Separating The Musical Wheat From The -ism/-phobic Chaff

November 25, 2013

Separating chaff (left hand) from wheat (right hand), November 25, 2013. (http://www.colourbox.com/preview/).

Separating chaff (left hand) from wheat (right hand), November 25, 2013. (http://www.colourbox.com/preview/).

Back in April, I managed to get myself into a Twitter argument with @BlkLibraryGirl over Rick Ross and Lil Wayne’s releases and the misogynistic, gang-rape-advocating lyrics that came with them. The problem was, she was in the midst of a long rant (which I didn’t realize at the time), and you should never interject into someone else’s Twitter rant unless you’re nodding your head in agreement. At least without going through their entire Twitter timeline first.

In response to another luminary on Twitter, @BlkLibraryGirl tweeted

But it’s not just Rick Ross’s rape lyrics. The entire Hip Hop genre is rape culture. Is somebody going to talk about that?:)

I specifically said that this strain of rape as/is okay is one that has deep roots in American culture, and in African American notions of masculinity specifically, which led to a barrage of tweets from @BlkLibraryGirl about how Rick Ross’ lyrics + ten-year-old Black boys = Black boys thinking that raping Black women is perfectly okay. And that I was okay with these lyrics, too.

Rick Ross, absolutely disgusting, September 30, 2013. (http://cdn.stupiddope.com).

Rick Ross, absolutely disgusting, September 30, 2013. (http://cdn.stupiddope.com).

She obviously not only missed my point. She didn’t care what my point was in the first place. But that’s an issue of the limits of being able to communicate complex ideas and emotions on Twitter, not to mention the larger issue of etiquette. @BlkLibraryGirl is but one example of the steady and growing criticism of rap/hip-hip as the source of all our cultural ills, -isms and -phobias. It’s the idea that a kid will watch a video and listen to lyrics, and with zombie-like reactions, act out the lyrics and the video as if they don’t have a mind and guidance systems in their lives to stop them from being Rick Ross’ and Lil Wayne’s puppets.

For those of you who know me or this blog, the one thing that should be obvious is that while my music tastes are eclectic, my rap music list in particular is a small one. I didn’t like much of the little bit of rap I heard growing up, got into it a bit in the ’87-’97 years, and have liked almost none of it over the past decade. I’ve never liked Jay Z, found 50 Cent to be about a notch and a half above Biz Markie, and still think Eminem is the best lyricist in the game today, despite the fact he is as homophobic and (at times) misogynistic as they come.

So while these fools will never win the Social Justice Music Awards, they do have the right to put out their schlock, to write lyrics filled with hate and angst, to play with tired stereotypes and archetypes in their music and videos. And we have the right to critique, to not buy, to provide ourselves and our kids with the wisdom necessary to see through the smokescreen of big business making big bucks off of rap/hip-hop “artists” who present themselves as little more than stereotypical Bucks themselves.

But let’s also not get carried away here, either. Last I checked, didn’t the rap I listened to in college contain some similar themes? Geto Boys “Gotta Let A Ho Be A Ho” and PE’s “the parts don’t fit” line from one of their raps on their Fear of a Black Planet album (both from ’90) come to mind. What about “running the train” lyrics from the late Notorious BIG or Tupac’s (perhaps the greatest poet/rap lyricist ever) works? How come critics of today’s rap and hip-hop game don’t go after the moguls and producers that make Rick Ross and Lil Wayne possible, folks like Sean “Whatever his nickname is now” Combs, Jay-Z, Sony Music Group or BMI?

Or, given my eclectic tastes, why limit this strain of cultural ugliness to rap and hip-hop? Why not be historical for a moment and go after Prince’s and Rick James’ sexist lyrics of the early-’80s, or the Ohio Players and The Jammers of the ’70s? Or, for that matter, R. Kelly in the ’90s and early ’00s? Why should we even limit this to R&B or hip-hop, as music is a universal — and not a neatly separated — language? What about Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” or the White male angst and violence embedded in honky-tonk, hard-core heavy metal and grunge?

Fans protest Michael Jackson's innocence in the child molestation scandal, Paris, France, December 17, 2003. (Rafael Rozendaal via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via Creative Commons 2.0.

Fans protest Michael Jackson’s innocence in the child molestation scandal, Paris, France, December 17, 2003. (Rafael Rozendaal via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via Creative Commons 2.0.

