808s & Otherworlds: A Collection of Essays and Poetry by Sean Avery Medlin
140 pages – Two Dollar Radio
I was angry growing up; Baldwin says it best: to be Black and conscious in amerika is to be in a constant state of rage. I learned what school did not teach: Egypt’s geographical location, lincoln’s financial motivations for war, sharecropping, rock & roll’s southern Black roots, experimentation on my folk without consent, terrorist attacks against our communities, assassinations to prevent the rise of a (Black) “messiah” and the f.b.i.’s covert operation against the Panthers, just to name a few. The real legacy pushed out allegiances, and pushed up rage and vengeance. A fictional character from my favorite anime, Sasuke Uchiha, became an outlet. Sasuke’s clan are born with Sharingan—eyes that transform the color and shape of their irises, granting them incredible power. If you know, you know, but you don’t need the mythology to understand the parallels.
The Sharingan belongs only to Sasuke’s lineage. Many shinobi, motivated by greed, implant stolen eyes from living and deceased Uchiha, by surgery, or by hand. Sasuke obliterates one such thief, a high-ranking military official named Danzo. The truth, that Danzo ordered a genocide of the Uchiha, solidifies Sasuke’s hatred for his nation, a place that eradicates and replicates the Uchiha for material gain. I too learn more, spurring on scorn: the prison industrial complex expansion, police murders of unarmed Blackmen, women, and children, Blacktranswomen’s disproportionate rate of homicide, while popular culture plays dress up with Hip-Hop. Even Black teen angst sees metaphor. We are Uchiha. Freedom is a conspiracy against us, and without us—the capital and cultural wealth of this country—nation, flag, and all, would not exist.
* * *
If only it were as simple as you made it, Sasuke.
If only I could reach out with soft flesh hands
& will the warrior bones of my ancestors
into a single pulverizing fist. If only I could look
at someone wearing the blood & labor of my people
& bathe their skin in oil-black flames.
How did it feel to kill the murderer of your clan
a dozen times over? Did you hear your cousins
calling from the afterlife? Crying? Cheering?
Was his blood thick & saline? What kind of crunch
did his body make? like wood, bread, ore?
When it was all over, were your eyes still red?
I won’t be able to do what you did, Sasuke.
I would die in my world if I wasted any
important, old, avaricious roach of man.
I would be grateful to find such a man’s name,
address & place of work. I would be grateful
to receive a weapon—explosive, traceless—
with the means to activate it.
I would be grateful to bear witness, freedom
fireworks & skeletal rainfall. I would weep.
I would vomit. I would laugh. I would know
the price of vengeance, its sweet debt.
Perhaps then, I could have eyes like yours.
everybody wanna be Black / don’t nobody wanna be Black /
don’t nobody wanna lose breath / everybody want some long dreads /
don’t nobody wanna dread cops / nightmarish don’t-shoot ! gunshots /
don’t nobody wanna forfeit / forget where their motherland is /
don’t nobody wanna whip soap / it ain’t pretty as the Migos /
don’t nobody wanna be Black / they don’t wanna live in handcuffs /
their world collapsing from depression like stellar core compression /
they don’t wanna vanish / and become cold statistics / live life alight
in spite of / to die / and be rebranded cheap revolution / hung high
on pole signs for stature / or warnings for Blackfolk in the future /
everybody wanna stream Future / everybody wanna trap rap /
don’t nobody wanna lose breath / don’t nobody wanna lose self
to a jail cell / or Du Bois’s mask / everybody want a fat ass /
big lips / smooth walk with a cool bop
don’t nobody wanna lose breath /
don’t nobody wanna lose breath / don’t nobody wanna lose /
none of you
In this antiBlack era of Hip-Hop, streetwear has been hijacked by high-fashion, and Blackface boosts artists up the Billboard charts. Blackface minstrelsy remains the u.s.a.’s oldest, and most successful, form of entertainment.
Our music, now relegated, related, and reduced to only Hip-Hop, is both social currency and criminal culprit; our styles stolen by the likes of tekashi 69’s and kid laroi’s, reminiscent of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry songs stolen by the beatles and elvis presley. In addition, we are not credited for our contributions to amerikan music; Black youth “bang” on instruments, or create “noise” on digital machines, white youth “play” in “punk” bands, or use technology to “innovate” sound.
Although Hip-Hop is both international and academic, public and private conversations on our culture disproportionately center twenty-something-year-old musicians accused of “mumbling” and “ruining the integrity” of Hip-Hop, like these rappers’ grandpops couldn’t have mumbled blues that made rock, folk, and pop. We don’t discuss the consistent, generational tension among Blackfolk, or the constant reinvention of Hip-Hop by youth, or even the effects that pedestalling drug-dealer-entrepreneurship have on modern youth culture.
It is because of these critical, and potentially worsening conditions, that I write this poetic payment reminder, to every nonBlack Hip-Hop fan, artist, and critic:
You cannot borrow our skin.
We are not accessories, slang words
or caged birds. We don’t belong to anyone.
We name ourselves & speak in drums.
We use your cash to wipe our ass
& toss your precious paper.
We do not own your stocks;
we did not steer your ships;
we did not crack your whips,
yet we built all your shit.
We work, live, love & die,
you dare not look us in our eyes,
because you know we’re human too
& if you say we’re human too
you’ll have to treat us as human, too.
You cannot borrow my color.
I am not a commodity.
I am not a party song, cuss word
or caged bird. I belong to no one.
I name myself wear myself.
You sell me to make your money.
You say I’m free, but you still owe me.
i had a septum & steel gauges / welded to the pit / super skinnys Hot Topic tee / keys on my hip / izzy showed me DGD & i was down with the shit / heard the rhythm & blues / Black soul when the pick struck geetar / ragedrunk needin a fix of hyperbolic rock & roll emos cooked up / our fav band sounded like a gospel punk club playin backup for a nu metal rap act / their drummer had curly hair / pecan skin-tone /
but as hundreds parted a wall of death my afro was alone /
thankfully my niggas came ready to stomp on / we’ll always be Hip-Hop /
the membership lifelong / but something in my body knows / here / i belong /
i’m jumpin in the mosh like they’re coverin my song !
& negroes did make rock down south /
not too long ago / after jazz /
before rap’s vertigo / when Ma Rainey
& Little Richard sped up our traditions /
impact for generations living today /
but we are farmed like grapes on a vine /
Big Mama Thornton’s bellow super downsized
into a chime that fits pale mouths without stress lines /
even with our music gentrified & redlined /
we reflect joy & grief / each genre / a branch
on a family tree / breakin open beats till our truth is seen !