“Wouldn’t it be interesting for the story to begin, just meeting and talking in a coffee shop?” Noiéme inquired. It was a little after 1pm and the shop closed at 12:30 for the day. It seemed as if the two of us lingered and let time stand still for a moment before we went our separate ways. I’d watched her close the shop a few times and it never took her as long as it did this spring afternoon.
Noiéme glanced in my direction, perhaps to gauge whether I would react or respond to her question, as she mopped the floor in a casual fashion.
“I think that would be a very good story,” I replied after a pause. In the romantic comedy arc, this moment would be considered the “meet cute.” However, it was more aligned with the arc of “The Hero’s Journey;” a call to action.
Our narratives were scribed in different languages, cultures, and age. Noiéme was unaware our interactions were a full-circle anecdote; one which began in the summer of 1997.
A kid from Southeast Queens, a taught-by-osmosis music prodigy, who commuted with his twin sister to middle school. From Cambria Heights to East Elmhurst, the hour-long trip was when I began to explore hip hop on my own terms, via my Walkman. My parents understood rap; however, they were not a part of hip hop culture. In the days of car rides with a radio-and sometimes cassette deck-as the sole form of entertainment, r&b in all of its formats played. Because of my music education, I was able to put both together; I knew most of the “old” songs sampled by “modern” emcees.
God humbled me and sat my ass down that summer. Outside of my grandparents’ house, I told my sister and friends “Look at me! I can rollerblade with this three-year-old in my arms!” I whisked up the block, turned around, and skated backwards. It looked effortless, as if I practiced for weeks. Then, I fell. To protect the little girl, I clutched her tight with my right arm, leaned backward, and stretched out my left arm to absorb the impact. This-and when it happened again at 14-was how I learned to not be a show-off and arrogance.
I lied and told my family I tried to save the little girl before a car came. My sister and I planned and never told a soul. There was no need for punishment from my parents because God did it way better, then blessed me, which is the purpose of these words.
My punishment? I missed church the first Sunday after my heroics. When my sister came home, she told me how Reverend Barton made a prayer announcement for me. Therefore, everyone at church relayed a prayerful message to Courtney to forward my way. The next Sunday, there I was, with my arm in a blue sling, I was greeted by so many well-wishers, a few hugs, an impromptu prayer or two with me, and a couple pats right on my break. I remember my basketball coach, Mr. Payne said to me “Too bad it wasn’t your right arm, then you could spend all summer working on your left!” with a smile (Note: he truly believed in my potential as a basketball player, please read Basketball…In Memory of Mr. Payne on Singledadventures).
The hairline fracture in my humorous was anything but. There was no basketball or rollerblades for the next four-to-six weeks; or in other words until the start of seventh grade. With my mother in an intense dual-masters program school at Bankstreet College and Parsons School of design, and my dad in-and-out with Gerald Levert, I spent most of the Summer of 1997 at both my maternal and paternal grandparents’ houses, where we all lived down Murdock Ave. All there was to do was listen to the radio, watch music videos, or play Sega Genesis with the radio or music videos in the background.
I heard Puff Daddy premiere “It’s All About the Benjamins” on air, at a barbershop. As I waited for my cut, God whispered a portion of my purpose.
I always knew I would be a musician, yet I had not-a-clue how to pursue my aspirations. Barely in existence, and hardly accessible, there was no Jeeves to ask on the internet yet. I recorded the songs I liked off Hot 97 and listened with incessance. Curated and sequenced to flow with the cohesiveness of what “albums produced by Chad Love, CEO of 24/7 Records would sound like.” When I got my hands on a magazine like Vibe or The Source, I read them cover-to-cover. By the time I started seventh grade, basketball took a backseat until I began to teach my nephew how to play.
From August 8th until the 15th, my sister and I embarked on a cruise ship with our paternal grandparents, the family of my grandmother, alongside the church family of the latter. As excited as Courtney and I were to loop around the Caribbean Sea, we looked to spend time with our favorite cousin, David the most.
David was two years older than Courtney and me. Our grandmothers were sisters and the three of us were their first and only grandchildren until the nineties. Because of where we lived, Courtney and I saw David a handful of times a year; but we were close and looked forward to the extended period with the closest we had to an older sibling.
Courtney befriended a girl from Baltimore, which left David and I to roam around a large boat with no supervision. As we gallivanted, David and I saw three black girls with curly hair, over and over. We did not have the courage to speak to them, nor did we know how.
“Every time we see them, I’ll beat box and you rap!” David said. I thought this was a brilliant plan. David and I rattled off songs such as “Mo Money, Mo Problems” by Notorious B.I.G., “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” by Missy Elliott, and the song which probably was the most conducive to catch the eye of a young lady: “Kick in the Door, wavin’ the four-four! All I heard was “Poppa don’t hit me no more!’” like we made them up. It mattered none what words came out of either of our mouths because French was the sole language David and I heard the trio speak.
