This is an urban art story, it is my story. It involves my life and the lives of a unique group of people of which I am proud to be one. It is the story of how a thought became a dream and how that dream has come to define an entire era. In language, fashion, attitudes, and art which have all been heavily influenced. In the summer of 1989 I was standing on stage getting ready to be filmed for the hit pop show that was ‘Top of the Pops.’ Nicky Campbell introduced us and it was lights, camera, action. It felt like all eyes were on me as the music filled the air creating the type of atmosphere that I thrived in. I was ready for this, it seemed my whole life, everything I had been through made sense at this defining moment in time. I looked good; the original UK B-Boy was in the house. Girls were screaming as I burst into rhyme, the words flowing like a stream going down a mountain. Next there was a crescendo of screams that greeted me as I began to move to the beat, I was in the zone like a snake charmer mesmerising the crowd, taking them to that place where dreams are formed. This wasn’t your regular commercial pop icon; I was a rising voice in the UK hip hop scene. Fila tracksuit and Troop solution trainers were the order of the day and a flat top hair style was all the rage. From the heights of this commercial edifice I allowed myself the freedom to dream, as one part of my dream was realised. I thought I had arrived, this is it. Little did I know this was the first death knell I would experience, good thing that I was stubborn and didn’t heed the warning. It was our most successful part of the journey but success is not always followed by longevity. I enjoyed better performances in less prestigious venues.
I was fourteen years old and the hot tune was ‘The Perfect beat’ by Africa Bambaata and the soul sonic force. He was a Deejay from the south Bronx and was known as the ‘Grandfather’ of global hip hop culture. He brought us the electro funk sound, very similar to Kraftwork. The term ‘Hip hop’ is attributed to him. He said it consisted of 5 elements: Rap, Breakdancing, Deejaying, Graffiti and imparting knowledge. Today many use the term lightly. Anyone can rap but there are few real hip hop artists.
I am Basil Reynolds aka KG Demo one third of the London Rhyme Syndicate. I was born and raised in North West London. I am the last of five children, three sisters and a brother, I was the baby. My parents entered the UK in the fifties from Jamaica on the premise that there would be opportunities available to build a better future. My dad was a proud man and worked hard to provide for us as a family. Raised in the breeding grounds of N.W.10 where visible role models were few and far between. Yet we had men who reached a high level of success, a level of success that I could aim at. Ricky Hill a baller for Luton Town, Phil Fearon the lead singer of Galaxy and a band called Candidate. It was a vibrant place to be raised and the streets were a breeding ground for creativity and innovation.
I have been involved in the music game from the early eighties experiencing the highs and lows of a business with a reputation for not taking any prisoners. I was a founding member of the London Rhyme Syndicate a successful UK hip hop band. We had a successful single and EP in the UK, and also went on to feature on D- Mob’s national top ten hit “It’s Time To Get Funky.” Hip hop gave me the platform to find myself and also express who I was to the world.
I was never into video games I spent my time listening to songs and writing rhymes. At the time there wasn’t much choice it was either the Commodore 64 or the Sinclair Spectrum. For me it was a dose of hip hop in the morning, hip hop in the day and more hip hop at night. I lived and breathed the scene, the music the lifestyle everything about it. Everywhere I went I would be writing rhymes using all I saw and experienced as fuel for the fire that was burning within me. Many a good rhyme was written on the London underground. Even Hollywood got in on the act as hip hop hit the big screen with classics such as Beat Street, Krush Groove, Breakdance and Wild style. This only heightened my excitement for this expressive vocal and as some reported rebellious art form. The stereotypical caricatures never bothered me they were already evident in society. I knew what I was and what I wanted my music to say and reflect, a young man from the streets of London.
