On the Love Movement - a look at Jeremy Relph

“Jeremy's strengths are his knowledge of pop-culture and world issues (two very different things), his passion for writing, people and the ‘truth’.” Rodrigo Bascunan, POUND

“JJ (Relph) gets what we all get (from POUND): the chance to practice his passion; express the neglected; assist the oppressed; give voice to the voiceless, etc. etc. etc. That, and the feeling of being a big part of something bigger than yourself, something very special, artistic and respected.” Christian K. Pearce, POUND.

Despite the many intolerable differences humans find in each other these days, our little cultural arts and recreations such as dance, music and food repeatedly teach us that we all appreciate the same language. Asia remains united by the love of noodles and the spring roll, every country shares a tradition of drums, music united black and white America way before any civil rights movement and women from all walks of life are united through the movement of Middle Eastern dance. 

I was introduced to Jeremy Relph off the pages of the hip hop magazine, POUND.  

His article on the Beatnuts, The Beatnuts: Jokes on Who?, got my attention. It’s a smart and funny read that compensates for a group who owns some of the best beats and most unintelligent lyrics that hip hop has to offer. He plays the choicest quotes with quick and subtle commentaries so that you knew he had some fun at their expense – and maybe a little at yours if you weren’t game.

 “Age may have Psycho Les a little more blunted but he’s just a little wiser. 'Just the other day I was on stage performing and I did something to a shortie and she like attacked me and shit, f’real. … I was about to smack her with the mic but I thought, yo, if I crack this bitch in the head, they’re gonna sue the club, they’re gonna sue me, so, getting back to you, gotta think sometimes, man, handle it a little more professionally.' Ladies, you may now act stink without fear of what fate may befall you.” 

So the next question on my mind was had this writer ever turned fiction (the goods, as far as I was concerned).  I sent an email and he let me have this: 

“The title I've used for the MS is 'The Love Movement' for a couple reasons, the most simple though would be that I always wished that Tribe might've come up with a hot album of that name and they disappointed me.”

Here, I would learn, is the first lesson of Relph: Of course, there’s more to the story than this. His lead starts slow and then picks up. First came an interview with this young man. Then, he let me have another article, followed by a short, memoir-like series, then a short story -- I couldn’t get near the manuscript.  Just wouldn’t be right.

So, what kind of writer is he? It’d be easy to call him a hip hop writer because of his extensive career in various hip hop and gamer magazines such as VICE, URB, RAP PAGES, MEAN, STRENGTH, STRESS, POUND, WORD, (did they all get together and come up with these names, or what?), SOHH, THE SOURCE & MYVIDEOGAMES.COM. His studies include degrees in Journalism, English Literature & English as a Second Language.

With all the merits of a healthy academic career and a run of proper internships, Relph’s writing strength comes from a finer balance of having been this skater kid out of the hip hop phenomenon and a somewhat moralistic and militant family upbringing.  

When asked about his personal history with writing, Relph responded, “Basically I didn't write for a couple years aside from corny journaling for myself to keep my head in check and then after a sequence of events where I just started following my heart - what was just naturally there -- I got writing again. Writing about shit that meant something to me.”  

He is currently the politics section editor/senior editor for POUND magazine.

Relph’s writing is where Hollywood and Chuck D can be referenced in a critique on war in Afghanistan, love and morality are translated through videogames and fear hides behind the blazin’ mask of a queen. He challenges the reader to explore the need for myth and reason. He plays illusions and faces and rather than lead to a dramatic unveiling – allows the reader a space to slip behind the curtains.

In his article entitled, Mind, Soul and Dead Bodies, Relph plays the bigger histories beside our local stories. He references a book by war reporter, Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, beside the story of a guy who was helping him unload a truck.  What starts as a review of a war reporter’s memoirs becomes an open question of what we want or need to believe, in a time of war.

The following are quotes from the article:  

"This guy Dan*, a brown dude with what sounds like a Quebecois accent, helps every time, with a smile, cracking jokes. One day, for whatever reason, he gets me a coffee while grabbing one for him. I decided the occasion merited a cancer stick and we stepped outside. Somehow, we got to talking about what I did when not playing the martyr for a paycheque, and next thing I know he’s telling me about seeing Russian soldiers getting their chests’ carved off … while they’re still breathing."

What starts as a review of a war reporter’s memoirs becomes an open question of what we want or need to believe, in a time of war.

