Sunday, July 20, 2014

Imaginary Friendship (For Nasir Jones)

Editorial Note: Imaginary Friends will not appear this week. Before going further with that project or Neurotropes, I need to clarify a little bit of the position I'm in as I write these things. Here's a missing section, a dedication poem and the seventh part of my Thoughts on Writing. I hope you like it.

Books built my vocabulary,
but gaps the between
your syllables
honed my flow.
Fuck Iggy Azalea.
This is what
her fans should know.

I wasn't ready when
I first heard you
pull a Descartes;
I'd missed Illmatic
and It Was Written
because my life
was falling apart,
but when I was alone
I'd steal your CD
out of my deadbeat
roommate's player
and hear your
declaration of being,
back to backing
I Am with Outkast's
Stankonia
and feeling the tension
in the difference
between kinds of
rhythms.

I knew you through
Tre's obsession
with The Blueprint,
but I couldn't begin
to sense the importance
of the fact that
while I was listening
to the Dead Prez set,
he was only interested
in what you said
'cuz you had beef brewing.

I knew he wouldn't be
looking
for the missing disc
because it happened
to be older than
106th & Park's
weekly top vids,
and it didn't have you
calling Jay's name on it.

I won't pretend
that I don't like Jay-Z's
first architecture,
and I got the Black
Album on wax,
but the fact is
that that's it.

And at the age his career is?
That's like a one hot record
every ten year average.
I got my reasonable doubts
about anyone whose lyrics are only
about money,
making it,
and being mad at the work
that someone else did.

In fact, lyrically
I did not even know
Talib Kweli,
but Jay-Z's diss got me
listening,
and then I developed a sense
for Common Sense,
and it seemed like Chicago had beats
like New York had in the nineties,
only not the same sound,
just the same quality.

Like Water for Chocolate
opened up for me
because of Jay-Z's words
and your help developing
a sensibility.

That and the love
of my best friend
also let Jill Scott in.

I found all that
by figuring out Jay-Z
only dissed out of envy,
so his targeting you
during your troubles,
at least gave credibility
to the idea that each
of his dismissals
was a reference
to some shit I should be
listening in on.

Imagine my surprise,
followed by the laughter in my eyes
when you got him out of Linkin Park,
talking truth about being a Black Republican,
and then ended the feud once and for all
by reminding everyone about the monotony
of listening to a businessman
bragging about money.

Even if that song was a work
I got a real thrill
out of you showing us Jay-Z's heel.

But also imagine the frustration
I felt over Graduation.

It winning a Grammy
was only a travesty
because of the album it beat,
but it was still a real blow to me.
It made it difficult for me
to embrace Kanye
until I heard Black Skinhead
sounding like a marriage
between you and Marilyn Manson.

Then I realized that even if he beat you,
he still knew who to pay attention to
if he wanted to keep the tap open
and flow truth.

Hip Hop is Dead is a master work,
and any southern rappers
who didn't recognize
the call to action had to be
overcompensating
for shit they said
that they know shouldn't have happened,
because it's not like
you originated the sentiment.
Andre 3000 had already said it,
and when Big Boi got
temperamental
about your album,
I noticed Dre stayed awfully quiet.

Looking past the moment it responded to,
I'd like to think it's got a deeper lesson
that kids should appreciate too,
so I load my own extended clip
and play it for my cousins, calling attention
to the first time you reference it
and the different phrasing
to point out that you're not
about to start shooting
'cuz the clip goes in a deck,
and speaking until you own the beat
is how a DJ gets wrecked.

And from there we talk about how
musical samples and history
coated with pastiche
creates holographic imagery
of a culture
that kids who weren't living yet
need to be in touch with.

That starts a conversation
about generational duty
and the fact that cultures only die
when they're either
colonized by outsiders
or when the rift between
mentor and mentee
is about power
and not artistic development.

Thanks to your eighth album
being a textbook, a handbook,
and a check list,
I don't think there's an excuse
for any younger musicians
not to have a sense of what
came before them,
and I recommend you
to all of my friends
who don't know more than
the beats on Top 40
and the performers
who speak weak
simple rhythms
over them.

You were my point of access
for a world that was able
to string together syllables,
covering over the same kind of hole
in the throat that drove
my frustration
and kept me from speaking
the way that I wrote.

