The 2011 political rap, “I Be From North Bergen, Son” may not be a hip-hop classic in the vein of, say, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.” But in its own small way it is a timeless cultural badge of honor for the little township known as Bruin Country.
Now, in an effort to spread this civic pride throughout Hudson County, the MC behind that song has delivered a remixed version of the original that features Jersey City rapper Mo-16, otherwise known as Mohamet Diagne.
A struggling MC for the last six years, M-16,was recruited to perform on the Rep Your City “Bruin Country Remix” of “I Be From North Bergen, Son” by Michelle Nunez, mother of TyAlaxander. TyAlaxander is the MC who recorded the original 2011 version of the anthem.
“His mother knew I had been doing music for a while and she reached out to me, ‘cause I have a little buzz around the way,” Diagne said of how he came to be part of the Rep Your City “Bruin Country Remix.”
Will we see Mo-16 pen a political ad for Jersey City’s 2012 mayoral race?
To be clear, despite the title of the song, Diagne, a 28-year-old Jersey City native and resident, is most definitely representing his hometown on the remixed version.
Origin of an anthem
For the uninitiated, here’s the genesis of the now-legendary North Bergen political rap ad and the remix it has spawned.
Last year, when North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco was running for re-election, he teamed up with MC Tyler Griffin, a North Bergen High School student who raps under the name TyAlaxander. Griffin recorded a song and video that celebrated life in North Bergen and the successes of the Sacco administration. The song included the hook, “I don’t know where you be from, but I be from North Bergen, son.” The video also featured a diverse range of North Bergen residents mouthing the G-rated lyrics from Griffin’s rap. Mayor Sacco was prominently featured throughout the video, which included a plug for “Team Sacco” at the end.
Produced by Sacco PR-machine Vision Media, the song and accompanying video, which can still be seen on YouTube.com, were praised as “catchy” by some, while labeled “corny,” “offensive,” and embarrassing” by others.
“We needed to find a way to break through the standard format and clutter of positive and negative political ads to really make viewers listen to the real achievements Nick Sacco has brought to North Bergen,” Vision Media founder Paul Swibinski told AllHipHop.com last year. “The idea of a rap ad represents just one of our many creative approaches over the years to help elect incumbents and challengers alike.”
Despite receiving some negative attention, TyAlexander doubled down and recently released an eight-minute remix version that includes verses from other Hudson County MCs – including Mo-16 – who celebrate their hometowns in the spirit of “I Be From North Bergen, Son.”
‘One day you can be a nobody, the next day…’
Not that Mo-16 wants to be pigeonholed as an anthem rapper, or even a rapper.
“I rap and I sing. I try to stay on the positive side,” said Diagne, who lives near Jersey City’s Lincoln Park with his wife. “I do party music and things I’ve been through in my life.”
One song featured on his web site, “No More,” deals with the acceptance of a romantic break-up. Another, which can also be found at www.mo16music.com, encourages dating couples to be up-front about their needs and motives.
Like the “North Bergen” songs, Mo-16’s music takes a more optimistic tone than some of the darker music trends that have shaped rap’s recent history. But he doesn’t believe this artistic direction will hurt his marketability.
“When you make positive records, I think there are certain people who don’t want to hear it and close their minds to it. They want to hear about negative things,” he insisted. “But, at the same time, there are those out there who want something better…I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that positive rap [music] won’t appeal to people and won’t sell.”
One of his goals is to make it to onto the 2013 “Top 10 Freshman List,” compiled by the hip-hop magazine XXL. The annual list recognizes the best up-and-coming unknown rappers.
“One day you can be a nobody,” said Diagne. “The next day, everybody’s playing your music.”
Anything for JC
So, will we see Mo-16 pen a political ad for Jersey City’s 2012 mayoral race? (Free JC-made gelato to the first Reporter reader who can come up with words that rhyme with Healy and Fulop!)
Diagne said no politicians have reached out to him – yet. But the campaign season is young, so who knows.
“Oh, absolutely! That would be a good thing,” Diagne exclaimed when asked if he would be willing to do a political ad similar to the one Griffin did for Sacco. “I’d be into anything that’s positive that promotes Jersey City.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.