I’ve always felt that an emcee’s lyrics were a reflection of their emotional maturity and critical thinking abilities. For example, if you don’t have anything to say, it’s because you’re not insightful—or you’re dumbing your music down because you think it’s what suburban kids want you to be. You’re the type of emcee that will be around for a hot second, and then you’ll run out things to say and become a distant memory.
Then there are those with the ability to pierce the complexity of a shared experience, process it, and serve it back up in a new light, helping people understand their reality on a deeper level. These emcees give Hip Hop a sense of place, other than the club.
Enter Kemba, direct from Hunts Point in the Bronx. I don’t like to engage in poverty porn, so let’s just say Kemba wasn’t born into a pampered financial situation. Regardless, in his latest album Negus, the situation Kemba was born into didn’t distort what he wanted for his life, nor his enduring love of Hip Hop. “This came from love. We made a civilization from mud. We made a culture to break out the hood. All niggas gave us was pistols and drugs!”
You got brothas all across this country who believe they’re gaming the system, even though all they’re doing is playing the exact role the system wanted them to play. Deriving from that, you have a gang of emcees who are caricatures of that character. “You would think we’re drug lords if you watch CNN. Where did the hood get the drugs from? Please remind me again?”
The root of this behavior comes from feeling defeated. And it’s easy to feel defeated when you’re fighting for basic needs in the midst of the wealthiest country on the planet. We don’t choose the situation we’re born into, but we do choose how we respond to it. “Our fathers were tarred and feathered as targets and all we got is the President. So who ridin? I’m with it! It’s hard to be positive when impoverished. I did it!”
There’s a lot of noise that we’re all living through: Intergenerational poverty, police brutality, the silent majority sharing how they really feel. And most of us want to remain in a turnt up fairy land, but we don’t have that luxury given the reality we have to face: “I know you want to flaunt. I want to flaunt too! But it ain’t been that long since there was niggas in the Bronx Zoo!”
If you want to hear music from dope underground emcees, be sure to check out the Vaytus app in the iOS App Store.
Music for the Rest of Us is an exploration of dope music made with artistic integrity— music that’s about something more than just the turn up. Written by Aniefre Essien.