Young Life, “Street Life” (1995)
When I found out recently this emcee Young Life, was from the East Palo Alto/East Menlo Park area, it blew my mind. I still need to do additional research on this song, but this song already elicits stories of my own.
From an early age I seemed to thirst for new music in general. Music was always an escape for me, opening up a whole other world. I was became especially fascinated with Hip Hop/Rap music as I came of age in the mid 1990’s, I would like to say for the stories told in its songs, but I can’t lie. It was because for my generation, it was our popular music, especially growing up not white in the suburbs. It was a departure sonically and ideologically from the ideals of white manhood that I didn’t fit into.
While there were many benefits of general safety and physical well being where I grew up in Foster City, CA, the concept of racial difference was always looming over myself and other people of color in a seemingly innocuous, yet abject and often ignored way. The burbs always has had its ways of blurring lines and teasing you with its incomplete promises of acceptance and multiculturalism. Just ask all the white republican neighbors I’ve had growing up (and funny enough, we knew them better than the Asian neighbors who surround us).
Anyways, this song is one I remember from waiting up with my radio playing softly next to my bed (so I wouldn’t get in trouble from my parents), listening to the Wake Up Show with Sway and Tech, Sway’s show, the 10 O’Clock Bomb on KMEL, and Street Soldiers on KMEL. Although this was a local hit across the Bay, I remember this with the Street Soldiers show because of not only the stories in the song, but also the stories I would hear during that show.
For those who don’t know, Street Soliders is a Bay Area radio show dedicated towards addressing issues of violence, addiction, and abject poverty in our communities of color, and it was the other side to the coin, the real stories behind my Hip Hop education. It provided context and real voices to experiences that I was geographically and generationally removed from (I’m a fifth generation Chinese American, with much in common with a 3rd generation experience, and currently a 2nd generation with a college education and even 2nd generation with an advanced degree) I definitely wasn’t raised in the streets. But these stories and experiences along with the friendships made with people allows stories to guide the way I experience life, especially as a Hip Hop beatmaker/musician, scholar, and filmmaker.
It’s amazing how in the long run I’ve come to forge my own brief relationship with the city of East Palo Alto (working at the Boys & Girls Club there) and forging a lasting musical friendship with a few of its finest representatives and diaspora, emcees including O2 and Khabral. So I guess this song was by no accident, and just like the others its story is one woven into my own.