One summer day in 2003, I stood in a slave castle and thought about Wu-Tang Clan. I was on Goree Island, in Senegal, West Africa, inside the stone holding pens where untold numbers of black human beings were stored before embarking upon the Middle Passage. The portal leading from the castle to the beach is called the “door of no return,” the last vision of home that those men, women, and children would ever witness. Before them lay the yawning blue void of the Atlantic. Wandering on the island that afternoon I had come across a home that was being repaired: into the wet cement of the construction, children had scrawled a giant, elliptical “W.” I recognized that symbol, but dismissed it as mere coincidence until I saw the words next to it: “Brooklyn Zoo.” The “W” is the symbol for the nine-man ensemble called Wu-Tang Clan, the reference was to a single released by the late Russell Jones, aka Ol' Dirty Bastard. As I stood in the castle, I realized that not all returns are physical.
At its core, hip hop is a music of the African Diaspora, anchored in the musical principles preserved by that human cargo departing from Goree and passed down through ancestral generations. We could see that scrawled “W” as more evidence of globalism's viral spread throughout the far corners of our world. But I choose to see it in the same light that Tupac Shakur saw the rose that grew from concrete. I choose to see it as evidence of what Ahmed Sekou Touré called the “return to the source.” Metaphorical, maybe, digital definitely, but a return nonetheless.
Thus, this is a book for all of us who have ever been hypnotized by a breakbeat, nodded our heads in a common choreography, gotten open to an MC with an absolutely ridiculous flow, had hip hop explain the world to us and us to it and then lamented where the art disappeared to. This book was written for all those who watched in frustration as the art offered itself up on the altar of economic expediency. In 2006, Prince