Toxic, Part I

Warning to my readers: In today’s post I will be quoting lyrics from the hop-hop that I grew up listening to in the 1990s. Given this some of the language will be explicit and possibly offensive to some readers. 

Some of my happiest memories of my late mother revolve around music. My mother was in her early twenties when I was born, and I inherited her love of the golden era of R & B and Soul which shaped her teenage years. I can still see her on Saturday mornings, dancing through the house as she cleaned to the sounds of the S.O.S. Band,  the O’Jays, Ohio Players and her favorite band of all, Earth, Wind and Fire. By the time I was five years old my mother would remarry, and a new sound would join the smooth r & b grooves of our home.

My stepfather hailed from Philly. He was military like my mother, they served in the same branch. My stepfather loved the still young genre of hip-hop with a fierceness that matched my mom’s dedication to r & b and funk. On weekends he shed the sailor persona he maintained for work and became DJ Disco.  I remember the way his eyes lit up when he found an album he was looking for in his crates. I watched him work the ones and twos,  nodding my head as I listened. Back then hip-hop was fun for me. Hip-hop was defined by Run-DMC, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, Whodini and others from the Northeast. In my parents musical tastes I had the best of both worlds. But neither sound could prepare me for what would come in the 90s.

My first encounter with the genre that came to be known as gangsta rap took place. Oddly enough it would take place on a Sunday after church. My cousin Diondra and I rode home with our 21 year old cousin Tanya that day. I sat in the back of Tanya’s Nissan Sentra as we cruised down 23rd Avenue and then Martin Luther King Jr Way S, the street that ran through our neighborhood. I heard my cousin rustling through something and looked over to see what the commotion was. Diondra was going through Tanya’s tape collection. I tapped her on her hand.

“What are you doing? You know you can’t jack Tanya’s stuff !”

“SHUTUP”, Diondra hissed back at me. “She has so many tapes anyway; it ain’t like she’ll even notice! Stop being such an L7!”

My cousin knew what she was doing. I’d struggled with social awkwardness and fitting in ever since moving to Seattle. Diondra was two years old than me, and I frequently tagged along with her. My bookish nature and articulate speech did not impress Diondra’s friends, who asked her why I sounded and acted so ‘white’ and was such a square. Diondra’s L7 remark struck a painful chord. I rolled my eyes at her, crossed my arms to express my annoyance and prepared to turn away. Before doing so I saw a smile spread across Diondra’s face. She found the tape she wanted-“Quik Is The Name” by Compton rapper DJ Quik- and slipped it into her purse.

When we arrived home-which at the time was a two bedroom occupied by my mom, my three cousins, myself and my two siblings- Diondra and I retreated to the kids bedroom to remove our church clothes. Once the door shut I shoved my hands up my dress, eager to get rid of the hot, bothersome and confining pantyhose that I loathed wearing. Diondra put the DJ Quik tape in our boom box and pressed play. Our room was immediately filled with a funky guitar laden beat that pulled me in. It reminded me of Mama’s music. But the similarities ended as soon as DJ Quik opened his mouth. I was eleven years old, and never in my life had I heard such language:

Now I be knockin bitches like it ain’t shit
Cause I’ma playa motherfucker named DJ Quik
Yo, maybe it’s the way, I hold my dick
that makes all the girlies wanna ride my tip
But some of these bitches try to act unfair (why?)
Maybe its becuase my hair is longer than theirs
But I don’t give a fuck, no I don’t care
Because I’m like Noah’s Ark – my bitches come in pairs
You see I’m 5’11”, my dick is size seven
and if a hooker’s fine I can stretch you a nine
It goes deep (how deep?) All up in that shit
I’ll fuck a pussy dry cuz I don’t know how to quit
I’m 19 (say what?) so I’m a young ass man
My eyes are brown and my skin is tan
So pull them cotton-ass panties right down to ya knees
if you wanna take part in a proper-ass skeez
I’m more than a playa (word?) I’m more like a pimp (yeah!)
I love black pussy but I sure won’t simp
I got the bitches on my jock like an airplane wing
and only way for me to get ’em off I have to sing…

I didn’t know any adults who spoke that way. I had heard the word ‘pussy’ bantered about by young boys on the playground and in my neighborhood, so I knew what it was referring to. But in my mind it was a word was so crude and nasty. Indeed the entire song was like an assault against my ears. My cousin bounced around the room as she sang the lyrics to herself. The use of the word ‘bitch’ was especially jarring to me, as my Mama had taught me it was a vile insult, never to be used. But in that song its’ use was nothing. To my cousin and other confused black girls, ‘Sweet Black Pussy’ wasn’t offensive. They took it as an anthem, feeling honored that a black man would shoutout collective black womanhood on wax like that. My innermost being whispered this wasn’t right, it wasn’t something to participate in and celebrate. But what did I know? I was just an eleven year old ‘siditty’ square. I continued getting undressed and stopped thinking about it.

Fast forward to 1993. By this time Dr. Dre’s debut album ‘The Chronic’ had dropped. Though the album was a massive hit and established Dre as a solo artist ,the real star of the album was his protegee-then known as Snoop Doggy Dogg.  Snoop’s album ‘Doggystle’ was EVERYWHERE when I was in the eighth grade. A lyrical genius, he was adored by my peers. But his work left the same nasty taste in my mouth as DJ Quik’s two years earlier. On “Ain’t No Fun(If The Homies Can’t Have None)” Snoop and his boys waxed on how bitches ain’t shit and were only good to them for what lay between their legs. In the music that was becoming so popular with my generation women were not really women. Forget about equality; females were not even human in this world.They were either pussy to be fucked and abandoned or skeezers out to take a man’s money. This was not my world. This did not empower me.  This did not reflect the values and mores that my working-class Black American family and church imparted to me. Words like respect and dignity didn’t belong in this world. It bothered me. But it was so POPULAR. And I didn’t want to be the ‘square’, the ‘stuck-up’ girl arguing that it wasn’t cool. So I suppressed what my family taught me and started bobbing my head to the violence and misogyny-just like everyone else.

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A native Seattleite and East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been.

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