Hip-hop culture has a global reach. It’s something that in various forms has touched lives as far apart as Alaska and rural Scotland, the French suburbs to South Africa. Yet it all has a common root – those initial block parties in the Bronx. This summer hip-hop turns 50 and – if the history books have it right – the very first block party took place 50 years ago today (August 11th).
Clash will be celebrating hip-hop culture in all its forms, and as part of this we invited Glasgow-based rapper Bemz to look back on the way rap music, and hip-hop generally, has impacted his life. A fantastic rapper who is up-ending expectations, his excellent ‘Nova’s Dad’ project landed earlier this year.
Here, Bemz looks back at what hip-hop has given his life, and reflects on the opportunities the culture has opened up.
Where do I start with hip-hop? A genre that has changed and evolved over the years. A genre that has created change and pushed marginalised people to the forefront of the music industry. A genre that inspired me to be the person I am today.
From a young age, music has played an integral part in my life. Whether it was afrobeats or gospel, music was always played around the house and my love grew for it. My love for rap and hip-hop started with UK hip-hop – weird I know, but being from South East London I would rather listen to the local rappers than the rappers abroad, Giggs was the main guy, he was HIM. I remember my older brother, Jerry, playing all the best of Giggs in the house, rapping along word for word, bar for bar.
My other brother, Jesse, loved UK rap too but he really really loved this rapper from the States called Young Jeezy. He would always have his tracks playing and one of my favourites was a song called ‘Bury Me A G’. He also had a love for Eminem and D12, which at the time was bizarre (pardon the pun) to me.
With my brothers and my community playing a big part in my life, I began my musical journey with rap and hip-hop. I started finding artists for myself, people who were able to put how I was feeling or my experiences into words better than I could. I was drawn into the lyricism of hip-hop, I found my niche in the community. I found artists like Nas, Tupac, Biggie, Wu-Tang, Mos Def, Fugees, Jay Z – yeah you get the jist. My love for the UK sound remained as I also found rappers like Wretch 32, Ghetts, Scorcher, Bashy and all the others.
The more I dived into the community of lyricism, the more I grew to appreciate the power of words and how healing they could be. How therapeutic. How impactful.
As someone who, some would say, has had a troubled past, I found comfort in music. I found an escape and a way to feel like I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling, whether happiness, joy, sadness or anger.
This is the reason why I am the way I am. This is the reason why I write the way I write. As a hip-hop artist, I feel the blessing that artists before me have bestowed on me with their lyricism and delivery MUST be paid forward. Hip-hop, for nearly its entirety, has been seen as a macho man sport, where rappers have to compare who has bigger dick energy – but to me it really doesn’t have to be. There should be a certain level of softness and vulnerability to it, a bit of soul and a lot of honesty.
Over the years of listening and dedicating my life to the genre I have learned so much about who I am, and about the type of person I want to be. And the type of legacy I would like to leave behind with my music.
Having moved up to Scotland in my teens, I never thought that a small rural village would be the place I would start my journey as a rapper but it was perfect and gave me the time to hone my craft. The funniest thing about the move was realising just how far this genre has travelled, and how big of an influence it has over people in all corners of the world. To see people in Scotland be so dedicated to the craft and way of life is something so special to me. From something that was born in the Bronx in 1973, to reach the coasts of sunny Scotland and be so influential, just shows you how powerful the genre is. From something that was born in the Bronx to evolve and grow on and be one of the biggest genres in the world, well, that’s just sensational.
I am grateful for hip-hop. I owe the genre my life because of what it has done for me. It has given me the tools and the space to open up about myself and has given me the opportunity to be creative. It has opened up a lot of doors for me and also given me the opportunity to provide, not just for me, but for my family and my daughter. Without hip-hop I wouldn’t be here typing this out. So, thank you hip-hop, happy 50th birthday, and here’s to another 500,000 years of celebration.
With love from your friendly neighbourhood Scottish rapper, Bemz.
Stay in touch with Bemz on IG.
Photo Credit: Andy Lowe