Oh, I get it. Hip-hop’s a globally-dominant cultural and musical phenomenon, which means it could bring tens of millions more folks outside the US into our -isms and -gynys. But, has there ever been an individual in the musical world more culturally transcendent than Michael Jackson? You know, the guy who faced two trials in the ’90s and ’00s over child molestation charges? The man who struggled with identity issues — racial ones  included — for the bulk of his adult life before dying in June ’09? What do we do about the couple of billion people Jackson influenced beyond his lyrics, especially since child molestation must be as common as the common cold?

We should critique and advocate as much as we can over the sexism and misogyny, homophobia and racism, colorism and ignorance contained in the lyrics and videos of artists from Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Nelly and DMX and so many others. But let’s not act as if this is a new thing, a strictly hip-hop and rap thing. This is an American thing. So why act surprised when it shows up in rap music videos and in lyrics?

As for me, I chose to enjoy Michael Jackson’s music and PE’s other lyrics even in the face of the contradictions between their lyrics and behaviors. I think that most hip-hop lovers — even those impressionable ten-year-old Black boys — will do the same. If I’m wrong, then the Apocalypse has truly arrived.

Shawn of the Dead (2004) pic, as used in Philadelphia Daily News, June 4, 2012. (John Baer).

Shawn of the Dead (2004) pic, as used in Philadelphia Daily News, June 4, 2012. (John Baer).


Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy,” My Reality

July 18, 2013

n  Cover of Earth, Wind & Fire's single "Fantasy" (1978), February 29, 2008. (Columbia Records). Qualifies as fair use due to low resolution and subject matter of this blog post.

Cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s single “Fantasy” (1978), February 29, 2008. (Columbia Records). Qualifies as fair use due to low resolution and subject matter of this blog post.

Below are two excerpts from Boy @ The Window about how I viewed Mount Vernon, New York and my world between the ages of ten and twelve:

“My only links to the great metropolis to the south were WNBC-TV (Channel 4), Warner Wolf – with his famous “Let’s go to the video tape!” line – doing sports on WCBS-TV (Channel 2), and WABC-AM 77 and WBLS-FM 107.5 on the radio. I found the AM station more fun to listen to, but I also liked listening to the sign-off song WBLS played at the end of the evening, Moody’s Mood for Love, with that, ‘There I go, There I go, The-ere I go…’ start. Music had been an important part of my imagination in ’79, with acts like Earth, Wind & Fire, Christopher Cross, Billy Joel and The Commodores. Not to mention Frank Sinatra, Queen, Donna Summer and Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album. The music also made me feel like I was as much a part of New York as I was a part of Mount Vernon. It left me thinking of the ozone and burnt rubber smell that I noticed as soon as I would walk down into the Subway system in Manhattan…

“Besides the occasional reminder of life outside of my world, of Mount Vernon, I was the center of my own universe. Mount Vernon was but a stage on which my life played out, a place I hoped would stay this way forever. I was an eleven-year-old who thought that my world was the world. I lived my life like Philip Bailey and Maurice White would’ve wanted me to. I came to see ‘victory in a life called fantasy’ as my own life, living as if my imagination and dreams could be made into reality. All I had to do was wish it so.”

(And yes, I know the actual lyrics are about a land called fantasy, but that’s not how I sang it back then).

There have been so many moments since then where my Earth, Wind & Fire visions have collided with the reality that life for me and people who look like me has hardly been a fantasy. I had to get over my idiot ex-stepfather’s abuse in order to even listen to Earth, Wind & Fire again, because he was a fan as well, and I didn’t want us to both like the same music. But even more than that has been the reality that there are people, places and things who’ve (and that have) come through my life and stood in between me and all the things I wanted out of life. Individuals like Joe Trotter or Ken, policies like racial profiling and redlining, institutions like Columbia University or the former Academy for Educational Development.

The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo (1889), by Marie Spartali Stillman, March 7, 2006. (Charivari via Wikipedia). In public domain.

The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo (1889), by Marie Spartali Stillman, March 7, 2006. (Charivari via Wikipedia). In public domain.

While some of these instances have been disappointing in the sense of betrayal that I felt, the disillusionment that came with these incidents of discrimination and harassment pushed me ever closer to the person and writer I wanted to be. I don’t know what to make of how I’ve been feeling about the Zimmerman trial and verdict, the response of so-called White liberals and more obviously racist and gleeful White teabaggers over the past five days. I’ve felt badly for Trayvon Martin’s family, Rachel Jeantel and for so many others who’ve been figuratively beaten down by media coverage and stereotypes over the past months.

