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GROWINg UP

HIP-HOP

kahlil almustafa Collected poems (1992-2007)

Foreword by Camille Yarbrough

MVMT Milk Publishing New York


MVMT Milk Publishing Company © 2008 kahlil almustafa All rights reserved Printed in the USA www.kahlilalmustafa.com LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA almustafa, kahlil. Growing Up Hip-Hop I. Poetry. II. Autobiography I. Social Issues. Library of Congress Control Number: 20089040857 Creative Editor: Kwasi Ramsey Copy Editors: Annie Schmutz, Miyo Tubridy, Rolando Brown for Parallel MVMT Graphic Design: Michael Cordero for Parallel MVMT Back Cover Photo by Betty Bestidas Some of these poems have been previously published in Grandma’s Soup (February 2001), I’m Crying Everyone’s Tears (August 2002) and Chivalry Is Dead/Be-Boy Be-Man (July 2003). Thank you to Dynamic, Lyrical Times and Mahogany Blues for publishing poems from this collection. The author is available for lectures, workshops, performances and other speaking engagements. Contact Parallel MVMT at (718) 682-2673 or hello@parallelmvmt.com This project was partially made possible by the Future Aesthetics Artist Regrant (FAAR) Program funded by the Ford Foundation. www.hhtf.org


Citizens of Hip-Hop

Hi(story) will no longer be told by the so-called hi(story)-tellers, but at open mics on mixtapes and in corner-freestyle-sessions around the world. The time is near, i can hear the sound of victory over buildings and over mountains. Keep your Black & White composition notebooks close. Put your words all over the lines and into the margins as we write ourselves into existence.


GROWINg UP HIP-HOP

Foreword by Camille Yarbrough

1

intro Urban Youth Blu’z (1992-2000)

3

I Musta’ Fit the Description Again Urban Youth Blu’z Playground Blu’z There Must Be a Better Way Is This That Better Way The Promise A Walk Down the Boulevard Urban Youth Blu’z A Teenage Boy’s Nightmare Lunch Down in the Game My Voice Is My Pen My Favorite Girl I Can Love Too

7 8 9 10 10 11 12 14 15 15 16 18 19 20

Grandma’s Soup (1999-2001)

Deep Silver Roots Rocking Chairs Tangeloes The Center The Godmother Part III In Haiku #1 for Mommy For Our Women A Poem for Ella Baker

23 24 26 28 29 30 30 31 34


A Poem for Nikki Giovanni Sexy Revolutionary Stranger Rent She Sometimes Six Ways of Looking at Yr Hips

I’m Crying Everyone’s Tears (2000-2004)

Double Agent Normal Lost Heroes Postcards for Amadou Pieces A Poem for Nkosi Johnson Yo Shorty Chris & His Dad Dr. King’s Dream

Be-Boy Be-Man (2003-2005)

mamma said growing up Brotha’hood with bottles of OE when approached by mirrors brothas That’s Gay Open Letter to My Male Friends For the Brothers U.S. Blk men At 26 She don’t know Interrelationship Memos (FYI) What is & What is Not a Question Plain White Tees

35 36 36 37 37 37 38

43 47 49 53 56 60 62 65 68

71 72 73 73 74 74 75 77 78 81 82 83 84 85 86


Do Something (2004-2007)

Burn My Mamma Overthrew Jesus My Cure I Wanted to Tell You Hopeful Romantic Love Does Chivalry is Dead Do Something Hip-Hop Declaration of Hip-Hop Independence WE

