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GREENWOOD Dist.–At the end of April, I, along with dozens of Oklahoma artists featured on the Fire in Little Africa (FILA) album, and seven students from Solid Foundation Preparatory Academy (SFPA) traveled to Boston, Massachusetts, for a historic performance at Harvard University. Over two days, the trip highlighted a FILA documentary screening, a colloquium discourse on the making of Fire In Little Africa by executive producer Dr. View, and a concert by FILA artists and student musicians.
To put you in the right frame of mind, I want to reference the film “Backstage,” a documentary of Def Jam Records Hard Knock Life Tour in 1999. The tour was highlighted by Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man, and Redman, four of the biggest names in Hip-Hop at the time. The film gave viewers a “backstage pass” to tour life and an opportunity to see the artists beyond music videos and interviews on BET and MTV.
As a young Hip-Hop fan in 1999, I remember watching snippets of the tour in excitement because of how much of a fan I was of those artists. Nearly 25 years later, I had my own backstage experience with FILA. I witnessed greatness from Oklahoma and the bond of brother and sisterhood.
I arrived at Tulsa International Airport at 4:59 a.m. Tuesday morning for my 6 a.m. flight. The TSA line was long – for no reason, it’s Tulsa— but I could not help but smile when I saw the homies waiting in line, too. I missed the “Party Plane’‘ because I flew a different airline, but I did not miss a beat. I met up with the group at the FILA documentary screening and was greeted with smiles, daps, and hugs as if I were the cousin who had not been seen for a while at the family reunion. Everything was up from that point.
Hip-Hop At Harvard
After viewing the documentary, we walked to the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research for dinner.
It was my first experience seeing the camaraderie of the artists. Everyone was in their element: some artists sat in silence, some sat in groups laughing and enjoying one another, some were planning moves for the night, and I was in the midst of it, enjoying it all.
Throughout the evening — and most of the trip — I constantly said or heard someone say, “Man, we at Harvard,” or “We really at Harvard.” It was a new experience for most of us. It was a lot to digest: classic albums, pictures, posters, diagrams, books, and a massive turn-table set graced the archive center and the HipHop archive room.
Backstage with FILA
Our final stop for the evening was the hotel. The first night was a defining moment for me and many other participants I spoke with. We sat in the hotel lobby 20-plus deep — no noise complaints — til 12 something in the morning, discussing FILA, the role of a journalist in society, the history of Dick Rowland and Sarah Page, what it takes to be successful and other topics related to music.
I was backstage, recording and documenting as much as possible, while enjoying myself among the brother and sisterhood. I was doing my best to play it cool because I knew most of the artists, until Steph Simon and Pade reminded me why I was there: to document history.
Steph told me it was my job to be annoying and ask questions, and Pade agreed, reminding me of our conversations over the years. Steph said, “Imagine if A.J. Smitherman said, I’ma catch the next massacre,” instead of documenting the history at that time.
I laughed, but I needed to hear that. I wanted to relax and enjoy myself, but it was my indispensable duty to capture the history of that time. Shortly after that, the dialogue became more focused. I began asking tough questions to the artists. Each artist who spoke did so candidly but respectfully.
The remainder of our trip, I sparked up conversations with Fire in Little Africa artists I did not know, and asked questions to help push the culture. A lot of good conversations took place at Harvard. Dr. Tiffany Crutcher attended the trip. She stayed behind the scenes, but her presence was felt and appreciated. In my remaining essays, I will do my best to give the reader a glimpse of what happened and why it is historical. Stay tuned.
This is the first portion of a three-part essay covering my trip to Boston, Massachusetts with members of Fire In Little Africa. The first portion will be a brief description of my experience while in Boston and a glimpse of the trip behind the scenes.