But I didn’t think I was angry. Not until I went for a run this morning. It’s was a comparatively pedestrian 3.1-mile run after I’d done a five-miler a day and a half before. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy” started playing on my iPod as I was running uphill. All it made me think about was all the challenges that I and so many others have had to face because of individual bigotry and fear and institutional racism and indifference. I know that many things in life aren’t fair. What I realized at that moment, though, was that there really are folks in this world who wish evil and unfairness on people like me. That’s their fantasy!

That made me angry again, but not for too long. For I also knew that I had the power to ask for forgiveness, as well as the power to forgive others. It’s a power that no one can take away from me, that enables me to be honest about where I am, and clear-headed about where I want to go. That power, among others, does truly help bring my “mind to everlasting liberty.” Even in the face of the evil, indifference and ignorance that I see every day.


Hey George

July 16, 2013

One of 1st George Zimmerman mugshots, February 26, 2012. (http://nydailynews.com).

One of 1st George Zimmerman mugshots, February 26, 2012. (http://nydailynews.com).

Cover for The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Hey Joe" single, February 28, 2010. (Kohoutek1138 via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use because of picture's low resolution.

Cover for The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Hey Joe” single, February 28, 2010. (Kohoutek1138 via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use because of picture’s low resolution.

I’d originally planned to use Jimi Hendrix’s version of the classic lyrics from “Hey Joe” (1966/67) to talk about my former doctoral/dissertation advisor Joe Trotter. But even Trotter wasn’t evil and emotionally disconnected enough to attempt to end my life, even though his decisions could’ve easily ended my career before it started.

In any case, below is my ode to George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s murderer, walking free because of racism and Whiteness, a racially stacked deck of law enforcement and criminal justice. Some won’t like what I did to Hendrix’s song. Others likely will. I can only imagine what Hendrix would say:

“Hey George, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand
Hey George, I said where you goin’ with that gun in your hand
I’m goin’ down to shoot that young man
You know I caught him walkin’ ’round with a different shade, man
Yeah, I’m goin’ down to shoot that young punk
You know I caught him walkin’ ’round with a different shade, man
Huh! and that ain’t cool
Huh hey George, I heard you shot your n—-r down
You shot him down now
Hey George, I heard you shot that asshole down
You shot him down in the ground yeah!
Yeah!
Yes, I did, I shot him
You know I caught him walkin’ round walkin’ round town
Huh, yes I did I shot him
You know I caught that young n—-r walkin’ ’round town
And I gave him the gun
And I shot him
Alright
Shoot him one more time again baby!
Yeah!”
….

“Hey George, I said
Where you gonna run to now, where you gonna go
I’m goin’ stay down south
Stay down in Florida way
Alright
I’m goin’ stay down South
Way down where I can be free
Ain’t no one gonna jail me
Ain’t no hang-man gonna
He ain’t gonna put a rope around me
You better believe it right now”

The saddest truth is, George Zimmerman, his brother, his family, Juror B37 and others of his racist, murdering ilk will like this rendition and see it as soul-affirming, rather than a simple but painful truth about this nation in which we live.


Crazy

August 13, 2011

Seal, CD Cover (1991), August 13, 2011. (Source/Donald Earl Collins).

There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m a late bloomer. I came to find myself a teenager in a twenty-one year old’s body twenty years ago, just as I’m a thirty-five year-old in a forty-one-and-a-half year-old’s body now. As the summer of ’91 began to wind down, though, I realized that I needed to go into my first year of grad school at Pitt with some inspiration, with a chip on my shoulder, really.

It didn’t take more than a simple thought to find that inspiration and chip, either. Between working for a bunch of folks at my Western Psych job who still thought that hunting down half-and-half was the extent of my work there on the one hand. And professors like Reid Andrews telling me after I’d received my grad school stipend award letter that I wasn’t “graduate school material” on the other hand. Livid is the minimal word I’d use to describe my mood in the three weeks before the start of my five-and-half-year odyssey. One of doing cartwheels at least three times better than my colleagues to prove that I was as good as anyone.

But I’m jumping ahead of the story here. I found some inspiration from music, as usual, in this case, on one of my daily walks home from work in Oakland to my studio apartment in East Liberty. Still searching for more new music for my ’90s collection, I found a radio station playing Seal’s first big hit, “Crazy.” I’d heard parts of the song before, all during that summer, but never from start to finish. As I reached the end of Ellsworth Avenue, where I’d walk up the steps to a bridge on Highland Avenue, one that went over the train tracks and busway into East Liberty, I heard the lyrics, really for the first time.

