be real, when you hear the term indie musicians, you generally don’t think about independent hip hop artists. but the independent hip hop scene is still shining and two of it’s brightest stars, amo1 and l.i.f.e. long, recently facilitated a workshop with the hip hop politics students at pace university. check this short film to taste their workshop live. here, the underground mc’s comment on cross-genre influence and the role of the underground in keeping hip hop outside of a bubble.
as workshop facilitators, musicians amo1 and l.i.f.e. long delivered a high energy performance of their new cut, “life lessons”; fielded hard hitting questions on sexism in lyrics; led a writing session framed as a mock studio session wherein the students all wrote 8 bars or a verse; and created a final cypher space in which we all got down with a flow. both amo1 and l.i.f.e. long have sky high credentials on the hip hop landscape, as their bio’s clearly state (link above). but one of the beauty’s of being independent is their ability to control how they connect with their audience.
to give you a sense of the diversity of sounds within independent hip hop, let’s take a deeper look at these mc’s. l.i.f.e. long’s deceptively chill flow is trump tight with spiritual lessons, such as the haunting urge for patience in the title track of his ep, “the waiting game.” amo’s sound is one of bell like clarity, his sharp storytelling rivals slick rick’s in cuts like, “it’s brooklyn,” and his profanity belies a reservoir of urban warrior sanity. both independent mc’s feature lushly mixed tracks, piping in public enemy style walls of sound, ripe with archival samples from television and cinema screens and full throated support from fellow mc’s.
the workshop with these independent musicians lifted wings and flew. their nimble facilitation reminded me of how important it is that we all take part in supporting the underground in finding and maintaining new audiences. and how, even in small ways, we as teachers can keep hip hop alive in academia through lifting the genre up off the two dimensional page into three dimensional performance.
hip hop was born independent, shaking off south bronx policies of benign neglect, rebirthing as stars from dirt falling through the cracks and still shining, no institutional or corporate affiliation yet still writing, pockets stuffed with ink like silver lining. fast forward and hip hop is now a billion dollar industry, toeing a dicey line in the global market, a line between erasing borders and creating, even policing, them. but the underground lives, a striking feat, particularly for the war torn independent hip hop landscape of new york city. nyc is ground zero for the capitalization of hip hop, that is, glittering skyscrapers of profit for a few and gaping craters of broken contracts and undelivered promises for most. but these are rappers whose parents danced to james brown on whole and on the break, these are musicians whose younger years were steeped in sepia tones of afrika bambaataa rocking at the roller rink, and biggie rapping on the corner. these are rappers whose freestyling crews of the early 90’s ripped new lyrical galaxies into the english language.
it could be argued that the independent hip hop scene is more creative, more alive in smaller american cities, and still more vibrant outside of the u.s.a. i would support that contention, but i also support independent hip hop artists right here in nyc. where it all began, and where it still is.