On his new song “I’mPossible (Basquiat)” Malcolm London doles out autobiographical nuggets and snapshots of his Chicago surroundings before properly introducing himself near the track’s end: “This is me, Malcolm London—poet, activist, educator, and now a rapper.” London is no stranger to rap—the Save Money member has dropped solo cuts before (2013’s “2 AM”), collaborated with scene leaders (such as Vic Mensa for 2012’s “OnGaud”), and guested on rap tracks to perform readings (such as Frank Leone‘s “Redeye(s),” on which London reads the names of Chicagoans murdered in the first two weeks of November 2014).
But London is better known for his other pursuits. He’s the winner of the 2011 Louder Than a Bomb youth poetry slam, a teacher at Young Chicago Authors, a cohost of Chance the Rapper‘s high school “Open Mike” series, and the cochair of the Chicago chapter of a national organization of black organizers and organizers called BYP100. London helped lead the charge for Chicago’s Ferguson protests in 2014, and he confronts racial injustice in all his creative pursuits. “I’mPossible” is just the latest in a string of London’s diverse interests, and it’s as much a reintroduction to his abilities as a rapper as it is an appeal for listeners to consider him one.
After introducing himself as a rapper London goes on to talk (but not rap) about the complexities within us all, speaking from his own experience: “I’m known as all of these things but I’m not any one thing, and because I’m all these things so often, I exist in so many different spaces that come with expectations of who I’m supposed to be, particularly what kind of black.”
He proceeds to list a few false binaries in the black community, ending it with, “Perform a TED Talk, end at Adrianna’s.” London has participated in a TED Talk before—he spoke about education during the popular series’s first appearance on TV, for PBS, in 2013—and pairing the vaunted series with going to Adrianna’s, a Markham club that’s helped incubate the south-side drill scene, is an example of two cultural outlets many perceive as being unable to coexist. The same people that cast TED as highbrow may also think of Adrianna’s as lowbrow, and London would rather let people see them outside of such restrictive definitions.
That comparison mimics the way people often talk about hip-hop, particularly with regards to local hip-hop. The number of think pieces that pitted “golden boy” Chance the Rapper against “bad boy” Chief Keef have thankfully slowed down, but at its height the juxtaposition managed to strip away a little of the MCs’ humanity and further removed the complexities that have made their best material so alluring. With London joining the legion of voices defining Chicago hip-hop hopefully people will see this multidimensional scene a little more clearly.