"History is full of examples of people who’ve bought the myth, bought the lies of one conflicting side or another, lies that prey upon their kinder, gentler sensibilities.. We can be upset by the killing of civilians, upset by the idea of war, and upset knowing our countries rock horribly inconsistent (or arguably very consistent) foreign policies. …. Where we go with it, like the unsettling truth of Hedges’ book, is another thing altogether."

As in all his writing samples, Relph’s use of realism and detachment always leads to a question of love.

"Writing of what he saw in the Balkans, Hedges observed some positives in the midst of the carnage and absurdity: people who care for each other regardless of nationality. 'By accepting that they could only affect a few lives they also accepted their small place in the universe. This daily lesson in humility protected them. They were saved not by what they could accomplish but by faith.' Love, Hedges writes, not ideals of 'race, nationalism, class and gender,' is worth striving for.”

In another sample, Broads, a Bitch, Never the Snitch, I get a different angle on Relph. This is a memoir-like three-part series from the perspective of a teenage kid addicted to videogames. Here, the hard-edge of the POUND writer drops off and up comes a playfulness & honesty to everything that’s not so innocent about adolescence these days. 

The following are the choicest quotes from the article:

“I, of course, never had my own Nintendo system, so I was destined to always get schooled when I tried to hang with the people who spent their waking moments tearing up level after level with lil’ Mario and Luigi. I grabbed wall space on the grimy carpet, hid behind a wall of smoke, compliments of my Dunhills and talked smack to the rest of the family, of course, never mentioning that Mario and Luigi were negative and damaging depictions of Italians as short, fat labourers – or skilled craftsmen if you’d like to put a positive spin on things - no, I was above such obvious insecurity inspired remarks.”

 “Somewhere along the line my drug use caught up to me and kicked my ass into a serious depression. I couldn’t stop drinking and getting fucked up yet felt no relief from loneliness in my constant inebriation: That game just stopped working. No amount of dimes or quarters or distractions worked.” 

Again, he leads the search for morality and maturity to a question of love. 

“… Just like Pac Man though, my cold heart ran out, and her passive-aggressive comments and need for love or affection or something other than smart-assed lust caught up with me. Like Pac Man my invincibility ran out, the ghosts caught me when I got greedy and I got caught like a limp dick. See, like Common's dis track aimed at Ice Cube (The Bitch in You), I found the bitch in me. The fearful, self-degrading, finger pointing bitch in me that didn't want to get hurt.” 

In his short fiction piece, Portrait of a Lady, he presents a simple story of a character named Nicolette, preparing for a night out. In this story, his writing is rough, sometimes offensive, even non-sensical to those who don’t speak the slang lingo. And like hip hop, steeped in the sub of culture the bravado and arrogance rings like a challenge for the readers to step up and face the noise or run.

"Shai and her girls were strobe-light hoes at best. Nicolette was strictly Vanity Fair while the pigeons ran Swingers Connection. Up in the clubs they could pull a man in seconds with their bati riders pulled up, booty beckoning, and cleavage spilling out of their one-sized too small push-up bras. They were formidable on the floor. But get them out of the strobe-light by the bar? That's where Nicolette excelled and they all failed. A drink, some laughs and Nicolette could rock the bells while Shai and company hit the floor in search of fresh meat, their pockmarked faces masked in the blush, foundation, cover-up and an assortment of diabolical cosmetic concoctions. Cheap chickens, one and all, but judging by the line-up at KFC, cheap chicken is the staple of most of the world's diet, so, regardless, Nicolette had to work extra tizzuff on presentation."

Relph explained, “I always wanted to write fiction and big picture stuff about politics and injustice and stupidity in the world but I always told myself I wasn't good enough. And I told myself that 'cause I was scared to succeed, scared to fail, scared to write some stuff people -- "the people" (whoever they are) -- thought was shit. And now I can't live like that, fucking myself over for no reason. Now I've accepted that a) if I don't write I'll go mental hating myself for not trying and b) if it's not gonna happen or if I don't have that talent, then fine -- I'll write anyways because of a) and c) I believe God gave me some skill and the desire to write. It'd be spitting in His face to not even try. As for skills, I believe I'll continue to improve if I keep writing for me.” 

From the glossy polish of the hip hop magazine circuit, to an interview with this tall man dressed in black, to the memoirs of a gamer/skater kid and finally to a taste of the truth about fiction, here is a soulful writer roughed up by a hard intellect and, at times, a pugilistic frankness.  

Jeremy Relph reads like a Capoeira fight. Little distance, a little playfulness, even a bit lyrical and then boom an eyeful of naked honesty. The reward for following him there – the Love Movement.
© lyw 2005