words by Open Mike Eagle
This year Billy Wimsatt's book "Bomb The Suburbs" turns 20. Here is one of a three part series of retrospectives on the iconic text.
I hadn’t anticipated that this book might change my life. In my earlier teen years I listened to alternative rock music mostly and never had much of a defined social identity as far as schoolyard archetypes go. In 1994 the combination of music videos by ODB, The Roots, and Common Sense sparked my interest in rap music again. Then I discovered the uncensored underground rap shows on WHPK. At that point I began to dress differently and identify myself as ‘hip hop.’ Then I broke my leg; then I found ‘Bomb the Suburbs’.
I started reading BTS in what had to be the fall of 1995. I had broken my leg in a hilarious football accident and I missed a lot of school. When I went back it was first on the school bus that brought the disabled students everyday, then on public transportation on crutches, sometimes in the snow. I had a lot of reasons to want to lose myself in a book.
I began reading the book while riding some of the same train lines described within it. Passing through rapidly changing neighborhoods that Upski told stories of, they seemed mythical to me but strangely close in proximity.
The book prompted me to participate in all four elements of hip hop in order to call myself “hip hop.” To call myself hip hop and not to participate was to be a toy. And, other than not being able to afford turntables, there was no reason for me not to participate.
After I started breaking, sometimes I’d go to a place called Promontory Point to practice and Upski would be there too. Later in life while engaging in community activism in LA, I’d find myself in rooms with him, brainstorming about how to affect political change.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of opportunities to thank him personally. Every chapter changed me. Every story made me hear rap differently and look at neighborhoods as art gardens. His book put hip hop in my life and the elements in my hands.
Open Mike Eagle is a rapper from Chicago based in Los Angeles. Is latest album “Dark Comedy” is out now on Mello Music Group.