“I’m not lonely. I’m alone. And I’m holy by my own.”
— ‘Holy’ by Jamila Woods
In 1993, A Tribe Called Quest dropped Midnight Marauders. I was a freshman in high school. I can’t remember how I got my hands on that tape, but I played it out. To this day, I know every single lyric of that album. It is my album of liberation.
At the time, my life felt like it was falling apart. After 22 years of marriage, my parents were divorcing, and my mom revealed her relationship with another woman. In 1993, that was not considered an acceptable move. Music became my refuge. Hip-hop became my refuge. I poured myself into the culture. And it poured itself into me.
I was living in a super affluent, hyper white suburb from a highly visible family with a deep social network. And I felt like I was suffocating. It was clear that who I was and who I was becoming did not gel with the culture reflected around me.
So I stayed with the music.
Midnight Marauders led me to one legendary album after another. An entirely new world opened up to me. A world that wasn’t just musical. It was cultural, political, historical. All of a sudden, I became exposed to books like The Mis-Education of the Negro, Soul On Ice, Assata: An Autobiography, No Disrespect, Invisible Man, The Autobiography of Malcolm X and many others.
I began to realize that huge segments of history had been erased from my school education. I became a voracious reader. Hip-hop was my first foray into the world of metaphor and deep spirituality. I found an authenticity and truth telling that was unlike anything I had previously encountered.
After my parents got divorced, my dad moved from the suburbs to Chicago. I joined him. The Chicago hip-hop community embraced me and felt like family. The music exposed me to a message of peace, unity, love and having fun, which was the antithesis of what I was experiencing in my own community.
This culture embraced my once “pleasantly plump” body and gave me a new language. I was now thick, a different and affirming context than what I was brought up to believe. I was no longer confined by the oppressive patriarchal constraints of white capitalist America. Hip-hop was a place of creative self-expression that gave me an outlet to be unapologetically me.
I felt free.
So here’s the deal: Find what makes you feel free. Find something that resonates with you, whether that’s classical music, a sport, meditation or doing stand-up comedy.
When we are at our lowest, we are often the most vulnerable and open to accepting a new way of thinking or being. Hip-hop ingrained in me a new sense of self, one that let me surrender instead of resist.
I felt like I belonged because I did. The messages I had been receiving weren’t the truth. My community did not define me.
My beliefs about myself defined me. And through music, I began the work that would lead me here, to you.
I am a woman who still loves hip-hop, who still finds herself in the music, who still listens if things get tough, and who still finds new answers in a culture that is often grossly misunderstood.
Find a new way of listening — to the world and the people in it. Find messages that speak to you.