Does anyone remember back in the day when rock 'n roll was considered anti-Christian and Elvis Presley's provocative movements were something some people wanted to ban? The same Elvis Presley, who is as renowned for his gospel albums as for "Hound Dog"?
Or how about Alice Cooper's heavy metal sound? The same Alice Cooper, by the way, who's a PGA-level golfer.
Tommy Hillard will DJ at Lux Martini Bar & Grill in Arnolds Park Thursday night.
EDN photo by Michael Tidemann
And how about rap. Did you ever listen to the words. I mean, really listen?
How about something like this:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
That poem, "Harlem", by the way, while it sounds just like rap, and is indeed considered by many rappers to be their seminal inspiration, is by Langston Hughes, considered by many scholars to be the greatest Black poet if not writer of the 20th century. It's anthologized in every American literature text that exists in America, blowing Hemingway and Steinbeck out of the water.
Tommy Hillard of Estherville hopes to embark on a similar direction with his music. Take rap to the masses, if you will, along with an artistic mix of Southern and reggae sounds.
Hillard, along with his brother, James Reeves, (Dragon aka Dragnizzle) and their cousin Akeem Blandin (aka Dolla Bill) are synthesizing those sounds in Hillard's company, Kingston Boi Records, located in Estherville.
Hillard has been making music since 1995. He believes a lot of people don't really understand hip hop and rap. Some people pick out the "bad words" from some rap lyrics and think that's all there is to it. Compare that, though, to Hillard's emotional, heartfelt lyrics about his aunt in his song, "Mary louise Blandin".
Mary louise Blandin
dis is very hard
everytime i think about you
I'm torn all apart
you were the one who loved and cared for me
the one who said I could be what i wanted to be
you were not just a mother but a father to me
when i was in the hospital
down and couldn't see
amazingly you were my eyes for me
now i'm sad and depressed cuz your gone away
what i wouldn't give to have u here with me
but i know that's something that can never be
what a sad day when you went away
Mary louise Blandin she grew wings so she could fly away.
And in his moving music video, "Aint that Cold", Hillard sings about the struggle of homelessness, drug addiction, loss of marriage and family and the coldness of the streets - a message that addresses us all.
When rappers and hip hoppers try to express through lyrics the emotions they feel about discrimination, about being deliberately cut off from the American dream, a lot of people turn their minds off to rap. It's really, though, the same language that most of us would use to describe those same isolated, subjugating feelings.
"You have movies that have those same exact words with your favorite actor in it, you don't have a problem with that," said Hillard. "The titles and the music display exactly what a person is feeling. Music is a reflection of a person."
So if we were in those same shoes - the shoes of a person in the inner city trying to find a better life - how would we deal with it? If we were a young, single mother and our kids were hungry, just what would we do?
"If push comes to shove and you lose your job, you're going to provide for your kids," says Hillard. "The truth is there. It's in your face."
Hillard, originally from Arcadia, Fla., came to Estherville to attend Iowa Lakes Community College in 2006.
His musical, spiritual and religious influences include the late Bob Marley. Between living in the South, his affinity with Marley and the social message he feels compelled to offer his audience, it's easy to see, then, the eclectic nature of his music.
"I'm not stuck on one type of music," said Hillard. "I'm stuck on different kinds of music. To me, music is a reflection of one's self. Everybody can relate to it in one way or another."
And we can learn from others.
Hillard says that's what happened with the song "Mary louise Blandin", dedicated to his aunt who taught him to be open to various forms of music.
And that's exactly what Hillard's doing now.
"We want to spread our music out so a lot of people can relate to it," says Hillard.
The result isn't a "watered-down" rap or hip hop, but a synthesis that reaches out to more people. A big part of that reaching out is the same message that Marley had.
"He (Marley) speaks knowledge, he speaks peace, he speaks for love of your fellow man," says Hillard whose own musical interests go back to such sixties standards as The Temptations. Call it a mellowing, a synthesis, whatever, Hillard feels the result is a message that's a lot more acceptable to a lot more people than the bias many have against rap and its cousins.
"Even in the hip hop community, we're tired of hearing about negativity. We want people to be moved by what they see," says Hillard who sees the gap closing between country and hip hop with songs like "Over and over again" by Nelly Feat and Tim McGraw. And then there's Lil' Wayne's bridging the gap between hip hop and rock.
Besides vocals, Hillard plays boards, piano, guitar and drums. His brother does vocals and boards and his cousin also does vocals and boards and mixes with the Sonar program in a shed behind their house.
"He brings out the best in everybody," Hillard said of Akeem.
And everybody works together.
"You step in the studio and you set aside your feelings," said Hillard.
It's paid off. Hillard is the Web's number-one ranked hip hop artist in both Iowa and Minnesota. He'll DJ at the Lux Martini Bar & Club at 91 W. Broadway in Arnolds Park Thursday night.
Hillard and his fiance, Noelle Hecht, have a son, Kingston Hillard.