89 91 93 95 98 99 102 104 107 109 112

Outro

113

about the author

114

Shout-Outs

116


Intro

I lived in the ghetto and my grandmother lived in the suburbs, and we lived in the same house. I grew up in South Jamaica, Queens, which is located somewhere between New York City and nowhere. During the time I was growing up, Queens had the largest population of Black homeownership, and the largest crime rate in New York City at the same time. And that did not make it the hardest, illest, realer than Bruce Willis. That just made it confused. In Queens, college graduates raised high school dropouts, and crackheads pushed shopping carts full of VCRs past murals of jazz legends who once lived here. This land of upward mobility and finely manicured lawns is now overpopulated with Crown Fried Chickens, Popeye’s Chickens, Chester’s Chickens and Takeout Chinese Food Stores that sell Chicken Wings & French Fries as if it were the national dish of China. Queens, the home of bootleg DVD collections, 99-cent stores, birds chirping, sirens blazing, subprime mortgage crisis, suburban schizophrenia. I grew up in the middle: a middle class, middle child, somewhere in between ghetto and bourgie, revolutionary and The Cosby’s, gangsta’ and nerd, hip-hop and not; too high to get over, “yeah, yeah,” too low to get under, “yeah, yeah,” I was stuck in the middle and the pain was every day of my young adult life. Like everyone of my generation, I grew up in a world of hip-hop. Still, the revolutionary images of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and the sexed-up LL Cool J did not inspire me. Maybe, if Super Mario, after hurling fireballs at Bowser on the final stage, broke out into a rap, backed by DJ Luigi, about how he made it to the top and now he’s buying a Benz with all the coins he made from smashing bricks, today, I might be an emcee. But I’m not. I’m a poet. 3


I picked up a pen because my father was not there to teach me how to fix the flat tire on my bike OR keep me from riding my sister’s pink Huffy bike with the pink banana seat OR teach me how to fight everyone, who upon seeing me riding my sister’s pink bike, considered me the greatest threat to hood security. I picked up a pen to explain to myself why I had to attend so many funerals of young, Black men, and why the funeral parlor added a second floor, paved in more parking spots, and added neon lights, when every other business up and down the boulevard was closing. I picked up the pen because no one could answer my questions in Sunday School about the dinosaurs, or why my mamma wasn’t included in the father, son and Holy Spirit. I picked up the pen because the Pastor’s sermon of faith and prayer did not stop AIDS from slowly poisoning my mother’s veins no matter how hard I prayed. I picked up the pen because some part of me somehow knew the Pledge of Allegiance, Star-Spangled Banner, Christopher Columbus, George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, Abraham Lincoln never telling a lie, Santa Claus climbing down the chimney, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and “One day, I’m going to be president,” were all fairy tales because my reality was crack vials, scraped knees against broken bottles of Ole’ English, “Boy, you know we can’t afford that,” “Go ‘head act like animals, I’m getting paid anyway,” police helicopters, gun shots, getting jumped, and watching TV. I picked up the pen because Theo’s problems were not my problems, so Heathcliff Huxtable’s daily lessons were not enough, and I was tired of praying, tired of memorizing lies, tired of pretending like this reality wasn’t hurting me inside. I picked up a pen and I began to write. 4


Intro

I lived in the ghetto and my grandmother lived in the suburbs, and we lived in the same house. I grew up in South Jamaica, Queens, which is located somewhere between New York City and nowhere. During the time I was growing up, Queens had the largest population of Black homeownership, and the largest crime rate in New York City at the same time. And that did not make it the hardest, illest, realer than Bruce Willis. That just made it confused. In Queens, college graduates raised high school dropouts, and crackheads pushed shopping carts full of VCRs past murals of jazz legends who once lived here. This land of upward mobility and finely manicured lawns is now overpopulated with Crown Fried Chickens, Popeye’s Chickens, Chester’s Chickens and Takeout Chinese Food Stores that sell Chicken Wings & French Fries as if it were the national dish of China. Queens, the home of bootleg DVD collections, 99-cent stores, birds chirping, sirens blazing, subprime mortgage crisis, suburban schizophrenia. I grew up in the middle: a middle class, middle child, somewhere in between ghetto and bourgie, revolutionary and The Cosby’s, gangsta’ and nerd, hip-hop and not; too high to get over, “yeah, yeah,” too low to get under, “yeah, yeah,” I was stuck in the middle and the pain was every day of my young adult life. Like everyone of my generation, I grew up in a world of hip-hop. Still, the revolutionary images of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and the sexed-up LL Cool J did not inspire me. Maybe, if Super Mario, after hurling fireballs at Bowser on the final stage, broke out into a rap, backed by DJ Luigi, about how he made it to the top and now he’s buying a Benz with all the coins he made from smashing bricks, today, I might be an emcee. But I’m not. I’m a poet. 3


