Max sat in his room staring at the photo of RZA a.k.a. Prince Rakeem a.k.a. The Rzarector a.k.a. Bobby Digital a.k.a. The Abbott… The list of pseudonyms could be exhaustive with rappers who enjoyed the role-play of fictional monikers instead of their given names. The RZA, also known as Robert Diggs to the Inland Revenue Service, mastermind producer and one ninth of Staten Island’s super group the Wu-Tang Clan, stared back from the sepia-tinted image. Max had pulled the page from an issue of Vibe Magazine that featured an in-depth interview with the artist. The photo was probably shot using a Hasselblad judging by the colours and contours. RZA’s signature lazy eye remained half-closed and staring straight at the camera. An old incandescent light bulb hung in the foreground and split his portrait in two down the middle. The hidden message was enlightenment that Max sought in the grainy print.
Peep how I keep my flow tight as a rope
Other rappers can’t cope with the fire I stoke
Tryna catch a break all they catch is my fade
Watch me crossfade from one side to the other
Of this game it’s no joke
Competition keeps staring
Nostrils all flaring but I’m not really caring
They don’t scare me like a ghoul in the night
I’m killin fools with this mic
All these super emcees won’t fuck with me I’m kryptonite
Max paused for a moment to re-read what he had written. He tapped his pen lightly on the notepad and tried to measure how the syllables fell on the four-four beat in his head. The last couple of lines would need work, he thought. This was rap – not a heartfelt poem painted in pastels and decorated with flowery emotion. Rap music was one pillar of Hip Hop culture – the three others being graffiti, break dancing and DJing. These were the foundations of a great movement that prided itself on providing a voice for an often forgotten community. Making something out of nothing was a mindset many hip hop fans subscribed to and Max was one of them. Even if he loved every aspect of the culture, Max didn’t see himself as a b-boy or a DJ. Each of these disciplines required incredible physical dexterity that he didn’t possess. He dabbled in graffiti because the anonymous infamy of writers had intrigued him, but the constant pressure of getting caught by police and the in-fighting amongst crews was more of a headache than anything else. Max had found his place with rapping. Writing lyrics pushed Max to find new and inventive ways to work his knowledge of the English language, tell a story, describe a scene or share a dream.
Max leant back and turned to look at the analog clock display on the radio. Four neon green digits waited patiently for 3AM to come around. Only eight minutes to go. Jay-Z’s voice sang out of the speakers on the dresser, “…so I sleep with one eye open like CBS. You see me stressed right…. Can I live?” This was the third time Max had flipped and slipped the cassette in the stereo, and the second time he had listened to Jay-Z’s emotional plea for relief. This was the 90-minute mixtape Max referenced as his chill tape and liked to listen to from time to time; usually when the night was almost done and a new day was about to break the cool dark horizon. The compilation featured down tempo beats and tracks that talked about the stress of day-to-day life. Notorious BIG’s ‘Everyday Struggle’, Geto Boys ‘My Mind Playin Tricks On Me’, Nas and AZ ‘Life’s A Bitch’ and Jay-Z’s ‘Can I Live?’ were all on there.
Somehow the melancholic words brought solace to Max who struggled to understand his own emotions. The passing of his brother had drained the light-heartedness from his late teens leaving not much to rejoice heading into his second decennia. That cold day in November had frozen the fun. While most boys his age were carefree and enjoying this brief moment of zero responsibility, Max felt like he had to act responsibly and avoid any stupid mistakes like the one’s that caught his brother off guard. The experience of watching a young life end too soon had made him grow up too fast and feel jaded. How could people just carry on with their lives ignorant to the fact that the only certainty was death? The reaper lurked in the shadows waiting for bored souls to do something reckless. Max felt the negativity boil under the surface and vented the pressure of his feelings through his writing. A singular therapeutic process that let things flow out of him like the relief of pissing in the sea. A moment of warmth before the cold current passed through again.
Max reached for the small wooden pipe and nugget of hashish. A couple of joints left off an eighth of Afghan he had bought off Cambodian Frank a few days ago. You only had to lick the small brown pebble with the lighter flame for it to soften and smoulder into tiny flakes of sweet flavoured stress relief. The small wooden pipe came from a head shop in the old part of town that Max’s friend Nick worked at. Nick was a big smoker and dealt small quantities of weed and tabs on the side to supplement his minimum wage from the shop. It wasn’t really a head shop but it sold a wide array of trinkets and paraphernalia linked to the cannabis culture. Marijuana leaf necklaces and hemp bags shared shelf space with glass sculptures of unicorns and bamboo didgeridoos. Max liked his little pipe because he could smoke small shots of hash or weed virtually pure and not send himself to sleep struggling to finish an entire joint before bed. He rubbed the mix of crumbled herbs and tobacco strands between his thumb and index finger, and then packed a pinch of the mix into the bowl of the pipe. He picked a couple of random crumbs of hash off the table and dropped them on top of the pile. Using the end of his Clipper to smother the mix a bit, he pulled back the flint wheel and hit the gas switch. A flame shot out of the lighter and Max tilted it down towards the Afghan and tobacco blend. The small brown bush shone a bright orange as he inhaled air through the pipe and took the THC-toned smoke into his lungs. After a few seconds he withdrew the tip of the pipe from his lips, held in the hit and let the toxins infiltrate his oxygen pores. Max let out a wide cloud of grey smoke that settled on the surroundings like a thick fog. Max put the pipe down and turned to look at his lyrics again. His read over the rhymes as the whites of his eyes turned a fainter shade of red and a translucent film glazed over his irises. Max let his emotions flow again.
Superman had all the haters cos he was so fly
Little did they know what he feared most was kryptonite
A simple green rock that drained him of his powers
Check how a bit of green pot can make everybody stop
Fighting and just chill out
Listen instead of shout or running their mouths
Now if Clark Kent had only invited Lex Luther
Into his telephone booth-uh
Get Lois Lane hip to the game
Smoke all together and get looser
The world would be a better place
That’s the truth