Multidimensional
references
to shared experience
was how I thought,
and until I encountered hip hop,
I didn't know
that it was how
a whole culture held conversations.

I was stuck at Tanagra
with Star Trek conventions
when my head was opened
and Big Daddy Kane was shoved in,
and then I understood
what Eminem was stealing
and the things that would be necessary
before my own efforts started to succeed.

I really appreciated you turning Will.i.am
into Well.i.did, and it made me take
The Black Eyed Peas
just a little more seriously.

After I got older and finished my degree,
I went back to Illmatic and got myself a schooling,
and even though grad school taught me to script,
It Was Written was how I learned about dramatic writing.

You gave me power,
and lessons from a Firm hand
that showed that
if Foxy was alive
I needed to pay attention
more than I had been.

If you didn't call Jay-Z a homo,
I'd think your words
were letter perfect,
but my queerness gets agitated
every time I hear that.
It's a rotten spot, and
this is coming from a fan
who even jams to your bricks.
I can hack Nastradamus,
but I can't tolerate
that homophobic shit.

Still, you were the best friend
I ever met in music.

When Marilyn Manson
was on the High End of Low,
your references to people I should know
put me off that and into
The Low End Theory
and from there it was only a short distance
before I could sense the 7th Chamber,
and another year before I entered it.

Now I shift back and forth between
old rock, the Black Label Society,
Strange Famous (especially Sage Francis),
and the people you brought with
when you waltzed into my life
and gave me something to do during
my longest internship,
when I had to learn about unemployment.

In fact, you might even be
the reason
the unemployment ended,
since unlocking this ability to hear
musicality before worrying
about meaning
is how I developed
a coping mechanism
that allowed me to speak
in front of a classroom.

It turned me from a television addicted kid
into a storyteller who conceives of lyrics
as verbal paintings.

I wasn't a working writer
until I was working on understanding
the thing that pulled me out
of my own experience
and demanded that my attention
turn itself to your stories.
I learned to look past the things
I was taught to see,
and to hear meaning in everything.

Nas albums are gospels,
and even if you can be a little homophobic,
at least you're not a misogynist,
and I probably wouldn't know
Queer artists like Angel Haze
if I hadn't started at your shit.

Before she ever said it,
I already knew I was Dirty Gold
from the way my self-esteem was rebuilt
from my interaction with interpreting
your coded messages,
and I still can't believe
they ever questioned your intelligence.

Still, I'm feeling what it's like
to have a life
where everyone does it.

I've heard interviews with Kanye West
where he stops playing at being
an entertaining guest and starts
to get his creative process off his chest.
He says that he sees colors
when he's composing,
talking about beats like they're flashing.

I'm synesthetic like that too,
only more tactile,
and when I hear your verse,
it's not flashing colors I see,
it's a gallery hanging only Dali
and a sense that
The Persistence of Memory
is a fractal object that
a certain type of artist
can't stop himself from re-creating,
and I want to do that too,
so I start trying to devise
these Tesseract Tracts,
studying Ghetto Rainbows
alongside you, seeking
images of other dimensions
and illuminating points of intersection
where I can catch glimpses of
the things I can never know directly.

You taught an ignorant kid
raised in the grip
of suburban white
supremacists
to sense the place
where hip hop lives,
and I'm never forgetting it,
and I won't deny I sometimes
borrow a cadence
but I respect you too much
to take vocabulary I shouldn't
or to fake an accent I didn't get
through natural exposure to the sounds
of the new family I entered
after being liberated
from the one where I began.

Sometimes I sound southern now,
but not dirty south,
and I know
what words do and don't
belong in my mouth,
and I can finally control
how they come out.

Your example taught me
to channel my Autisticness
out of frustration
and into this productive shit
and the only problem I've got now
is I can't stop talking
until I get too tired
and collapse from it.

You made me too happy,
and now I'm burning my candle at both ends,
making neurologically inspired
rhetorical performance theory
and an Imaginary Friend story
collide and cause a Big Bang.

This is how new universes get born,
and in a couple billion years,
when all of this happens again,
we'll laugh and watch from outside
while they live their lives
without realizing that they're just holograms
and that higher dimensions are projections
of master artists describing the interaction
of small particles, like quiet lives
lived without access to basic resources.

Then one of them will hack a tesseract track,
and it will begin again.

It Was Written.