I know, I know, the number of off-topic posts today (two, for those keeping score at home; here‘s the first) is at least one more than the number of on-topic posts I typically write in a day. But I just saw this track via The Smoking Section‘s Twitter, and though I’ve not yet been able to listen, I felt compelled to post it up with a brief note. First, the track; if you’re so inclined, the note follows.
Raekwon – Staten We Go Hard
As you know if you’ve checked out this site’s about the author page, I was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Staten Island. Upon moving to New England in 2000 to attend college, I often told people that I was from Brooklyn. There were two main reasons for this:
A) Whenever I told someone who wasn’t from the New York metropolitan area that I was from Staten Island, the chances were excellent they’d never heard of the place I’d just referenced; often, they just kind of stared blankly at me and said, “You mean Long Island?” That grew tiresome quickly, and way more people had at least heard of Brooklyn, so I stuck with the fact of my Bay Ridge birth, cut out the middle part and left it at that.
[SIDEBAR 1: This was mostly effective, except for the one time I was waiting for a bus and making small talk with one of the several non-scholarship-athlete black kids at my school (lily-white Northeast liberal arts colleges, FTW). He asked where I was from, so I told him "New York City," emboldened by months of people not questioning my pedigree.
To my surprise, he said, "Yeah, me too. I'm from Harlem -- what part are you from?" At which point I kind of sheepishly said, "Bay Ridge, then Staten Island." His reply: "Oh. ... Don't sweat it, man. I won't tell anyone."]
B) Because I was mostly ashamed of calling Staten Island home. I worked my ass off in high school to get out of there, dude, and at first, I definitely tried to leave all traces of it behind.
Despite the fact that I made some great friends there, I always felt like a square peg in the round hole of the overwhelmingly traditional outerborough. The culture shit I liked (at that point, mostly indie rock, comics, IFC and stand-up comedy — I know, not exactly futuristic shit, but still) was very different from most of the kids my age there.
I didn’t go tanning or spend time in the gym, blow out my hair or wear velour sweatsuits. I didn’t get faded 24/7 or pop ecstasy like Chiclets when I was 17. I didn’t pretend that my dad’s brother was fuuuuckin’ connected and that I could have you batted out in a fuuuuuuckin’ second. I didn’t ask people who the fuck they thought they were, or if they knew that my cousin will KILL you for disrespecting me like that? Maybe more importantly, I didn’t think that not doing any of those things made you a “faggot.” I wanted something more out of my life than growing up to become a Staten Island guy (or, failing that, at least something different).
[SIDEBAR 2: It was very difficult at first to explain my view on Staten Island living to outsiders; a lot of them only knew one person from there (me) and couldn't quite picture it. It became much easier when MTV aired "True Life: I'm a Staten Island Girl" a couple of years back.]
Of course, that was the way I thought when I was 18; eight years and change later, I’m way less raw about it. I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by warped, dysfunctional, demented, hilarious and loving people in a place that shaped my sense of self, priorities, aspirations and humor in deep, sharp, lasting ways.
As much as it introduced me to douchebags of all shapes, sizes and colors, Staten Island was also the place that introduced me to the freedom of punk rock music, the brilliance of lowbrow wit (and on a good day, the mostly-equal brilliance of its opposite), the wonder of embracing a fanatical love of sports, the exhilaration of seeing something you wrote published, and so much more.
I spent the formative years of my life there, and it’s taken me a long time to realize that pretending I didn’t, or that doing so was necessarily a bad thing, would be ridiculous, counterproductive and ultimately false. Nearly a decade after I left, part of me still swells up when I listen to Monty Love sing about it being “do or die up in S.I.N.Y.” I suspect that part of me always will.
Plus, we got the fucking Wu-Tang Clan, bitches.
OK, that’s it for me for today, for real. About to leave the office, head home in advance of my brother’s arrival and get ready for tonight’s Celtics/Cavs matchup. As Skeets would advise, “Embrace the weekend, people” … and if, like me, you’re still sort of holding out, embrace your past, too.