My very ﬁrst trip abroad happened at what could be considered the worst possible time. Iʼd been laid off for more than a year, and after a number of fruitless interviews I was ofﬁcially burned out. Then, a friend of mine announced that she wanted to celebrate her birthday in London.
There was only about three months’ notice, but something inside of me said to go for it. Iʼd recently received my passport and was eager to litter its naked pages with proof of my love for travel. So there I was with meager means, no job, and weak prospects—booking my ﬁrst trip overseas.
Altogether, there were eight of us in the traveling party, meeting in London from New York, Memphis, Atlanta and Dallas to take up residence at the serviced apartments of 196 Bishopgate. My travel mates beat me there and the jet lag left them crumbled beneath their bed sheets. I, on the other hand, was feeling empowered from having navigated my way to the ﬂat without error, using the Heathrow Express and the London Underground. I took to the streets to explore the neighborhood.
On our ﬁrst night in the city, we ventured to Camden Town. After tapas and cocktails we went to see Raheem DeVaughn perform at Jazz Cafe London. I thought it was pretty ironic to ﬂy nine hours and see an artist from D.C., but as I looked at the flyers for upcoming performances, something became very clear. Many of the artists from the golden era of hip hop (the 80s and 90s) who otherwise disappeared from the American music landscape all had gigs on the books at Jazz Café London. Lords of the Underground, the Beatnuts, KRS-One, and Large Professor of Main Source represented just a slice of the talent to come. I finally found where real music went to thrive while we bounced and bopped to nonsense on the U.S. airwaves. I was amazed at my feelings of nostalgia despite being so far away from home.
The late night led to a long, lazy morning. As evening fell, a friend of the group—an expat living in Amsterdam—told us where we could hear some good reggae. It was one of those places that had a name that you’d forget just as soon as you heard it. I had to admit, some folks in the crowd looked sketchy and my suspicions were confirmed when I was furtively offered pills and cocaine. I politely declined and we reeled for a moment in shock, but when I tell you that the “selector” played some of the best dancehall I’d heard in years, it wouldn’t be an overstatement.