Who Needs Culture?
a : enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training b : acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills
5 a : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations
Def. Merriam Websters on line Dictionary
You’re like school in the summer…no class! Man, when one of the Cosby Kids (the cool animated ones not the slightly square Cosby Show ones) would say that in a Fat Albert episode, I would nearly spit my room temperature 2 day till expiration date carton of milk at the TV screen. LOL I’d almost keel over drunk with the self-righteous zeal of Stuey on Family Guy. I had “class” and I knew it just like Stuey (although I’m not gay…Like I think Stuey is lol). Unlike Stuey, I was in an environment that encouraged my “cultural” development. Ohhh Lucky me (Stuey Voice).
I was raised by my Grandparents, not my parents, so there are some generational values that I picked up that set me apart from my peers. My Grandparents we born in the ’20s and ’30s. Their “party years” were the ’50s, so by the time the ’80s arrived, they had lived a rich and traveled life for two kids from Tuskegee, AL and Eaton, GA. My two sisters Lovie and LaShunda and I were there sole focus and because of that we were given a wealth of knowledge and experiences that our contemporaries didn’t have. My G-Parents were from a time in which upward mobility not only meant buying more stuff by also having richer life experiences.
While other kids were reading what was required of them in school only, we were forced to read daily, and read a wide variety of books. By the time I was 12, I was reading the Encyclopedia Britannica just to pass time and PBS was the channel of choice for at least 3hrs a day in our home. Along with programs like Nova (for science) and shows like the one with the art critic nun I was introduced to Egypt, Greece and Rome I was exposed to great art and artists all via the “Tell Lie Vision.” Later in life, I would put my homies up on the knowledge that Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo were actually some of the greatest artists in the history of the world and not just karate-kicking-jive-talking-reptiles.
The love of books and art was fostered in our household. We played instruments and drew and painted. We wrote poetry and took any and every school field trip that involved art and theater. We also traveled often and saw lots of this beautiful country. These experiences invoked a thirst to learn more. The desire to know more was ignited in me and I not only liked the music and art of the day (rap and graffiti) I was knee-deep in Classic Art, music, and a pursuit of higher knowledge. In class, I would add to what my teachers were lecturing about. I would read Shakespeare and serve as a translator for Mrs. Coleman (I’m telling U Super Head ain’t shit Compared to Lady McBeth she was a beast, a real villainess). I was forced by Ms. Renfro to take additional Art Classes at the High Museum, me, Larry and Chris, three black kids among a class of rich white kids drawing painting and learning about the impressionist, realest and cubist masters.
Then there was Mrs. Bishop, my overseer, choral teacher and Art Talent Center director. She was a tyrant in matters of making sure that Black kids from the hood were exposed to Fine Art. She turned our singing and artistic talent into college scholarships (I want it noted that I attended Morehouse on an Academic scholarship though). To Mrs. B, culture was to be forced and driven into you until you submitted and learned to love Miles, Coltrane, Mahalia, Monk and along with classic opera and more. She, like us, was from the humble beginnings and because she saw Loentyne Price, she was inspired to study and sing opera herself and had traveled the world because of that talent. She was determined to make sure kids from the “hood” with talent and no direction would do the same. Her dept. sent as many kids to school with a free ride for Music and Art scholarships as the Honors Program did for academics. Bravo Mrs. B! She Was such an influence on my development I thanked her in the credits of my 1st album, Monster.
Of all my teachers, Mr. Murray and Mrs. Baraki were probably the most influential in who I became. As u can imagine the artsy fartsy shit I liked meant nothing to the homies past getting a decent easy B for the report card. I, however loved art as much as I liked the streets and hanging out smoking dirt weed and drinking in the trap with the homies. I found a like-minded mentor in Mr. Murray. Mr. Murray was my teacher from the hood whose family owned funeral homes (shouts out to Murray Brothers funeral homes). He owned and rented properties b4 it was sexy to do so. He didn’t need the money from teaching and being a Booker T Washington High Grad (M.L.K and Lena Horne’s Alma Mata) he knew as many gangsters and he did fine artist, (in real life too not just knew of them like rappers) so he commanded a greater level of respect from the knuckleheads, me included.
