“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet.” -- Tupac Shakur
It’s funny how time has flown by, but the issues in the urban community seem to remain the same. The 1990’s—that some refer to as the “Golden Era” of hip-hop—was the birth of an era of truth --a forbidden truth. A truth that you could smell, taste, touch and see if you lived it but, if you were not from that truth … you had no way of understanding what was happening. It was inevitable for storytellers to emerge and speak this truth to reach the masses. They rose from the concrete, so to speak, with talents and stories to express truth and wisdom, from a place greater than their own. It did not matter what form that truthful message was released in, or the method that was used to reach the masses—the darkness of that truth had to eventually come to light.
The global oppression that some black people were experiencing created a shift in enlightenment. The late 1970’s and early 1980’s birthed hip-hop, a unique form of expression that emerged from oppressive low income communities that many blacks resided in.
There are five components of hip-hop: 1) B-Boying, 2) MC-ing, 3) Graffiti, 4) DJ-ing, and 5) Knowledge, Culture and Overstanding (as defined by the Zulu Nation). The 1990’s continued to shape and mould the art form of hip-hop through MC’s like Tupac Shakur, with his album “Me Against the World” to Mobb Deep’s album “The Infamous” to Nas’s album “Illmatic” to name a few classics. These and many other hip-hop MC’s were able to craft lyrics/poetry about their experiences growing up in the “concrete jungles” and it was a form of storytelling that exposed their living conditions, in poverty. Hip-hop gave many black people in these circumstances a voice, when the rest of the world was not trying to hear what they had to say. The physical shackles had been removed, but the mental prison was now on the mind and still is today for many, who continue to live in these conditions.
These oppressive conditions isolated some black people from the norms like others in society. This oppression whether evident (in the physical) or not, marginalized some black people, and continued to try and hide the oppressive truth.
The creativity of hip-hop also began to inspire other talents in other creative forms used to express the oppression and tell the stories that was being pushed under the rug … and still is today, to some extent. Urban Fiction was one of those forms of expression that emerged first in the 1970’s, with a graphic tale from Iceberg Slim’s story, Pimp. A new type of literary fiction had emerged and the stories continued to surface in the 1990’s.
Hip-hop music was graphically telling stories of the lost children in the streets on records, while Urban Fiction authors were creating characters and plots, and also unraveling graphic stories of what was happening in these oppressive low income communities. It was very difficult to bring this type of manuscript to corporate America/Canada to get published, and it still isn’t any easier today … but the story, regardless, will and has to be told.
Author’s like Sista Souljah, Omar Tyree, and Teri Woods went against the odds and created novels that will always be used as references to the Urban Fiction reading community. The Coldest Winter Ever, Flyy Girl, and True to the Game are ground breaking novels that exposed the stories that were situated in these oppressive black communities. These three authors had the hustle, ambition, and talent to fight for a place in the literary world whether accepted or not. They clearly exposed that black people have a story to tell to the world—and the literary world—no matter how they try to hide that truth.
Activist Sista Souljah is a true revolutionary Urban Fiction author of our time. Her writing career began first as a featured rapper debuting on Public Enemy albums in the early 1990’s, and she eventually released her own album “360 degrees of Power.” Her music videos were banned by MTV because of the “black power” messages she was portraying in her work. In 1992 when the Los Angeles riots occurred, she made a comment that is still talked about today when racial/political debates surface. Sista Souljah said “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week that we kill all white people?” Her message spoke loud and clear; she was and is for the voices of black people ‘by any means necessary’, and her work continued to portray that. Sista Souljah realized that some oppressed black people needed a voice. In 1999 her debut Urban Fiction novel, “The Coldest Winter Ever”, sent chills down the spines of readers everywhere, with her raw and explicit tale about the life of Winter Santiaga’s story in the streets. If you were not from Brooklyn, New York, you immediately felt like you were walking through the toughest parts of the neighbourhood, watching this young girl’s story unfold.
The door had been opened and the gateway to the enlightenment of Urban Fiction storytelling had begun. Sista Souljah, Omar Tyree, Terry McMillian, and Teri Woods all proved that Urban Fiction was a new literary genre and a force to be reckoned with. These best-selling novelists proved that no matter how many doors the corporate world closes in your face, if you keep fighting, hustling and working, the path of truth will shape itself while appearing right in front of you. The economic corporate agenda in our society today—or yesterday—has nothing to do with the creative talents of individuals in our world, no matter how these agendas may try to keep them oppressed and without a voice. The story will always be told and these stories will always crack through the concrete with lights to shine in the dark places they’ve been silenced to live in.
“Darkness cannot drive darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive hate, only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
Kamilah Haywood’s Urban Fiction novel “Concrete Jungle” is available at Amazon.com; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.