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Nicole got raped in her own country by American soldiers. Not only did the United States colonize her home, they occupied her soul, and they robbed her innocence. Insignificant to the interest of politics, Nicole’s rapist could get away with any crime. Even the murder of the woman she was and the one she could have been. I felt the pain and could feel her fears. In three minutes and fifty five seconds Bambu’s lyrics changed my thought process, and introduced Hip-Hop to a permanent home.
I was eighteen when I was chillin in my boyfriend’s car. He was looking for the next CD to put in his stereo when “Nicole” came on. Nicole’s life was ruined in the Philippines, but I thought of my older sister and mom and their experience during the civil war in El Salvador. Soldiers forced themselves into their homes to eat their groceries for the week and in return disregarded families when shooting at supposed enemies. I’ve listening to Hip-Hop before, but I never heard a story when listening to it until that day.
You can say Hip-Hop was present as background music during my childhood, but not any more than Salvadoran ballads and my dad’s feel-good music. My brother would listen to Cypress Hill; I remember seeing marijuana pictures on a few album covers; maybe it was Dr. Dre. I was too young to know that they were saying, but that was because I didn’t understand their words. I wasn’t stupid, I just didn’t speak English. I was raised by first generation immigrant Salvadorans and English was still foreign to them. I’d speak jiberrish to the kids at the park thinking they’d understand me better. At the time, Hip-Hop was only a good beat and what made my brother cool.
Bambu’s Exact Change was the first Hip-Hop album I listened to from beginning to end. I listened to every song, and as the songs changed I felt I was turning the page to a different chapter. The songs were not just beats, they were history lessons, lessons learned, and like the fifth Hip-Hop element, his songs shared knowledge. I listened to his songs sometimes five times in a row, studying them like they’d be in a midterm. They were lectures not in the curriculum but he was explaining to me why. Maybe it was that last element that made the difference, but the moment “Nicole” came on, Hip-Hop duplicated itself from my boyfriend’s stereo to mine. I deconstructed every song all while being pushed to question embedded beliefs, values, and school history lessons. With this I read new books, wrote new papers, paid attention to the world that was hidden from me, read the actions of my peers; read prejudice, racism, and oppression.
One day we heard of a performance he was doing at a close enough school. We went to see him perform, then we went to another, and sometimes, he’d chant, “It’s bigger than Hip-Hop! Hip-Hop!” And then I had Dead Prez in my ears, Hip-Hop for the people was not new, but it was to me. While I was becoming a woman, I now had songs like “The Queen Is Dead” by Bambu in my iPod, which helped deconstruct the patriarchy and the hidden oppression in my thought process. Even further Hip-Hop helped my partner analyze why there was new RIP t-shirts worn every week, and introduced him to his ongoing struggle of understanding patriarchy.
I love Hip-Hop. I’m grateful for Atmosphere and Lauryn Hill’s poetry, for Murs’ lightheartedness, and for Macklemore’s different but needed perspective. Hip-Hop and I were never intimate; we were not childhood friends, more like neighbors who would occasionally play with each other. I didn’t take this class to brag about all the classics I knew, because I don’t know many, but Hip-Hop showed up in a vital turning point in my life. Taking this class was more like a “thank you” to Hip-Hop.