On June 25, 2009 I was on my way to New York for the Hip-Hop Association’s Womanhood Passage Fundraiser, a special evening acknowledging contributions of women in hip-hop. As I pulled into the city, I was lazily scrolling through my e-mails when my heart caught a fire–in all caps, the subject line read: MJ DEAD. The e-mail came from a DJ friend in Tel Aviv who first heard the news from the Los Angeles Times’ Twitter feed. Everyone on the Internets was clamoring for confirmation; we were morbidly fascinated, but clinging tooth and nail to the idea that we might still have the chance to see the living legend in concert one last time. The first Polaroid that developed in my mind was of my best friend staring emptily at her two concert tickets, a momentous occasion to fulfill a lifelong dream now rendered nothing more than two pieces of paper.
As I grazed on the bite-sized hors d’oeuvres, listening to the likes of Roxanne Shante (pre-Phd scandal), b-girl Rokafella, Beverly Bond and Monie Love, DJ Jazzy Joyce came forward to confront the black and white elephant in the room: “I almost didn’t come tonight, I was so f*cked up about [Michael Jackson’s death]. But I’m glad I did.” We were there to celebrate women, but our very presence was an homage to the King of Pop. Later that night, a friend and I gossiped over Belgian drafts at a tiny Brooklyn bar. MJ was on a jukebox loop. An older Black man in all leather seemed to be crying and smiling all at once while a white, hipster couple danced playfully (and un-rhythmically) in the corner. The next day, my partner and I roamed the streets on a thrift store mission and I swear every single shop, cafe and passing car was bumping Mike at full volume. These fleeting moments remind me that we are bound by music across borders and time, no matter how far apart we feel from one another. In the words of the irreplaceable, “You are not alone.”