Chapter 1 – First steps
“So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”Viktor E. Frankl
Your reality doesn’t define your dreams, your dreams define your reality. In the summer of 1989 I was standing on stage getting ready to be filmed for the hit pop show that was ‘Top of the Pops.’ Nicky Campbell introduced us the London Rhyme Syndicate and it was lights, camera, action. It felt like all eyes were on me as the music filled the air creating the type of atmosphere that I thrived in. I was ready for this, it seemed my whole life, everything I had been through made sense at this defining moment in time. I looked good; the original UK Hip Hopper was in the house. Girls were screaming as I burst into rhyme, the words flowing like a wave and I was riding it like a seasoned veteran. A crescendo of screams greeted me as I began to move to the beat, I was in the zone, it was like a snake charmer mesmerising the crowd, taking them to that place where dreams are formed. This wasn’t your regular commercial pop icon; I was a rising voice in the UK hip hop scene. Fila tracksuit and Troop solution trainers were the order of the day, a flat top hair style was all the rage. From the heights of this commercial edifice I allowed myself the freedom to dream, simultaneously as parts of my dream were realised. I thought I had arrived, this is it. Little did I know this was the first death knell I would experience, good thing that I was stubborn and didn’t heed the warning. The commercial juggernaut had sharp teeth and had no qualms in chewing you up and spitting you out. It was our most successful part of the journey, but success is not always followed by longevity. These experiences help shape our character, as later I would realise it’s not about doing but being. I enjoyed better performances in less prestigious venues.
I was a young creative rhymer with a love for Hip Hop. I belonged to a crew and within that environment my creative tendencies thrived. I wanted to express myself by producing rhymes and beats that rocked but I had limited resources. I never had the finances to have the equipment to make the journey a smooth as I desired. What I had was infused by an urban ground-breaking spirit. The culture of Hip Hop spread rapidly from the streets of New York to London and into the very consciousness of listeners and performers across the globe. Youth looking for an identity that they could relate to were mesmerised by this new-found movement. Now we describe it as a global movement crossing the hidden barriers and boundaries of culture, class and gender. It provided an awareness of cultural and social issues through positive and meaningful messages of inclusion, justice, and success. It empowered us in England to take a stand and it was a true pioneering spirit that rose to the challenges we were facing. We gave the areas where we lived positive role models and brought motivational messages that informed the listeners about relevant and positive life choices.
I was young and hard headed, ain’t no black and I said it,
Drop the x pick up the cross was for the lost who don’t get it,
See the word we’ve read it, the truth we wear like a garm,
Equipped with knowledge of the way the way that we come armed,
Dropping bombs in songs for so long coming strong,
In the shadows of the mind where no thought belongs,
You see the path and react, my mind much deeper than that,
I won’t be bought by the lie that’s designed to trap,
Like a foetus in labour, the waters ready to burst,
Ready for birth, visions of peace for residents of earth,
So we focus our dreams to keep in line with the times,
Words recorded in the booth revealing timeless lines,
Seeing youths with no prospects who will offer them hope,
So many offer them dope there on a slippery slope,
So once again we come the revolution is on,
The revolution is on, this time we rise as one.
I am Basil Reynolds formally known as KG DEMO who is now known as REYNOLDS. Raised by Jamaican parents who arrived into the UK during the Windrush migration settling in Harlesden, London. Their struggle and sense of pride will always be a source of strength that motivates me. Hip hop as a movement has been described as the most important youth culture on the planet. A global language that translates to a global audience. It adapts to the arena’s where culture and creative freedom thrives. From Hip Hop to the cross is a journey of discovery where God is always in the detail. I have been involved in the music game from the early eighties experiencing the highs and lows of a business with a reputation for not taking any prisoners. Hip hop gave me the platform to find myself and express who I was to the world.