David and I just called them “The French Girls,” probably the same way they referred to us as “L’garçons américains.” Much older and a little more knowledgeable, they may not have been from France; perhaps they were from Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, Haiti, Belgium, or perhaps the l’Republique d’Tchad.
God threw those dumb boys a bone. One night, as our family went to dinner, we saw The French Girls, who were headed to the elevator we exited moments before. If we boarded the cruise and first saw the French Girls on a Saturday afternoon, by Monday night we automatically began our routine, and it was on-sight. I missed it, but David and Courtney informed me they heard the ladies attempt to mimic the beat box and giggled to each other. It worked! It was now time to kick our plan into overdrive.
Our brilliant idea fell “short like Leprechauns.” With no success or shame, David and I decided to try until we got off the boat. If we saw them at the airport, on the way back to New York, we would have given it one more shot at TSA.
The evening before we docked, David and I sullenly satellited around The French Girls-who frolicked poolside-from a distance. From the top level of the promenade, looking down in their direction, circling around, we altered Lil Kim’s “Crush on You” to fit our circumstances.
“I know you see us by the salad bar: true. I know you seen us by the pool side: true. But you still won’t pay us no attention. Listening to what your girlfriends mention. bonjour, je m’appelle, ou oui oui. Got a different girl everyday of the week. It’s cool, I’m tryna put a rush on you. I had to let you know that I got a crush on you!” It was the first time David and I wrote our own raps together.
We finally gave up and decided to leer right by the pool. David and I stayed to ourselves and kept The French Girls in an indirect, peripheral view. At 36 years old, I can say all involved parties felt one anothers’ energies. They looked at each other, pointed, laughed, and pushed each other to walk up to us, nervously running back to their group. It was obvious they wanted David and my attention, yet they knew they made it obvious one of the trio had to break the ice.
One walked and the other two followed. In her best and broken English, the de facto leader of the group said “Excuse me. Can you do your rap for us?”
David and I played it cool and obliged with a nonchalant cool we had no idea we possessed, then or now. We got the band back together for a reunion concert, looked at each other, and agreed it was time to give “Mo Money, Mo Problems” the same gusto we did on day one. All of those other times were dress rehearsals for this moment.
We ran through all three verses, I inserted my name for theirs ie: “Chad, you know ain’t nothin’ changed but my limp.” We also did not do the chorus in case the young ladies heard them before; couldn’t blow our cover.
David and I killed. Not once did we look directly in their direction. These three beautiful brown girls, stood in front of us, with the biggest smile we’d seen from them all week, and they had not a muthafuckin’ clue what we said. The straw Panama hat I’d worn all week like a fedora (it had a royal blue band, which matched my sling and outfits) blew off twice; I caught it, put it back on my head, and continued rapping, without missing a beat both times (Note: That’s some real music prodigy shit).
The French Girls said thank you, walked off, and we never saw them again. Neither-David nor I-looked at the girls the whole time. Had we done so, we would have killed the whole vibe, got laughed at, and I would have written a very different essay about this experience.
We did other shit that week. I recently found video of our faux-documentary about our visit to Hell, the fire-looking rock collection in Grand Cayman-something else I will have to write about in another essay. None of it mattered because the only story to tell of any significance was The French Girls we rapped for.
David started two rap two years prior to our fantastic voyage. The words and attitude were inside of me; however, I had yet to figure out how to coax them out. I wrote my first real rap in the summer of 1998 and another three months later. In the summer of ’98, David and I added Courtney to our rap trio for the teenage talent show on a Carnival Cruise (We performed “Horse and Carriage” by Cam’Ron).
After our one show, Courtney’s resignation from the rap game was not the most important departure in the summer of 1998. Six weeks after “Horse and Carriage,” my parents moved our family out of our apartment in Queens 10 miles east, to Exit 21 on the Southern State Parkway. David, Courtney, and I now lived walking distance from each other. In December, I pulled out a marble notebook, and started my first book of rhymes.
It is not out of the realm of possibility or probability another story would have replaced this one. Nonetheless, the one I do have to tell is my rap career, love of words, production, and much more began with a chance encounter and relentless effort to impress a brown girls who “Just wanted to hear me sing to them in French.”
There’s Always a Girl Story was two guest features from release when Noiéme crossed paths. While it was quite a solid body of work, it was more of the same: a nonchalant, shoulder-shrug, sometimes jaded tales of emotionally reactive women who were both drawn and repelled by both my calm and ability to facilitate a chaos we all found comfort in. Days before I met Noiéme, my college friend, Acacsia-whom I asked to give feedback as I wrote the essays to coincide with the music-revealed to me “I see Chad in Paris, writing.”
It felt like it was time to sing a new song and I needed a reason to write and sing them. Per Noiéme’s request, There’s Always a Girl Story would now become the story about her and how our interactions prompted me to look back at my life. I was a reluctant prodigy who drove all of his instructors crazy because I did not practice; I gave up my aspirations in the music business to support my relationship with Timile; and wound-up full circle 15 years later, in a royal blue coffee shop, in a neighborhood God gave some nudges towards in 1997, I found my way back. Noiéme deserved it.