I wrote this on my phone, so sorry for the grammatical errors and run on sentences.
I come from a musical domicile. As far back as I can remember, I knew the words to many Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Candi Staton & various other soul artists which I attribute to my mothers taste in music. She loved the 70’s soul most, but certainly had her share of Disco cds which were engraved into my memory banks as deeply as “Mary had a Little Lamb” was. My dad also loved soul, but his arsenal was a bit more sophisticated and included the likes of Jazz legends like Return to Forever which might make an appearance on a mix-cassette of his right after a Mahalia Jackson gospel tune, or even something like Uriah Heep’s “Lady in Black”. I remember for christmas one year during my fathers incarceration, my mom bought me a double disc of obscure James Brown records, which also included many of the JB’s tracks. I believe the first band that I discovered on my own and championed was Stone Temple Pilots.. but my Uncle Paul who was always the coolest guy I knew, introduced me to the world of Hip-Hop via “The Symphony” by the Juice Crew. I remember the day vividly. We were in his white wrangler and on our way to my sister & cousins confirmation party.. and the twin 18 inch subs tickled my brain every time the kick drum hit. I remembered Kool G Raps verse because the line “Take a deep breath because you don’t have another-left/ coming back like i’m avenging my brother’s-death” gave me goosebumps. I’ll also never forget that ride because before we made it to the restaurant, the volume of the bass gave me a nose bleed. I loved every second of it.
Shortly after that I would scavenge through my sister Nicole & Jackies CD’s looking for anything having to do with hip-hop. I stumbled upon The Adventures of Slick Rick, Arrested Development, and another CD which would change my life. Enter the 36 Chambers by The Wu-Tang Clan. A few years later, my brother/cousin John John (one month younger than me) was already developing quite a collection of underground hip-hop due to being around his older sister Vicki & her friends. Their house was always welcome to friends, so many of the kids from their neighborhood would convene there & hip-hop was always blaring from the outdoor Bose system. John John had cassettes of Black Moon, (it was always a mystery to me why so many of the kids from Valley Stream were die hard Boot Camp Fans.. even years later) Gang Starr, Das EFX, Tribe Called Quest, Rakim, Redman, EPMD, Souls of Mischief, Brand Nubian, Pete Rock & CL Smooth and the list went on and on. I still loved my rock music, but Hip-Hop chose me.
I remember bringing a lot of this music to Hewlett & Woodmere where it was almost alien at the time, aside from a very select few who even had any hip-hop knowledge at this time. Shout to Jared Belsky, who was always up on the hip-hop shit of the 90’s way before most in our neighborhood. Anyway, at this time my uncle & his life long friend Kareem (Later known as Big K.O.) were actually starting to create music of their own! This was the coolest thing in the world to me and John John. We would listen to the demos he and KO had produced for artists they were recording at the time. One in particular I remember went by the monicker Cognac McGraw. Paulie had copped an MPC 3000 which might as well have been a space ship to us, but once in a blue he would load up the pads with kicks, snares and bass sounds.. and while he went to shower and get dressed, me and John John would actually have a sequence ready when he came back. He gave us his Alesis HR 16, and that started us out on the journey which led me to where I am today.
We both had rough upbringings, and in our teen years.. with both of our fathers incarcerated, and still going through a trial (one which could have landed my father a life sentence, right after my grandfather’s life sentence destroyed our family) we could have easily both ended up as bad seeds. Now for me personally, I know that Hip-Hop changed my life because I couldn’t wait to get to John John’s basement to hear some new shit. I couldn’t wait to call Uncle Paul from friday after school until Sunday evening begging him to let us borrow the MPC. We spent so many hours in that basement and just at John John’s house in general, that it became our home base.. and ultimately the first place I made a beat, and the first place I wrote a verse. The potential for us to get into a ton of trouble, and make very bad decisions was always at arms reach, but we had an obsession to focus on.
When I read statements today about how “White People” are jacking the hip-hop culture, aren’t welcome or are visitors, should pay homage to the history etc.. it strikes a nerve. That type of blanket statement sets exactly the opposite kind of negative poison in motion than the Hip-Hop I knew. When I was growing up in the 90’s, that was NEVER even THOUGHT. Our crew was such a melting pot, it almost serves as a perfect metaphor for New York. Italians, Irish, Hatians, Jamaicans, Gypsies (YES, GYPSIES), Puerto Ricans, Jewish Kids, Russians etc, etc… who ALL loved Hip-Hop, and many other things. We all grew up ciphering Wu-Tang songs like “Protect your Neck” or “Da Mystery of Chessboxing”.. and I was ALWAYS Rebel INS. I didn’t choose Hip-Hop, it chose me. It saved me from being a bad kid, and it drew me in. I had no fucking choice. Before Eminem made it widely acknowledged that white boys can rap, white boys who rapped.. like me and my boy Itzky.. were jumping into ciphers, rocking parties, and battling whoever/whenever they got the chance. Trust me, I would have saved myself the embarrassment of explaining to the uptight people in my neighborhood, or to the made-guys I’d often see at family functions that I made hip-hop music as an Italian-American… that is, if I had a fucking choice. By nationality, I should have been a crooner singing “Summer Wind” at local restaurants owned by wise-guys… or maybe I should have been singing Louie Prima songs.. but wait..
Louie Prima wasn’t supposed to be making JAZZ when he was either. In the Segregated south, you think Louie Prima wasn’t the target of racism? You think Italians of the day, white people, and even some black people accepted him right away? To the Italians he was turning his back on heritage, to the white people he was playing at all the black joints, and to some the Black people I’m sure he was “stealing from them”. I relate to Louie. I don’t care who invented Gnocchi… we all love it. I have my own rendition of Gnocchi Bolognese, which I’m sure the original recipes author would call DISGRACIAAAAAAATAAAAAAA!!!!!! Hip-Hop made my generation color-blind. Hip-Hop took so many stereotypes and flung them out the fucking window. I am an Italian-American hip-hop artist. Most of my heros when I was a kid were Great Italians. In my family we mixed italian greats like Frank Sinatra, Rocky Marciano & Lucky Luciano into one category… Great at what they did. By the time I was a teen with a mind of my own, of course I still collected italian heros, but my Heros of the time were ALL black. What the fuck can be more color-blind then that? So the next time I see someone post some racist bullshit about how I am a visitor in hip-hop, I won’t need to respond. I am as much Hip-Hop as anyone, and I like to think that as a student of the game.. I’ve become quite the TEACHER as well. I have introduced so many younger generations to some of my Heros in hip-hop. Guys I had the honor of working with like Dj Premier.. Kool G Rap who was the first verse to give me the chills.. Buckwild, who not only is one of the best producers of our time, but has become a true friend to me & a PRICELESS source of advice (not only having to do with music, but life in general.).. guys like Nature who were on top of the world when I was only beginning to write down some of my first lines, and now we have sick chemistry in the studio with me behind the boards!!
For the people who want to dismantle everything that hip-hop once stood for, and talk about ownership of a culture.. you are doing exactly the same thing that Dinosaurs of generations past have done. Segregate. Nobody is going to tell me that I am a visitor without being able to physically remove me & keep me away from something I have dedicated many years of my life to… good luck with that… Sicilians are blockheaded by nature. I’m here to stay, get used to it.
Long Live Hip-Hop!