My parents were both Christians and raised us with those values and principles. My mum was a giver, she was a mother’s mother. Every Sunday she made a roast for the family and two elderly people on our road. She did that for over 10 years until they passed on. I saw the faith she talked about in action. From my early childhood she was a childminder as well as a short-term foster mother. She had so much to give, I witnessed true faith in action. My dad was in the Jamaican army as a young man. He served on a ship and the Jamaican regiment were given the menial tasks on a daily basis. It was during this time as he faced the institutional racism as a member of the Jamaican army from the British officers. His inner activist was born, and he went on to be a part of the post office union. It was there he rallied for better pay and conditions for his fellow workers. I remember how hard he worked and at the weekends he was at his allotment. He had green fingers and growing up we had fresh vegetables on our table for every meal. Their unwavering faith always provided me an anchor during my stormiest times. My parents have been a great influence on my life and I look forward to seeing them again.
In the middle of my age I turn the page in a rage,
I engage every youth from every concrete cage,
It’s the end of the days look at the ways then pray,
There’s no delay and so I say let’s change our selfish ways,
Consuming more than we need, it’s nothing but greed,
All the brands don’t give a damn as they just constantly feed,
Where getting fat from the load, watch the pride as it grows,
Like Sodom we go, it will eventually blow,
See the divide as it grows, much quicker you know,
Governments they change and still the money don’t flow,
So we go live online with no signs you don’t miss,
When the pies divided up we know my people get nish (nothing),
It takes more than words to please us, he came to free us,
Praise Jesus he walks only fools don’t believe us,
So once again the revolution is on,
The revolution is on, this time we rise as one.
I was never into video games, I spent my time listening to songs and writing rhymes. At that time our choices were limited, it was either the Commodore 64 or the Sinclair Spectrum. For me it was a dose of hip hop in the morning, hip hop in the afternoon and hip hop through the night. I lived and breathed the scene, the music, the lifestyle, everything about it. Everywhere I went, I would be writing rhymes using all I saw and experienced as fuel for the fire that was burning within me. Many a good rhyme I wrote was written on the London underground. Even Hollywood got in on the act as hip hop hit the big screen with classics such as Beat Street, Krush Groove, Breakdance and Wild style. This only heightened my excitement for this expressive vocal and as some reported rebellious art form. The stereotypical caricatures never bothered me they were already evident in society. I knew what I was and what I wanted my music to say and reflect, a young man from the streets of London.
You got to dance like they clock it, just simply rock it,
Lighting fires on road, the code from Harlesden to Toxteth,
See the struggle the same, still playing the game,
The blood boils in my veins as we try to maintain,
To get ahead wanting the chance to advance our lives,
While many talk about their wealth I see so many die,
They want to be like the best, they want a piece and be blessed,
They lust the car that you drive and the way that you dress,
No oasis in the ends, so they are dying of thirst,
You take advantage of the need I hope the bubble it bursts,
Never the norm in liquid form so now I’m burning it,
So hot its scorching it, rising up is just a warning kid,
It’s like a horror flick as you survey the scene,
Mad dreams in the minds of demonic fiends,
So once again we come the revolution is on,
The revolution is on, this time we rise as one.
Rap music at the time was out selling all other genres of music, it was also becoming the most influential art form in dictating and directing various trends. Major companies started to use the culture being created as a means of promotion for their products. It emerged in marketing campaigns, in advertising. I have witnessed the movement direct fashion trends, hairstyles, dialect, car choice, everyday mannerisms and I was a part of it. Like someone infected by a virus that was so contagious, it infected who I was, and I had the privilege of passing it on. From musical preference to the way we greeted each other on the streets. From complex handshakes to shoulder-hugs, it was all theatre and we were the cast. It was a time when it was cool to be black, wearing Kangol hats, oversized shirts, and Timberland boots. I went through many phases as hip hop evolved, during this process I grew and matured as a rhymer. One thing never changed, it remained the same and that was my love for the art. I loved reggae, the party’s when I was young. The music the vibe the curry goat and jerk chicken. I listened to dancehall and the way the Ragga Deejays flowed during a sound clash. We took a mix of what the Ragga Deejays were doing and the hip hoppers from the states and developed our own form of expression. It was our freestyle.
