‘Da’ What is Hip Hop? – Zumo Kollie (Essay)

Posted on March 4, 2013 by


It’s Monday! Which means that it is time for a new edition of ‘Da’ What is Hip Hop! Zumo Kollie is the latest up! The Providence, RI emcee talks about the different eras of hip hop, his first boombox, listening to Jay-Z and the moment he fell fell in love with hip hop! Zumo’s artistic story telling shines through here as well as his music.  Hit the jump to find out what hip hop means to Zumo Kollie.

“Before 2000, I was more of a surface dweller when it came to the depth of hip-hop’s waters. Sure, I was cognizant of the East Coast beef when it was raging. I even shed tears when Biggie died, not so much because of the fact that I understood his impact or talent, but because a seemingly good person had been taken away from their family. I’ve always been a little overly empathetic, I guess.

I understood the hilarious transition from the jiggy era to the bling era and marveled at how fast rappers could tuck away their shiny yellow suits and be back in oversized white tees and Mr. T starter kits, complete with the records to match.

I knew hip-hop songs word for word before 2000, I watched BET and MTV videos ad nauseam and, for some reason, committed hundreds of rappers birth names to memory. Don’t ask me why, but the names O’shea Jackson and Reggie Noble were always weird things to think about when you’re watching someone stomp through Compton or grind on pleasantly plump females. But, I was just a fan, nothing more. Not a participant. Just a kid watching guys that looked like me on TV.

Then, it happened. I stepped away from the shore of my previous allegiances and nosedived in. My mother had gotten me this old Aiwa boom box (does that company even exist any more?) that had two tape decks and a CD player when I was 10 and I would just record the mix shows that played on the local hip hop station, Hot 106.

I remember the day vividly; I sat on the cheap magenta-gray carpeting in my bedroom and sat in the awkward position you have to employ when you want to keep your fingers in position to hit record and play, but keep your ears close enough to hear. Jay-Z put out Vol.3 the year before and, by all accounts, it was one of the albums that fell on the lackluster side of the Shawn Carter canon, depending on who you ask.

I remember not being all that impressed with the song, at first. Colors didn’t appear in my minds’ eye, the heavens remained closed and the voices I heard weren’t that of sweet higher beings, but of two syrup talking pimps from the bottom of that map. It was a decent song, but nothing spectacular happened . . . until Jay’s third verse.

“On a canopy my stamina be enough for Pamela Anderson Lee/

MTV jam of the week/

Made my money quick then back to the streets but/

Still sittin on blades… sippin that ray…/

Standin on the corner of my block hustlin/

Still gettin that cane/

half what I paid slippin right through customs . . . ”

I will not lie: 75% of what was said in those four bars went right over my head at the time. I went to a predominantly white catholic school and I didn’t have any hip hop adept older brothers or cousins around me, so ‘sitting on blades, sipping that ray” and “slipping right through customs” were life experiences that were lost on the young Kollie.

But, I loved words. And, I had never heard anyone do that with words before in my life. Remember the flow of those 1st two bars??? Insanity. I instantly stopped the tape and rewound those lines back about 40 times in succession, just to confirm I had heard it correctly. I was dazed. The spell had been cast and I fell under a haze that I haven’t recovered from since.

I decided at that very moment that the rest of my life would be dedicated to doing that, whatever it was. All I knew was that I wanted to be the guy that could muster feelings and draw experiences like that with the words I wrote.

It’s taken me the better part of 13 years to pinpoint what happened that day and I’ve come to the realization that while the moment itself may be unique, the feeling is one that has spanned the last 40 years of American culture from the very moment a deejay siphoned power from a street light to give his turntable set up enough juice to rock the block party. I wasn’t there when 3 Feet High and Rising or Illmatic came out to remember, but I know the feeling well. The feeling that you get when you submerge yourself in the ocean water and let the water grab every part of you, envelop you. The feeling is . . . hip hop. The feeling is all around you. The feeling just is. And we just are . . . Hip Hop.” – Zumo Kollie