Melle Mel stole my bike. A little less than a year prior, I blasted my family for forgetting to acknowledge or celebrate my 13th birthday. Moms wasn’t big on celebrating holidays, or maybe she secretly couldn’t afford doing anything, so she acted as if the day was no big deal. There’d been a snowstorm the night before my 13th. We were snowed in from school, and the streets were closed. What would have normally have been a cause for celebration, was instead a day of isolation on the day I became a teenager, in a house where no one seemed to care. No surprise party. No special dinner. Not a cupcake or candle in sight.
No one knew that a serious doubt of my own self-worth deepened two years prior. I figured everyone was too into their own thing to notice. Since I was usually soft-spoken it was easy for people to dismiss me. I hinted about the red and black 10-speed Wind Sprint, with the sponge handles, I wanted for my 13th birthday for months – to no avail.
So, leading up to my 14th birthday, I made it very clear what the expected gift was. I was a good kid. I listened to Moms and went to church. I did well-enough in school to keep the school from calling. I kept my head down, and mostly kept to myself. I lived 2.5 miles away from school – too close for the school bus – too far to walk, comfortably. There wasn’t anything cool about me, thus far that would impress anyone. Other kids had the latest leather jacket, dopest gold chain, or the flyest footwear. I wore what I always wore which was the best Moms could afford. I guessed.
I deserved a dope life. If I didn’t have that, at least I could have an easier one. Sometimes, Dre would lend me a bike, or Moms would drive him to school. I walked to and from school most days, all seasons, myself. One year, I caught frostbite in my ears on the way, but that’s another tale.
Suffice to say, I felt due a quality bike. I wasn’t the kind of kid to harass Moms about material things. However, in high school, the stakes for social acceptance and personal maintenance can be greatly demanding. I’d decided that my approaching freshman year would be the start of a new life. I would look better. I would be better.
Moms saved her pennies, and borrowed a little from her boss, Mrs. Axel Kraft. On my 14th birthday I received my first adult size bicycle. Although it was still January, and snow covered the ground, I was even more excited for the coming of spring. I sat on my new bike and watched episodes of The Cosby Show and Oprah through February and March. Moms wouldn’t let me take it out, yet. I was getting anxious.
By April, spring was smirking thru the mostly-melted snow. Buds bloomed from the tips of young trees. The air was moist, and the sun spat hints of its summer rays. I began to have sinful thoughts. Rebellious and devilish. Moms was being sooo unreasonable. I should have been permitted to go out for a test ride. I’d been patient. It was torturous to be so restricted. Besides, it WAS HIS bike, right? Sinful thoughts. God forgive me. I began to plot a heist of my own property. Blame cabin fever! I needed to ride! I just needed an opening…
One Sunday late afternoon, Moms decide to go to an evening church service. I was allowed to stay home. This was my chance! I would just go out for just an hour to ride in the beautiful day! Moms would never know. All would be well. Moments after Moms’ gold Chevy left the block, I was on my wheels, and on the way to the house of my best friend, Andy. It had been 2 1/2 months since my birthday, and I hadn’t been able to show off the best present, yet!
There was a crew of school friends at Dre’s house, which made the visit even sweeter. I had never had a gift so expensive. I had highlighted it in the store circular, so I was sure of the price!
Since, I was teetering on another sinful act – showing off my bike – I managed not to brag. I let them admire it and ask questions. I had to decline requests for rides to maintain the appropriate distance. I decided to quit while I was ahead, and head home before dark. I waited over 2 months to celebrate this part of my birthday. It was a good day.
Heading through the downtown of E. Anglerock, I passed the legendary Sugarhill Hill Studios. Sylvia Robinson became the midwife of hip hop as the head of the Sugar Hill Record label. The Sugar Hill Gang was one of the first commercially popular rap groups at the inception of the culture. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five (GrandMaster Flash, Melle Mel, The Kid Creole, Keith Cowboy, Mr. Ness/Scorpio, and Rahiem) was at the forefront of the culture, and drawing recognition to Sugar Hill Records.
Silvia Robinson’s son, Rondo, sat behind me in 8th grade math. Redhead Kingpin was in the grade below me. Kwame and I were in a talent show together. Dudes from ‘Wrecks N Effects’ were in my classes. Big Bub from ‘Today’ was in my science class. I grew up in a hotbed of classic Hip Hop artists.
So, at 14 years old, when I passed by Sugar Hill Studios, and Melle Mel waved me over, I only slightly hesitated. Hey wassup, man? How’s your mama and daddy? They still singin’?” Wait, how did he know my mother and father sing? I slowed my bike. Y’all still live up that way?” He pointed up to where we lived. Did he really know my mother? And, my father? Maybe, he knew something I didn’t. I stopped. He came over.
You know me, little man. I’m Melle Mel. I had heard of Melle Mel. I was pretty sheltered from mainstream culture, but I’d heard of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five. I was just too afraid to admit that I didn’t know what they looked like. This could be promising…
Your mom, dad and I used to sing in church back in the day. I haven’t seen u guys in such a long time. Yeah, I’m working in the studio, right now. I need to run an errand down the block. My girl took my car for a minute. Would u let Melle Mel borrow your bike real quick for an errand? U can go right into the office, and tell them Melle Mel borrowed your bike. U can trust me. The secretary will tell u who I am. He motioned me to the studio gate.
This could be my chance! Maybe he would appreciate my kindness, and want to hear me sing! Then, Silvia Robinson would hear me and have me sing on a song with Kool & the Gang, or Force MDs! It would be one of those rags-to-riches success stories, like New Edition, or Roxanne Shante! I would have my OWN record deal!
I got off the bike, slowly. He was smooth about it. Maybe, he saw something he could trust in me. I wondered if I could trust HIM. Inside, I prayed I was taking the right risk. Did he really know Sista Moms and Elder Nesto? I was hypnotized by the possibilities, and watched as a man who called himself Melle Mel rode off into the hoodset with my new bike. He never came back, and I walked the 2 miles home.
It’s a lesson I won’t ever forget. What is the moral of the story? I dunno. Never trust strangers? Nah, they might be an angel-in-disguise. Always obey your parents? Well, what happens when your people don’t see your vision? Melle Mel from Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five stole my bike? Nah, it wasn’t him. T’was a SUNDAY, remember? There was no secretary. No deal. The gates were locked. Sugar Hill Studios was closed.
I sure missed my daddy that day.
Intellectual property of ML. King, House of Aleijuan, all rights reserved, 2019