We paint a picture of the city too, it’s lacking truth,
Promote the worst of the ghettos whose, blinding the youth,
The ghetto life’s a mirage, look at the way that they package it,
The worst of the city so why are we proud of it,
Thug life it is promoted because they hate you, it all degrades you,
Who can save you if you’re blind to what the hate do,
So many make do with personas that are savage,
Shredded like cabbage I said our minds are being ravaged,
Treat ghettos like badges but ghettos are slums,
Conditioned in the thought its where our heroes belong,
Where our dreams get hung, but I tell you it’s wrong,
Picture a kingdom of kings that is where we are from,
Not a nigga as it triggers racist thoughts from beyond,
Still I’m chosen by the one and still we hunted by guns,
You see the time is gonna come when we’ll all see the son,
And realise that we’ve been lied to from the day we call one.
The movement continued to evolve despite the efforts of the many haters who made it their mission to minimize the influence it was having on young people. It is enjoyed by young people throughout the world regardless of their background or persuasion. If viewed from the mainstream media’s lens it is a negative social artform. It’s not just gangsta rap and woman hating, for many it’s a way of life, a culture that is complexly woven into every aspect of their daily life. My life was hip hop and it helped shape the man I am today. The fact that my parents didn’t understand it was a bonus as it enhanced the rebellion that I was going through; hip hop gave me an outlet. This caused me to go in even deeper into this new radical culture that accepted me for who I was. It brought with it new ideas, values and concepts that reflected how I wanted to live and it was all expressed but not limited to a song, poetry, a film, a piece of art or fashion. It was us on the street corner just hanging out free styling as someone beat boxed. Some would pull out a piece of lino they had been saving and start to breakdance. Others were climbing onto the train tracks and producing masterpieces on the sides of underground trains.
During my lifetime the world has changed from when I was a young man searching for meaning. Social media has changed the way we communicate and developed a language of its own; it has changed the boundaries and levelled the playing field. Now young people are making tracks and shooting videos and uploading them onto social media. They can cause a worldwide buzz from their bedrooms. ITunes and YouTube have given each artist a means to get their product out and begin to make an impact upon the mass market. The social media has seen the rise of young entrepreneurs who have mastered the technology and have learnt how to build a foundation from which they can establish a future. We have also seen the rise of the reality shows like Big brother. This has now impacted the music business and pop culture. Now we see reality music shows, that showcase tomorrow’s stars today. They market an artist and see which one the public support and the winner will already have a huge fan base who will buy their first single, it’s a win win situation for those behind the scenes. The music industry here in the U.K has always been more about who you know than the talent you possess. We used to joke that labels hated real artist as they were harder to mould and shape, if it was puppets they wanted it was puppets they would get. They preferred the individual who would sing what they wanted, dress how they wanted and be what they wanted them to be. I could never supress my mind long enough to become someone’s puppet. Today there are many urban artists who are achieving a level of success on a national level without this type of compromise.
I had no excuse for what I did, it was brilliance birthed by a rawness that gave each track its own cutting edge. This was done by us first assessing the situation then simplifying it. It made sense to those who had no experience of the inner-city streets or life we lived. From random groups the idea became a vision and the vision was born into a movement that has gathered momentum. I made mistakes along the way, but I achieved so much in the processes of expression.
To succeed, you need to find something to hold on to, something to motivate you, something to inspire you.Tony Dorsett
You must be the change you want to inspire. My reputation, my character, my behaviour needed work, first, I needed it to happen inside me. The only way to call the best out of others is to expect the best from yourself. I needed the invite into the bigger story that has always been unfolding. Stories don’t tell people what to do, they give you something to follow. They engage people’s imaginations and emotions. They show people what they’re capable of becoming. I was beginning to see that I could be more than I had been. I was inspired by Hip Hop, how a group that lacked identity found it through a creative artform. How it transformed popular culture. I wanted more, I wanted to see a transformation inside me. It was my journey; my footprints and it was full speed ahead. Your expectations for me would not come close to those I have of myself. I am a dreamer! What I do may not be what you were expecting; it may be something beyond your wildest expectations. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French aviator and author of “The Little Prince”, wrote,
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Since its inception hip hop has surpassed its role as a voice and has become something more just as I have believed I could be more. Philosopher Frantz Fanon once wrote: “Each generation out of relative obscurity must discover their mission, fulfil it or betray it”. Go hard in the direction of your dreams. I hope you enjoy the journey. Peace out!