Chris Kelly, Kris Kross and losing our idols

kris-krossWhen I heard about the death of Kris Kross member Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly, I instantly recalled the first time I saw the video for their smash 1992 single “Jump.” Like the two rappers on the TV screen, I was 14, but I wasn’t recording hit singles or touring with Michael Jackson. My parents were getting divorced and I was living in the basement of my uncle’s house, where the concrete floor always left my feet cold. Living there made me feel sad and lost, but when I watched the video, I didn’t feel sad. I felt alive.

Sure, the beat was infectious, the chorus was catchy and the verses were slick. But for me, the song had a deeper significance. At an age typically defined by awkwardness and insecurity, Chris Kelly and Chris Smith had swagger, before that’s what we called it. They were two teens so skilled that they rapped better than most adults, so confident that they’d started their own fashion trend. Their baggy pants, braided hair and reversed sports jerseys and jackets suggested that they’d found their identity at a time when so many of us were desperately searching for one.

I’d been listening to rap for five years, but this was the first time I personally identified with a rap artist as someone I might know, or someone I could be. When I watched these “two little kids with a flow you ain’t never heard,” the distance between the basement and the TV screen disappeared. I never wore my clothes backwards, but I embraced the larger lesson: Dare to be different…continue reading at theGrio.

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