When Super Fly became the movie to watch and Pimp (By ice berge Slim) became the book to read in my peer group he told us “Son ,see Super Fly, it’s good and all but hustlers ain’t tell that story. It took a renaissance man to tell the story of the streets cuz everybody in the street dead or locked up.” (aww the days b4 Feds and Don Diva). Mr. Murray Introduced me to Gordon Parks, and Gordon Parks Jr. The men responsible for Shaft and Superfly. These men were BLACK, they were photographers and writers and painters, they told our story with dignity and honor. Robert Beck aka Ice Berg Slim was a Tuskegee Univ. dropout and pimp with a descriptive command of a pen comparable to Shakespeare. His writing put you in the setting of the stories you could see, smell and hear the pages of Mama Black Widow and Long White Con. Becks writings were as tragic and morally conflicted as Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. Mr. Murray taught me who Henry Ossawa Tanner was, a Black realist painter whose painting, “The Banjo Lesson,” has been sold as a print in the middle of the mall by east Indian shop keepers since I was a kid. I wonder why black people who buy that print never attended to High Museum to see more of his work when it was displayed. Sigh…Why do we not value our renaissance men and women?
Mrs. Baraki however was not an art teacher at all. But if arts and music were tools for me to move through different social and class circles, she world give me proper perspective in which to view art and culture. Mrs Baraki taught Social Studies and World History. She connected the Artistic dots from Greece, Rome, Europe and drew that line right back to this wonderful place called Egypt. Egypt, the birth place of culture. When she taught me about the great kingdoms of Mali, Ethiopia and other great cultures in Africa and the African Diaspora. She was actually teaching me about what and who inspired the European Artist I so loved and admired. I worshiped da Vinci, I learned Plato, I admired Hippocrates, but when I discovered their cultural inspiration ,“Imhotep,” I was floored. An African was the father of medicine, an architect, a poet and priest and advisor to as many as four pharos. He was history’s 1st renaissance man. Becoming more cultured has been my life’s passion since. It has rewarded me in ways too numerous to count. Hip-Hop is a culture, it has great men Like Ice Cube, KRS-One, Kanye West, Swizz Beatz, Jay-Z, Killer Mike, OutKast, Ce- Lo Green, G.M Flash, Africa Bambaattaa and the Zulu Nation, Rock Steady Crew, Jean-Michel Basquiat and many others. These are men who master many things and bring the gift of art and intellect to society. Maybe it’s time we abandon the corporate culture of money over art and celebrate ourselves as cultured lovers of an art form born in America ( Hip-Hop) and stop treating our culture and ourselves at 2nd rate. I encourage all who are in Atlanta to attend the new exhibit at the High Museum “Leonardo Davinci: Hand of a Genius” starting Oct 6 and the Apex (African American Panoramic Experience) Museum (on any Sat) or any other place besides the mall, movies, the game or Walmart with your stripper girlfriend or your blessed kids and feed your soul and mind with more culture and less bullshit. You and Hip-Hop will be better for it. We (Hip-Hop) are a culture. The culture at this time needs less rappers and more Hip-Hop Historians and writers. More B Boy’n art exhibits like Beats Rhymes and life and less “Freaky Friday” club nights, more DJs and less iPod parties, less “video directors” and more Spike Lees, less club dates and more stadium tours. Hip-Hop is a part of a long artistic American cultural legacy and unless we remember that and remind ourselves we will loose this rich vibrant art we have created as a our cultural bookmark in the pages of world history. We need Hip-Hop. We need culture. Fin.
Please Note: I know this was alot to read and I appreciate you all reading it. The embolded words are for you to google, bing or surf to research and share some of my favorite cultural influences. I did not get to use Langston Huges and Zora Neal Hurston as I would have wanted but hey, I’m sure ya’ll will mention them and more in the comments. I’m out this joint, me and a stripper body type gonna hit this High Museum up….after we listen to some Gucci Mane and burn a joint of course….I love the arts and love culture. Peace. GTRG…BBB