Someone said that to me as we stood in the kitchen of an expansive crib somewhere on the outskirts of the city. He seemed shocked and almost saddened and disappointed at the same time. This happened during a get together of friends from High-School, now University graduates and employed or still job-seeking.
The remark was in response to my response to Zuqka’s little tirade the other day. I refused to be ashamed of this. In fact, I rambled for a while and then stopped as soon as I realized they wouldn’t understand. My good friend capped the conversation off by saying:
“As we’ve grown our musical tastes have changed.”
Yes. Agreed. Fully agreed. But let’s explore that change, shall we?
You now listen to genres that may be considered “more classical”(Rock, Jazz….) or something more PC and wider received(House, Techno…) or maybe you’ve gone full-circle and now listen to Gospel or Islamic Hadiths in your cars and radios all day. And that’s all good. In fact, that’s great. I’m holding my thumbs up and smiling ear to ear in case you can’t see. I’d clap as well but my thumbs are preocuppied.
The thing is, I’ve changed too. I listen to all that AND Hip-Hop.
Without getting into lengthy self-indulgent soliloquies(meta-blogs), Hip-Hop was more than music for me growing up. It was, first and foremost, the male presence in my life. I grew up with a single mother, a ton of aunties and grandmothers and very little exposure to uncles, grandfathers, or fathers for that matter. Just me and the brother. The large chunk of the “male influence” and validation came from music. It wasn’t just Hip-Hop then. We didn’t have much, but we had shelves of music; records, tapes, name it. So we heard. We listened. We heard some more. And we grew.
Also, my single-mother/superhero was not making notable income. She supported us and provided, but I’m almost certain that our budget was slimmer than yours. That said, Hip-Hop, from the day I was about 6 years old was how I learned about being positive in the light of apparent poverty, being tough in the face of adversity, the ills of society and quite ironically, the value of women. I single 2Pac out as the one that brought this message home the hardest. From “Brenda’s got a baby” to “Dear Mama”, there were things I could not have understood were it not for Hip-Hop and Rap. And as far as entertainment goes, I didn’t go to a movie theater until I was well in my teens. Cable TV was not available, so aside from the tomes of books we read, we got our stories from music. Country songs tell very similar stories and don’t have much shelf life. But Slick Rick ran through a neighborhood just like mine in Children’s Story and I know a girl who reminds me of Rakim’s Mahogany.
Now granted, there was a lot of negativity and I’m grateful for that as well. Oh yes. Grateful. The most important lesson I learned was that there is an evil in people that needs to be kept in check. Not all of us do it. I lived in a neighborhood where if I were too trusting, I wouldn’t be here right now. Basic survival skills. I never understood why people robbed, killed, raped and did societally counter-productive deeds until I saw it through their eyes. On the flipside, there was the camaraderie; brotherhood. That motion of “I will ride and die for those I love.” Without saying much more, I’ll say that that was easily one vital element of my learning process.
But by far the most important messge I got from Hip-Hop is that the world is small and we are all, at the end of the day, the same. How some random weed smoking Latino in LA felt the same way a kid from Kenya did about life, love and politics really breaks down barriers and opens minds. That’s where Rap and Hip-Hop go their seperate paths. One remains a genre, compositions, words, rhythms. The other becomes a culture.
That said, the music is not for everyone. In fact, I never play Hip-Hop around my kid cousins, nephews, nieces, godchildren or friends’ babies. Regardless of how positive. Why? Because they wouldn’t understand. It’s not of their time. In the words of Assata Shakur “…the same way my great-grandmother wouldn’t teach my grandmother Negro Spirituals because she was too far removed from slavery. Her struggle was different. My struggle is different as well. And so is my song.”*
The point being, I grew up with Hip-Hop. Grow being the operative term here. So I went to school with it, got home to it, learned to drive to it, passed exams to it, went to funerals, weddings, baby showers to it. So now that I’ve got older you know what I’ve done musically?
I’ve grown to it.
So yes, our musical tastes have changed. But we never had the same culture to begin with. And that difference is why you’re in some club pumping fists to techno while I’m at home working on a project, while listening to Little Brother.
And yet one of us is supposedly stuck in the past.
*Loosely quoted. I couldn’t find the video where she was talking about Tupac. If you find it, let me know.