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Social Studies

Still The Love of My Life

Emily Flake

By Vincent Williams | Posted 6/4/2008

So, apparently, Puffy went and saw Kanye West perform a couple of weeks ago, and the concert was so good that it inspired the Puffster to, his words now, "fall in love with hip-hop again." We know this because, being Puffy, he's not allowed to do anything without broadcasting it to the world, and he released a video all over the internet proclaiming his transformative moment. All hateration aside, and God knows I've been hating Puffy now for, wow, almost two decades, I have to admit that he has a point. Many of us who love hip-hop do have to be reminded now and again why we actually stay around and put up with all the foolishness that goes along with it.

For the record, I've never really understood the "crazy relationship." Everybody knows someone who's been in one, and many of us have participated. There's cheating and broken china and ransacked rooms and pathetic justifications for all that behavior. One of my best friends was in one of those relationships, and, boy oh boy, that was a wacky thing to behold. Every time we'd go out to his car, the rest of us would wonder, Well, what's happened to Teddy's car today? Slashed tires? Sugar in the gas tank? Brick through the windshield? Oh! It's the word liar keyed out on the passenger-side door! Very classy. But them fools swore they loved each other and stayed together much longer than was healthy for all involved.

Now, me, I always thought this kind of thing was ridiculous. In my mind, it's hard enough just navigating through the world without having to deal with foolishness in your life. Your house should be about peace, not chaos. But, as I was thinking about this column and Puffy's declaration of renewed love, I realized, Hip-hop is my crazy girlfriend.

Like Common, I met this girl when I was 10 years old, but, unlike him, it wasn't love at first listen at all. No, I liked a couple of songs, and, yeah, as I got older, I thought Run-DMC was real good and, boy, that Rakim sounds like an actual poet, and doing the cabbage patch to Rob Base's "Joy and Pain" is the thing to do, and Public Enemy certainly is giving me a lot to think about, but hip-hop as a form? Well . . . it's a'ight. No, my Road to Damascus moment came with A Tribe Called Quest's People's Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm. After staying in my room for five hours straight, only moving to flip the demo over on my DJ roommate's stereo, like millions before me, I fell heads over heels in love with hip-hop.

And, for a while, it was good. I remember going to the record store every week, and being frustrated because there were so many good albums and I couldn't afford to buy them all. Hip-hop changed the way I dressed, the way I acted, and the way I approached the world.

But, like many young passionate relationships, as we got older, hip-hop and I drifted apart. My sensibilities remained progressive, my humor became more biting, and my patience for ignorance became shorter than ever. And hip-hop? Well, we all know what happened to hip-hop. It got big and gaudy and apolitical and, arguably, started to fully embrace the negativity and nihilism that outsiders always attributed to it. So, we parted ways, and I said I was just going to date jazz or the Beatles or electronic.

Still . . . you know how it is sometimes when you see an old girlfriend. Mos Def and Talib Kweli and their post-Tribe ilk went a long way toward reminding me just how good hip-hop can look. Or, I'll be in the city and I'll see some kids break-dancing who weren't even born when Wild Style came out. Or, I'll point out in class that in many ways Native Son and Ready to Die have the same protagonist, and I'll see that spark of understanding in a student's eyes that teachers kill for. As much as it continues to frustrate me, hip-hop always finds a way to remind me why I love it so much. So I get what Puffy's talking about.

Here's the thing, though. Puffy and everything he represents is the biggest reason me and hip-hop broke up in the first place. All that stuff I said a couple of 'graphs ago about gaudiness, negativity, and nihilism? Pretty much sums up Bad Boy in the '90s. So, as someone who amassed tremendous fortune from, how can I put this delicately, uh, completely fucking up hip-hop, I can see how Kanye West's often witty, always interesting good hip-hop might intrigue him. But, Puffy, if you really love her, sometimes it's best to just leave her alone because she's better without you.

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