I was an impressionable child, overimaginative. I caught the sadness of anything near me, even if it was supernatural.
After my dad told me about yajuj and majuj, and how Allah made humans of fire (jinn) and light (malaikah), I would idly look for angels in filtered sunbeams or listen for the voices of jinn leading me on--although I'd been told they were not at all like shoudler demons from cartoons, that they were most interested in minding their own business. Still, my dad was so sure that the end of the world was near that I looked for signs as a sort of impulse I still haven't entirely kicked.
Once, when Deadheads in town, my mom got lost on the way from the hospital and I cried of fear that she'd wandered into some other world, taken by ghouls or zombies. I didn't know what Deadheads were. I pictured something like a roving band of conjurers who worshipped the late Jerry Garcia, a baccanal Wild Hunt devoted to a 40-year old rock band. Maybe they even revived him during concert ceremonies--hey, I didn't know what their concerts got up to. All I knew is that the smells and looks of the nomadic van-living dreaded folks who overtook my familiar neighborhoods overnight made it feel as if a gate to the other world had opened. And mightn't Mom have wandered into it?
When Tupac died, I was torn between thinking he would haunt us or that he would rise again. I lived in San Diego while Pac lived and died in Los Angeles, but the mythology around the man was too large for a single city or county. I felt that the fate of the West Coast was tied to the fate of Tupac. He was our lamb and lion, while The Notorious B.I.G. was the martyr for the East Coast.
I didn't understand the difference between Tupac and Makaveli but the fact that Makaveli's album came out after Tupac's death was reason enough to believe in his return. The video for "Hail Mary" was a warning: the spirit of Tupac could act through others and punish those he loved, punish the state he loved for failing him.
The West/East rap rivalry took place largely through lyrical snipes and diss tracks, but I hadn't heard the songs in question. I saw the West/East rivalry as a cross-country gang war in which an underground network of color-coded national alliances, claimed territories, clans and dons and secret passwords. My brother had to assure me that Tupac wouldn't haunt us, that we hadn't betrayed him--because anyway we liked West Coast rap better, right? It was better.
(Well, even now, I prefer Odd Future to the A$AP Mob.)
So I refused to listen to Biggie to preserve my soul, and (when I became less superstituous) as a matter of pride. Total Request Live didn't care about my soul, however, and I couldn't help hearing and seeing the hits from Biggie's Life After Death. I wondered how his greatness had shaped his half of the country. B.I.G's posthumous album sounded not like revenge but like a celebration of a buried harchet. His best friend Puff Daddy mourned with Faith Evans but then they all popped champagne and went dancing in outer space. It sounded like and end and my brother verified that yes, Tupac's and Biggie's death meant the end of the West Coast/East Coast war.
(We would watch the videos for cameos that signified alliances. When Snoop Dogg signed with No Limit, that was irrefutable proof.)
So I wasn't particularly concerned about the y2k bug (we didn't yet own a computer when everyone else was panicking), the year of 1999 was beautiful to me. The apocalyptic symbolism of it, the magnitude of what it could mean... The zeitgeist had shifted from the 90s to the 00s: we'd gone from the hard-knocks and poverty of gangsta rap to the money, power, and sex of party rap.
Listening to "Mo Money, Mo Problems" felt like being in a national sweepstakes: I'd get a car, you'd get a car, they'd get a car, we'd all get cars! I thought that when Diddy said 'we' he meant 'black people,' not just his friends and labelmates. I thought he was wishing into being a world that finally loved black people. I had seen enough Mo-Town documentaries to know the history of black music, and I knew that we were often copied, unpaid, uncredited, erased. But here we were, front and center, successful and loud, top of the charts! Brandy's "Top of the World" told me where we were headed. Mya's Ghetto Superstar" was written with me in mind. The world finally loved black people.
Missy, Janet, TLC wore armor and jumpsuits to summon the future with love songs, bye songs, and synced dances. Computer graphics was younger but came closer to replicating our world with every new game and film. Cell phones were still yet twinkles in investor's eyes, and all technology shone with hint & possibility. Black people were front and center in the media, happy and copied and admired by the world. And yet...
I don't know how much money my family had at that time. I know that we moved to the East Coast (Providence, Rhode Island, to be specific) around that time, and we seemd to have moved right into the music. I was ten, tuning my ear to hear the production differences between Swizz Beatz, The Neptunes, and Timbaland. Some part of me knew I would be rich someday, I knew it, because I was a good person and a hard worker--A student without even trying). I was creative and I was young and it was about time. I had everything the world said I needed to be rewarded.
The world was new and new and new no matter where we went and I would be one of those pretty naked girls in Cancun one day, no doubt! I wasn't allowed to wear swimsuits and show that much skin but it would be a matter of course that I would meet Carson Daly.
This was just before politics mattered to me, when everyone was corrupt in a way that didn't matter because everything was fun and everything was fine. Who cared!? The future was coming on. I don't remember how long we were second-hand rich, how long I had the future. I do know that it was gone by the end of 2001. By the end of that September, definitely, it was gone.
Even now, I am one of those impressionable, overimaginative people who think there might be an alternate world in which Bowie and Prince are still alive, a world with more balanced energies in which Trump was not elected. In that world, the FBI caught the hijackers when they were simply names on a watchlist, Bush was not a wartime president and thus not re-elected, the nation that Obama inherited was not a limping thing but a spritely hyperpower arcing towards peace & progress, there was no housing crisis or Great Recession or need for Occupy, and the world really did love black people and the hiphop hit party never ended.