That’s right folks. The hottest comedian, Dave Chappelle, and the hottest magazine, have joined forces. Eat your heart out, bitches.
In the Fall of 1999, while driving down 8th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, I bumped into Talib Kweli. After we exchanged small talk for a few minutes, he invited me to a session he was doing at Electric Lady Studios.
“We’ll be there all night,” I remember him saying. I readily accepted the invite. We weren’t really friends at that point—I had only met him once before—but I was a fan. I kept the Black Star LP in regular rotation in my CD changer. So, later that night, I showed up not sure what to expect. That was my first time in a recording studio, now that I think about it.
Kweli was in a cramped studio on the top floor. He and Hi-Tek were playing back a track for what would become the Reflection Eternal album. Everyone in the room was nodding their heads in unison to the beat. They were all kinda lost in what they were doing. A cloud of freshly smoked reefer hung in the air. I soaked the vibe up for less than a second, and decided I was glad I came. I was witnessing raw creativity.
At the time, I was writing a stand-up special for HBO, and the Reflection Eternal session inspired me. I started doing comedy at such a young age that all of my peers were always older than me. This was the first time I was in a roomful of people my age who were professional artists. These guys had traveled the world. The realm of conversation was immense. Everything from politics to socio-economics, to the new Dr. Dre record. It kinda blew my mind. For the next few nights, the studio became part of my routine. I would go to a comedy club early in the night, and then head over to Electric Lady to soak that vibe up again.
While Kweli was recording upstairs, Common was downstairs recording Like Water For Chocolate. All kinds of MCs were dropping by to lend their vocals and support—Tariq and ?uestlove from The Roots, Mos Def, M-1 from dead prez, Rah Digga. Shit, even Lennox Lewis was doing drops. It was refreshing to see camaraderie in a business that’s known for its beefs. Especially for a guy like myself, working in the competitive world of stand-up comedy. That’s how I first met a lot of these guys.
Kanye West was a name I heard often in that circle. I remember when my partner Neal and I were looking for a theme song for the Comedy Central show we were referred to Kanye by several people. We almost bought a beat from him. I’m not gonna say for how much, but nowadays you probably couldn’t even get him on his pager for that kind of money.
We actually ended up using the beat from “Hip Hop,” the dead prez song. I have to say dpz is one of my favorite groups of any genre. The spirit of what they do is right up my alley. Personally, I think they get a combined Tupac score for expressing themselves and educating their audience, while still managing to make dope music. It’s an impressive feat. I met them the first time at a thing called Black August—a show that raises money and awareness about political prisoners at home and abroad. I remember that particular year it was hosted by Chuck D. Dead prez were closing the show, and I have this image of this one White dude in the crowd jumping up and down, screaming “I’m an African!” with his fist raised in the air. I knew for certain then that they were spitting some powerful shit.
Fast-forward. I’m walking in to the Milk photography studio in Chelsea for the cover shoot of the issue of XXL that you’re holding in your hands. I’m tired as shit, which is how I feel a lot these days. With the show comes an incredible amount of press obligations. It seems like every day I’m on the phone or at lunch with a journalist, explaining why I say “Nigger” on TV. After a while, it gets a little uncomfortable talking about yourself all the time—unless, of course, you’re trying to get some pussy.
However, today I’m actually excited to be here. This is the first time I get to sit down with a lot of these guys since that Kweli session five years ago. Unfortunately, not everyone I asked to come could make it—Mos Def, ?uestlove, Black Thought. But the good news is they couldn’t come because they were working. Peace to you guys. Keep up the good work, ’cause we need you out there. To everyone who participated in this piece, I just wanted to say thanks.
Guest Editor, Hip-Hop fan, I’m Rich, Bitch, Etc…