I stay woke.
Feeling like a Hip Hop interloper, I did not want to go.
News of the Oct. 10 death of Skandal (government name: Marcus Mitchell, aka Skan, Skandizzle and Skandal Da Ruckus Man) after a protracted battle with leukemia pinged through the ether like a metal ball in a pinball game.
So I went to the 36-year-old’s Oct. 19 funeral in Forest Park, land of my awkward adolescence, at the very headquarters of the undertakers who handled my mother’s arrangements and who established their mortuary careers more than 50 years ago in Hamilton with the burial of Coretha Hoskins, the paternal grandmother I never met.
And I only knew Skan remotely.
I first laid eyes on this big nigga onstage at Baba Budan’s where he was holding down the now-infamous open mic that later moved to Mad Frog. He was smashin’ niggas in freestyle battles that were, at turns, as brutal as a personal dis and, at others, as hilarious as stand-up comedy. I was with Napoleon Maddox and Kim Goree and by the middle of the set we were chiming in with but one in Skan’s bottomless toolbox of catchphrases and boasts: ’cause ain’t nobody fuckin’ with Skan!
Napoleon introduced me on the break and Skan went in on me immediately in that loving/teasing/big brother way he had of interacting with everybody he encountered.
And that was it.
Driving past Mad Frog, I always checked for his name above the words “open mic” on the marquee.
It was always there.
Then it wasn’t.
Then much later I’d heard secondhand somewhere along the timeline of Skan’s cancer battle his illness wasn’t registering so much as a blip in what this clique likes to call Cincinnati’s Hip Hop community, which sometimes, as an outsider, bears very little resemblance to a community at all.
Then, I think Skan’s name was back on the marquee.
Then he was dead.
The parking lot overflowed: Cars were on the grass, in neighboring lots, circling for spots.
Mostly (black) men made the sad sojourn to the chapel.
As I walked up I was struck by how the family reunion-style fellowship of playas, DJs, CD-R rappers, wannabe producers and the-almost-but-not-famous reminded me of a live-action version of Art Kane’s 1958 photograph “A Great Day In Harlem.”
Here be postmodern Dizzy, Lester, Horace and Coleman.
A line wended from the casket through the small vestibule back to the door. Folks queued up looked like the cheap seats of a “BET Hip Hop Awards” broadcast — all bling, braids, pomp and circumstance, weaves and pieces, a blonde skunk-striped mohawk and black men itching with grief but filled by too much machismo to scratch it.
I saw a lot of pursed lips and eyes shaded by stunners.
Inside the sanctuary, Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s classic “They Reminisce Over You” played above the din of chatter, and I subconsciously rapped along as I scanned the room for a seat.
I found one beside poet/performer Symana “She Speaks” Dillingham, whom I met when she took first place at the Art & Poetry contest at Findlay Market last April. When programs were passed out, I realized why, besides grief, she was so jittery. She was to perform “What A Skandal,” a manifesto/eulogy she’d written for Skan’s homegoing.
And here’s where black funerals get, to quote Zora Neale Hurston, blacker than a thousand midnights. The hymns turn to wails, the testimonials morph into self-aggrandizements and the mourning into performances.
I couldn’t see the family but they were literally overshadowed by people laying claim to some part of Skandal who played one-upmanship over one another with anecdotes of how long and how well they’d known this man. Try as he might to keep the service about Marcus Mitchell — the loving, hustling, brutally honest, hard-working entrepreneur and father of a small girl — the Rev. Steven Bester was outdone by non-family repeatedly disobeying his directives to let family speak.
This is Hip Hop: rappers, singers and producers who are experts at braggadocio.
And how they did go on.
A white woman who looked too old to be trying to make rap a career at this point even cursed on the mic. And we all sniggled disrespectfully at Butch Gibson, a DJ who prattled on about representing people who didn’t really know Skan. (Huh?) Then he (pretended to?) break down, laughed, was joined by two of his boys and posed a second while someone else took pictures.
He was finally helped off a la James Brown.
Then ran back down front.
This brand of ego clusterfucking plagues and hobbles Hip Hop.
Black male egos, especially, hijacked what was an art form.
Some brothas attending misconstrued Skandal’s largesse as something else; they’ve wrongly interpreted his formula and it doesn’t fit them.
He was big, remember.
Nowhere, though, was Skan’s outsized persona, his penchant for calling bullshit, more elegantly imagined than in Dillingham’s “What A Skandal”:
Scandizzle has yelled dismissal to the phonies
Bellowed last call to all cronies
Poured his last libation for his homies
Now what are we gonna do?
Please trust — his life wasn’t for not [sic]
Every time a beat rocks, the bass drops, the treble pops, he’ll be there
Waving his hands in the air...
...So go on Skandizzle — rest in peace and do so with pride
Your legacy is yet ALIVE
Music resides in the soul
So it makes sense that it’s now do or die, do then die, true and tried
Keep the list open up there for us brother
We’ll all spit/spin/create fire again on the other side
Bitter sweet bye and bye
I ducked out at the start of “Goin’ Up Yonder.”
All I could think was: We have no control over whom we attract based on whom our lovers believe us to be.
But at least Skan is free.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: firstname.lastname@example.org