The first Hip-Hop album I ever bought was Mase’s Harlem World; I think it was around 1997 and ya boy was a fourth grader at Holy Family Elementary School, located in the mean streets of North East Calgary. I was angry: my family was on welfare, my parents were janitors, I had a mustache at the age of nine, and I hated my curly ass hair. I was a self-loathing Latino. But still, I refused to become Canadian. Try coming up in an almost all White city like Calgary, Alberta (aka Cow Town) during the early nineties: that shit was rough! I desperately tried to fit in with the norms of my time but I looked foolish pretending to like Our Lady Peace and playing hockey. I’ve never been good at holding sports! I’m a spic: give me a ball to kick around and I’m good. But at least I could put up with the hockey; however, I couldn’t stand the music my friends were listening to: Moist, The Foo Fighters, Green Day, Hanson, The Backstreet Boys, all the shit! I was suicidal. When I first moved to Canada, I didn’t understand English. Not only did I not understand, I hated it. I was forced to repeat grade one, not because I was stupid, but because I refused to learn the White Man’s language and pray to his blonde haired, blue eyed Jesus. But how could you blame me for being rebellious? I’m the son of a man who was a Socialist Revolutionary and a mother who was a female lawyer during the eighties in a male dominated El Salvador. I was born to revolt! Diddy should hire me. Don’t get it confused, though; it wasn’t like I had my fist in the air and waving a Salvadorean flag every time we had a spelling test; it was more like: every time the teacher asked to me to spell a word like ‘are,’ I would break down crying and the class would laugh at me. I was angry and full of fear. I wasn’t adapting so well to leaving beautiful, warm El Salvador for cold and dark Canada.
If it wasn’t for music, I don’t think I would’ve ever learned English. I eventually started speaking it because I understood, on the playground, communication was a part of survival. Also, despite being ridiculed for crying when asked to spell three letter words, I was actually a very popular kid: I was funny. Kid’s always respect a mutha fucka when he’s funny; even if he can barley speak a word of English. And I was funny as fuck. Even though I do stand up comedy for a living now, I don’t think I’ll ever be as funny as I was in my Little Mario days. I used to ride down my block in Erin Woods on a tricycle, eating a pupusa, and kids would point at me and say: Little Mario is the greatest! But I still felt like an outsider. Teachers used to keep me after school so I could improve on my spelling and grammar. I hated that shit. I enjoyed going home. At home, I got to get away from the English lessons, playing hockey, and Moist. I was Salvadorean again, and although I didn’t understand it, I enjoyed listening to the Spanish music my parents played at the house. Also, my dad loved playing Michael Jackson. Mr. Jackson changed my life. I started learning the words to “Thriller,” “Beat It,” and “Billie Jean.” I even started writing my own songs so I could be like Michael. His swag was unbelievable: the red jacket, the shiney socks, the curls! Michael Jackson was God, and he spoke English, and his music made me want to too. My Dad used to hold AA meetings in our basement and nobody was allowed to go downstairs…except me. He would put on Michael and make me dance, sing and moon walk for his friends; I would have a room full of grown Latino men, who had clearly gone through shit, laughing their asses off. It was the music that made me shine and I owe all my swag to Michael. I even started doing this moon walk shit and singing “Beat It” at school and my popularity rose to epic levels. I was a star. But it nostalgic, though, because it seemed like nobody even knew I was doing Michael Jackson; everybody just thought I was talented as fuck. When it came to music, Michael Jackson wasn’t part of the conversation in my school. Isn’t that crazy?
The game changed forever when my older sister came home one day from junior high wearing overalls, black boots and curly ass hair like Chili’s from TLC. My parent’s thought she was possessed by el diablo, but she was only tapping into to the beauty that was Hip-Hop in the early nineties. When my parents would go to work, my sister was supposed to babysit my little brother and I, but instead, she would would invite her friends or boys over and they would go to the basement and listen to Hip-Hop. This girl used to bump TLC’s Sexy, Crazy, Cool, Montell Jordans’s This Is How We Do It, Aaliyah’s Age Ain’t Nuttin’ But A Numba, and The Dangerous Minds Soundtrack. I loved the R&B shit too, but I was infatuated with the Rap my sister listened to. I was obsessed with Coolio and his crazy ass; and his single, “Gangsta’s Paradise,” made me believe there was something better than Michael Jackson. One day, one of the guys my sister was dating brought over Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and the game changed irreversibly: there was no going back to pretending I liked hockey and music with guitars in it. And although I was terrified by the cursing and the sexual content, I became desperate to figure out what Dre was talking about. I also made it my goal to make my friends like this shit too but I had no access to the cassettes. I think the same boyfriend even brought over to the house Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle and my acceptance of him became easier. I hated this puto as a person but I loved him as a provider of Hip-Hop. I used to chill by the basement door and dance to the vibrations coming from downstairs. I know my sister used to make out with boys down there, and probably even more, but I don’t like to think about that shit; I’m just grateful she went behind my parent’s back or else I would’ve never got to know Hip-Hop so thoroughly.
