How Hip Hop Raised Me

‘This book is the best thing I’ve ever worked on”

Everyone receives some kind of reality check that forces a re-think or re-evaluation of how things are perceived or experienced. They hit us throughout our lives, some bigger than others, some can confirm what we already felt about a situation others just invoke a different way of thinking.

My first experience of racism changed my life, it taught me the harsh reality that humans can turn on each other over something as simple as a colour. That everything isn’t cool, we really aren’t the world, and there wasn’t any kind of way to address it or fight it. Without anyone to relate to or any kind of reassurance that ‘everything would be alright’ it was a difficult situation to come to terms with. I went through a phase of self hate, a phase of trying to ‘fit in’, but I was always reminded that I was different, that I didn’t belong.

I felt like I was damned or cursed. Friends and family couldn’t help, because they hadn’t been through it, or if they had, they dealt with it a different way. It didn’t feel right to ’turn the other cheek’ or ’just ignore it. I always thought my brother had it easier than me because he was lighter, but I found out recently that he faced equal discrimination because our mother was black. Even though we never talked about what we were going through he changed my life by introducing me to hip hop.

I grew up in an era when there was no balance, but it didn’t matter because hip hop filled those gaps. My brother introduced me to LL Cool J, Slick Rick and Public Enemy. Public Enemy woke me up through their music. ‘It Takes A Nation of Millions’ answered many questions. I learnt more about black history from that album than I did across school, college, and university combined. It erased the self doubt, the cowering almost apologetic victim mentality that arises from oppressive abuse, and induced the quest for knowledge of self.

One album and a set of headphones was the counter action to the spectre of racism. It was the necessary balance, a reality check that encouraged me to read about Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, and opened my mind to other aspects of world history. It introduced me to more hip hop artists, the artists that Public Enemy sampled, and I studied the way that they manipulated sound. ‘It Takes A Nation of Millions’ is one of the greatest albums of all time and my hip hop ground zero. It was my higher learning and inspiration, it invoked a totally different way of thinking and inspired me to be a DJ. One album changed my life and opened a door to a different dimension of consciousness, it assimilated my DNA and put me on an unbelievable journey that defined my dreams and aspirations.

Artists inspire their fans and very few realise the impact that their music can have. Hip hop raised me and millions of other kids who have their own personal experience, their own stories to tell. Some were raised by Public Enemy, some were raised by Ice Cube, Eminem, 50 Cent, Kanye West, or Kendrick Lemar. More specifically in the UK some were raised by Grime artists such as Dizzee, Wiley, or Kano.

When is it the right time to write a book? When it feels right. I originally wanted to write a book about other peoples experiences, and I have but on a bigger scale. ‘Hip Hop Raised Me’ is the definitive book on hip hop from my perspective as a fan, DJ, Broadcaster, exec, and participant within the culture. I’ve worked with most artists through different capacities and witnessed a lot of great moments and eras. Every single one of my hip hop related experiences can be traced back to listening to an album that came out 30 years ago. An album that woke me up from a zombie mind state.

The book is the best thing i’ve ever worked on, it’s 448 pages deep and covers every core era of hip hop from the very beginning to today. Who else could have written the foreword other than Chuck D from Public Enemy? I reached out to Chuck and explained the idea behind the book and he kindly agreed to write some amazing words which is a mind blowing experience in itself. I never thought I would write a book let alone that Chuck D would contribute to it.

I’ve written the text throughout the chapters, but it’s the images that tell the story. Several of the best photographers in the world have contributed key iconic shots, some that have never been seen before. I tracked down classic mixtape and magazine covers, and documented the key album covers of every significant hip hop act. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work with a team and put together an epic body of work that documents our culture.

Every day there is a new voice, a new story, a new way of saying things, thinking, or doing things. Hip hop is bigger than the definition of a genre, it is an ever evolving art form that constantly challenges normality and addresses the balance. I discovered hip-hop when I was lost, when I was the victim of racism. Although I’m a different person today, many still endure what I went through. The circumstances that birthed the need for hip-hop still exist, you only have to switch on the news to see that nothing has changed….in fact it’s getting worse.

On Public Enemy’s third album ‘Fear Of A Black Planet’, they proclaimed that we should ‘Fight The Power’ on the single that also appeared throughout Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’. It’s a powerful message that resonated with many people, a message that defied race, religion, or gender and inspired generations of artists outside of hip hop. Recently I sat down with Asap Ferg who said he was inspired by Public Enemy and what they stood for, specifically ‘Fight The Power’. In an interview with Vic Mensa a few days ago he told me that “I’m not gonna rest until we’re free meaning I’m likely never gonna rest in this lifetime.”  A sentiment that echoes the relentless drive of Public Enemy, the spirit of 2Pac, and the manifesto of Dead Prez.

As long as social injustice exists the voice of the voiceless will always exist and by heard by the oppressed. The energy and substance of hip-hop lives on. The tradition is picked up and passed on.

‘Hip Hop Raised Me’ the book will be out on October 6th via Thames & Hudson, and is available to pre-order right now, right here.