You don’t need to know the name of the subject in this story. At some point you’ll know. Soon, I’ll be writing a beautiful tribute story for this man and I’ll tell you just how the blessing of his friendship came in to my life.
But for now, it could be any of us. Anyone you know. Anyone, who loves, anything.
It just so happens to be that he is my friend, and he loves hip hop music.
This story hits home for many of us. It’s going to hit home for anyone who used to turn on their boombox, grab a hairbrush and pretend we were LL Cool J in our bedroom mirror. It’s going to hit home for anyone who used to stay up past their bedtime on Saturday nights to listen to Dangerous Dave and Banana on WZAK because that might be the only chance you got to hear rap music on the radio that week. It’s going to hit home for anyone who had a spiral notebook for English class, Social Studies class, Science class…. and your rhymes.
It’s especially going to hit home for anyone who piled as many friends as they could, into as many vehicles as they could, and traveled to the corner of Cedar and South Green so they could perform at the Rhythm Room. For anyone who ordered drinks two at a time so they didn’t have to make multiple trips back upstairs to get more, because they didn’t want to miss the people performing in that basement. For anyone who had to chase someone down Cedar because you beat them in a battle and they tried to run off with your money…
You’ll feel this story. Because the man you’ll meet in this story, clinging to life as he battles The Beast, is you. Or at least he could be.
People say they live and die for hip hop all the time. I like to think that I do. It raised me in a way. So much of my life is tied to hip hop- it’s like a family member. In the story of my life it is a living breathing character, not just a backdrop. I think I love hip hop- but what I saw today makes me question that love. You think you’re in love.. until you see someone in love.
The man in this story is in love. And that love won’t die when his body gives out. It’s eternal.
I went to see my friend in his Hospice room today. Many of you have probably been in this position before. I walked in the room and my friend was asleep. I walked back out because I thought I was in the wrong room. My friend is 6 feet tall and weighs 250 pounds. He’s a beast and he’s strong. He’s vibrant. He smiles so wide you don’t know how his skin stretches that far. He’s dynamic. He’s powerful.
The man in this room was week and small. He weighed 120 pounds if that. He was tired and couldn’t speak. There was no smile, there was no energy. Surely I had the wrong room.
The text came back in confirmation from our partner who directed me to the facility. “Nah Brother- that’s him”.
I took a deep breath and walked back in. When his eyes caught mine, I caught a flicker. I knew it was him. Believe it or not, his jawline gave it away. Right room. Right man.
Jesus, this is tough.
I leaned over and hugged my friend. I held his hand and I told him I loved him. I told him a few names of people who had asked about him. I jokingly told him that if he didn’t have the money to pay for my 16 on his mixtape he sure was going to some extensive lengths to avoid paying me! Biggest smile he could muster on that one.
Then I said something that touched off a series of events I will never forget.
I told him that our homeboy let me know that my friend has some music on the way.
“I hear you got a project I need to get hip to?” I said excitedly.
I am honestly excited to hear it. My friend in that bed is one of my favorite MC’s. He always makes great music and he always makes music with LOVE. I know that if this is going to be his last musical offering.. then it’s a labor of love and I can’t wait to hear it.
My friend’s eyes lit up again. His eyes are yellowed now, because of the medicines coursing through his body. They roll back in his head and when they try to focus they flutter uncontrollably. But for just a second they got wide, and they looked like they were going to pop out of their sockets.
He began to fidget. He unwound the tangled veins that are his legs and reached his arm to grab the bedrail. He struggled mightily to roll to his side. I didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t tell me what he needed. He looked extremely agitated, and I began to think perhaps my visit was bad idea. Maybe it was too much.
My eyes scrolled over to the nightstand he was rolling towards. “Yo, you need this Gatorade bro?”. The reply was a guttural sigh. Clearly not what he wanted.
“Your phone? Do you want your phone?”. Again the same exhausted grunt and eye roll.
He had spent all of his energy. He rolled back over to his back and his eyes shut. That was clearly more activity than he could handle.
I looked back at the nightstand and saw a boom box with two CD’s on top. Miles Davis and John Coletrane. “You got the classics in here bro- that’s exactly what I’d want to listen to as well!”. Big smiles. And then silence.
I leaned over, kissed my friend on the forehead, told him I loved him. I squeezed his hand and told him I’d let him get his rest. I told him I’d be back.
I don’t know if I’ll get that chance.
When I left I got a call from our homeboy that changed my whole perspective on that visit. A call that makes me question how far I’d go for hip hop. A call that showed me what real love looks like.
“Bro, he was trying to tell me something. I mentioned his music and he started to move quick, and he was reaching for his nightstand. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but he was telling me something!” I exclaimed while holding back tears.
“He was reaching for that boombox.”
I thought to myself, that’s a lot of effort for Miles Davis but OK!
“His project is in there. He wanted to watch you listen to it!”
And there it was. If my guy only had one more visit with me. If he only had one more time to talk to me. If we were only going to have one more shared experience- he wanted it to be listening to hip hop. He wanted me to hear his love speak one more time. Above all else, he wanted to have me remember him the way I will anyways. He wanted me to remember him as an emcee.
I don’t care what kind of music you make. If you sound like Nas- GREAT. If you sound like Yachty- GREAT. I really don’t care. As long as you love music like THAT. As long as you love music so much that the only thing that drives you as you lay in your death bed is sharing that music. If you believe in it so strongly that you’ll spend the only burst of effort you might have all day rolling over to share that music with your friends, then I can’t fault you for whatever it sounds like.
But if you don’t love it that much, don’t call it love. I saw love today. I saw passion today. I saw what hip hop looks like. Today I said goodbye to an emcee.
Wondering when is the next time I’ll truly say hello to another one.