My generation is the first one that was truly around for 100% of the hip hop era. The music fad that was supposed to die in a couple of years that has gone on to outpace just about every genre in terms of influence. As a product of this era, I did what rappers did, dressed how they dressed without giving a whole lot of thought for why I was doing it. Though it may be hard to recall now since the trend is to look like overcooked hotdogs with foot problems these days, in my era we all looked like 5th graders playing dress up in our dad’s clothes. I owned a pair of jeans in high school, when I was maybe 150 pounds after Thanksgiving, with a 34-inch waist. I had a pair of Adidas that were size 12 and pretty much all of my shirts were large because wearing mediums just wasn’t cool. All this to say, I was out here looking crazy and justifying it. I’m glad I was never part of the pill popping era of hip hop. I can’t imagine being inspired by taking ecstasy or Xanax pills to have a good time.
I also grew up watching the Cosby show like most kids in my generation. It was years later in syndication that I took away the lessons the show intended. Real time watching the show my main take away was wishing I could live in a brownstone like that, with apple juice and hoagies available to me when I wanted them. That feeling was so ingrained that when I got my first apartment, I had a mini fridge stocked with apple juice, cheese, cold cuts, and sandwich condiments. I went to the bakery across the street often and got fresh bread and made the best Dr. Huxtable hoagies I could for lunch. The characters of that show were secondary to my desire to live like that, but my view was favorable across the board.
So, when Bill Cosby began sounding like a cranky old man waving his finger at hip hop culture, telling us to pull our pants up and all, I didn’t care, but I understood. According to the media, he was America’s dad somehow, and that’s what dad’s do. Naturally, due to my fond memories of the Cosby show, I gave Bill the benefit of the doubt when the first 12 accusers came forward. I gave him a pass because surely, HE wasn’t this much of a hypocrite. Then another dozen or so came forward, all with similar stories and I remained skeptical because of his public persona. He was the family oriented, softcore comedian, and spokesperson for Jell-O for God’s sake. Then I heard of 10 more and I got even more skeptical because he’s super rich and it seemed like a pile on moment during the relentless Me Too movement. Finally, I read the account of two of his accusers and thought “Bill did that shit”. Immediately he went from the Jell-O pudding pop and hoagy influencer to the patron saint of pill popping and date raping. I have to state that 26 more women came forward AFTER I came to the light, that’s 60 women in total that this guy molested!
Despite those passes given, I never felt let down by Bill’s bullshit because I never saw him as one of my heroes. My father was always the coolest guy I knew as a kid, even when I refused to give him credit for being cool…because it wasn’t cool to give credit in 90’s hip hop culture. Hell, I grew up in Chicago during the Jordan era, and I never wanted to be like Mike despite what the commercials said. Little did I know at the time, Michael Jordan was a bonafide asshole on and off the court. The people I looked up to, outside of my father, I was able to look up to them for whatever talent I knew them for, but never placing them on some unattainable pedestal due to their celebrity status. As a result, every time I’ve run across celebrities and influential people, I spoke to them the same way I greet every stranger.
Well, except this one time I saw Nia Long in the airport. I was caught off guard because she is as pretty in person as she is in movies. I said “good afternoon” nothing weird, no stalker vibes or anything. She smiled and said “hi” and then we both proceeded with our respective days. She was shorter than I assumed and dressed like a normal person, but I think that’s most celebrities when they’re not working or at award shows. On the surface it was cool, but mentally I was wishing I could spark a conversation, possibly convince her we should try this dating thing out. She’s only 10 years older, that’s nothing to Hollywood folks. She could’ve been thinking the exact same thing but was too shy to follow through with shooting her shot. Yeah, that’s unlikely, but at this point, we’ll never know for sure. Either way that is as close to being weird around someone famous as I’ve ever been.
