I am hip-hop. I was born and raised in a ghetto, a now 50-something Black man from one of America’s many inner cities weighted down by racism, poverty, violence, neglect, dreams deferred, desperate survival tactics, ugly police-community dynamics and, on constant repeat, hopelessness. This is why so many Black males across three generations utter these words to any who will listen: Hip-hop saved my life.

Because, quite literally, at least for me, it did. There would be no 16 books, no endless speech invites, no journalism career, no sojourn as a poet, and no traveling America and parts of the world if it were not for hip-hop. It gave me permission to use my voice, to probe why I was Black and straight outta poverty; and hip-hop taught me to strive for something, anything, against all odds. Hip-hop saved my life. It is simply not debatable for a nation of millions of us.