“Passing Exchange,” a new audiovisual project released last month by Mattapan rapper Kadeem, begins with an audio recording ripped from a French documentary about Harlem in the 1960s. In the clip, the subject of the interview discusses black power in terms of self-identification: “Before you can cope with anything else, you gotta realize your self – your potential,” he advises.
That concept of “knowledge of self” dovetails with the themes of progression and growth at the core of the project, Kadeem told the Reporter in a recent interview.
“I was researching heavy trying to find something that resonated with me, and [the ‘60s] was kind of a perfect time because that was a really big awakening for a lot of black people; you had the civil rights movement, the Nation of Islam, the Black Panthers, all these conscious black movements rising together...When I was making the project, I was thinking a lot about the theme of progression and moving forward, and that’s kind of what the video does.”
The video, which clocks in at just under ten minutes, pairs excerpts from each of the five tracks on the EP with a different visual accompaniment, creating distinct chapters and lending a sense of chronology to the project. The first sound we hear after the opening quote is the mechanical whir of bicycle wheels, cut together with shots of Kadeem traversing Mattapan on two wheels, a nod to his last album, World Sport, an ode in equal parts to his Schwinn bike and his hometown. But as Kadeem rides home and locks up the bicycle outside, the video hints at a transition from the old to the new – moving forward.
“I see this project as my stepping stone,” he explained. “Old parts don’t die off, they evolve into something else.”
The next chapter shows Kadeem at home going about his daily routine: cooking breakfast, watering plants, doing dishes, penning rhymes at the kitchen table. While the footage was filmed in March, just days before stay-at-home orders went into place, the scene nevertheless conjures auras of lockdown and self-isolation.
“That was unintended, but it’s funny; it’s crazy that time tells all,” said Kadeem. “Now here we are, and that part really resonates.”
A series of close-up shots of the plants, meant to symbolize growth, suggest to the viewer that development is possible even in a contained environment – “even something as simple as a daily routine is moving forward,” noted the rapper.
The remainder of the video puts the neighborhood of Mattapan center stage, as Kadeem directs bars toward the camera from various spots on Morton Street, River Street, and Cummins Highway. Like “World Sport,” “Passing Exchange” derives much of its context from a sense of place; the aid of a camera makes that geographic connection explicit, vividly showing the Mattapan MC in his element.
“A Cross to Bear,” the third track on the album, is set to images of religious iconography and exterior shots of the Church of the Holy Spirit. Kadeem explained that the song is about “the juxtaposition of good and bad” that he sees in his home neighborhood, an idea laid out in the song’s hook:
“Sunshine right all in my face, while another child met the cued horns/
I got caught up dodging the rain on the way to greet a newborn.”
That duality of “another kid getting shot down in the street” while others are “celebrating new life” struck Kadeem as poignant, he said. With the last bar of his second verse, he positions that juxtaposition in a hopeful light, reasoning, “I know there’s beauty in the swallows of our failed space.”
The final chapter is set to “Big Gains,” the fourth track on the project that begins with another quote from the subject interviewed in the documentary: “This community for so long has been made up in the news media that there’s a wild bunch of animals running around here and crime is rampant and nobody cares, and it’s not that way at all – a lot of people care.”
While earlier parts of the project deal with heavier themes, “Big Gains” is “just about fun,” said Kadeem. The video depicts a typical weekend night: hanging with a friend outside Morton Pizza, drinking, dancing, laughing, having a good time.
“It just shows that I can go through all this stuff, I can talk about all this stuff, I can be as wise as I may be perceived to be, but at the end of the day, I still like to kick it with the homies,” he explained.
Toward the end, the fraternal, good-natured vibe of the video is punctuated by a surprise cameo from an MBTA bus driver who happened to stop as Kadeem was rapping his final bars. Without breaking his flow, Kadeem greets the grinning driver with a handshake before returning to his spot on the sidewalk.
“That was my favorite part, actually,” said Kadeem. “It happened so serendipitously.”
Noting the care his community members have for one another, he chalked the random occurrence up to a simple axiom: “You show love, you know love.”