My mother walked into my dorm room, my sophomore year, with an armful of books. I snickered at her trying to pull all the goodies she’d brought from New York to Virginia, into the small space that already exuded bibliophile. My mother always picked the same stuff up for me: compiled quotes from prominent and life-changing authors, love stories, and anything Toni Morrison. I’d begun to assess the texts and I gave them the typical nod, when one jumped out at me. It was an orange and black cover, unique amongst the rest and it boasted the title “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop.” My mom smiled at my piqued interest.
“I saw that one in the clearance aisle and I know you’re big on the history of it, so I thought you’d like it.”
I smiled back at her, but didn’t show too much excitement. I was at the age where I wanted to show my mother that nothing she did could thrill me and I was an independent woman who encountered excitement on her own accord. I was a silly girl.
The book sat on my shelf, next to the other books I’d purchased on hip-hop. M.K. Asante, I thought? Who is that? It sat on my shelf for several weeks, unread, until I knocked it over, in a hurry, to grab my book bag. My OCD prodded me to put it back in formation, but instead I decided to throw it into my bag, knowing that finals week would spawn gaps of boredom, because I was all studied up.
I opened Asante’s “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” for the first time, while waiting for my SUV to be repaired. I sat in the waiting room annoyed that the “small fix” had taken three hours more than they’d estimated. However, my patience, usually worn thin easily, was in tact. I was knee deep in a text that spoke to me and analyzed a culture and genre in a way that only lyricism allowed me to.
They can call M.K. what they’d like: a memoirist, filmmaker, historian and more. However, M.K. is and will always be a poet. His last work and his new memoir “Buck” is lyricism at its finest, in its purest and rawest form.
“Buck” is M.K.’s memoir; it takes place growing up in Philly, a symphony with strums of two parents with different ideologies, the camaraderie and heartbreak of brotherhood, and the loss of friendship and love.
Two authors masterfully tell the story; M.K. uses entries from his mother’s journal and his own voice to relay the struggle of his youth. Through Carole, his mother, and M.K.’s words we’re transported to the anarchy of a teenager whose sorrow is exerted through “grown-man” antics and the mimicry of the lyricists he was so fond of.
M.K. pulls us through the memories of his teen-hood with stories that any inner-city kid could relate to and others that can only clench our hearts, in understanding. His tête-à-tête, interview-script style, reminiscent of the one with Hip-Hop in his last work, with his parents is reminiscent of the tales our parents relay to us when we haven’t been on our best behavior. A brotherly bond is unraveled in the symbolism and foreshadowing of nun chucks and brass knuckles, emcees, and older sibling philosophy. A bit of innocence and morality of a fledgling is sustained through a first love that only wants the best for a young M.K. and the refusal to indulge in all detriments of his vices.
This bit of goodness is what keeps M.K. alive. Along his path we encounter kings, queens, and prophecies that save M.K.’s life little by little, consciously and unconsciously. There is an alternative school teacher who shows him the power of the pen. There is a moment under a city bridge where M.K.’s life is saved by the remnants of his fallen loved one. There is the trip to the south, where a family member, who could pick up the angst of his aura, spouts a comparison of wolves and hunger, which will stick to every decision you make from the day after reading it.
M.K. finds his way to a thriving and traveling conscience that is the definition of transformation: a literary cacophony that can only be given justice, by being read.
“Buck” reads like urban fiction with conscious and purpose. It is the voice of every young black man, in America, who cries out for the world around him to notice. It’s the eyes of all the young men who sit inside of my classroom and wonder what’s next.
A few years ago I met Asante, after he spoke at the Schomburg. After the reading and the signing of our books, a few of my friends and I were given the opportunity to have lunch with him. Asante spoiled us with synopses of what he was working on and conversation that could have only been cultivated by a man who’d devoured the world hungrily. I stood in awe at our comrade, who was only 27 at the time, and I wondered how someone so young could’ve gained so much, so quickly.
Now I am certain that I know.
In New York City, we have a tendency to tell our children to relax. Often caught “getting buck” in the streets, we are prompted to quiet their notions of propelling their anger to all the wrong places.
But I’ve got this great idea…
Put M.K.’s new book in the hands of those boys who haven’t found the right way to declare their rage. Let their fingers flip through the pages that will turn to mirrors, as some of them recognize themselves within M.K.’s words. Let those words seep in and contextualize that hurt. Let them learn, line by line. Let’s give the next generation a completely different way to “get buck.”
You can purchase M.K. Asante's book HERE.