By the time 97′ rolled in, ya boy Marito still wasn’t comfortable in his own skin but Hip-Hop made it better. There was no more Bum Equipment or shitty clothes from Wal-Mart. I used to rock lumberjack shirts, khackis, and I started loving my curls. I also had knock off Timberland Boots from Pay Less. Hip-Hop made it easier to be on welfare and I looked forward to the first of the month. I was a pimp. I had four girlfriends in Grade 6. Hip-Hop was changing as well. Although Snoop and Dre ruled the early nineties with the G-Funk Era, New York was making a marvelous come back with Nas’ Illmatic, solo releases from Wu-Tang members, and of course, the release of The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die. I won’t lie, I was too young and stupid to understand what Biggie, Wu-Tang and Nas were talking about, but I loved that mutha fucka Puff Daddy. I was a bad boy and when Puff’s No Way Out came out, it was like an angel from heaven came down and told me God loved me if I wore shiny suits and fucked bitches. Instead of doing the moon walk at school, I started doing the Diddy Dance and rapping “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” and “Been Around The World.” My White friend actually gave the cassette to me because he thought it was garbage (I guess there wasn’t enough guitars in it for him,) so when my birthday came around, I pleaded with my strict ass parents to buy it for me on CD. They did, not knowing what the fuck I was actually listening to. I was listening to the greatest era of Hip-Hop but only the tip of the ice berg.
I remember, by some miracle, my father gave me $20 to buy a CD at HMV. I guess he was proud of me because I was doing well at school. Teachers told my parents I was a great presence in the classroom, I was creative and funny as fuck, but most importantly, my English and writing were getting much better. I wrote a short story about dying and chillin’ with Elvis and Biggie in Heaven and school made me submit it to writing contests. They thought I was a young, Latino Ernest Hemingway. They was buggin’. But anyways, my father rewarded me and left me at HMV to pick out a CD before he got back from buying other things at the Mall. I told him I’d be quick because I already knew what CD I was buying: Mase’s Harlem World. If y’all thought I loved Puff, I loved Mason Betha even more. I wanted to be this dude. He was young, good looking, and those dimples tho! I told my boys at school my dad was giving me money to buy a CD and they were excited for me. One of my friend’s older cousin, though, made fun of me for liking Puff and Mase so much and told me to buy some Real Hip-Hop! He told me to buy some Nas, Biggie and Jay-Z! I remember seeing Jay-Z in a Foxy Brown Video on Much Music, and although I liked how he rapped, I thought the puto was too ugly for me to waste my money on him. I was very picky with my rappers; you had to be a heart throb to connect with me and Hova’s camel looking ass wasn’t convincing me to give him a chance. So I went to the “New Releases” section and there was Harlem World, right next to Jay-Z’s Vol. 1: In My Life Time. I came into the store convinced I was buying Mase but Jay-Z’s album cover stopped me dead in my tracks. His silk jacket, the diamonds in his ears, his watch, his line up, and his fists pounding each other spoke to me. They photo-shopped the fuck out of this dude to make him look like a god! All I could hear was Jason’s voice, my freind’s older cousin, telling me to buy his album. I stood in front of the “New Releases” section for an hour, and when my dad came back to get me, he fucking snapped because it was time to leave! I started crying because I was confused and my dad yelling at me was made it even worse, so I trusted my original instinct and grabbed Mase’s Harlem World. I made the right decision because I loved that fucking album and I still do.
Just so y’all know, the next time my father blessed me with a chance to buy another CD, the year was 1999 and Mase’s second album Double Up came out but I went home with Jay-Z’s Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life and I became the Hip-Hop scholar I am today. Never judge a book by it’s cover. Run.
Written By: Marito Lopez