Toxic-The Aftermath

At the time my Mom and I had the frank discussion that I detailed in yesterday’s post hip-hop faced a serious questions as well. The East Coast-West Coast rivalry (which the media hyped up) would lead to the murders of Tupac and Biggie. The loss of these titans would make them legends. Their senseless, violent deaths brought sadness and anger from all of the community, and things would simmer down. The murders would remain unsolved. But the genre would live up to the phrase heard on “Rappers Delight”back in 1979: hip-hop a ya don’t stop. New artists took the spotlight: Jay-Z, Ma$e and others. One of the major developments of the previous year was the entrance of female rappers Lil Kim and Foxy Brown into the game. While female rappers were not new-indeed Queen Latifah and all-girl group Salt-N-Pepa shone brightly in the early 90s-Kim and Foxy were cut from a VERY different cloth than their predecessors. Though they would become bitter rivals their lyrical content was very similar. Some would hold them up as examples of ‘girl power’. I knew one thing though: as a seventeen year old girl I damn sure didn’t feel empowered by them and their image. I didn’t see how giving a man access to one’s body in exchange for shopping trips and jewelry was a good thing. Of course at the time my ideas on gender and sexuality were still a product of my religious environment. So whereas I made excuses for the ignorance of male rappers and gave them a pass for their explicit lyrics, I held Kim and Foxy to a different standard. I judged them harshly. Later on in life I would come to see my hypocrisy. But back in    1997 I just wasn’t there for what Kim and Foxy were spitting.

I was most certainly there for  Lauryn Hill. I’d been enthralled with L. Boogie from the time that ‘The Score’ dropped. The sight of Lauryn-gloriously dark like me, her kinky hair adorning her head like a halo- didn’t simply flip a script. No, Lauryn rewrote it. When she released her solo album ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’, I felt like the prayers of this colored girl were answered.  I could listen to Lauryn without any sense of internal conflict. And she was a BEAST on the mic! The glare of being in the limelight would become too much for her though,  and there would be no return to the brilliance of her first album.

By the time the new millenium arrived my musical tastes started to expand. A trip to an African import store would introduce me to the sounds of reggae artist Sizzla. I was hooked by his conscious lyrics, and his attitude towards black women warmed my heart. I wanted more, so I sought out other reggae artists. Soon enough reggae(roots and dancehall) and soca were added into my musical rotation. Both genres made me dance. But there was one thing I appreciated about these genres above all: they lacked the toxic undercurrent that flowed through modern corporate hip-hop. Don’t get me wrong: songs in these genres can be racy. But even in their raunchiness a difference was illustrated. The words in the songs at least displayed a recognition of the shared humanity of men and women. I was more at ease when listening to reggae.

As I became older my discomfort with mainstream hip-hop became more acute. My rationalizations began to wear thin. When I gave birth to my daughter at twenty-four years old I had to finally make a choice. How could I support a genre whose messages were the antithesis of what I wanted to teach my child, of what my family taught me? How could I ever look my baby girl in her eyes and tell her she’s precious, yet listen to rappers who insisted bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks? The answer was simple: I COULD NOT. Something had to go-the music or my values.  I chunked up the deuces to the music of my youth. I picked up the courage and conviction held by my Mama and my elders. I finally said no. And though I’m glad that I did so, when I look back I’m embarrassed that it took me so long! For from the time I heard ‘Sweet Black Pussy’ by DJ Quik I KNEW better. I knew this wasn’t my stepdad’s hip-hop. I knew it contradicted much of what my Mom held dear. But I was too much of a coward to go against it. I didn’t want to be the siditty girl stuck on ideas like respect and dignity while everyone else my age was singing the words to “Can I Get A” by Jay-Z. I could only lie to myself for so long though.

Nowadays the music of my teens is essentially exiled from my life. The round-faced eighteen year old who used to read The Source and XXL religiously is now a thirty-three year old mother who has deliberately isolated her daughter from what hip-hop has evolved into. I don’t expose my child to mainstream hip-hop. As a mother-and as a black one especially- I feel a strong need to be consistent in what I teach my girl. If she saw me embracing what hip-hop has become it would compromise me as a parent. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take. It’s also my job to abstain from passing negative messages to her. I don’t feel that the dominant messages in the hip-hop that’s played on the radio are beneficial for my daughter. On the contrary I find them to be toxic. And while I cannot exert control over the industry itself I CAN control what my child and I consume. Just as these artists have the freedom to spit degrading lyrics, I-and all of us really-can choose to support them. I opted out of supporting them, and I have no regrets about that decision.

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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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