Where Are They Now?

It was 15 years ago, 1991, when you couldn’t turn your head without getting smacked in the face by a Leather Africa Map Medallion “LAMM”. This ubiquitous gear dangled from the necks of b-boys from Poughkeepsie to Albuquerque. LAMM symbolized for many a return to the revolutionary and Afro-centric idealism of the early 70s that Gil Scott-Heron and The Last Poets lived and breathed so fully. LAMM also stood for a pride in being African-American and being involved in hip-hop and being aware enough to discuss the culture, the style and the meaning of the movement.

LAMM was on MTV, BET, In Living Color, Soul Train, the city and the suburbs. White kids in BFE wanted to befriend LAMM but couldn’t do it (much the same way they wanted to call their friends, “nigga” but weren’t allowed to get away with it). LAMM rose in power and meaning…but eventually the untidy, multi-headed menace, Merchandising, Marketing and Materialism usurped LAMM’s referent and LAMM, as a symbol of race consciousness, removed itself from the spotlight soon after becoming known as THE symbol of African-American youth culture.

So, where is LAMM now?

One would think that, being such a market force in its time would have ensured LAMM a steady retirement income. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I had a chance to sit down with LAMM in a secret location to ask some of these pressing questions.

JP.COM: Thanks so much for agreeing to this. I really think everyone thought you were dead. You know, I tried to google you and, aside from a few oblique blog references – nothing. Not even on Google Images or eBay. You must be holed up in a fat, Hollywood crib, right?

LAMM: Man, I wish I could say I was living up in a secluded mansion in Beverly Hills. The fact is most of my cash went to pay attorney’s fees for separating my image from popular rap music.

JP.COM: What do you mean? You had to pay to get that done?

LAMM: Damn straight I did. The rappers didn’t want to give me up at first, but once the separation went through – and I no longer was associated with what rap had become…well, you saw how fast they dropped me.

JP.COM: That was a cold way to treat a brother.

LAMM: Who you calling brother, whitey?

JP.COM: My bad. Anyway, that was some cold shit.

LAMM: Look, man, what hurt me the most was how it was damned near universal. One day, I’m everywhere, living large. The next, I’m so deep underground you’d think I was an extra from ‘Tremors’ and shit.

JP.COM: Shunned.

LAMM: Shunned and replaced just as quickly by that trick bitch, Bling. At the time, I swear, if I’d have seen Bling hanging out anywhere I was, I would have broke her off something proper. Luckily, I never did, so never did anything stupid and embarrassing.

JP.COM: So where did you go? Like I said, I looked all around for you and more or less gave up trying.

LAMM: I can’t really tell you, man. It’s still my safe spot and I don’t want to be hounded too much anymore. I’m afraid.

JP.COM: Afraid? But you’re too black, too strong, LAMM. What the hell’s got you bugged? Now, in my opinion, is a primetime for you to make a comeback.

LAMM: I ain’t ever coming back. At least, not like I was. Look, the people that knew me before I blew up, those people are down with me until the end. But hip-hop doesn’t need me anymore. Rap is the most popular music in the country. Graffiti artists get paid for their murals. B-boy style is everywhere and that’s a good thing.

JP.COM: But what about your message, LAMM?

LAMM: My message is the same now as it was then: Love your people and yourselves. Express yourself to the best of your abilities and be proud of who you are and where you’re from. You have to do this because you represent a people and a movement, a culture. That ain’t changed. Only the symbol has changed and the symbol now is every b-boy and girl doing their thing for the love of it. Hip-hop is now youth culture as a whole. And there ain’t no icon big enough to express all that.

JP.COM: And your nemesis, Bling?

LAMM: Man, get from in front of me what that old bullshit. Bling don’t symbolize nothing but loving emptiness. Like my man Kris Parker said back in the day, that kind of love is gonna get you…we can only hope that kinda love doesn’t take us all down with it.

JP.COM: Word.

LAMM: People still sayin’ that?

JP.COM: Oh, word.

LAMM: Word up.

Offering no hint of a come-back and filling me full of hip-hop science, LAMM and I parted ways. I doubt we’ll see or hear from LAMM again. It was hard to sit face-to-face with the faded icon, the reds and greens a little less vibrant, the leather smell a bit less musky. But it’s not hard at all to understand what LAMM stands for, then and now.



Where Are They Now?

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