When I fell for the Wu, I fell hard. It was 1998, I was seventeen, and I was on a bus in Austria with a bunch of band and choir kids. I exchanged CD booklets with a friend of mine (because that was what you did back then), and after a one-two punch from the the DJ crew The Beat Junkies–“They can use their turntables like instruments?”–I put on Forever Disc 2. By the time ‘Triumph’ finished, my silly little head was gone. Who were they referring to, the ‘you’? Me? There were so many voices, personalities. And the wordplay? I fancied myself a poet and another friend introduced me to the Beats, but now there was this. The Wu was hostile and exacting, a band of battle rappers intent on proving that they were the best, and at that moment in time they were. They terrified me.
A year later, I decided I was ready to take them on. I bought Enter the 36 Chambers at a Wherehouse near where I took trombone lessons. I approached the counter, a knowing look on my face, assuming the clerk would congratulate me on finally taking the plunge into real Hip hop. I expected affirmation but received $1.27 in change instead .
The things I remember most from my college professors are the revealing claims they unintentionally made, the off-the-cuff remarks as they digressed or grasped towards some example to elucidate a point. A discussion about Amiri Baraka in a poetry class turned into a reflection about African-American identity in the 1960’s and 70’s, and my professor drew a comparison to Hip hop. I don’t remember her point, but I remember her example:
“When I see these young white people playing this music in their cars, I shake my head.” Her tone was always measured and resembled, so I imagined, the voice she used at readings. “This is not for you.” She shook her head despondently, and repeated: “This is not for you.”
In a few hours I’ll be teaching a lesson on Anne Bradstreet, the very first American poet to be published. She lived in Puritan New England, and her poetry was revived in the 1960’s by feminist critics. Her verse is crystalline, without many of the rhetorical flourishes that obfuscate the work of her contemporaries.
I am not well-versed in Puritan theology or history, and I’m hundreds of years and miles removed from her writing. But portions of it still resound. It is, in some respects, still for me.