As I sit here typing this, in the background I am playing Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend.” Right before this song came on I was listening to Above the Law’s “V.S.O.P.” Yeah, definitely two ends of the spectrum but both under the umbrella of hip-hop.
I was born in 1977. That means that I am 29 years old but more importantly it means that I grew up so to speak during the 80s and the 90s. I grew up during XClan, Salt-N-Pepa, Kriss Kross, Milli Vanilli, New Kids on the Block, J.J. Fad, and others.
But don’t let my name dropping fool you.
I didn’t grow up in Los Angeles proper. Nope. Thanks to my parents, I spent my younger childhood years in a Hermosa Beach, a small beach community suburb of Los Angeles. With relatively few Blacks around back then, my early musical influences were rock and not rap or R&B.
In other words, I was a Madonna, Van Halen, Police, Cyndi Lauper loving Black girl. Sure was.
That was until, my parents divorced and I begin to split my time between Compton and Hermosa Beach. Yeah, the CPT.
That’s when I was introduced to Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, Salt-N-Pepa, X-Clan and the like and that as they say, is that.
I loved me some rap. Loved it. I loved Eazy-E, NWA, Ice Cube, Mack 10, Tha Dogg Pound, Suga Free, you name it, I knew it and word for word. I am not afraid to admit that yes, I was one of the people I criticize today. In fact, I was Napster’s biggest fan. It’s because of Napster that I own thousands of songs today from back in the day that I can sit and play and analyze the lyrics to, like tonight.
And that’s pretty much how it was until I was about 22 years old. At 22 I met two deejays that changed my musical taste for life. DJ Garth Trinidad of KCRW’s Chocolate City and DJ Kristi Lomax of KPFK’s Restless Soul. Through them I was introduced to a crop of artists both signed and unsigned who were making good music that wasn’t about hos, bitches, gold chains, rims, low riding, etc. That was also around the time that I started to get involved politically in Black Los Angeles and well, you should know that story by now.
So, basically when I began to look at the bigger picture, that perpetual cycle of degrading music that is then played out in real life in our neighborhoods with the way that we treat each other, I started looking at things differently. And as hard as it was, and I mean it was hard, I began to stop listening to certain music because I know longer felt it, like I did before.
Which is not to say that I abandoned hip-hop because I didn’t. There’s a tremendous amount of hip-hop out there that doesn’t degrade women or use the N word. Most people would never know unless they are into the underground hip-hop scene because labels have saturated the market with that other crap. But there is a thriving market out there, I know because I am a part of it.
So when Don Imus said what he said and we did what we did and America reacted, I thought hey, maybe it takes a white man calling us “nappy-headed hos” for us to take up a real discussion on today’s music and our role in it.
What I find interesting is the poll results from my question on who’s to blame for the degrading lyrics in hip-hop, the labels, artists, or the consumers. Apparently, from my poll, it’s the consumers, which quite frankly is where I am at with the whole issue as well.
I’ve spoken to many people who say, don’t discount the label executives in all of this, and believe me, I don’t. But I think at the end of the day, they sign artists that can market and that they know we will buy. Then I get the line about white kids being the number one consumer of hip-hop. Yeah, okay, I guess. I think that as Black people we are still the trendsetters. If we don’t like, they don’t like it. We buy music too. On any corner in parts of Los Angeles I can get 3 CDs for $5. They must not be counting the black market, no pun intended, in their counts. I know we buy it because everyday I am in my car I end on the side of someone bumping it.
In my final analysis, the bone that needs to be picked doesn’t begin and end with the labels and the artists. Afterall, they’re in it for the money. What’s our excuse, why do we buy it and listen to it? And I’ not trying to hear about how nice the beat is, because if that were the case, we’d be buying instrumentals and forgoing the lyrics all together of which we are not doing.
And I mean this questions isn’t for those of us that get it, it’s for those of us that don’t get it. The ones who sit around and complain about little Jimmy using the b-word but never once thinking about the fact that Mommy says it all the time.
I’m talking about the Pookie’s on the block that have no job and ride around in old ass cars with no tags on triple Dayton’s, with a sound system that rattles your windows.
Why aren’t we talking to them? It seems to me that if Black America is really going to have this conversation then we are going to have to go to the very people who listen to the music. This conversation can’t be held in the churches only or with our national Black spokespeople. Uh huh, if it was up to me we’d be at the Slauson Swapmeet on the first Saturday of the month doing an informal survey. I’m tired of talking to the choir, I want to talk to the passer-byers now. If you know what I mean.
Since I work in the heart of Compton and in the same vicinity as the local parole office, I think I am going to have to do some fieldwork and talk to some folks about this. Shouldn’t be too hard, like I said, I work in Compton. I need to know from the street level what the sentiment is.
Time to dust of my microphone and hit the streets. Maybe when I’m done in Compton, I’ll go over to the Slauson Swapmeet and set up shop. Again, the field is just ripe for the picking, if you know what I mean.
My challenge to some of you would be to do the same, talk to people who actually listen to this music and find out why they listen to it given the lyrics, especially the Black women that support it.
Let me know what you find out and I’ll tell you what I find out.
I’m sure we can get to the bottom of this madness and curb this self destruction.