The radio is a dangerous instrument. While I used to listen to the radio all the time in the car, I quickly got a wake up call. It seems the radio – and all of its poptastic tunes – can infiltrate even the youngest minds. One day when Leila was three years old and we were on our way to wherever, I vaguely heard the sound of my pumpkin singing. Not even paying attention to what was playing, instead I tuned in to the sound of my muffin’s adorable voice. “Oh na na….WHASSSS my name… Oh na na… WHASSSS my name… Oh na na…. WHASSSSS my name, WHASSSSS my name WHASSSS my name!” My baby was hitting those “What’s” with emphasis! !t took me literally one second to realize that, even though she could barely talk clearly, she was clearly too old to listen to Mommy’s radio.
That doesn’t mean pop culture does not break through. Somehow, despite my vigilance, this little six-year-old knows every word to every song that is popular. She is particularly fond of MAcklemore’s “Thriftshop”. She knows knows all of the words and even added a word (Super!”) in the edited silent space before his “awesoooome!” Anyway, last night as I tried to sneak and finally watch my DRV’d episode of the Grammys (at least a month after it aired), I found my shadow sitting right underneath me. As Macklemore approached the stage to receive his award for her favorite song, Leila says “Hey, who’s that white guy?” I tell her he is the man who made the song. “That’s weird,” she says. “I didn’t think he made that song. I thought only brown people talk like that.” “You mean make rap music?” I ask. “Yeah Mommy, I thought only Black people make those songs.”
So I start to tell her how music is for everybody and how you can never guess what a person looks like by the music they make or like or how they sound. HipHop is for everyone, I tell her, and then I chuckle at the irony. I mean after all, here I was just thinking about how Kendrick Lamar was robbed and the hiphop gods would be throwing away their mics if they ever thought that beatboxing and breakdancing would give way to a funny looking little leprachaun of a man hopping around talking about wearing mildewy clothes. And don’t get me wrong, I like Macklemore and the odd little lane he’s created. But when I think about hiphop, I think about basement parties and Biggie, I think about cyphers in front of lockers erupting wild choruses of “OOOHHHH!!!!” I think about lyrics and beats commanding the head nod. The head nod! It wasn’t a dance or a choice; it was an involuntary movement, an autonomic response to what we heard! And WE created that! We started that! We owned that! WE… let that turn into tales of hoes, crack, and cars. WE let it become something a vast majority of us find uninspired, simplistic, and often times just plain distasteful. But I guess “we” also laid down a blueprint for the ones who come behind us to get it right. So whether Kendrick, Macklemore, or whoever else may come, there is always someone ready to put hiphop back on the right track. And R & B. And Rock. So thanks to my pumpkin, I am thinking more deeply about not just what I teach her, but what I actually believe. And that goes for everything from race and religion to hiphop. Leave it to my kid to make an offhanded comment about a rapper that has me reexamining my rhetoric and focusing less on what I preach and more on what I practice believing.