“Hip Hop” by Yasiin Bey
I’m back in my parents’ apartment on the Upper West Side. It’s early autumn, 1999. I’m thirteen years old and in my eighth grade year at a junior high school where my homeroom friends play keep away with my bagged lunch and the basketball coach hurls balls at our heads when he thinks we’re not paying attention. I’ve yet to kiss a girl and can’t even summon the guts to ask Miranda Martinez on a date from across the table in math class. My brother Joe has just burned me a copy of Black on Both Sides, the title scrawled in sharpie on the CD’s metallic surface. I watch the disc disappear from my fingers into the mouth of the player. “Speech is my hammer, bang the world into shape/ Now let it fall,” proclaims the Mighty Mos Def (not yet Yasiin Bey) before launching into the first ever Hip Hop Poetica to bless my ears. The Brooklyn emcee’s rhymes submerge me in the class, race, and language politics of my city and country, offering new ways of seeing and speaking—of feeling—like so many great poets do.
Jacob Victorine teaches poetry and performance at Columbia College Chicago and elsewhere. Winner of the 15th Annual Elixir Press Poetry Awards Editor’s Prize, his debut collection, Flammable Matter, is forthcoming in 2016. His poems appear in Columbia Poetry Review, Vinyl Poetry, Matter, and PANK, among others, and have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and as a semi-finalist for the Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Awards. He serves as a Book Reviewer for Publishers Weekly and Muzzle Magazine.
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