Somebody up in the IHOP
Photo: Panama Jackson Playa Presidential Pictorial Library

Since June is Black Music Month (or, more formally, African-American Music Appreciation Month), I figure that one of the best ways to celebrate is to talk about my own love for black music. There’s no talking about my love for black music without discussing hip-hop because it is now and has been the most prominent musical relationship I’ve had in my life, opening doors to other types of music and introducing me to worlds I’d not otherwise have access to. And I owe all of that to my big sister, the GOAT big sister. Fight me, bro.

I grew up in a house where music was playing constantly. I come from a family that went to concerts, where my dad literally bought whatever CD cover seemed to tickle his fancy at the moment, and where it was not out of the ordinary to hear Rod Stewart and the Osmonds mixed in with Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson or Prince. And when I was even younger and living with my mother in Michigan, there were groups like AC/DC and ZZ Top mixed in with Peaches & Herb and, of course, Michael Jackson. The lesson here: Everybody loves Michael Jackson.

But the “You had me at hello” music, for me, was hip-hop, and I owe my introduction to and love for it to my older sister. Older siblings are the best. For one, they go through all of the lessons you will first, and they can put you onto game. For two, because they’re older, they’re inherently cooler, so the things they’re interested in become your interests. I definitely thought that I could run cross-country and track and field because of my big sister. So I did. And was good at it ... right after I sucked at it.

But her influence most deeply affected me—an impact that has lasted through today—in terms of music. Now, to be fair, she wasn’t actively trying to teach me the ways of EPMD or N.W.A. Naw, my big sister taught me the way so many of us youngins learn: I straight jacked her cassette tapes, made my own copies and put them shits back.

Because my sister is five years older than I am and graduated from high school in 1992, she came of age during one of the most exciting eras in hip-hop. She was my foray into everything that came out in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Because we lived in Frankfurt, Germany, music, television shows and movies from the States were hot commodities. Most of us would go home—wherever our parents were from—during the summers and soak up as much of the current landscape as possible and come back to Germany with the latest trends that we’d run into the ground just in time to be six months behind by the next summer.

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One way we kept up-to-date on music (and culture in general) was the boxes of stuff our family members would send. My mother used to tape television shows and movies (Martin, Beverly Hills 90210, Living Single, Fresh Prince, A Different World, etc.) and send them over, and we’d devour them. But in school, we used to pass around tapes of the latest music that was sent over from the cool younger cousins.

My sister must have known the plug real well because she had tons of cassette tapes. It was like Christmas every time I’d get a new tape. I remember the first time I heard the song “So What Cha Sayin’” by EPMD. Or even De La Soul’s “Me, Myself and I.” They came from those tapes. I was like a crackhead waiting for new tapes.

I’d sneak into her room, grab a tape, run into my room, and dub the whole thing and go replace it before she got home from whatever practice she had that day. My sister played basketball and volleyball and ran cross-country and track, so I always had plenty of time. I found 2 Live Crew this way. Even though I didn’t care for them at the time, I discovered A Tribe Called Quest this way. Queen Latifah? Yep. N.W.A and Above the Law? Yep. Ice Cube? Yep. Geto Boys? Yep. Because so many of us military brats were from all across the country, we got music from everywhere.

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Those tapes changed everything for me and began my lifelong appreciation for hip-hop and changed the way I listened to music. At some point while in middle school, I became friends with a dude who always seemed to have the newest music, and he’d give me tapes, like, every other week, eventually turning me into the plug because, between my sister and that dude, I was ahead of the game with all of the new music. Eventually we’d get tons of VHS tapes of music videos from VH1 and Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City, and those visuals became the blueprint for my burgeoning style. As cliché as it sounds, it’s true: Hip-hop changed my life, and I owe a thank-you to my big sister for being the conduit.

Even as I got older, she’d put me onto newer hip-hop. I remember visiting her in Atlanta in 1996 and seeing the CD for Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt on the floor of the house, and her telling me I needed to get up on that because it was dope. It would take a few years and the constant badgering of one of my best friends to finally get me on the Jay train, but again, my sister was the one who opened that door. She did the same for the Dungeon Family in Atlanta, several of whose members are people she knows very well.

She’s even responsible for the time Erick Sermon called me and asked me for a ride to pick up his car from the shop. For months I didn’t clear the caller ID because right there, in plain text, was the name “Erick Sermon” and his phone number, which I was amazed was not blocked.

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My big sister has been vital to my hip-hop education and life in many ways, and for that she will forever be appreciated.

Even if I never got to go to the actual Dungeon, though she knows Rico and knew where it was and all that.

I’m not salty at all. xo