When I got the news of Combat Jack’s untimely passing last week, my mood instantly changed from festive to mourning. As a high school teacher, the last day before Christmas break is generally a day to start reflecting on the first part of the school year and commence excitement for what is to come in the new. All day, I was having a ball watching my students convene and work on their projects together. Watching young minds facilitate, configure and build is a feeling like no other. When I went to my desk to give a student a pair of scissors, I got a notification on my phone from my social media accounts telling me that Combat was gone in the physical form.
As a hip-hop head, I’ve been fucking with Combat since high school– I felt as though he took what Juan Epstein (peace to Pete and Cipha!) started with hip-hop culture podcasting, and created the greatest we’ve streamed thus far. A former lawyer in the culture, Combat’s style was informative, scholarly, exquisite and hilarious, mirroring catching up with your favorite uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner table. He was a respected O.G. who not only knew his shit but embraced the new shit too. The coolest in the barbershop. Never once did it feel like he was schooling you on how his era was better but rather, he was giving you jewels on how this hip-hop shit started and how to better use it as your guide onward.
Since his death, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on my health, mental state and most importantly, the Combat Jack’s of my life. In addition to getting healthier and engaging self-care, I think it’s imperative that I give flowers to these people while they could still decorate and smell them.
Today marks the born day of our boy & founder, Cheats. Cheats is a man who has physically moved hip-hop culture in Richmond and soon enough, the same will be said for the national landscape as well. With the podcasts, community events and shows, the Cheats Movement has become a haven for artists all over and a platform to display their talents.
For me personally, Cheats has always been someone I’ve looked up to since 2014 when my boy Sterling introduced us at a recording of the podcast. A fellow writer, I instantly saw Cheats’ drive when I’d see him literally at every event I was covering in the city. In essence, he’s cut from the cloth of not only doing it yourself but doing it with the utmost integrity. Since our first encounter, I’ve gotten a chance to interview the Cheats Movement crew a few times and covered a slew of their events. Soon enough, by the end of my time at VCU, I became family to the conglomerate.
During my time at VCU, from 2012-2017, I always felt, on some level, I was an outsider to the culture of Richmond. Hip-hop, the love of my life, has always been the cornerstone of my being and a reference of refuge for me. I say this to say, getting cool with Cheats and the crew was like meeting long lost cousins. Not only do we all share being supreme hip-hop heads, we also vow to keep pushing the culture forward with our content, words and art— just like Jack did for us.
For that, I thank Cheats and the crew for providing me a safe space to, as Combat would say, “dream those dreams because the universe flows in technicolor and surround sound.”
Happy earth strong Cheats and rest in power Combat!
Muktaru M. Jalloh is a hip-hop writer, educator, and role model for young men and women. Follow him at: @MukWrites