Rap music at the time was out selling all other genres of music, it was also becoming the most influential art form in dictating and directing various trends. Major company’s started to use the culture being created as a means of promotion for their products. It emerged in marketing campaigns, and also advertising. I have witnessed the movement direct fashion trends, hairstyles, dialect, car choice, and also everyday mannerisms and I was a part of it. Like someone infected by a virus that was so contagious, as it infected who I was and I had the privilege in passing it on. From musical preference to the way we greeted each other on the streets. From complex handshakes to shoulder-hugs, it was all theatre and we were the cast. It was a time when it was cool to be black, wearing Kangol hats, oversized shirts, and Timberland boots. I went through many phases as hip hop evolved, during this process I grew and matured as a rhymer. One thing never changed, it remained the same and that was my love for the art. I listened to dancehall and the way the Ragga Deejays flowed during a sound clash. We took a mix of what the Ragga Deejays were doing and the hip hop stars from the states did to developed our own form of freestyle.
The movement continued to evolve despite the efforts of the many haters who made it their mission to minimize the influence it was having on young people. When I first went to a warehouse jam it was a mainly urban crowd, however it soon crossed every cultural barrier and has now become a global form of youthful expression. It is enjoyed by young people throughout the world regardless of their background. It’s not just gangsta’s and woman hating, for many it’s a way of life, a culture that is complexly woven into every aspect of their daily life. My life was hip hop and it has helped shape the man that I am today. The fact that my parents didn’t understand it was a bonus as it enhanced the rebellion that all teenagers go through; hip hop gave me an outlet. This caused me to go in even deeper into this new radical culture that accepted me for who I was. It brought with it new ideas, values and concepts that reflected how I wanted to live and it was all expressed but not limited to a song, poetry, a film or some kind of fashion. It was us on the street corner just hanging out free styling as someone beat boxed. The beat boxer made the sound of the drums and baseline with their mouths and together we just vibed.
During my lifetime the world has changed so much since I was a young man searching for meaning. Within the music industry the major labels have moved from a position of total control to a position of vulnerability. Social media has changed the way we communicate and developed a language all of its own; it has changed the boundaries and levelled the playing field. Now young people are making tracks and shooting videos and uploading them on social media. They can cause a worldwide buzz from their bedrooms. ITunes and YouTube have given each artist a means to get their product out and begin to make an impact upon the mass market. The social media has seen the rise of young entrepreneurs who have mastered the technology and have learnt how to build a foundation from which they can establish a living. We have also seen the rise of the reality shows like Big brother. This has now impacted the music business and pop culture. Now we see reality music shows, that showcase tomorrow’s stars today. They market an artist and see which one the public support and the winner will already have a huge fan base who will buy their first single, it’s a win win situation for those behind the scenes. The music industry here in the U.K has always been more about who you know than the talent you possess. We used to joke that labels hated real artist as they were harder to mould and shape, it was puppets they wanted. They preferred the individual who would sing what they wanted, dress how they wanted and be what they wanted them to be. I could never supress my mind long enough to become someone’s puppet. Today there are many urban artists who are achieving a level of success on a national level without this type of compromise.
I had no excuse for what I did, it was brilliance birthed by a rawness that gave each track its own cutting edge. This was done by us first assessing the situation then simplifying it so it made sense to those who had no experience of the inner city streets. From random groups the idea became a vision and the vision was born into a movement that has gathered so much momentum. I made mistakes along the way and also achieved so much in the processes of expression. Once it was formed and we knew how to package it as the first generation we have handed it down and now it’s your inheritance.
Since its inception hip hop has surpassed its role as a voice and has become something more just as I have believed I could be more. Philosopher Frantz Fanon once wrote: “Each generation out of relative obscurity must discover their mission, fulfil it or betray it”. Go hard in the direction of your dreams. I hope you enjoy the journey. Peace out!
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Diary of a RhymerNon-Fiction
This is an urban art story, it is my story. It involves my life and the lives of a unique group of people of which I am proud to be one. It is the story of how a thought became a dream and how that dream has come to define an entire era. In language...