“In a sky full of people only some want to fly/Isn’t that crazy
In a world full of people only some want to fly/Isn’t that crazy/Crazy
In a heaven of people there’s only some want to fly/Ain’t that crazy”

Seal, "Crazy" 45 Single Cover (UK), January 8, 2009. (Source/http://cover6.cduniverse.com/MuzeAudioArt/140/141811.jpg). Qualifies as fair use under US copyright laws, as version is of low resolution for reproduction, and is part of larger commentary.

And yes, I wanted to fly. Besides, as far as most people were concerned, I was crazy anyway. For wearing that godforsaken kufi to school for three years. For becoming a newborn and sanctimonious Christian after that. For trying out for football, and later, baseball instead of basketball. For listening to Mr. Mister and Tears for Fears and Sting instead of bopping to Run-D.M.C. For walking way too fast, and talking a little too slow. For going off to college out-of-state, to a no-name school no less. For taking a grad course my junior year at Pitt. For deciding to go to grad school in history instead of law school or Black studies.

The list is as long as an introspective Eminem rap sequence, airing every negative ever tossed my way. I was crazy, and still am. But, as far as my first year of grad school was concerned, I made two deals with myself about the process. One was to not compare myself, my abilities, my limitations, to anyone else in the program. The other was to put aside all of my preconceptions about my professors, or the difficult courses ahead, or whether I would complete the master’s degree and move on to the doctoral portion of the program.

I didn’t want to limit myself to what others may have expected of me, or to what I could’ve possibly expected of myself at the time. I didn’t even like my friends saying that “the sky’s the limit,” because I didn’t want to limit myself to the sky. I simply wanted to be crazy enough, humble yet arrogant enough to know my limits, but push the envelope as hard as I could in order to make graduate school work for me.

Howard Hughes standing in front of his new Boeing Army Pursuit Plane, Inglewood, California in the 1940s, May 31, 2005. (Source/Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-63333 - In public domain). One of the craziest, yet great, innovators of the 20th century. Guess it works better when you're a rich White male.

That kind of thinking affords a very single-minded intensity — to the point of a near-psychotic passion — that leads to excellence, miracles and the exceeding of what may have been your craziest expectations. I know it was that way for me. It had to be. If I’d bought into all that my most hateful Humanities classmates, my mother and ex-stepfather, my father Jimme, my fellow Mount Vernonites and some of my teachers and professors thought of me, who’s knows? I’d likely become a sexually confused and frustrated Black male, a college dropout, wandering from one minimum wage job to another, living alone in a boarding room, as miserable as a character in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

I’d become a psychopath, not just crazy enough to believe in myself and the miracles of God in my life. I need to do be a little crazy now, even at this stage of my life. We all need to be a little crazy, not in a Tea Party sense, but much more in an Arab Spring kind of way. After all, “we’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy.”


Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie”

March 1, 2011

Mr. Mister, "Kyrie" Single Cover, August 8, 2010. Vanjagenije. Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of the image's low resolution and because image illustrates subject of this blog post.

Twenty-five years ago this week, Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie” made it to the top of the Billboard pop charts, making me goofy and giddy beyond belief. March ’86 was the beginning of a great month of music for me. I bought my first Walkman — a Walkman-knockoff really — from Crazy Eddie’s on 47th and Fifth in Manhattan, as well as the first of what would be about 200 cassettes of my favorite music. Not to mention a ton of musical experimentation — most of it bad, goofy and un-listen-able for even the musically impaired.

For many of you, Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie” would likely fall into that last category. It was semi-religious rock at a time when the closest thing to that was Amy Grant. It was Creed a whole decade before Creed, but with better musicians. It was a group of studio musicians putting out a breakout album that actually stood apart from the super-serious or super-sugary music of the mid-80s. It was a perfect storm for a sixteen-year-old in search of inspiration beyond the chaos of 616 and the lonely march toward college via Humanities and Mount Vernon High School.

“Kyrie” was one of two songs that kept me in overdrive in and out of the classroom through most of my junior year at Mount Vernon High School. Simple Minds’ “Alive and Kicking” was the other song. It almost became my mantra in the months that straddled ’85 and ’86. Every time I heard that song, especially the album version, was like going on a game-winning touchdown drive at the end of the fourth quarter. Studying was time to throw screen passes or seven-yard slants, to run the ball on a power sweep or on a draw play. It was methodical, the drums and synthesizers, and put me in a determined, methodical mood as I prepared for a test.

But Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie” was magical. Short for “Kyrie Eleison” Latin/Greek for “Lord have mercy,” it became my go-to song for every big academic play I needed to make for the rest of the year, even for the rest of high school. “Kyrie” combined all of the elements that my vivid imagination relied on. My faith in The One, my hope for a better future, lyrics that made me think, music that evoked a big play, like throwing it deep and completing it for a game-changing score. It was as methodical as “Alive and Kicking,” but the bigger bass guitar and heavier synthesizers as the background gave me the feeling that God’s grace was with me wherever I went and whatever I did. It was a true underdog’s song.

It was like I was singing a high-falsetto, four-and-a half-minute prayer whenever I played “Kyrie.” Some of my classmates, as usual, didn’t appreciate whatever deeper meaning I saw in the song or in its lyrics. See, my being Black and high-pitched singing to it was another obvious sign of my weirdness. Yet somehow, when it came to music, I didn’t really care what any of them thought.

As I went off to college and became more sophisticated in my understanding of music, I realized that there were some songs I couldn’t completely part with, no matter how goofy or out-of-date the music video was. “Kyrie” was one of those songs for me. I didn’t play it regularly by the time I’d reached my mid-twenties, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t sing to it in high-falsetto while shopping at Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh when the song would come on over the PA system.

Once iPod and iTunes technology became part of my household in ’06, I uploaded the old song and listened to it regularly again. I’ve wondered from time to time what would the sixteen-year-old version of me would think about me at forty-one. I’ve achieved more, and been hurt and lost more, than I could’ve possibly imagined a quarter-century ago.

It’s taken me more than twenty years to fully understand Richard Page’s lyrics about “would I have followed down my chosen road, or only wish what I could be?” The answer is both. Life is a funny and winding journey, even when on the path of the straight and narrow. Christian or atheist or of some other faith, it’s always good to hope that someone is there to watch over us, to protect us, even our younger selves from our older and allegedly wiser versions of ourselves. And that’s what I here now when I listen to — and sing high-falsetto still to — “Kyrie.”


Interceptions Cause Excitement and Emotion

December 28, 2010

Ed Reed of Baltimore Ravens Pick, 2004, December 28, 2010. Source: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/writers/jeffri_chadiha/08/30/chadiha.safeties/index.html; AP Photo. Though this image is subject to copyright, its use is covered by the U.S. fair use laws because the photo is only being used for informational purposes.

Eli Manning’s masterful four-interception performance against the Green Bay Packers this past Sunday for my New York Giants the day after Christmas (as he was still in the spirit of giving, with his league-high 24 picks so far this season) inspired this latest post of mine. Not to mention ESPN columnist Jemele Hill’s tweeted R&B musical musings about the aerial mistakes of strong armed QBs and the lyrics of Lynn Ahrens and Schoolhouse Rock. I give you my adaptation of “Interjections,” “Interceptions:”

 

With Eli Manning at quarterback, uh-huh-huh,
The defense knew how to at-tack.
They baited the man
With Cov-2 again
While #10 threw some interceptions…

F***! Oh no!
S***! Oh God!
D***! That really, really sucks!

Interceptions (F***!) cause excitement (S***!) and emotion (D***!).
They’re generally set apart from a sack or fumble by a Pick-6 down the field
Or by dejection when the result’s not as bad.

Though Jay Cutler has a strong arm, uh-huh-huh
Jay didn’t know he could do, ha-arm
He was put under pressure
And despite his great treasure
Cutler lofted some interceptions…

What! Who are you throwing at, pal?
Oh my God! You think the ball comes with a radar system!
Hey! You’re kinda dumb, aren’t you?

Interceptions (Well!) cause excitement (OMG!) and emotion (Hey!).
They’re generally set apart from a sack or fumble by a Pick-6 down the field
Or by dejection when the result’s not as bad.

So if you’re happy (Hurray!) or sad (Man!)
Or pissed off (Grrrrr!) or mad (Rats!)
Or excited (Yes!) or glad (Yay!)
An interception makes or breaks a game.

The game was tied at seven all, uh-huh-huh,
When Brett Favre tried to throw the ba-hall
He made a connection
In the other direction,
And the crowd saw a game-ending interception…

Aw! You threw it right to him – again!
Damn! You just lost the game – again!
Yes! Favre, you choked – again!

Interceptions (Aw!) cause excitement (Damn!) and emotion (Yes!).
They’re generally set apart from a sack or fumble by a Pick-6 down the field
Or by dejection when the result’s not as bad.

