Sunday, October 23, 2016

White kids, Hip hop and the 1980s

So I just read that Eric B. and Rakim are back together and going on tour.

This news made me think back to when I was a teenager, driving my Dodge Colt around Dallas, TX,  delivering pizzas and listening to the album Paid In Full.

I had been a New Wave kind of kid throughout the early to mid-80's, so Depeche Mode or New Order or The Smiths were my more typical jams. A girlfriend started buying rap LPs, and before you know it, I was buying a big amp and subwoofer for the car.

The first acts I listened to were Public Enemy, EPMD, Eric B. and Rakim, Ice T, and Big Daddy Kane.  I literally got to know them by picking up the albums at the record store and listening to them.  At the time, I didn't hear a lot of hip hop on mainstream radio.  Not even on the R&B station.

I got into the music initially because I dig groove based music.  Stuff that makes me want to bop my head.  But soon enough the lyrics started to penetrate and I that's when I started getting a new perspective.

It's hard to imagine now but in 1987, culturally, in the midwest at least, we were very much segregated by race.  I mentioned my job as a pizza delivery driver.  The white dudes talked to each other, the black dudes talked to each other, but there was minimal interaction.  I didn't think much about it; it was just the way things were.

But as I listened to hip hop, I started to hear things that made me curious. I started thinking about what it must be like to live in a poor neighborhood, or to have to contend with violence, or to just live in a country with a history that's not quite so impressive if you look at from a non-white perspective.

Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps
Sample a look back you look and find
Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check

--- Public Enemy

I was also listening to a public radio station that played a lot of underground hip hop, KNON.  I don't remember the names of the artists but I remember thinking, man, rap music is like CNN for the black perspective. While there were a share of songs about "straight up dissin' and dismissin'," commentary on community was another major theme.

In a lot of ways, rap and hip hop music really broadened my entire world view.

And now today's interesting observation.  The white kids that I knew who were like me, now in our forties, who spent time listening to early hip hop, are much less likely to feel threatened by Black Empowerment movements like BLM.  I mean, why would you feel threatened?  You've got to stand up against injustice when you see it.

And the white kids I knew who didn't get on the hip hop train?  Who would never listen to the tunes because it was "black music"?  I'm still hearing the same old tune from them.  I swear to God they think that BLM is some kind of radical militia.  When I see the way BLM is covered in right-wing media, I shrug and think, I guess some white people are never going to get over their prejudices.

I little empathy is all that is needed to really put yourself in someone else's shoes.  Just imagine for a moment what life is like for someone who didn't grow up in your suburb, or in your city, or your country.

I'm glad hip hop came along when it did, because for me at least, it gave me a peek into a world that I didn't really understand.   Oh, and on top of's still so much fun to bop my head to those tunes.

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