The year is 1973. Somewhere in west Bronx, New York, in a recreation room of an
apartment building, a collective of afros and bell bottoms move and groove to what is soon to
become one of the most evolutionary genres of music. The mastermind of the beat, the DJ,
commands the space effortlessly. He is the birthday girl’s brother, Clive Campbell, but
more famously known as “DJ Kool Herc.”
With the love of the music and the help of a brilliant sound system, DJ Kool Herc
perfects the breakbeat, just in time for not only his sister’s birthday but the largest crowd he’s
ever played for. With much success, this party is one of the first steps towards a musical
revolution of sorts.
Though the term “hip hop” would not infiltrate pop culture for some years, it was that
party on August 11th, 1973 that launched what would eventually become a powerful, global
movement and embodiment of Black and Brown culture.
2018 marks the 45th birthday of hip-hop, and to kick off the celebration, Gibraltar -a
speakeasy style music lounge in Milwaukee’s southside- hosted an event in honor of two
American icons, rappers Common and Childish Gambino.
This event was unique for a myriad of reasons. For starters, these are two rappers I would
typically not group together, as they both represent completely different “eras” of hip-hop: my
father’s hip-hop and my own. This perhaps explains why the crowd was the way it was. At the
height of the event, you could identify folks across the board: young college students, nostalgic
old heads, aunties with their fresh sew-ins, hardworking men who were ready to be set free
on the dance floor. The crowd alone was a testament to the unifying power that thrives in the
depth of hip-hop.
One minute, folks are sipping drinks and nodding heads to the soulful cooing of
Common’s “Love Is…” The next, the squad and I (as well as some dope ass strangers) are diddy
bopping to Gambino’s “All Y’all.” The highlight of the whole shindig, hands down, had to be
the way the room lit up with laughter and appreciation when the first strummings of
“Redbone” shook the space.
Like their predecessor DJ Kool Herc, both DJ Jank Uno and DJ LaMart Young held it
down on the wheels of steel. Both men kept the party going, rotating between the two artists
(with light sprinklings of rappers like Chance the Rapper and A Tribe Called Quest.)
Admittedly, there was an overabundance of Common and not a lot of Childish Gambino’s
music, which I’ll be mad about forever, but I am hopeful that the next pairing of artists will have
more equilibrium on the mix.
Though hip-hop is clearly an ever-changing force, it is important to honor the
consistency of its four elements: MCing, DJing, graffiti art, and b-boying. Gibralter is one of
those gems in Milwaukee that miraculously embodies the four elements at once, easily.
You had your DJs. Check. Though there wasn’t a live artist, the stylings of both Common
and Childish represent the element of the emcee. Check(ish). The impressive collection of art
symbolized graffiti. I mean, the portraits even included the universally-recognized, bold, cursive
spray paint lettering. Lastly, there was a whole b-boy tearing it up the entire night. The b-
boy, somewhere in his early 20’s, spent most of the night top rocking in front of DJ Jank Uno
and LaMart Young. (He did all of this in a leather jacket, by the way, because he was that cool.)
As a Gambino fan, and the daughter of a Common fan, the night was something special.
It was an ode to hip hop’s past, present, and future; it symbolized the past 45 years and what is to come in the next 45.
Common, who emerged during the golden era, is an integral part of hip-hop’s
foundation. Much of his work is a testament to the old-school, influenced by the artists who
came before him and the sounds of the windy city he calls home. Common is what a lot of old
heads would refer to as “conscious”. He’s the poet, the wordsmith. My father plays Common’s
music the way Black moms play Gospel music on Saturdays you KNOW will be spent cleaning.
It is motivational. It’s what brings my dad back to when he was my age. To my father,
Common is cleansing, nostalgic, a piece of the past my father holds on to as he and this
genre he loves evolve.
Common is my father’s hip-hop. Childish Gambino is mine.
Now, I admittedly have a huge soft spot (some may say “bias”) in my heart for Mr.
Gambino. Part A because, like every Black nerd who was called “white” growing up, I felt a
huge connection to his music and story. Part B being, Gambino is this strange, versatile artist
who somehow connects the old school with new. Imagine hip-hop as a spectrum, alright? My
boy Bino easily took rap’s roots in soul and funk and created the Grammy-nominated project,
“Awaken, My Love!” Previously, he created projects that served as odes, commemorating not
only the sound of Atlanta but the city itself (“Royalty”, “STN MTN”). And of course, probably
what will go down as my man’s best piece of work, you have “Because the Internet”, a social
commentary on social media’s influence (the present) and how it can lead to a dystopic society
later (the future). “Because the Internet” is basically a Black Mirror soundtrack, an
AfroFuturistic telling of what is in store for us in the year 3005 and beyond.
This is perhaps what made this event so magical for me. It was this surreal place in which
I was 22, where my father’s memories of 22 thrived, and where people who were 22 and older
came together. Sure, the two artists are drastically different from each other, but they are tied
together by this little thing we deem hip-hop. 45 years of growth, of sound, of stories hailing
from different parts of the country.
To hold space like that with an audience of multiple generations, dancing abilities,
and racial backgrounds demonstrates the magic that is hip-hop. After all, there’s gotta be
something infectious and powerful about a genre of music that not only reaches so many people, but has evolved and thrived for the last 45 years.
An event like this, commemorating that evolution through the two different moods of
both Common and Gambino, could only be successfully held in a space like Gibralter. With its
exposed brick, soft seating, and dim lighting, Gibralter just feels like a scene from “The Get
Down.” The way hip-hop culture thrives and manifests in the space is unbelievable. You can
only really feel that energy by going to another 4 decks spinning ____ & _____ event, or if you and the homies just want some drinks and light complimentary snacks.
So, here’s to another 45 years of hip-hop. Here’s to two rappers that demonstrate the
power and art in both storytelling and bopping. And lastly, here’s to the next DJ party. May
there be more Gambino and aunties f*cking it up on the dance floor.