So if you’re happy (Hurray!) or sad (Man!)
Or pissed off (Grrrrr!) or mad (Rats!)
Or excited (Yes!) or glad (Yay!)
An interception makes or breaks a game.

Interceptions (Hey!) cause excitement (Hey!) and emotion (Hey!).
They’re generally set apart from a sack or fumble by a Pick-6 down the field
Or by dejection when the result’s not as bad.

Interceptions cause excitement and emotion,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah… YEA!

Turn out the lights! The party’s over! (Even if the Giants somehow make the playoffs this year).


This Thing Called Rap

October 30, 2010

Snap - I've Got The Power Screenshot, October 30, 2010. Donald Earl Collins

At nearly forty-one, I ultimately don’t care what anyone thinks about my musical tastes. I haven’t cared for years. Heck, I make fun of some of the stuff I still listen to. Some of it’s deserved, but much of it’s a function of the music segregation that’s part of the cultural segregation that still exists in this country we call America.

Like most growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I was introduced to rap in late-’79 by the Sugar Hill Gang “Rapper’s Delight,” rap lyrics with Chic’s “Good Times” — a disco hit the year before — as the background music. I got to see a rap venue once growing up, the following summer at Van Courtland Park in the Bronx. Back then, me and my Holmes Elementary School friends weren’t sure if rap was much more than a curiosity or fad, or would be here to last.

Who knows if the Hebrew-Israelite years or Humanities or just having parents who’d barely made it out of the ’60s music-wise had anything to do with it, but the years between ’81 and ’84 were lost ones as far as rap was concerned. I heard more classical than probably any other genre in middle school, thanks mostly to our wacko music teacher Mrs. Mallory. We didn’t have cable, and me listening to the radio at 616 wasn’t permitted unless it was religious programming. I caught pieces of music from videos on ABC on Saturdays sometimes, from my nearly daily runs to C-Town, and from my classmates and their conversations.

That was until I rebelled in the summer of ’84.  Grandmaster Flash. Kurtis Blow. The whole Roxanne thing. That’s what I got to hear when I began to turn the radio dial to WBLS-FM and a couple of other stations in ’84 and ’85. Of course, Run-D.M.C. Doug E. Fresh, Kool Moe Dee, and early LL Cool J would all hit the scene in the two years that followed.

But unlike my other Black male classmates, I didn’t take a liking to most rap. And that made me wack. I was preoccupied with escaping 616, trying to find my true self, with succeeding and surviving Humanities and high school. Chasing skirts, trying to one-up and put down those around me, going to Mount Vernon Knight basketball games and hanging out on weekends? That wasn’t me, and the rap of those times didn’t have much of me in them. To think that a quarter-century ago, rap lyrics that referred to neighborhoods in the Bronx, Harlem or Brooklyn hardly ever commented on bling or blight — especially the blight — shows how far the genre had to grow in ’85.

PE, October 30, 2010. Source: http://www.melophobe.com

It took college and Public Enemy for me to fully appreciate rap and its power and popularity. It took PE and KRS-One and Arrested Development for rap to do something that all of the other music I listened to had done. They made me think. They touched my mind and my heart. The anger and rage of their rap other ’90s rap finally matched the early music of U2 and the romance of love balled R&B. I finally felt like the game had gotten serious, enough for me to pay attention.

Then the whole fake East Coast-West Coast crap of Tupac and B.I.G. came along to ruin rap for me again. What were they doing and thinking? Really, would Pearl Jam and Creed threaten to kill each other in order to promote their music? It was “a shame and a pitiful,” as my father would say. It took me a few years after Tupac’s death to come back to him, his contradictions and his poetry as rap.

Hate to say it, but only Eminem has picked up where Tupac left off since ’97 — and he’s just as contradictory. I’ve never really liked Jay-Z. Not because I don’t see the talent or can’t bump to the music.

Kanye West Album Art, October 30, 2010. Donald Earl Collins

But because until recently, his words never made me think, never gave me anything to feel at all. His music reminded me of why I didn’t like rap in the mid-’80s. It was cotton candy rap, the kind my superficially cool Black male classmates liked. Nas may be the most talented one of them all, but seems almost tormented between being a slut (this is a gender-neutral term for me) and being a soothsayer.

I find the music that is hip-hop and rap today wanting, with the same tired themes, with about as much originality as a ’60s radical patting themselves on their backs for striking a blow against “the man.” After three decades, the genre’s come full circle. I want to listen and learn. But I don’t think that the folks who step to the mike now are worth listening to or learning from.


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