Admiration, No Pedestal
There are only a few folks that have existed that I wish I could’ve met and had a conversation with. The only reason I know they exist is because of their public persona, but my reason for wanting to talk is because of what they stood/stand for. Those people are Malcolm X, Tupac Shakur, and Dave Chappelle. Won’t happen for 2 out of the 3, and it’s unlikely that I’ll meet Dave since we don’t travel in the same circles or same flight class. I guess it would be cool to meet Jesus too. That would probably be a weird conversation for both of us though. I imagine it starting off like so… “What’s up Jesus, it’s good to finally meet you man, heard a lot about you, it’s all good, I don’t believe most of it anyway”. Actually, I think it would be hilarious if devout Catholics could meet Jesus, and instead of being the 6’ 3”, blonde underwear model they imagine, he’s actually 5’ 4” with a big nose and receding, curly hairline. I know, I know, I’m going to hell, but according to Mighty Clouds of Joy, folks are just walking around aimlessly in heaven all day anyway, which seems pretty awful.
As a Black boy in these United States, Malcolm X was the first historical figure I looked back on and said “I want to be like that”. Well spoken, mentally sharp and a champion for the disenfranchised. I saw Denzel Washington’s depiction of Malcolm and that made me want to do a deeper dive into who he really was as a person. My dad had a lot of books around, a few about Malcolm and the assassination, but he also had the autobiography. I read that cover to cover between my junior and senior years in high school. I even began my journey to read and learn the meanings to all the words in the dictionary, then gave that up around abdicate, how fitting right. Either way, the pursuit of mental excellence was my main take away with Malcolm X and given all the things he lived through, it would be really cool to chat with him.
Tupac to me, was the hip hop version of Malcom X, but still trying to figure it out. He spoke with passion and was likely more remarkable for that than the songs he made. Not to minimize Dave, but I just think his style of comedy and ability to do what he does is amazing. His perspective on things is pretty cool too. Yes, I know that most of what I see of him is scripted and/or rehearsed but a friend of mine met Dave and she said he was really cool and kind. Plus, I watched all of his specials and his ability to do a call back is insanely good. He does so masterfully, but with a message if you’re truly paying attention. I’d like to think I learned a bit from all three, but I’m not a great orator, I’m a decent rapper, albeit very laid back…and though I may be funny, Dave is Dave.
I am fortunate enough to have grown up without needing to seek a father figure in celebrities though. I consider myself very lucky to have grown up around people that ranged from remarkable to forgettable, with an understanding there can be a thin line between the two. Recently I went to a business conference in New Orleans, and I was in the presence of a whole lot of millionaires, future millionaires and the wannabes that never will be. The President of this association invited me to the conference personally. He’s a really good guy so I said sure, I’ve never been before, might as well go and see what it’s like. As expected, it was a mixed bag of genuinely good folks trying to make it, genuinely good folks that already made it, and people that want to peacock and brag on themselves.
The first day I ran into someone I recognized, and he was sizing me up and very dismissive since my company is smaller than his at the moment. The President of the association came in and spoke to me, we shook hands, talked for a minute and then he proceeded to do what he does. When I sat back down, the guy that was just dismissing me asked “how do you know the boss”? I said, “Ron and I partnered up and won this contract, plus we had dinner a few months ago, he’s the guy that invited me to this shindig actually”. Suddenly, he wants to hand me his business card and connect to discuss synergies and blah blah. Someone with a firm larger than his walked in and he quickly dismissed himself and went to go speak with that owner. There was a lady that arrived late looking for a seat, I offered up his because I knew he wasn’t coming back. She was really nice, very similar to me from what I gathered. Her company is smaller than mine, so I offered to help her out in any way that I could because I know how the come up can be. Oddly enough, every person that I met and made a genuine connection with, I was offering help in the areas I could afford to help in.
The boss, who I knew as and still call Ron, invited me to two special events. Upon arriving at the first I realized that everyone I made a connection with was there. I thought nothing of it, I was just happy to see friendly faces that weren’t peacocking. At the second event I saw significantly fewer faces, but still many of the folks I connected with. The latter event was labeled the “Trusted Partners Lunch” which shocked me because I was new to the scene. I discovered afterwards that Ron got wind of my offerings of help. He was impressed that despite not being comfortably where I want to be, I was still helping folks that would love to be where I am. I told my dad about this and the seemingly out of the blue luck I’ve had since then. Not that it was ever lost on me before, but I could tell he was proud of the man I’ve become. In addition to my success, I’m sure he appreciated the lessons he worked to instill, materializing in this way. In a sense walking with kings, and never losing the common touch. Knowing that all people matter but none too much.