Words by Richard “Treats” Dryden—
Everyone’s invited when America gears up for its big Independence Day party. Beyond celebrating the U.S.’ freedom from King George III’s British empire, the 4th of July is a chance for all nationalities to reflect on the truths set in the Declaration of Independence: all men are created equal, with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Those same truths are what inspires millions of foreigners to migrate to the United States to pursue a better life. The Caribbean population represented in New York is the best example. My family moved from Kingston, Jamaica to Brooklyn, New York in the early 1970s. Jamaicans, Haitians, and Trinidadians sprouted up families and business in the neighborhood around Flatbush Ave and Church Ave. Culture made the air dense: whether it was the smell of ackee and saltfish, or the sound of Dennis Brown’s music played from a storefront, my Jamaican experience followed me once I left my doorstep.
Growing up as a Jamerican (Jamaican-American) was as unique as being a native Jamaican living in New York. I was as connected to my ancestral roots as I was to America through a musical bridge between myself and my parents. My mother was an early fan of roots reggae and lover’s rock from Peter Tosh to Sanchez, but later gravitated towards R&B singers like Stephanie Mills and Luther Vandross. My father, who was a DJ, played all the music that women like my mom fancied, but also leaned heavily towards disco. By the time I was old enough to sink my teeth into hip-hop, it was the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It was rare to hear rappers with West Indian accents, even though hip-hop was founded by Jamaicans. So when I heard artists like The Notorious B.I.G., Born Jamericans, and Mad Lion rap with a very familiar accent, my whole perspective changed.
It being the eve of Independence Day, Born Jamericans’ “Gotta Get Mine” seems a natural choice for Throwback Thursday, as it merges a semblance of holiday spirit with roots and culture. The boxers seen in the video are wearing America’s red, white and blue colors on their gloves. Neither one represents the American colonies versus British Parliament. Yet seeing them exchange punches conjures King George III’s words in 1774, “blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent.”
The record itself (from the duo’s 1997 LP, Yardcore) is actually battling between two sounds: the signature boom-bap of ‘90s hip-hop, and the chorus which interpolates “Mama Used To Say” by British R&B singer, Junior. Compared to the original version by Junior (or Shinehead’s minimalist reggae cover from a few years later), Born Jamericans Notch and Shine (who formed the group in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital) make their version, which includes cameos from the aforementioned Mad Lion and Shinhead as well as Sleepy Wonder, sound tougher. By the second verse, Mad Lion growls about sipping Private Stock, and smoking trees at the bodega known for MAD FLAVORS.
And speaking of mouth watering imagery, Mad Lion’s jacket, with the de stijl pattern popularized by Piet Mondrian, is like Now & Later candy—colorful and creative. Kind of like Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks. Happy Independence Day!