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Be yourself… and stay yourself
Big Daddy Kane has wisdom beyond music…
Hi all, Ari here. Thanks for being a subscriber. Here’s my Friday post. And you can subscribe here:
“Just some icons living…”
Working in the news can be exhausting. There’s a jolt of new energy, however, every time you get to learn something new, or meet an icon.
So I loved the day that Eleanor Clift, a trailblazing journalist going back to The McLaughlin Group which I grew up watching, and Big Daddy Kane, the hip hop pioneer, sat together for a conversation on The Beat. It’s like a “pinch yourself” moment, because as a kid, I’d be psyched to just get to talk to either one of them. Let alone both!
Bless the paragraphs…
Kane came up when rap was treated like a passing “fad,” and many of the Black artists creating this new culture were routinely ignored or disrespected (in the industry and beyond).
He pioneered a whole style, in his sound and fashion. He rapped with a new East Coast style that is now considered “old school,” packing direct, fast rhymes together with swagger (“unless you just address / with best finesse / bless the paragraphs/ I manifest).
Some of his hits crossed over. You don’t need to be a big rap fan to have “Ain’t No Half Steppin’” ring a bell. Thirty-three years later it remains on Rolling Stone’s list of “Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time.”
Now, the upstart has become an elder statesman in hip hop culture, while evincing a deep humility. (You don’t see that with all artists, especially after decades in field.)
Kane recently told me one of the reasons he “stays” himself and humble turns on his original vision and goals:
“I didn’t get into this to be a millionaire, and all that. I got into it because of my love of the culture, and to be recognized as a dope MC. And I feel like the level that I made it to in my career, and the success that I’ve been able to maintain for these many decades, is because of ..my supporters. So therefore, I’m humbled and honored by them sticking with me.”
No Half Steppin’
Rather than hunting for external validation or another “career high,” he said he views his listeners as a community that’s growing together, which pushes him to offer his best and write new, insightful lines—aka dropping jewels:
“I have nothing but respect for anybody that’s willing to listen to what I have to say. Since I know you’re listening, I’m gonna try and drop a jewel on you, and give you something that’s real.”
I love that. In many arts, and especially music, the keen fans can tell when someone is being real. When they’re being themselves. That doesn’t preclude growth; Big Daddy Kane at age 19 in 1988 is not the “same” as a 53-year-old this year. But his essence, his artistic energy? That can endure.
Is there an artist you feel like you know from their work? Tell me now in the comments… and I’ll reply to some per usual!
One more thought… do we really know these artists that we feel like we know, through their music?
I don’t have any holistic answer to that, but having the luck of meeting some, I’ve found music really can provide a window into someone’s vibe, personality and sometimes… their essence.
Having talked to Kane a few times - and I’m not claiming we are buddies or anything! - it did feel like hanging with someone I already knew. Which is weird! And to me, pretty special.
He’s also playful in a respectful, supporting older brother sort of way. Like near the end of a recent conversation we did online (part of a hip hop retrospective that LL Cool J’s group put together), he said it’s time that I got a “rap name.” And no, I don’t rap. But he suggested “Young AM,” and you don’t argue with BDK! Here’s that full conversation if you want to check it out…