Urban Anthropology: The Niggas Of Niggas
In any society, you have a group of people who seem to be the source of a never-ending creativity. In american society, Black people are that group. From music to language, from style to fashion, black people set trends & blaze trails regarding creativity. As far as american society is concerned, Niggas start styles, and everyone else gets rich off of it (which is a whole 'nother post)
Go a little deeper though, & you 'll find a group of folks who set the trends within our community. These brothers & sisters seem to emanate style & creativity with little obvious effort. They are often the trendsetters & style mavens of the community. From language to fashion to music, they are always on the edge of urban culture. While it's true that the aforementioned persons live and do their thing in every city, through my travels & experience, I've identified one city that always seems to be on the cusp of the proverbial "Next $h!t" . New York? Nah. Atlanta? Only recently. Philly? Close but no cigar. Where I am talking about?
Yes, Chocolate City. The District. Divine Cee (for those mathematically inclined). After some years of walking & talking with Black people from all over the country from all walks of life, I've come to the conclusion that D.C. starts a lotta trends or styles with the Black community that other cities (Namely New York) steal & give them no credit for being the originators. Now to be true, D.C. has certain cultural elements that don't really transfer (see go-go), b.u.t. even that can be co-opted in some form(As I will build on). Just to give you an idea, I'll share an example:
One of my favorite albums of all time is All For One by Brand Nubian. As a youth, I listened to the album incessantly, and was awed by their creativity in the way of choruses. One song in particular "Drop The Bomb" had a chorus that started like "We gonna drop the bomb on the Yacub crew..." Now me being a young buck & all, I naively assumed that they came up with themselves.
Fast forward to 2006: I'm traveling back to Power Born from D.C. listening to the Go-Go show on WKYS, and what do I hear? A song from the mid-to-late 80's with the chorus "We gonna drop the bomb on the Northeast Crew...." (Northeast being a section of D.C.). To top it off, Brand Nubian's 'Drop The Bomb' had a Go-Go beat as well!
Now, most folks from D.C. are somewhat aware of this, & won't hesitate to let you know about it, b.u.t. for years, I charged it to immense CC pride, born from the uniqueness of the D.C. experience (Living separated from & in the shadows of the nation's capital, Taxation without representation, A combination of the north & the south, High murder rate). It was only recently that I put everything together to arrive at my conclusion. More evidence, you ask? Do the knowledge to these supporting details (Shouts to my righteous brother Divine Culture!):
- New Balances:Until the Mid-90's, Besides the D.C. Area, no Black youth anywhere would touch NB's with a 10-foot pole. Only after Foot Locker decided to exploit the popularity (& price) of the 574 did NB's become a staple in cities across the country.
- Designed T-Shirts/Independent Apparel Companies : Unbeknownst to many, Miskeen Originals had their creative genesis in the D.C. area, having designed for companies like Enduro (A D.C. Based clothing company) & doing freelance designing for companies in the District & B-More. After coming back to Philly & putting them in Dr. Denim (A store in Philly) Miskeen as we know it was born. Anyone who has came through D.C. knows that they were rockin the paint on their shirts for some time. Nowadays, you can see the independent ethic through homegrown lines like Alldaz (one of my favorites), Shooters, Planet Chocolate, Sobiato, & more.
- Nike Boots: This is the contemporary example, & most indicative of my original premise: Those who travel around know that D.C. dudes have been wearing the Nike Boots for years (even when they didn't look too sporty). Somehow within the last year, the style got hijacked by Harlem cats (via Jones & Cam). A couple months ago, Jones appeared on 106 & Park with a fresh pair of ACG's on & declared that they were 'Harlem Kicks'. While in Mecca (on 125th) a few weeks after that, I noticed every other person had a pair on, effectively claiming them as their own.
Now, in the interest of not belaboring the point, I won't go too far into the musical influence (Jay's use of a Go-Go chant for the song "Put your hands up", The Go-Go influenced production of Rich Harrison & Chucky Thompson, Herby Luv Bug from Salt-N-Pepa fame, etc.) but it can clearly be seen in that world as well.
How did this 'borrowing' begin to take place? Well, from my vantage point, there are a few points, b.u.t. the major one is a known trading post for our people: HBCU's. People from all over come to these school & cross-pollination often takes place. Case in point: About 10 or so years ago, I attended a homecoming at a HBCU that featured a HH group (from NY, no less) & A Go-Go group (from DC obviously). Students acknowledge styles, concepts, ideas, culture, etc. from other areas and often add them to their world view. At it's best, it is a space for growth & development through learning about the diversity of the Black experience: at worst, a surface- level appropriation of concepts with no appreciation of their origin.
The irony in this is that the appropriation of culture mimics what is done to us on a consistent basis. This is not to say that you shouldn't pick up things that are attractive & applicable to you: only that it's important to always take a contextual look at what you pick up to insure that you're not a 'culture vulture'. Hey DC will keep doing what is does, just as Black people keep doing what we do. It's just important to know why you do what you do & where it came from so you understand it's relationship to you.