Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Because most of my friends are Black, I am not a regular target of “pranks” or “hijinks.” So, when I received a personal call from the office of the vice president of the United States inviting me to a party, I immediately wondered: “Which one of my friends is playing on the phone?”
As it turned out, I was actually invited to the vice presidential residence to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Although I truly believe there is no such thing as halfway crooks, I must confess that I was, if only for a moment, shook. After the initial shock wore off, I booked a flight to D.C. so that I could share my firsthand account of the event. But after spending Saturday celebrating half a century of my favorite musical genre, I was left with a few questions.
10. Was it an actual cookout?
The executive board for Black Luncheons, After-Church Kickbacks, Porch Events, Outside Parties and Lawn Events (BLACKPEOPLE) deliberated for days on the official designation for the vice president’s celebration.
Most of our members noted that the food was technically cooked outside and brown liquor was served. But, of course, white people were going to be there, and there was no aluminum foil, both of which negate the official status of cookout. Citing the 11 a.m. start time, as well as the serving of grits, mimosas, and chicken and waffles, a few of our more bougie members suggested that this was a “brunch,” while others argued that it was obviously a day party. One voter brought up the fact that Reginald Hudlin was there, and the festivities took place at the vice presidential residence, which would automatically make this a “house party.”
After careful consideration, BLACKPEOPLE eventually decided to designate the entire event as a “thang.”
9. Will Kamala Harris be impeached?
I’m sure the GOP is currently writing up articles of impeachment after Vice President Harris admitted that she brought bootleg Too Short tapes with her to Howard University.
8. Who all was there?
One of the most remarkable things about hip-hop (and music in general) is how it unites people of different races, backgrounds and geographic areas.
Where else could you see Raphael Warnock kick it with Omarion? D-Nice held it down for the DJs while breakdancers and graffiti artists represented their elements of hip-hop. The West Coast was represented by Too Short while Common freestyled for the Midwest contingent. MC Lyte came through for the female emcees as the South’s celebrated political strategist Jay Jenkins noted:
“My VP’s Black, [her] Lambo’s blue and I’ll be goddamned if my vote ain’t, too!”
7. What the hell is “smart casual”?
The White House’s official invitation said the dress code was “smart casual,” which prompted one important question: “What are you wearing to the vice president’s thang?”
What does “smart casual” even mean? Clothes don’t have IQs or an attitude! Most people would dress up to attend an event at the residence of America’s second-highest official. However, because the event celebrated hip-hop and took place outside, everyone I spoke with translated the dress code differently. And, because Black people were going to be there, there were three possibilities:
- Church clothes: To be clear, this has nothing to do with the attire one wears to a house of worship. For Black people, “church clothes” can be worn to job interviews, court and nightclubs.
- Outfits: Whether it’s a Beyoncé concert, a date or an HBCU homecoming, outfits are selected in advance for a special occasion. I guarantee every Black person there laid their outfit on the back of a chair after ironing it on the bed (all outfits are ironed on the bed).
- Something nice: All men have a “good shirt” and every woman has a “nice dress” that they wear when they participate in competitive clothes wearing. You wear something nice when you want to stand out without looking like you tried too hard.
In any case, Nikole Hannah-Jones won best attire with her gold “1619” bamboo earrings.
You just can’t beat critical race jewelry.
6. Was it a homecoming or a family reunion?
The audience got to witness a reunion of the Get Fresh Crew when Doug E. Fresh reunited with Slick Rick and Chill Will for their performance of “The Show” and “La-Di-Da-Di.” The crowd went crazy when Remy Ma joined Fat Joe onstage. And since the event took place in Washington, D.C., of course, every single person who ever attended Howard was there.
5. Was Run-DMC the greatest influencer ever?
According to my unofficial tally, shell-toe Adidas was the official choice of footwear, while Jordans came in a distant second. Where were the Air Force Ones? How could people overlook Timberlands and K-Swiss? There was not a single pair of Reebok 5411s in the place! There were a few Kangols but not enough Wu-Wear for my taste.
4. Who had the best performance?
In no particular order:
- Common showing off: Look, I don’t want to be a hater, but Common needs to choose a lane. It’s not fair that his song “I Used to Love Her” captures the underground essence of hip-hop, and he’s also beloved by the ladies. Why would he shame his fellow rappers by demonstrating his freestyle skills and perform dance hits and show why he is considered one of the greatest conscious rappers? Because he’s a showoff.
- Kamala Harris’ dance moves: While everyone has seen the clip of the Veep dancing to “Vivrant Thing,” I also spotted Harris doing the Rockaway and the Electric Slide.
- The world’s greatest entertainer: It’s really not fair to put people on after Doug E. Fresh. He demonstrated a flawless beatboxing performance, taught the audience how to Dougie and had the crowd singing every word.
- The U.S. Olympic breakdancers: If I had known that breakdancing was an Olympic sport, I would’ve tried out for the pop-locking team!
- Jelani Cobb: The first Black person to lead Columbia University’s School of Journalism rapped along to every word of every song.
3. Did Lil Wayne make it rain?
By the end of the event, everyone in attendance was sweating from the heat. But when Lil Wayne took the stage, the skies opened up and showered everyone just when the event was scheduled to conclude.
At a time when democracy is under attack, Weezy took the stage and reminded attendees what it was like to live under an authoritarian regime. As he took the stage to perform a medley of hits, the audience was reminded of when Cash Money Records briefly took over for the nine-nine and two thousands.
2. What was missing?
While the aura of hip-hop was present, there were a few things missing.
- I was sad to know that there were no 40 ounces served at the vice president’s house.
- Not one single dance battle.
- D-Nice didn’t play slow songs at the end.
- It was extremely hot outside, but I didn’t hear a single person say: “You know Black people draw heat.”
- An astonishing lack of fur coats.
- I couldn’t believe it started on time
- I don’t think I heard a Tupac song.
- No one asked me to buy a mixtape.
- I didn’t smell marijuana.
- One of the main reasons I was there was because I thought I might get a chance to meet Black Thought and Questlove. Meeting the vice president was cool, but still …
1. My favorite part?
During Too Short’s performance, I realized that he was doing a clean version of his song “Blow the Whistle,” something that I thought was impossible. Then again, I’m willing to bet that 50 years ago, Todd Shaw thought that performing for the vice president of the United States of America was impossible.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about hip-hop is how Black people constructed it from the scraps of things that already existed. The people who conceived of this uniquely American art form took genres of music that Black people created and married them to poetry and lyrics. They invented instruments out of tools and equipment that were not meant to be used in such a manner. They designed the template and created styles that were made into an economic superpower. As hip-hop artists taught themselves how to build, market and sell hip-hop, the music industry and popular culture devalued their work and their contributions. The entire genre was seen as “worthless.” It was vulgar and indecent and dirty and unsuitable for children. And now, America is celebrating it. Now, they let it in the White House.
Hip-hop is Black people.
As Too Short wrapped up his performance, he asked the famous question that everyone knew was coming. He didn’t answer it himself. Maybe he knew he couldn’t say it. Perhaps he was following the rules of decorum. But he was also surrounded by Black people being Black people, so he simply said:
“What’s my favorite word?”
The answer is America.
Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, will be released in September.
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