I was asked to write a piece for the New York Times’ Room for Debate section. The question was about the importance of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Here’s what I wrote (read original here):
“You have a collect call from the State Correctional Facility,” the operator said.
My heart skipped beats like a scratched-up CD. It was my big brother, Uzi, calling from jail in Arizona, thousands of miles away from our home in Philly. I pressed No.1, hard and deliberate, and smiled in anticipation. It was 1995. He’d just been transferred to the adult facility. On his 18th birthday, the guards had woken him up with, “Welcome to hell, kid” and moved him in with the adults. I was 13.
Music is the acid that eats through prison walls. It’s the vibration that builds bridges and tears down borders. It doesn’t need a Hall of Fame.
“What’s up, lil’ bro?” he asked, followed soon by, “Play somethin’ for me.”
I scrambled for the new tape I bought at Uptown Flava: “Illmatic” by Nas. My brother and the other inmates had not yet heard of the young MC from Queens, N.Y. I put the phone to the boom box speakers and hit play.
Nothing was the same.
Uzi screamed hysterically at the other inmates to join him on the phone. They huddled around the prison to listen. Soon, they were all erupting in joy and awe, repeating lines like scripture. It was then, as a long-distance teenage prison DJ rocking a crowd of inmates, that I witnessed the transformative power of music.
Music is the acid that eats through prison walls. It’s the vibration that builds bridges and tears down borders. It’s the sonic force that connects humanity … and brothers!
A hall of fame for that kind of music? It doesn’t really exist. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? It doesn’t matter.
Rapper King Mez, on his song “Morris” from the new album Long Live the King, sums up what really matters in music, rhyming:
Some of the music that you made
Help us wash away the pain, and that’s real
And that’s real.