I picked up a pen because my father was not there to teach me how to fix the flat tire on my bike OR keep me from riding my sister’s pink Huffy bike with the pink banana seat OR teach me how to fight everyone, who upon seeing me riding my sister’s pink bike, considered me the greatest threat to hood security. I picked up a pen to explain to myself why I had to attend so many funerals of young, Black men, and why the funeral parlor added a second floor, paved in more parking spots, and added neon lights, when every other business up and down the boulevard was closing. I picked up the pen because no one could answer my questions in Sunday School about the dinosaurs, or why my mamma wasn’t included in the father, son and Holy Spirit. I picked up the pen because the Pastor’s sermon of faith and prayer did not stop AIDS from slowly poisoning my mother’s veins no matter how hard I prayed. I picked up the pen because some part of me somehow knew the Pledge of Allegiance, Star-Spangled Banner, Christopher Columbus, George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, Abraham Lincoln never telling a lie, Santa Claus climbing down the chimney, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and “One day, I’m going to be president,” were all fairy tales because my reality was crack vials, scraped knees against broken bottles of Ole’ English, “Boy, you know we can’t afford that,” “Go ‘head act like animals, I’m getting paid anyway,” police helicopters, gun shots, getting jumped, and watching TV. I picked up the pen because Theo’s problems were not my problems, so Heathcliff Huxtable’s daily lessons were not enough, and I was tired of praying, tired of memorizing lies, tired of pretending like this reality wasn’t hurting me inside. I picked up a pen and I began to write. 4


URbAN YOuth BLu’Z

kahlil almustafa

“Stereotype of a Black male misunderstood

and it’s still all good.”

- Notorious B.i.g.

Urban Youth Blu’z (1992-2000)

I used to wear my fitted cap low, hiding my eyes from the world. I knew this society saw young, Black men as criminals. When I was fifteen years-old I wrote:

I guess I musta’ fit the description again. Five foot ten, male, African-American.

I had already lived the Korean store stereotype of “you buy now,” metal detectors, and random police pat-downs. Society taught me I would experience this life as Public Enemy Number One, a straight-up Menace to Society. 5


URbAN YOuth BLu’Z

“I finally understand for a woman it ain’t easy

trying to raise a man.”

- Tupac shakur

Grandma’s Soup (1999-2001)

I grew up in “a tribe of women.” Like most families in my neighborhood, my father was not around. I was raised by my mother, Sheila Gasper. I grew up with my two sisters and more surrogate aunts and female cousins than I could count. I was also raised by my grandmother, Shirley Redmon. My grandmother was an immigrant from St. Kitts. She lived the American Dream: she put herself through college, worked a fulltime job, got married, had two children (a boy and a girl), saved her pennies, and moved her family into her own home. After my mom was tired of “playing grown-up,” we moved in with my grandmother. She was part of a generation of grandmothers who took on the responsibility of raising her children and her children’s children. 21


AbOut the AuthOR

kahlil almustafa is known as the People’s Poet, whether for a mass rally of hundreds of people, a nightclub, church, university or a backyard family reunion. He uses the stage & page to speak the truth of the people. almustafa is the 2002 Nuyorican Grand Slam Champion and the author of two collections of poetry: Grandma’s Soup (February 2001) and I’m Crying Everyone’s Tears (August 2002) which has sold or distributed more than 5,000 copies. almustafa recently released his highly-anticipated debut CD CounterIntelligence. His poetry has been featured at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, the C-Span televised “March to End Occupation in Iraq,” the Left Forum, Lincoln Center, Columbia, NYU, Yale, Wesleyan, Northwestern, Princeton, the International African Arts Festival, the Harlem Book Festival, the National Black Writer’s Conference, and many more. In addition to performing and writing, almustafa is a dedicated educator. He conducts regular poetry workshops at universities, schools, community organizations and prisons. almustafa gained attention in the hip-hop community while on the Speak Truth to Power tour and with the hip-hop/rock band GAME Rebellion. He is currently on the Hip-Hop for President Tour and was selected by the Hip-Hop Theater Festival as a grantee of the Future Aesthetics Artist Regrant, funded by the Ford Foundation. Re-energized from performing at the first solar-powered hip-hop concert at the U.S. Social Forum, almustafa is ready to infuse the world with hope and insight through his poetry. Please visit http://www.kahlilalmustafa.com and post poems, comments, questions and other expressions.


Citizens of hip-hop We the people of hip-hop . . .

Burn. This is what the first draft of one of my poems looks like.

Reflection



Growing Up Hip-Hop