It’s 1996. Spring. I’m heading to the Greyhound station in Huntsville. By now, I’ve mastered the ins-and-outs of a stick shift transmission–even one as mercurial as the truck. I didn’t care about choking out anyway.
Malcolm was coming home.
Here’s the thing. Without Malcolm, I, as I am today, simply do not exist. And while it is normal fare for folks to say that about their parents or siblings, the longer you read this blog and the more folks come to know me, the more folks come to understand it. My family will tell you; there is no “Joe” without “Malcolm.” Our names/identities were forged together by the phrase “Malc’n’Joe.” My iPhone just now predicted the phrase as I typed.
Yes. Like that.
He is 2 years older than me, but you’d think we were twins given how close we were growing up. I don’t have time to talk about our many (mis)adventures… So let me continue.
He was gone in ’96. Gone to college in Atlanta. His departure left our home vacuous and it took about a year for my mom and I to adjust to the new reality. But that day, he was coming home to pay his little brother a visit. And he was coming home on the Greyhound, which meant he wasn’t gonna be on time.
I asked my mama when he was arriving and she just shrugged her shoulders. “Tonight. After 8, I think.”
Yeah. That was as good as you were gonna get.
Because… Because the Greyhound…
I’m driving down to the bus station and Digable Planets’ “Blowout Comb” is playing in the background. (My brother mailed me a dubbed version of that tape that I played to no end. To this day, “Black Ego” and “9th Wonder” still bump.) I can feel my excitement growing. I have three siblings, and they don’t know this (until now), but I have a distinct anticipation and excitement that brews every time I hear their voices. That feeling is different for each one of them, but despite their differences, the feelings are incredibly INTENSE, especially when I know I am about to see them.
At some point, Malcolm arrives and puts his bags in the back of the truck. He sits down in the passenger seat. A new feeling arrives. It’s the first time in my life that I AM DRIVING HIM somewhere and he is the passenger. Little brother scores 1…
“Joe… Joe… What’s up man?” He says and grins. Malcolm’s grin is an unmistakable mix of guardedness, cunning, mischief, and sincerity. He reaches in his pocket, unsheathes a tape, hands it to me and says, “Put this in.”
“What is it?”
“Man, just put it in.” Guardedness, cunning, mischief, & sincerity.
What is about to happen will change my life forever. In the midst of this mundane moment, in the midst of picking up my brother, in the midst of Greyhound being late as hell, in the midst of a dark night whose exact date I can no longer remember… my brother hands me Goodie Mob’s first album, Soul Food, and it starts playing on Side B. After the “Blood” interlude, I am greeted by “Live at the O.M.N.I.”
By the time Khujo Goodie is finished with the first verse, I can feel Malcolm’s smile and gaze at me. My face must’ve looked like something, because he started to laugh.
“I know, right? Oh, it gets even better…”
Better? I’m thinking to myself. How? How can this be topped?
“Goodie Bag” is how. I’m not going to post this song. I’m not going to give you not ‘nam lyric to this song. It is on you to find this song and hear Cee-Lo’s freestyled verse. Even as my thumbs peck at my iphone, I vividly remember where I was when I first heard that verse. I was heading north on Memorial Parkway by the old Amoco gas station and greenhouse past Hollow Rd. After hearing that verse I had to turn off the radio. It was quiet in the car.
“Tight, huh?” He asked me.
“Maaaaaaaaaaan,” I respond.
“Yeah, man… And that was a freestyle off the top of his dome.”
“Me and my homies freestyle back in Atlanta, but we can’t do it like that.”
I want to freestyle. Malcolm freestyles. This guy on this song just killed it. I wanna freestyle. Malcolm freestyles. I wanna be creative and improvisational. That was amazing…. I think that’s what was going on in my mind and heart when he said that but I didn’t respond.
That same trip, my brother began to teach me how to freestyle. His first tip was simple. Don’t try to rhyme. Try to feel the beat and create with the beat. It’s easy to rhyme, he said. It’s harder to connect ideas and images, plots and themes…
The seeds had been planted long before then. But that night was a seminal moment in the birth of Jolowmight(x) Cervantes. That night something came alive in me that I can’t put down no matter how hard I’ve tried. My brother drew something forth in me and taught me something I began to teach others…
Thank you Goodie Mob. Thank you, late Greyhound bus. Who knows if that could have happened if you weren’t late.
And most of all… Thank you, Malcolm. I love you.
Faith, Hope, & Love
©2016 M. J. Sales