Thursday, April 21, 2011
Pause step back look at my life as a whole
It's a little tough to make out, but the red text along the back of this guy's sweatshirt reads "Queensbridge." Starting around my 18th birthday, no place on earth has captured my attention like Queensbridge. Six blocks of public housing edged along the East River, Queensbridge is America's largest housing project, the contested birthplace of rap music, and home to an unfathomable number of geniuses. I liked Nas pretty well, but it was Mobb Deep's The Infamous that brought QB to life for me, and for a few years there I could be counted on to buy any record with even the most tenuous connection to it. Any marginal rapper that could claim QB, I was in. Any guest verse by Nas, or Tragedy, or Mobb Deep's Prodigy or Havoc, I was in. I think the most ridiculous thing I bought during this time was the debut album by kiddie rapper A+, for Prodigy's verse on "Gusto." It's kind of crazy because I can't even remember how I spotted the guest appearance, like I must've just spent all my time flipping through rap CDs scanning the credits. It was worth it though, that period between The Infamous and Hell On Earth had some of Prodigy's craziest lyrics, and his assessment on "Gusto"--"It's like a bad dream, and I can't wake up/but at the same time I love it and I can't get enough"--was savage.
Last year I realized I could get off the F train at the Queensbridge stop and walk 10 blocks to PS.1, which saved a couple of transfers. Even though the train lets you out at the edge of the projects, and 2010 is pretty different than 1995, I was basically trembling with excitement and anxiety when I got off the train. In the mid-90s I read every article about Queensbridge I could find, and they all included the same moment where the journalist realized he or she was being watched from the rooftops, by like Large Professor and Cormega, who wouldn't let the interview if the writer seemed shook walking through the projects. Passing through the station doors I had to check myself from looking up. I overloaded my brain with expectations and ghost hunting, imaging how many of my idols passed through the same space.
I guess a big part of it is realizing that I couldn't imagine a situation where I'd end up in a room with Mobb Deep. I definitely wasn't trying to sneak backstage at shows and even if I did what would I say? They just seem untouchable, like beyond a movie star or the Rolling Stones or anything I could imagine. So it was a strange magic to find myself at Powerhouse watching Prodigy tell stories about how sickle cell anemia turned him into an child who never smiled, or about his team blocking the exit of a club so Jay-Z couldn't leave without a confrontation. Stranger still to find myself in line with a copy of Prodigy's autobiography for a quick hello and autograph.
Another surprise was the appearance of Havoc, who sat at the table beside Prodigy and added his autograph to his partner's book. You couldn't get anything else signed so I guess that it was the best option. Prodigy told this intense story about doing an instore in Baltimore and rolling up to the spot to see a line of people outside in the cold waiting to buy the record, how the fans all looked like they had put on their best outfits and didn't look like much. And Prodigy got out of the car with three chains on, rings on all his fingers, feeling like a total jerk, rubbing his money in their faces. Wondering why they'd even want to give him money. And so he doesn't wear jewelry anymore, and had this nice hat/button down shirt combo. I couldn't think of anything to say but "thank you" and "it's an honor" and get my book and head out. And now I have this, and I can't stop looking at this document of a moment I thought would never happen:
Posted by Ethan Swan