The Other Brother
P.M. Dawn and the Birth of Brohemianism
Let's open with three moments in hiphop. The first happens in the year 2000, outside of the Seattle nightclub Neumos, then called Aerospace. The sun is out, and beats are booming out of the club. Standing next to me is T3, a rapper in the Detroit crew Slum Village. He and Baatin, who passed away not too long ago, are in town to promote the underground classic Fantastic, Vol. 2. As we talk about Q-Tip, who made a guest appearance on Fantastic, T3 chews on a short stick. As he speaks, the stick goes up and down. The bark of the stick is light brown.
Another moment, this one in 2005, at the Seattle nightclub Chop Suey: It's around 11:00 p.m., and Zion I, a duo from the Bay Area, is onstage. The DJ stands behind the wheels of steel, and the rapper is standing up front with no shoes on. He also has no socks on. He is going all-natural. His feet are bare.
My last moment happens in 2007, in the University District, inside a black-American- owned vegan restaurant called Hillside Quickie. M-1 of Dead Prez, a politically charged crew from Brooklyn, is inside Hillside eating something that was made without the death of an animal.
What brings these moments together? They are essentially brohemian moments. And what is brohemian? It is a word that blends the first part of "brother" with the second part of "bohemian." What is a brother in this context? A black man. What is a bohemian? A person whose mind is open and whose soul is soft. When we blend the two, brother and bohemian, we express a mode of life, black male life, that's open to chewing sticks, walking barefoot, and eating things made only from vegetable matter. The brohemian mode I have in mind (and there are varieties of brohemianism) primarily has a home in hiphop culture and thrives mainly in the underground—though it was born in the mainstream (more about this in a moment).
Even here in Seattle we find brohemianism in full effect. There is, for example, Black Stax, a trio that is very much about art, creativity, community, and a black power that is mystical and not purely masculine but rooted in female power. In the trio's most recent video, "Spell on You" (an excellent track produced by Amp Fire), strong black men gather with strong black women to enjoy a meal of healthy food. They eat with their fingers.
Where did brohemianism come from? Or better to ask: Who initiated its hiphop version? Not De La Soul—that was a crew of brainy geeks. Nor was it A Tribe Called Quest—they came close to it, but not close enough (and besides, Phife Dawg was practically a thug). Full-blown brohemianism begins in earnest with P.M. Dawn's Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience. The title of the album says it all: chewing sticks, walking barefoot, eating food that doesn't destroy conscious animals—the brohemian experience.
It's not just a coincidence that the duo that launched this mode are indeed brothers, Attrell Cordes (Prince Be the Nocturnal) and Jarrett Cordes (JC the Eternal/DJ Minutemix). A brohemian is essentially brother to all other brothers and brother to all sisters, whom he deeply respects. "I ain't tryin' to fuck," raps Common on "Heat," "Wanna feel female presence and conversation and touch." (Common was a member of the late-'90s collective Soulquarians, which included D'Angelo, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, and Questlove. Even the name of the collective is very P.M. Dawnish.)
You know you are a P.M. Dawner when you love exotic lotions, beads, cushions, the sweet smoke of an incense stick, to hold hands in a circle, to meditate, and to dream and drift on blissful thoughts. You will not find gold or diamonds on a brohemian, and they prefer having their souls healed by green tea rather than their minds blasted by Hennessey.
Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience brought the brohemian mode to the mainstream. And it is the enormous success of this record, and also P.M. Dawn's courage to go to the terminal point of brohemianism—the long dreads, the mystical raps, the crystals, the surreal threads—that made it possible for a generation of brothers to end their hard and misogynistic ways and embrace instead their feminine, earthy, cosmic side. The world will never be the same again.