You know the way you present your thing. We in the belly so we might as well cling. The way you shine, shorty, you the shit; the princess in the pauper pit. We may be poor but we rich in soul. Just get involved and get in control. -Q-Tip, “Get Involved”
The PJ’s was an animated television series that I never saw an episode of. I vaguely remember Eddie Murphy’s involvement, but that’s about it. “Get Involved,” a Raphael Saadiq song featuring Q-Tip, was featured on the clumsily titled The PJ’s: Music From and Inspired By The Hit Television Series which was released in 1999, making it just eligible for this entry. I don’t know that The PJ’s was actually a hit, but you know how marketing works: sometimes you merely have to suggest something to make it true in the minds of the ignorant.
I’m not going to pretend to be anything other than a some time fan of hip-hop. My experience with both Saadiq and Q-Tip is limited to the hits each produced with their groups – Tony! Toni! Tone! and A Tribe Called Quest, respectively – and a lesser number of solo hits like “100 Yard Dash” and “Vivrant Thing,” respectively. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance I would never have listened to either had I not lived with Brett, a high school friend who became my college roommate who is still one of my best friends.
I don’t think I can do the whole retrospective on our relationship thing because I’m going to end up running the gamut of emotions. I understand myself well enough to know that if I start thinking about the first time I met Brett when we got yelled at in Alejo’s class, and the time he gave his neighbor the DX crotch chop, and also the time he called public safety on me, I will get to a level of misty-eyed nostalgia that will ruin me for the rest of the day.
Due to both the length and constant contact of our relationship, Brett has had the most direct influence on my life of all my friends. “Get Involved” is just one of the songs that I would eventually claim as my own after hearing the song play over his computer on WinAmp. Dione Farris’ “Hopeless” is another. Brett understood fantasy far better and earlier than I did. My view of the sport was limited to the field; Brett’s analytical mind understood statistics and value in ways I could not. I remember our early conversations on the topic: he would throw out numbers and say things like “opportunity cost,” and I would reply with “Yeah, but his swing is so ugly.” That’s right, we were having stats vs. scouting arguments as 20-year olds. To this day, whenever these concepts are discussed on ESPN or in podcasts, I think of Brett and smile.
I’ve chosen part of Q-Tip’s verse for the top of this page for practical reasons. The rest of the song is a specific narrative that I cannot directly relate to. In the simplest sense, I am far too much of an introvert to ever have told a girl “Get your shit, ’cause we’re going uptown (uptown, baby, say what?).” Q-Tip’s words are the summary of Saddiq’s story of extricating a beautiful woman from otherwise bleak surroundings. When Q-Tip says “the princess in the pauper pit,” he’s talking about the age-old cliche of the diamond in the rough.
Back then, Brett and I had many things in common like watching professional wrestling, following sports, and taking classes solely because a girl we liked was enrolled in it and maybe the course might also fulfill a requirement for graduation. I suspect, however, that we had one other thing in common. I never like to speak for people, but I’ve spent a lot (too much) time thinking about these things, and I want to say that I think Brett and I both viewed ourselves as diamonds in the rough. For me, it was romantically – I was desperately waiting for a woman to find me worthy of unconditional acceptance. We were both underappreciated, misunderstood savants just waiting for the world around us to catch up to us.
We were both idealists up until the point I felt I could no longer be. I took a low-paying job as a teacher for two reasons. I needed a job and I couldn’t see another way. I have remained a teacher for nearly 13 years for those same two reasons. But not Brett. The biggest difference between Brett and me is this: professionally, I never knew what I wanted but Brett always knew what he didn’t want. His quest for the life he wants has taken him from Los Angeles back to Hawaii to Las Vegas, and now San Francisco. I never had the courage or stubbornness to do what’s done and continues to do. Frankly, I don’t have the stomach for it.
Whenever I hear “Get Involved” or “Hopeless” or “How Does It Feel” or “The Light,” I don’t think of a woman. They’re love songs of various types, but the emotional attachment I feel is for a friend who has been loyal for 20 years, since that day Alejo yelled at the two of us because I interrupted his lecture on The Old Man and the Sea by turning to Brett and saying “Eh, I heard you were the stud of St. Elizabeth’s.”
It’s a little dusty in here.