"One Mic": The Song That Made Me Fall in Love With Hip-Hop
My earliest memories of Hip Hop was sitting in the passenger seat of my dad’s car listening to Tupac’s “Breathin'”. It was a summer night in The Bronx we were on our way home and he was easily driving about 70 mph on the Cross Bronx and the second I heard that beat blasting through my dad’s car speakers giving his subwoofers all they could handle, I was overcome with this emotion. I couldn’t hide the goosebumps I had, now full disclosure my dad had the loudest sound system in our neighborhood, it was the 90s in the Bronx, you know how that goes.
Either way, I had this feeling that hit deep into my core but couldn’t understand why. Then hearing Tupac’s voice, you just felt the rawness and pain. I was young and couldn’t comprehend the words he was saying “I’m like a hostage on this troubled block, call the cops. A thug nigga screaming west side bustin' double glock.” Now while Tupac was rapping “west side outlaw, bad boy killer” I knew I could relate because of the feelings it gave me. From that point on I was seeking this feeling again searching for more thought provoking and emotional music.
Tupac led me to seek music and that emotion you can only get from Hip Hop but the song that made me fall in love with Hip Hop was Nas’ “One Mic”. I can remember the first time I heard this song like it was yesterday. I was 12 years old it was Christmas Eve 2001, with just a few hours before Christmas, my sister and I were begging our mom if we could open just one gift each. With some of our neighbors in-house, everyone was having a good time, laughing, eating and celebrating, my mom finally caved in and said yes. As a kid when you see gifts under the tree you are always doing your best detective work to figure out what you were getting.
Now, in the whole lead up to Christmas I really wanted a CD player. Wow, I feel old just writing that. Once we got the green light me and my sister ran to the tree and proceeded to rip open one of our gifts. Just as I suspected, the gift I opened was my blue Sony Walkman CD player along with about 3 CDs. After I hugged my mom and dad and thanking them I ran to my room to listen to my music. The three CD’s that my parents got me was Nas' Stillmatic, a Hot 97 mixtape CD (if you grew up in New York you know what it is) and another CD that I can’t remember. Full disclosure, they were all bootleg CD’s that you’d buy from dudes who would have a layout of CD’s on a sheet right by the train station. Sorry, Nas. As I was testing out my new gift, I put Stillmatic in just to hear how the music sounded. When I got to track number 7 “One Mic” and there was the rest of my night stood. For 4 minutes and 28 seconds, nothing else mattered. I was entranced by this song.
In “One Mic”, Nas captures the true essence of Hip Hop: he speaks on his struggles as a man, the hatred in the world, and problems in our communities while still trying to uplift us and himself at the same time. The way Nas’ vocals go from low to high throughout the song adds this sense of urgency and importance to what he is saying. In his first verse, Nas speaks how living in the hood comes with certain circumstances you can’t change, “Mad violence, who I'm gon' body, this hood politics/Acknowledge it, leave bodies chopped in garbages/Seeds watch us, grow up and try to follow us/ Police watch us, roll up and try knockin' us”. After Nas’ first sentence in the quote he says “Acknowledge it” those two words were so powerful to me and resonate with me still to this day. The thug life is intertwined with violence and there is no way around it, yet unfortunately the youth who live in these neighborhoods growing up without fathers idolized these men and soon became the ones they looked up to, creating a never ending cycle.
Nas hits similar points in his second verse, but it was in his third verse where I noticed a change. Nas’ voice starts loud and gradually gets lower which causes you to listen more clearly. “ What you call an infinite brawl, eternal souls clashin'/War gets deep, some beef is everlastin'/Complete with thick scars, brothers knifin' each other up in prison yards/Drama, where does it start?/You know the block was ill as a youngster/ Every night it was like a cop would get killed/Body found in the dumpster”. At this point, Nas has built the song up and it is about to reach its climatic purpose. In this quote, the Queens Bridge rapper is explaining that these struggles and violence is forever ongoing, no matter what hood you live in, whether home or in jail.
This lifestyle leaves not only leaves physical, but mental and emotional wounds. Nas asks the question where does it all begin and he comes full circle stating how as young kids we grew up in this. At a young age, we become immune to death and pain in our neighborhoods. There is a numbness you gain from being in that type of environment and I believe this is what Nas is trying to depict through his entire song.
"One Mic" will forever be the song that made me fall in love with Hip Hop: in a small amount of time, Nas takes you on an emotional path of anger, hatred, sorrow, remorse, and so much more.