[intro]Thabang Masiu, a member of the University of The Journalist’s Free State writing Circle. He regards Hip Hop as his culture and writes a personal piece on music and fitting in- about wearing baggy pants, snap backs, getting involved with the wrong crowd and how the beat brought him back from the edge.[/intro]

Pampierstad, a small town in the Northern Cape, is a turf of alcohol and drugs. Hardly any role- models walking its dusty streets. The place I call home is also home to broken dreams, jealousy and envy towards anything seeking growth. Hardly any activities for leisure and past-time. Yet despite all this brokenness, this is where I found love.

I fell in love with hip hop at the tender age of six. My late father introduced me to this culture that fuses elements such as music, dance, graffiti and poetry together. I remember how we used to sit in his white Monza car listening to rhymes coming from the cassette radio for hours on end. The music was mostly from American artists like Eminem, Sean Diddy Combs and 50 cent. Karabo Bodigelo, or KK as he was famously known, was a huge fan of rap music. I believe his influence is what turned me into the hip hop junky that I am today. Looking back, I realise this is also when I started writing my own lyrics.

For some hip hop is just music. For me, however, it is a culture. One that made it difficult for me to fit in and interact with my peers. One that later guided and saved my life.

When I was twelve years old my dressing style was completely different from my peers. I was wearing baggy clothes, snap backs and sneakers while they wore all stars and pants that were short enough to expose their ankles with t-shirts tucked in. Kwaito music was hot back then and it was the only genre they listened to. This difference got me bullied and teased a lot.

I remember one day I walked past a group of teenagers who were sniffing glue on my way to the arcade. I heard one of them shout, “Ey baby Tupac, this is Mzanzi not America”. It did not end there. This incident resulted in him taking my cap and pulling out a knife on me. It was not the last time I took a beating for hip hop.

Two years later I began high school at Landbou Agricultural high School, a model C school that specialises in agriculture. In this school, every Grade 8 learner had to go through an initiation process called “Misgaat” in order to be fully welcomed as a member of the school community.

During this so called initiation one had to jump into a hole filled with cow poop and go wash it off in a canal nearby before going back to the hostel to clean up. This was an initiation passage that was even used for new teachers.

It wasn’t long before I found a home with other hip hop cats at school. They also listened to hip hop but, they interpreted it negatively. Despite me knowing that I was mixed up with the wrong crowd, I chose to hang with them because I wanted to fit in. I figured that it would be easy since we were all hip hop fans. One day it was decided that we were going to spray paint the name of our crew, Maximum Cheese, on one of the classrooms. I was against this because I saw it as vandalism and immature. I expressed these views to the crew. They did not take the news well and as a result, I was kicked out of the out of the group. This decision did not sit well with me. I was unhappy, without friends and I had to start all over again. This is the day, however, when hip hop saved my life.

A few weeks later the police came to school to conduct a search. They found drugs on them and weapons in their rooms. Sadly, this is how most hip hop cats end up. They get influenced negatively and experiment with drugs. They hear rappers rap about drugs and alcohol and tend to believe that “you have to be a gang member or a thug to truly in order to consider yourself a true hip hop head.” This is not true.

Hip hop brings joy to my life and uplifts my spirit. Being exposed to this culture from a tender age has helped me decipher good from bad. I say this because my favourite line, from notorious B.I.G, stopped me from spray painting walls and many other crime related activities. It was as if I could hear him tell me that, “time flies when you are outside but it dies when you are in the inside.”