If you walk Ocean between Parkside and Lincoln, you might very well pass a handsome young man with a five o'clock shadow goatee wearing a Polo Sport winter jacket. In fact, he may look suspiciously like this:
E Props, and we had a chance to rap (talk, not freestyle - my rhymes are weak these days) just oustide his building, near the drunken Grinch. I really didn't know what to expect, but as chance would have it he dropped some serious knowledge on me about "Q" culture from his unique vantage point.
Where to begin? Well, let's start with the fact that E is a
charismatic dude with a lot on his mind. He's a rapper, holds a Masters degree in Poli-Sci, grew up right here, has Haitian-born parents, and writes a mean blog entry on anything from music to Haitian politics. Check it out - he's got a refreshing perspective on lots of stuff. I think it bears emphasizing that meeting Eddy is proof positive that you never really know your neighbors 'til you talk to them awhile. Full disclosure: there's a lot of young black guys on my block I would love to talk to...but I've made the prudent (or fearful?) calculation that they really don't want to be talked at, especially by a middle-aged white guy in Target attire.
Eddy's got big ambitions, particularly for his entertainment company. He's calling it "Bushel," which I think is pretty awesome since I grew up in Iowa and I like the notion of a hip-hop company named after a large unit of, say, soybeans. And E can rap, as evident in this radio freestyle session with his talented friends Kris Kasanova and "Top & Razz." Locals Rapping There's some great lines here worth ingesting. I like the vibe these guys are stressing, and I like that they're pushing Flatbush as a viable "style."
Two things stuck with me after our too-brief conversation. One was Eddy talking about the schism between Jamaicans and Haitians, particularly when he was growing up. He definitely felt the hate, and told me a story about a Haitian kid getting set on fire by some Jamaican adversaries. Sounds like things have settle down a lot, but I'd love to know more about how different cultures from the Caribbean interact, especially that all-important second generation. Two was his reaction when I asked about gangs. Clearly this question annoyed him, and he said "Everyone's in a gang." And I instantly knew what a silly question it is. I mean, I'M IN A GANG. I've got my friends, my posse, my attitude and my values. The question people really want to know is about crime, and not so much gang on gang, but criminal on law-abiding-citizen. There have been gangs in New York since, well at least since "Gangs of New York." What we all want to know is this: when I'm walking home late at night, is someone going to slit my throat or steal my broach? The violence, for the most part, is territorial and the same stuff that young men argue about worldwide: respect, girls, and money. It's the guns we could do without. As we were talking, a friend of Eddy's walks by who had been shot during that nasty incident at the Parkside Donut shop a couple years back. Really, now, it's the guns, isn't it? If there hadn't been a gun involved, who knows, maybe the worst the slain Brian Scott would have suffered would have been some slingshot wounds to the neck.
I'll update you on E-Props' musical and spiritual quests as I become apprised. He's good people.
I'm obviously no expert, but since talking to Eddy the other day I've thought a lot about my own history with hip-hop. As a rock musician and songwriter growing up in the '70s in an all-white college town, it was a real shock the first time I heard REAL funk, a la Ohio Players, James Brown, George Clinton...I got my first taste of it borrowing LPs from the public library. Perhaps that's why I'm still such a fan of the whole library concept - free knowledge and culture for all, don't you know. Rap was magical, first time I heard the real thing. By the time I got a hold of a Grandmaster Flash record as a junior in High School, I was sold. There were two revolutions going on that I knew I didn't want to miss - DIY punk and rap. And the odd places where they intersected seemed perfectly natural to me. (Though I'm still embarrased about how much I loved the Chili Peppers back in the day). In college I had a band called Dolores that hit a nice cross between punk, prog, arty and funk. Two bass players! One of them, a wanna-be from Brooklyn, and he knew the WHOLE STORY, and that made him the envy of us non-New Yorkers. He knew all about DJ culture and freestylin' and MCs and scratchin' and he even knew the Beastie Boys cuz they went to the same (private) school as him in Brooklyn Heights. By then I even had some black friends, so I no longer felt like a total whitebread hick who stumbled on this music like it was from outerspace. On some level, it turns out we were all helping set the stage for the crazy hip-hop world domination phase, witnessed in suburban American high schools parking lots everywhere.
This is probably sounding like a major overshare, but what the hell it's my blog and this was my life.
What was my point,anyway? Oh, it was that the afore-linked clip of E Props and pals freestyling reminded me of what it was I liked so much about the early days of Strong Island rap, like Rakim and Big Daddy Kane and LL and De La Soul. Even if those 2nd generation MC's were cooler than school, there was a real warmth there. If you want a laugh, check out my cameo in the Jungle Brothers video "What U Waitin For." My big moment is around 2'23" in...it was all downhill from there.
The Q at Parkside
News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.