation where I couldn't wear my headphones, I would find the most immediate way out possible. The kick and the snare drum were my pulse and to deny them to me was like disconnecting my lifeline. Eventually the drum beat became so embedded in me that I could hear it without my headphones and it was without question the only reason I was able to make it through school (if I went at all). I spent countless nights standing out in the rain trying to sneak into the local open mic until finally a local DJ, and NYC transplant, Seanski saw something in me and invited me in. From the moment my hand gripped the microphone I knew that I would never let it go. It was Seanski who gave me my first opportunity to rock a crowd and to this day I owe him a debt of gratitude. If it weren’t for him I'd probably still be standing on that corner waiting for my moment.

Back then Hip Hop was more than just a culture to me; it defined who I was as a person. I was so immersed in it that it was impossible for me to identify with anything else and now as an adult I'm confused as to why I'm losing that part of myself. I'll always be an MC but I've become disconnected from the culture as a whole. I guess I just feel like Hip Hop has come to a point where it's stagnant and almost regressing. Nowadays it seems like it’s just a title and anybody can buy into it. With the right amount of money you can purchase the uniform and proclaim yourself a member without ever having put any real effort into learning about the history of where this all came from. Growing up, the style was fresh because we made it that way. There were a few urban brands like Karl Kani, PNB and FUBU, but most of us stuck to being creative with our fashion because being fly was about being original. Walking around looking like a cardboard cut out of an ad from The Source was an open invitation to being clowned. Individuality was celebrated to the highest degree.

To most of you reading this, I probably sound like one of those bitter old heads that can't let go of the past. I'd like to say to you that I most definitely am not. I respect what Hip Hop has accomplished and I appreciate what it’s brought to my life, I just can’t help but wonder if it’s capable of growing any further as it seems like it’s come to a complete stop over the past few years. The reason for this being is because Hip Hop has become more about fame and fortune than it is about the MC, DJ, B-Boy and Graf Writer. These were the original elements that created the culture and without all of them playing an equal part in it, Hip Hop cannot exist. For every Wu-Tang Clan there has to be a TATS Crew. For every Jay-Z there has to be a DJ Premier. For every Nas there has to be a Crazy Legs. If only the MC is relevant (and profitable) then Hip Hop loses it’s balance and it ceases to grow.

So with that said, I’m dedicating 2012 to Hip Hop. I’ve spent some time away and I’m ready to get that old feeling back. The world is changing at a rapid pace and I believe that Hip Hop is ready to take that next step as well. I’m looking forward to seeing what develops and hopefully I can stop being the angry old man on Refined Hype’s porch complaining about “kids these days”.

Ok. Time to get to it. I’m about to give Common’s “The Dreamer, The Believer” and The Roots’ “Undun” their first official spins in my iPod. Wish me luck.

(Jason James is an artist, freelance columnist and writer for You can listen/download his most recent album, "Marvelous World Of Color", here and you can contact him here and here.)

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