I Listen To Gangsta Rap in The Car With My Kids

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I listen to gangsta rap in my car with my kids in tow.  

“Keep Their Heads Ringin’” is a good school drop off jam. I play gangsta rap on Pandora while cooking Sunday brunch. Protein-packed, organic-schmorganic pancakes with a side of “F*ck Tha Police” anyone? I bumped “Dear Mama” next to my swollen, pregnant belly.

And while Naughty by Nature is technically hip-hop, I’m proud to say that my kids sing the words to “O.P.P.” Although, their sing-along lyrics are more like this, Ya gotta go pee pee. That’s what they’re saying, right mom? Ya gotta go pee pee?!

Rap music and hip-hop are the soundtrack of my youth. 

Not that I grew up in Compton. Or Queens. Not that I grew up in a gangsta neighborhood. There's no appropriation here.

I’m a white, Italian-Polish ethnically mixed girl from upstate New York. I grew up in the suburbs during the 90’s and gangsta rap was extremely popular. Gangsta rap evolved from hardcore rap and had this edgy sound. Sick beats. And lyrics of struggle and strife. Even if I couldn’t relate with the gangsta reality – the lyrics were just so raw – I couldn’t help but to drawn to them. That’s what me and all my friends listened to while we hung out, drank booze underage and smoked menthol cigarettes (and weed) on the suburban playground. Did gangsta rap make us do it? Nah. We were gonna be doing that crap anyway. Rebellious teenagers are going to be rebellious teenagers. Peer pressure and all that good stuff.

My middle class neighborhood was in close proximity to the urban core of my city. Undoubtedly, the urban culture had a big influence on my music choices. And while I lived in a very middle class neighborhood – my family was in the poor sub-group of that middle class strata. I may not have related to the murders and the drugs and fuckin’ bitches – but I related to the underlying struggle of a gangsta. I felt a pang of financial struggle. I wanted to better myself. I always wanted more money. I wanted to rise above my roots as a product of divorce and a single-parent household. Like Biggie said, Sky’s The Limit.

I had dreams, just like the most ride or die gangster. Putting a beat, and catchy lyrics to that struggle made it all that more powerful and relatable to me. Something to really feel, and nod my head to.

Me, high school.

I’ll also confess GASP! That I totally fantasized about being a girl in a rap video. The women were beautiful and oozing with confident sexual energy. The hip-hop honeys were diverse. They came in all different shapes and sizes. Different skin tones. Being a super model was never in reach for my curvy, 5’6 self- but being a video vixen – that was totally a graspable goal. Not that my life-long dream was to be a video girl, but it wouldn’t be a bad life, right? I’d get to dance to my favorite music, be on TV and get paid to do it.  I had a curvy body – curly hair – and loved me some oversized – gold hoop earrings (still do). I saw my own image in them. I wanted to be them.

And thus, my affection for gansta rap, hip-hop and majority black-produced music is a life-long love affair that has followed me through my twenties and now, my thirties.

I’m a mom now with two daughters, (a feminist mom), and I still can’t imagine breaking up with the abrasive, profane and sexist lyrics.

I connect to those lyrics – even though I most certainly know how morally wrong most of them are.

There’s a certain nostalgia that goes beyond just liking how rap music sounds in my ear. That nostalgia connects me to a certain time in my life that was so filled with rawness, confusion and strife. A time and a place that I made it out of. Unscathed – and stronger than ever. Did gangsta rap make us do it?

Who knows? Maybe I would’ve made my own way regardless of what Biggie or Tupac said. Maybe innately I have the drive built into me to do what it takes to be financially secure and socially aware. To be a good mom.

I still find the bars of rap music to be intoxicating, just like I do, Shakesperean sonnets. The lyrics and prose of rhythmic rap, shouldn’t be ignored. There is a real skill of flow there – that should be recognized linguistically and musically.

So, do I want my kids listening to rap music? Abso-fuckin-lutely. No parental advisory here.

Rap music represents voices that went unheard for so long. Too long. Rap music is creative. It’s political. It’s essential to the dialogue of the past and to our time. It describes social struggle in a guttural and visceral way. 

Rap music is the good that came from such ugly and darkness for so many artists. Yes, it’s profane. But then again, to me, expletives are just words like any other words. I swear in front of my children, and give no fucks about it.

It’s my language. It’s the language of my real voice. My real life – past and present. I want my kids to listen to rap music so they know unequivocally, no matter what voice you have – even if it’s not proper, or if it’s considered crass or offensive -it needs to be heard. Talking about your struggles and passions in perfect, “Queen of England English” – just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

I want my kids to learn from rap music. I want them to learn the same thing I learned from it. That if you put your voice out in the world in whatever medium you choose – it will be heard. The people, will listen. And if the gangsta rap made you do it – then so be it.

Do you let your kids listen to gangsta rap?

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  1. Gorgeous high school Sarah. Absolutely, gorgeous today Sarah.

    Never really related to gangsta rap. Mostly, the portion of rap trend that managed to come strong south of the border was Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. If I'm reading this well, you were not referring to these guys at all.

    However, over here, we got a rock band called "Three souls in my mind" (yes, in english). They started up back in the 1960's and, as they became famous, people just went on calling them "El Tri" (kind of hispanicizing the first syllable of the original name). Vocalist Alex Lora shouts expletives all day long (whether singing or not) and we all love him doing so. They address all kind of social issues, and if you can go a little beyond their sticky beats and decent guitar solos, you can start thinking a little about what this society has been doing wrong for so many years.

    And well, by comparing gangsta rap to the music from this band, I'll go for a big YES, I let my 7yo daughter listen to El Tri. She even likes to go head banging on the back seat while listening to them.

    One day, when she gets (just a little) done with that head banging, she will pay attention to the lyrics and we'll be able to talk about that.

    1. Aww thank you! I'm totally googling the music you mentioned here! I'm intrigued. I love that you just said your 7YO daughter is head banging - that's awesome. She'll totally appreciate the words later. Thanks for reading and can't wait to check out that music!

    2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkcKE8MI9AQ about desensitization in large cities

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoaYAwX0dKM about homeless kids

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMR1ZhXXsNc about love and prostitution

  2. Mainstream Rap and Hip Hop is such a big part of my kids' culture now, that I can't help but get on board. We play "you pick a song" while on roadtrips - where each of us take turns playing a song we currently love. I've enjoyed hearing the beats and lyrics they are in to - and I've loved the discussion that follows, re: black lives matter, use of cultural/racist profanity, sexism, body acceptance, self-worth etc. If we hide from culture we miss opportunity to build conversations ... and we miss sick dance parties in the carpool lane too. #thuglife

    1. YES! so much this. I need to try "you pick a song" for roadtrips! I love that idea! I love your line there - "If we hide from culture we miss opportunity to build conversations..." PERFECTION. And sick dance parties in the carpool line. Those are my jam;)

  3. I love this, it is spoken like a true GenX'er. I find myself schooling my kids on the importance of the types of music I "throw it back" to. Not just rap, but alternative, too. Those artists shaped a generation and defined a culture, and you're right, be heard.

    Truth: Wrote this while jamming to Alanis...


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