Word is Born
Fresh is a word that Black people took ownership of around the time the New York hip-hop phenomenon started taking ownership of the young Black collective conscious. Much like a Genesis parable it is hard to tell which one came first, the word or the active meaning, but no other expression better embodies the movement that has enchanted the world and empowered the disenfranchised. Hip-hop is fresh. Fresh would just be the antithesis of stale if it were not for the lyrical prowess and adept ability of rappers twisting words and squeezing out every ounce of manipulated meaning. It is so fitting that after all this time, when most people would have thought twenty years ago that this wouldn’t even be possible, that instead of fading away the creators of the sound and the remarks themselves are worthy of tribute in this article.

Fresh is just one example of the power of speech to infer deeper meanings. What is more, however, is the fact that this influence isn’t coming from academia but from the recesses of the oppressed. While the stereotypes of the uncontrollable underground force aren’t allowed to participate in the additions to the language, it is ironic that their movement does. These embellishments, no matter how small, serve to increase the world’s vocabulary in a sort of cultural globalization even when they are overlooked as slang or nonsensical by our dictionaries. Everyone within the hip-hop generation from the Brixton projects in London to the crowded streets of Delhi, India knows exactly what Fresh is, let alone the white kids in the suburbs of Iowa, Texas, or Rhode Island. There is little doubt that these injections of terminology into the main veins of society are subtly tipping the scales in our favor for further penetration.

In George Orwell’s classic literary achievement 1984 he told a tale in which the masses were fooled into conforming using their own language against them in “double speak.” In that book, the horrible totalitarian establishment reduced the language by cutting out negative statements: such as instead of saying “bad” say “un-good.” [The paranoid rap aficionado needn’t worry about the man controlling his thoughts because Run DMC showed us it’s all in the delivery: “not ‘bad’ meaning bad, but ‘bad’ meaning good!”] Now, since we are well past the year 1984 and thoroughly in the grips of the new world order, synonyms seem to be an effective means against the machine trying to dumb-down our minds so we can never disagree with what they push on us. In fact words that sound the same, yet have different meanings and connotations can lead to a “double speak” of sorts which creates an entire code language out of statements already in use. Fresh, and what it represents, is a tool that can be used to increase understanding when put in the correct context. Furthermore with the addition of more and more support from the main stream, that context is ever expanding. The hip-hop culture is in a renaissance of sorts, which lends its attitudes and declarations to humanity, perhaps, never to get them back.

Inevitably, words change over time and adapt along with the people that use them. It is important that we as hip-hop scholars chronicle and include our phrases and contributors to the annals of history before they are taken up by the general populace like a free gift that will never be fully appreciated. After all, if we don’t take care of our own, then who else will? In the adolescent stages of artistic expression using the spoken word, it is easy to be remiss about such formalities so without further ado I will present some of the transformations of our beloved word and authors, as well as highlight some changing definitions.

Word-up Back in the day
The youths that invented this thing called rap in a park in the Bronx are all Fresh. The Sugar Hill Gang is Fresh. Cool DJ Herc and scratching records is Fresh. “F-R-E-S-H” is Fresh! Nike sweat suits and Lee jeans are Fresh. Two pairs of contrasting color shell toe Adidas with fat laces are Fresh. Four finger rings, fat gold chains, and Africa medallions are Fresh. Nameplate ‘bamboo’ earrings are Fresh. Break dancing and B-boys are Fresh. Graffiti that can only be deciphered from a moving subway car is Fresh. Dougie is Fresh. The BMW’s and Volvo’s of the late eighties are Fresh. High-top fades with designs on the side are Fresh. Michael Jordan is Fresh. Producers with programmable drum machines and synthesizers are Fresh. Boom boxes are Fresh. Fly is Fresh. Rolling thick with your crew in a posse is Fresh. Mike Tyson entering the ring as the undefeated, heavyweight champion of the world to the tunes of hip-hop’s most def is Fresh. Aresenio Hall, and what he did for our music on television, is Fresh. “Yo! MTV Raps,” Fab Five Freddy, Ed Lover, and Dr. Dre are Fresh. “Licensed to Ill” (which allowed us to see white boys as Fresh for the first time on a national scale) is Fresh. “Fresh” and “Juice” on the silver screen are Fresh. Getting paid is Fresh.

Say word Now-a-days
The youths that master the language at an early age well enough to rap are all Fresh. Outkast is so Fresh and so clean. DJ’s Stretch Armstrong, Clark Kent, Premier, and Kid Capri are Fresh. “FRE- efe-fe, efe-fe, FRESHHH!” is Fresh. Phat Pharm sweat suits and FUBU jeans are Fresh. Bathing Ape kicks in solid colors with matching hats are Fresh. Platinum and iced-out spinning medallions are Fresh. Record label tour jackets and matching chains are Fresh. Vanity nickname license plates perpetrating fame are Fresh. Hip-hop dancing is Fresh. Graffiti museums are Fresh. Manny is Fresh. Bentley’s and Mercedes’ on blades are Fresh. Caesar haircuts with deep waves are Fresh. Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James together are Fresh. Singers and rappers that can play their own instruments and perform their own music, at the same time, live are Fresh. Twenties with bazooka tubes in the trunk are Fresh. Pimped is Fresh. Being an individual that contributes to a collective with autonomy is Fresh. Every sporting event playing some form of hip-hop at intermissions, time-outs, and even during game play to hype up the crowd is Fresh. David Chappelle carrying the torch of telling it like it is and giving us want we want to hear after cracking us all up is Fresh. BET, and their afternoon line-up of “Rap City” and “106 & Park” is Fresh. Eminem’s lyricism is Fresh. Hip-hop-influenced actors gaining the spotlight and recognition are Fresh. Free is Fresh, from parties to hostesses to magazines…

Word Life
Just in the last two paragraphs I can come up with at least twenty or so examples of the African-american-dominated hip-hop culture’s influence and contribution to the English spoken word. It is important to note that these subtle augmentations to the language, often found solely in their connotations, can be used to ultimately help people or further disillusion them. The social responsibility of the new griots has sometimes waned almost to the point of nonexistence as we seemingly peddle the glamorous ‘bling’ lifestyle -along with the newly associated linguistics- with the tenacity of Malcolm X on the airwaves. If we continue to sell the idea of a culture trying to become Fresh by any means necessary then our generation won’t have a movement to husband for very long. Children are the first to buy into such broken systems but fortunately for them, they are also the first to offer hope for real change.

You may have already overheard some kid on the train saying that it was Fresh that his friend got into the college of her choice. Or maybe you thought it was Fresh that you finally got a promotion while on your ‘J-O.’ Hopefully, they won’t fall into the trap that you obviously avoided; the pitfall of believing that you couldn’t participate fully in building the language unless you were a former or current gangster, drug czar, or other despicable thug. This is, after all, our movement and the people that stand to benefit most from it are the masses rather than the towering wordsmiths destined to spread our messages, often subliminal and masked with music, to the world. Long after the messenger is gone the content can remain because we keep it alive in whatever form that we choose. (The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, and Big Pun were all Fresh!) In the end Fresh is just one of the many coded words transcending definition by being constantly passed down from the people that introduced concepts as deep as slave escape routes through the greatest of the arts. Such is our rich history in the oral tradition… and that is Fresh.


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