Missy Elliott & Mumbo Sauce: A Love Letter To Hip-Hop


If I had to categorize Hip-Hop as a season, it would be summertime in DC. Breezy 8-counts stick to skin like humid air, enough to hug someone without feelings of suffocation. Ease and comfort soak my memories when I recall listening to Junior Mafia on my godsister’s radio or sneakily watching Hype Williams’ music videos at home as a child. If my love for Hip-Hop was a city, it would be Washington, D.C., a geography of imperfect neighborhoods meeting in the center to build something resembling a home.

Recounting my Hip-Hop love story feels incomplete without mentioning the architect: summer camp at Martha’s Table. For most DC residents Martha’s Table is a soup kitchen, but unbeknownst to many the organization hosted a yearly summer camp for young people across the city with limited access to more expensive programming. Many memories were created in that tiny, yellow brick building, but most of the sunshine came from our white van adventures. Whether it was our millionth trip to Banneker’s pool or a scavenger hunt throughout the city, each second in the van was its own moment of magic, set to a 92.3 soundtrack.

There were trips where my friends and I, crowded in the back of the van would carefully choreograph moves to Juvenile’s “Slow Motion,” a never ending battle of body against speed bumps. There were instances when we channeled our deepest guttural voices to become Ja Rule and hyped up the boys who dared to attempt rapping with the skill and speed of Twista. Most certain were the moments when Missy Elliott inevitably crept her way onto the stereo. I can’t explain it, but the combination of summertime weather, the security of close friends, and Missy Elliott transformed me into into an entirely different person.

Young Fullamusu was a relatively quiet child but found a home in the mystical energy of a Missy & Timbaland production. One loud image in my memory is witnessing a counselor hear the intro to “Work It,” impulsively pulling into the nearest parking lot, and blasting the song through the van’s speakers while we all put it down, flipped it and reversed it in celebration. These are the moments that shaped me and remind me what freedom through Hip-Hop looks like.

For a younger me, Hip-Hop was the freedom I recognized within myself but could never quite access. As a child of West African immigrants, limitations were a form of protection for my family. A father plagued by images of drug use and violence in the media placed the blame on Hip-Hop, which resulted in household bans on BET and the genre in general. Familial expectations of a firstborn daughter to attain the unthinkable for African immigrants, along with obligations to care for a young brother as the family crumbled placed me in a box that at times felt unescapable. Summertime in DC shifted these realities for me.

In that white van, I was slick-tongued and animated, slipping into my rap personas with ease, mouthing lyrics I dared not say in front of strict parents. My engagement with Hip-Hop was far from embodying an alter ego; I felt like I was finally embracing a stifled self, one who held no hesitation when released.

My city has since changed. Martha’s Table, once sharing a street corner with an alcoholic rehabilitation center is now choked between several upscale boutiques. The memories built here, however, are indestructible flickers of light illuminating my former home and my current reality.