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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

50 years of hip-hop: My love/hate relationship with the music that raised me

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Frankly, I never thought I had a love affair with hip-hop until this year’s celebrations brought into perspective how many of my formative experiences were set to the soundtrack of this music. I felt like hip-hop was my annoying little brother. I loved him, but I just wished he would get his act together and stop tearing up my stuff.

I loved the beats. I couldn’t help but to dance, even when the lyrics were atrocious, offensive, misogynistic and violent toward men and women. It was hard to reconcile how the songs that made me feel good and had me hyped to hit the dance floor also devalued the lives and dignity of my brothers and sisters.

Good or bad, I grew up with this music. Seeing the video for De La Soul’s “Me, Myself and I” made a kid like me feel like it was okay to be a little different from my classmates. There was space in this world for a kid who dressed weird, or talked funny, or had funky haircuts. I was going to be alright.

The female MCs I admired helped me formulate who I wanted to be as a woman. MC Lyte was the girl-next-door – never too flashy, but exuding strength and confidence. Queen Latifah set the standard for letting people know how to treat you. She was not one to be disrespected or underappreciated, a sentiment I carried with me and put on as a shield when needed. When in doubt, remember what the Queen said, “you gottta let ‘em know.” Mix that in with some Yo Yo and Lady of Rage, who probably does not get enough credit for her natural hair anthem that predated the movement by at least a decade – and you have quite a recipe for an empowered, unapologetic, self-respecting Black woman.

Whodini taught us who our real friends are, Kid and Play showed us how to have fun and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince confirmed once and for all that parents don’t get it. Kris Kross felt my pain about missing the bus, which I did quite often. LL Cool J made the perfect first crush song and Biz Markie let us know we were not alone in the heartache of a crush gone wrong. One song after another became the way I understood life, love, friendship, disappointment and how to bounce back.

My frustration with hip-hop developed, as I felt the disconnect between what I loved about the music and what it often represented. Tupac was especially frustrating. It seemed like every “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” tenderly conveying the plight of a pregnant teen, or “Dear Mama,” praising the tireless efforts of a mother doing her best, was bookended by a “How Do You Want It” and “I Get Around” – two songs based on the objectification of women for the purposes of a man’s pleasure and nothing else. How could one rapper be so simultaneously profound and infuriating? Later in life, I came to appreciate that people can be more than one thing.

The non-stop degradation of women was a hard pill to swallow. Luke ushered in an era of exploitation that has yet to go away. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Nuthin but a ‘G’ Thang” became an instant classic, but I cannot forget the woman whose bikini top they removed without her permission in the video. Yet, I know every word of the song to this day. As a woman, it is hard to both love the music and hate the message all at the same time. I am more selective with what I choose to listen to at this stage in my life, at least sometimes.

When Lil Kim and Foxy Brown hit the scene, I was never sure if they were empowered females or if they were just playing into the same old male fantasies. I still am not sure. I feel like they gave birth to Nicki Minaj, Meg Thee Stallion, Cardi B and Latto. I have yet to determine if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but I am leaning toward bad. People should be able to partake in free speech, but at what cost? How have the generations benefited from the messaging of misogynoir or violence from gangsta rap and glorified drug culture from trap music?

The music may reflect the people, but it could reflect the future we choose. That part is up to us.

As disappointed as I can be, I love hip-hop. But like that annoying little brother, sometimes it just gets on my last nerve.

Contact Editor-in-Chief Camike Jones at camikej@indyrecorder.com or 317-762-7860.

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