Before Macklemore ever caught critical attention (and he deserved it, too, despite you contrarians), Seattle Hip-Hop had always been profoundly influential to me as an artist and as a person. The whole Massline camp especially, alongside Oldomonion, Sandpeople, Blackalicious, and countless other artists and crews. Most of these artists have received some due credit, even if not on the same scale as Macklemore (though I still don’t understand why RA Scion isn’t regarded more highly). One artist I felt like never had enough buzz or recognition, though, is Gabriel Teodros.
He tells a unique story of immigration after the turn of the 20th century. Hailing from Ethopia, his first-generation experience is one of dissonance. He feels alienated from his mother country and simultaneously ostracized in his new home. While these themes are rife in classic mediums of American literature, they are novel in Hip-Hop.
Beyond his distinct backstory, he’s boldly defied stereotypes to allow for a sensitive, sentimental, though still skeptical and questioning personality to enter the realm of Hip-Hop. What A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul managed to do for their era, he did for mine. While the two aforementioned groups brought a freshly positive, lighthearted approach to substance in Hip-Hop, Teodros advanced this further. Ahead of his time for other contemporaries of his craft at the least, he discusses and questions the meaning of masculinity. He challenges sexism, even some of the attitudes that can be found in A Tribe Called Quest’s and De La Soul’s lyrics. He firmly empowers women and men to recognize their worth, in themselves and in others, calling for a fundamental change in the culture.
Furthering his break from the archetypal rapper, his unabashed reflections on his insecurities impacted me deeply. Hip-Hop is driven by bravado, even in the conscientious circles. Teodros rejects this tone and instead offers a soberly candid voice void of self-aggrandizing pretenses. His humility and honesty affected me in a two-fold manner.
As a listener, I was able to find pieces of myself other artists refused to let me see in themselves. It’s not as though they weren’t there. It’s that they weren’t shared. As an adolescent, this was confusing to me because it created a disconnect from the Hip-Hop culture and myself. The damage is in the question this prompted: “Why do I feel this way and they don’t?” I’m not so naive now as to believe that anybody is never uncertain of themselves at a time, but as a young listener, I needed to know that I wasn’t the only one. Teodros assured me of this.
This also affected me as an artist. It was the defacto permission to be myself when I grabbed a pen. Truthfully, I am atypical to Hip-Hop. I have my experiences, some dark and traumatic, but they weren’t common to Hip-Hop. Between his biographical material and his personal approach, I learned that I didn’t need to be from the inner city or feign abrasive mannerisms to be a credible artist in the culture.
Its been about a decade since I first pirated his album Lovework (I purchased it a few years later because of how significant it came to be for me). I’ve enjoyed various other works of his, but none as much. The clout this album has had on me is more than I could trace. In gratitude, I write this in hopes that someone else can experience that same influence. And so that this cat can at least get a little of the credit he’s been deprived of for too long.