“Hey! Whatever happened to the EMCEE? Times done changed for the EMCEE. Every woman and man wanna EMCEE. But for what? I tell ya, EMCEE, it ain’t for you!!!” – Supa Emcees, De La Soul
Before I am accused of trying to impose my own culture upon another, or of expressing some vague sense cultural superiority, I will cop to being a music snob and only that – in this context. I know, I know; “Lucy! You got some ‘splainin’ to do!”
Since I’ve been here, the kids and I have had a few brief conversations about music. As I am helping them with their English skills, I thought it might be helpful to know what they like: music, sports, art, television, etc. Like most teenagers, they like music, though the young man is a sports fanatic and the young lady is very creative, expressing herself through different artistic media. And while I enjoy all of the above, I started with music – I love music; listening to it, playing it, composing it – to get to know the youngsters. Turns out they like pop and hip – hop, a few U.S. – based artists, but more European artists as one might expect.
I noted that they didn’t seem to be too deeply concerned with the lives of the singers and entertainers they mentioned; they only knew that they liked the songs they liked and who sang the songs. No idea who was married to whom, who was sleeping with whom, no artist affiliations or “collabo’s,” and no knowledge of clothing lines, perfumes or colognes. I found that interesting because if I posed such questions to the first teenager I ran into after walking out my front door, I could almost guarantee that he or she would know at least several bits, if not all, of the above information and more about a given entertainer. At any rate, I looked forward to hearing some of their favorite music, other than the requisite teenage favorites like Beyonce. I especially wanted to hear some hip – hop. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum…
After spending a truly awesome afternoon at El Parque de Ciencia, or Science Park, we all (Mom, the kids and I) hopped in the family SUV to head back to Cenes. On the way, we popped in a mixed CD that had some of their favorite music; we listened to a group called Los Estupa and some “hip – hop”. Los Estupa? Cool. While I wasn’t blown away, I’d probably listen to some of their music on my own. But soon, I began to have visions of my ears bleeding profusely and the family rushing me to the nearest trauma center. That’s what happens when I start hearing dudes rap about the “Dirty South” and “H – Town.” Sorry folks. You were forewarned.
“Hello, everyone. My name is Deniece and…I’m a music snob.”
“Hi, Deniece. Welcome.”
Allow me a moment to clarify, though. I did not tell these kids that the “hip – hop” they liked sucked, or that it was “wack”. Although, when Mom asked if I liked hip – hop, I responded with a hesitant “yes” that had a slight question mark behind it. Also, I wasn’t riding along quietly, thinking, “Oh my God, I’ve got to save these kids!” I really wasn’t, believe it or not. What I did say to myself, however, was “I cannot have these kids walking around thinking that ‘Ridin’ Dirty’ is Hip – Hop; they need to know the difference between Rap and Hip – Hop.” Because, simply put, there is a difference between Rap and Hip – Hop.
I immediately began thinking of what tracks would be appropriate, age – wise, and what would be a good representation of the genre. Full disclosure: I do not own THE definitive collection of Hip – Hop, from 1978 to the present. I would never try to perpetrate such a fraud, but one does not have to own a work of art to recognize its value or appreciate its beauty. I do have several classics, a few truly iconic tracks and a couple game changers; some are all three rolled into one powerhouse of a hip – hop track.
Alas, I didn’t even make it past De La Soul before their eyes began to glaze over. Never mind the blank stares that never really left their cherub – like faces as I had hoped they would once something clicked inside of their little bodies; maybe they’d start with the head – nod, you know, that ubiquitous body movement seen at live shows. Perhaps, one sibling would start rocking, just a little, from side to side, and then the other would follow. Maybe, just maybe, a smile would work its way from the corners of their mouths to settle into an appreciative grin that reflected an inner knowing. Because that would mean, “Oh, this is what real Hip – Hop sounds like. Ok. I get it.”
That so didn’t happen.
You can’t blame a girl for trying, though. I didn’t think sharing in this manner was really pushing the envelope, since the kids and I had been working on making music in Garage Band. During that process, they seemed certain about what sounds they liked and didn’t like; they could tell right away if they didn’t care for how certain loops played against others. It’s been a fun way to pass the time and practice English. Still, I guess this latest foray into cultural exchange kind of fell flat. I’m already at peace with it. The kids can listen to Chamillionaire all day long, if that’s what they enjoy. By all means, have at it. I suppose I just wanted to let them know that there’s more out there, music and artists that came before, blazed a trail and laid the foundation for most of what we hear today. That’s probably something all kids should know, American, European, Asian or whatever. Perhaps it was too soon for a conversation about the commercialization and corporate dominance of music, especially of what used to be Hip – Hop. And perhaps the kids can do without my cynicism as we continue to engage in cultural exchange.