The Hip Hop Offspring of Love Jones NYC

Photo taken by El Harris

Dear Hip-Hop,

I remember the exact day when I first fell in love with you. Unlike Sanaa Lathan’s character in Brown Sugar it was not in a park listening to Dana Dane, Slick Rick or Dougie Fresh battle in the Bronx. Rather, I was on a road trip with my family and my father put in the cassette tape singles of Common Sense, followed by Big Daddy Kane, followed by Slick Rick, Grandmaster Five, Boogie Down Productions, Sugar Hill Gang and eventually Tupac. I begged him to put Rapper’s Delight on repeat until I had every word memorized and the chords of life that hip hop breathed seeped into my soul until I was chockablock of the new understanding hip hop was bringing to the world of music. I grew up as hip hop grew up and the evolution of hip hop was like the evolution of me. My father broke down for me the history of each artist and as the sounds swirled around me and implanted their melodies, their beats and their lyrics into my formidable mind I knew that there was something about hip hop, distinct from any other type of music I’ve heard thus far, that would have me love it forever.

I’ve watched you grow, I’ve watched you change.

Then I grew up and as I did I kept waiting for the day when hip hop would grow up with me. I couldn’t believe that the form of rap that emerged as I grew was an evolution of hip hop. Rather, I accepted it as a deviant from it and knew that hip hop would be like me, slow to emerge and blossom into full maturity while never losing its essence. Along the way I’ve never lost my taste for Eric B, Rakim, Kurtis Blow or Public Enemy and I often think about what it must have been like to have been in those early siphas. Hip hop has transformed into something that can be unrecognizable at times, it’s gone mainsteam, it’s split into East Coast and West Coast, hip hop has become something that often feels like a search through the rubble to actually find.

Ever thought you’d see the day hip-hop grew up? From red kool-aid parties in the Bronx to champagne toasts in Soho.

The union of Hip hop to the mainstream was a hard thing to imagine. Hip hop was always the personal, regional thing that just belonged to me. Startin’ with Fab Five Freddy and Yo! MTV Raps, anyone with a television and a cable box could get a piece of hip hop. I knew I was going to have to share and that was a hard thing to get used to.

Hip hop has evolved, whether it’s considered growth or not. These days it can be found to be known as gangsta rap, crunk and snap music, glitch hop and wonky music. Then every now and then I stumble across performances like Wednesday night. As my readers know, I find myself at every Love Jones NYC show, I can’t think of the last time I’ve missed one and this Wednesday was an exciting show as it was the hip hop offspring of Love Jones NYC. What has traditionally been an R&B show with ballads such as I’ll Make it Up to You by J-Harris, No More by Sophia Nicole and A Song for You by Que from Day 26 started off with an Atlanta-based rapper that jumped from the stage, onto the speakers and off the speakers into the speakers, hitting it so hard one of his sneakers came flying off. I was sitting in the Sexy Section of TenJune (you know I like to be as close to the stage as humanly possible) and jumped back in surprise at this new start to the the June 20th Love Jones NYC show. I looked around and the place was packed, it was barely eight o’clock and every crevice was packed with people in anticipation of the night’s show and several other faces mirrored my surprised, cautious anticipation of this new birthing of the hip hop by the Love Jones NYC show.

As my eyes found them back to the stage J-Harris was gracefully taking over and introducing his dancers who have come to resemble the likings of the Fly Girls from In Living Color. Lashonna Holloway led the way and these ladies did an introduction to the evening that brought the energy up and reminded us all exactly why we had come out to TenJune on a Wednesday evening in June. The girls came down off the stage and into the middle with their dance moves and a hush fell over the audience. The show has begun.

The difference between rap and hip hop? Easy, it’s like the difference between saying you love someone and being in love.

My favorite part of the night is when J-Harris introduces the Love Jones NYC theme song and then passes the mic around and it ended up in the hands of a talented young man I was sitting next to named EJ who quickly held the audience spell-bound with his vocals of the theme song. And so it begins…

Grammy-nominated, beatboxing Chris Baker graced the stage next. Maya and Phil the newest back-up singers of J-Harris supported him in filling the room with Lauryn Hill’s I Need You.

Esso took the stage next and provided the context for the parental advisory on the flyers by stating: Parental Advisory is all the way in effect right now. He performed an excellent set jumping off speakers, making girls blush and letting us know just how Alive he really is. Lyrically, he set the crowd on fire and the already crowded area around the stage filled up even more as people crowded around the stage in an effort to be closer to Esso followed by performer Range.

In between sets DJ Zeke tore up the turntables, mixing hip-hop and taking us all the way back and all the way forward with music that we haven’t heard in decades but could never forget the lyrics too. With style and grace in his fly suit DJ Zeke mixed it up and a hush fell over the captivated crowd as J-Harris took the mic and thanked God for being with him as he did what it took to create the evening.

A last minute switch from WIP to TenJune with a number of backstage arrangements the fans can’t even begin to imagine led J-Harris to perform one of his newest songs, This is Who I Am. J-Harris knows all too well how “the doors may be slamming but when you stick to your plan they will open again.”. He has a way of filling the stage with his entire presence and it was the first time I’ve seen him with his beautiful co-host Dawn Richards and their chemistry was unbelievable. Together the two created the evening as a love story that only too naturally birthed the offspring of Love Jones NYC called hip hop.

Messiah graced the stage next with his poetry. Words that have been heard at the Apollo and on BET filled the room and grounded everyone in the reality of his words in his tribute poem to Whitney Houston:

Before Gossip, Enquirer and Whitney and Bobby, Whitney embodied the love that takes us from melancholy to being jolly.

The black man been the scapegoat since they came off the slave boat. How can you blame one when they both sank in the same boat?

After a quick shoutout to the beautiful Solange (the man next to me pretended to faint against the seat and proclaimed, “I’m starstruck!”) J-Harris announced IB to the stage and the crowd went wild, immediately jumping to the stage and filling any space that was left between them and the stage and with good reason. I was mesmerized as the Houston-native came on stage in her shirt that read: Sorry We’re Outchea.

Once again confirming the parental advisory she warned: Excuse me for cussing’ in advance but I cuss a lot.

This was IB’s first show as an unsigned artist in four years and together with J-Harris she’s been working on this show for the last four months and it was evident, as she said: If I die tomorrow I can finally get some sleep in. IB literally grew up in the shadows of Destiny’s Child and with hits like Outta My Mind, Spaceship, Lighters and Your Cups and Duckin’ You it’s clear that she will be in the shadows no longer. IB has taken the stage by storm and is the first female emcee in a long time that I’ve seen who will be able to bring back the reverence of female emcees.

Being a Wednesday night I took my exit at the end of her set and I know I missed an amazing performance by Wish but as I stepped out of the positive environment J-Harris has created with Love Jones NYC and back out into the Meatpacking District I couldn’t help but reflect on the last line from Brown Sugar:

I always thought one day I would outgrow my love of hip hop. I never thought it was a fad, like many but I never thought it could grow. I thought it would be an adolescent memory I would look back on, like a crush on a captain of the football team. But I realized we have more than that. We have a history. I don’t have to pretend with hip hop and hip hop doesn’t have to pretend with me. My feelings have never been more clear and I know they will never go away.

Love Always,

Sunny

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