Daps and Nods.
“I am the one that you might see around town giving up daps and pounds.” — Kid Cudi.
Before I saw the picture, I knew Kendrick Lamar had visited The White House. During her interview on my favourite podcast — Obama’s Senior Adviser, Valerie Jarrett shared with us The President’s exchange with King Kendrick.
“He was at the White House. He came and he visited The President, and you know what The President said to him? [Because] he was a little nervous — bless his heart, he’s really a very nice young man, and The President said, “Can you believe that we’re both sitting in this Oval Office?”
Honestly, if I could be a fly on the wall for any moment — it would be that.
Long before K dots album cover was released for the acclaimed To Pimp A Butterfly album, Rap and Hip Hop music as a genre has always imagined what it would be like to “see a black President” or to “paint The White House black (or) brown.” It’s another conversation on the meaning and measure of Barack Hussein Obama achieving that, but this moment surely will be remembered in all pop cultural accolades. This was something special. From Kendrick’s vantage point imagining the scenario and painting a hypothetical picture on his album cover of him and his, “homeboys in front of The White House” to actually doing it.
On his album cover, splayed out on the porch of The White House we see a conglomeration of black boys and men — letting it all hang out, waving dollar bills, exhilarated, posted on the front lawn just as they would on the block. We’re made to think that this image is something to be scared of when if anything it is a celebration of being. Lamar explains this himself “you look at (the people on the cover) as bad people, menace to society but they’re actually good people just a product of their environment.” That’s what makes the moment of Obama meeting Kendrick Lamar so much more for me — it’s that acknowledgement of not only where they are, but where they’ve come from to be here. That acknowledgement I think holds a special poignancy amongst poc and is something that I’ve seen happening on the most macro and micro of levels since moving here.
I don’t want to romanticise this story too much. New York is not Negro Town. Harlem is and isn’t in its renaissance and Brooklyn does “go hard.” I’ve written previously on the hustle and the struggle of the city — the evident markers of a group of people that are always on the move, on the go, “trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.” I was reminded of how fast the city moves at a break neck speed and the luxury of acknowledging someone admist all that this past summer. If only to prove that there are those rare moments here, where we stop, to nod, to dap, to talk, to check in to say I see you. In a city where it is so easy to be unseen.
The moment between Obama and Kendrick reminds me of a particular Key and Peele skit where Jordan Peele plays The President at a meet and greet event. He has a selective warmth when it comes to meeting and greeting black people as opposed to white people. When he sees a “brotha” or a “sista” his mannerisms change, he phyiscally and verbally code-switches. With every interaction affirming I see you and, “we all we got.” That moment between Obama and Kendrick was a supreme acknowledgement to that sentiment.
I see this the most when I walk past the corners with bodega’s, liquor stores and deli’s on them. Weirdly, the corner is one of my most favourite points of study — there’s a symbiosis between person and place where one influences the other that I’ve noticed. The corner is often positioned as a space for freedom for men particularly and as a place for an exaggerated performance of the self. The corner is a definite staging arena as Elijah Anderson writes in his book The Code of the Streets. Nods between locals happen here. Sizing up by locals happens here. Observation and surveillance happens here. There’s one corner in particular by my Aunt’s house in Flatbush that has a scattering of men on it most mornings and evenings and occasionaly when I walk by they nod their head at me acknowledging my existence. That nod amongst poc’s in particular is so poignant and so important. It’s something I don’t underestimate in any space — it’s an unspoken global language. With every upward motion from the neck, reaffirming that I see you.
When I lived in Phildelphia I spent a lot of time with a great Professor and friend of mine who used to take me around the city. In his own admission he took me to places he probably shouldn’t of but he encouraged the real — something more genuine and heartfelt than being merely authentic. Wherever we would go he said hello to people and they said it back. I asked him once how he knew so many people and he replied that he didn’t — he just saw them. He knew the value in seeing people nobody cared to see and acknowledging them with a simple head nod or hello.
I guess that’s it. That is the most critical thing — that we all recognise eachother because in doing so we take a moment to acknowledge that we are here. On the most macro level it can be a photographed “can you believe we’re here” moment to the micro everyday head nod.
In a city that moves at break neck speed the fact that someone sees you creates a temporary solidarity but it’s a feeling that definitely stays within.