I guess I can understand why some parents would not want their kids listening to hip hop music but I’ve had enough with deprivation and it’s time for this family to let loose the boom in the room. I grew up as a rap music fan during the 80’s when hip-hop culture was making its way across the United States. Breakdancing was a huge thing in my suburban Cleveland neighborhood and in elementary school some friends and I organized a dance team, practiced routines and set out in search of other dance groups to ‘battle.’ In middle school rapping with a beat boxer became more popular and there were numerous rap battles I can remember with a crowd of kids huddled around two contestants rhyming verbal jabs at one another. By middle school there began to be a lot of cursing in rap lyrics and the whole debate about explicit lyrics and censorship arose. By the time I was a freshman in highschool a rap group, NWA, had spread to Ohio and we were fully drawn into West Coast gangster rap. Now there was not only a lot of cursing, but the airing out of inner city subjects that most of us were not exposed to before this time. This was the age of learning about the ‘dopeman’ and “Strawberry, Strawberry, she’s the neighborhood ho.” (N.W.A.) For whatever reason I loved this music and later when I went to college in New York City, hip hop culture was still a big part of my life. I was a huge fan of the Wu-Tang Clan throughout my 20’s, buying up every album the day it was released.
Strangely, I found that once my kids were born it was uncomfortable for me to listen to hip hop for several reasons. First off and most obvious is the large amount of cursing and inappropriate language used in rap music. I was worried about their first word being, ‘mo%#^#f*$^%er’ But this was not my biggest objection because I am known to curse from time to time and it is safe to say that my kids were exposed to this language long before hip hop music dawned on their ears. My kids have watched me play pick up basketball countless times so potty words are not new ground for them. I was mostly just worried about them using that language in preschool and freaking out their teachers, making me look like a bad parent. What I find to be even more uncomfortable for me than the cursing is the use of other inappropriate language, for example, a word like ‘nigga’. Now here is a word that shows up numerous times in songs yet I was to tell my children that although it is not a curse word, they are never to use this word for themselves. For little kids there is no great way to explain the rationale behind this, even adults have a hard time understanding what they see as a double standard where some can use a word while others can not. Most thorny for me nowadays when it comes to hip hop and my children are the references to sex that are found in a lot of rap songs. There are few things more uncomfortable than telling my kids what someone means when they use the word, ‘pussy’ in a song. Then again, why shouldn’t my kids know what these words mean? I can’t leave them in the dark forever and it’s interesting to note that I had a much easier time telling them what ‘dick’ meant than ‘pussy.’ Technically these aren’t curse words, right? But like I said, these are the pitfalls of hip-hop music where there is little subtlety and no subject is left unturned as compared with other types of music.
A few months ago a mother who I’m pretty sure never listens to hip hop music was telling us how her daughter was a bit shocked to hear the -f- word for the first time bandied about on her first day of middle school. Part of me was thinking, wow, that’s great, she is such a nice girl who is thrown into a tizzy by the mention of a curse word, but on the other hand, I was thinking, this girl is totally sheltered and unprepared for the real world! Do I really want my kids to grow up and go to college somewhere and be shocked by sexual references in songs or have someone else besides me introduce them to the sounds of Jay-Z or KRS-ONE or Outkast?
It has been suggested that I allow my children only to hear old school rap where there is no cursing and the subject matter is much more veiled behind metaphor and storytelling. That could work for a while but the truth is that old school rap is old school for a reason, and hip hop has evolved into something else that I want to hear now. I get sick of hearing old school rap all the time, ‘the same back and forth.’ (the Roots) I want to hear the new stuff, I want to hear what is hot right now and what is being created right now, not some old dusty re-runs all the time. There is great music being made right now, why should I deprive us of good albums like Big Boi’s latest?
This gets me to the main reason I’ve allowed hip hop music into my home – uncensored, uncut, raw, commercial and non-commercial, whatever sounds best to me. Hip hop music is part of hip hop culture and hip hop culture is part of American culture. I just really can’t stand the thought of my kids growing up not knowing anything about hip hop music and culture – it’s part of our world. And isn’t that my main job as a parent, to acculturate my children? Some may argue that I am acculturating them into something negative, something that will bring them down instead of up… I’d bet most of these people never listened to hip hop music much, otherwise they would know the wide breadth of experience that hip hop music deals with, both positive and negative, just like any other genre of music, just like life itself.
So how about bringing that beat back, and turn it up!
What say you? If you have kids, do you let them listen to hip-hop?