A ‘Louder’ host displays on hip-hop masculinity after fatherhood
Amanda Howell Whitehurst for NPR
This story was tailored from Episode 9 of Louder Than A Riot, Season 2. To listen to extra about Black masculinity, accountability and fatherhood, stream the complete episode or subscribe to the Louder Than A Riot podcast.
Of all of the hoods rap ready me for, fatherhood ain’t considered one of ’em. I’ve cherished hip-hop for many of my life. It has been my livelihood for practically half as lengthy: I make a dwelling by paying essential consideration to the tradition. However one thing about turning into a dad in the previous few years pulled among the wax out my ears. I hear rap in another way now.
Multiply that occasions two, ‘trigger a couple of 12 months in the past, we added a daughter to the combination — and hip-hop heads are likely to obsess over our daughters in probably the most oppressive methods. Like Chris Rock joking a couple of dad’s solely job being to maintain your daughter off the pole. Or T.I. confessing to occurring his teenage daughter’s gyno appointments to verify her hymen was nonetheless intact. In relation to these child women, the patriarchy do not play. In the meantime, we elevate sons to be as dangerous as expensive previous dad.
All this season on Louder Than A Riot we have been wanting inward, at how a tradition created by the marginalized turned such a marginalizing pressure to so many inside it. At occasions, it is triggered me to query myself, as a result of there ain’t no technique to actually interrogate misogynoir in hip-hop with out males taking some accountability. Not only for the previous, however the future. So we do not flip our sons into survivors, and perpetrators, of the identical destiny.
My 3-year-old son has grow to be a Biggie fanatic. He bumps B.I.G. on the best way to high school. He bathes with B.I.G. blaring within the toilet. Typically he even requests B.I.G. whereas taking a dump. The fandom began with “Juicy.” Now he is deep into the album cuts — and never the clear variations, both. My spouse purchased him a t-shirt with the Able to Die album cowl superimposed on the entrance, which he rocks religiously. However his rising obsession with all issues Biggie is all daddy’s fault. Each time he hears a brand new tune, he has a behavior of me by probably the most earnest eyes and asking, “What’s this tune about?” It is nearly just like the query he is actually asking is, “Daddy, clarify the world to me.” Perhaps by the point he is in a position to maintain a dialog for longer than two minutes, I will have discovered the phrases to elucidate why Biggie is sophisticated in additional methods than his inside rhyme schemes.
Fifty years after the beginning of hip-hop and nearly 4 years after my very own son’s beginning, I discover myself consumed by this query: How younger is simply too younger to start speaking to my son about rap?
It is kinda like deciding the suitable time to inform your child the reality about Santa. Or intercourse. By the point my dad labored up the nerve to speak to me in regards to the birds and the bees, I might already memorized 2 Reside Crew’s “We Need Some P****.” And the best way Dad talked about intercourse — utilizing the medical verb “insert” to explain the act — was not the best way Luke and them talked about it. His model was even shorter than the tune. My dad and I did not even dwell in the identical home. Ice Dice, Too Brief, Scarface — they lived in my head rent-free. They had been the rappers who raised me. Particularly when it got here to how I considered women and, ultimately, ladies.
Kiese Laymon, a genius of a author I’ve lengthy admired, has written quite a bit about rising up hip-hop within the South, and the sexual hurt that usually got here with the territory. I spoke to him about a few of that shared historical past.
“2 Reside Crew, bruh — I went to the live performance in like ’87. It was 2 Reside Crew, it was Too Brief, and I used to be going by puberty,” he advised me. “I knew that the s*** they had been saying about ladies was f**** up. I knew it was imply. And I knew they could not rap. However I additionally knew, at 12 or 13, that the album cowl made my physique really feel issues. And once they carried out in Jackson, that they had them dancers on stage — actual dwell grown ladies shaking they ass. After which these males are speaking about how these grown ladies ain’t s***. There is a dissonance there.”
2 Reside normalized issues for us that should not be regular at any age. Earlier than I knew something about what might go down at highschool skip events, their lyrics inducted a era of Black boys like me into rape tradition: “See, me and my homies wish to play this sport / We name it Amtrak however some name it the prepare / All of us would line up in a single-file line / And take our turns at waxing women’ behinds.”
Each era of Black males has to redefine masculinity over again for itself. The hand-me-downs from our daddies’ and granddaddies’ previous by no means appear to suit fairly proper. My era overdid it: We took that blaxploitation-era machismo, added weapons and gangsta grills, a fascination with pimpin’, pushin’ and playin’, and packaged it for mass consumption. By no means as soon as realizing we had been the product the complete time. Hypermasculinity had grow to be a sword and protect Black males carried to beat back 400 years of concern, oppression, desperation. However while you weaponize your self for cover 24/7, you find yourself inflicting probably the most hurt to those closest to you. Even your self.
“Earlier than you may have a revision, you must have a imaginative and prescient,” Kiese tells me. “[We’re] speaking in regards to the issues we do not need to be replicated, however a imaginative and prescient is equally excited by what we do need to be replicated. A part of revision for me is simply truly sitting in among the hurt I’ve performed. But additionally you may drown in that, too. In order that’s why it is actually vital to consider who you need to be, versus, like, who you do not need to be. I do not need to be dangerous, however the more durable query for me, Rodney, is who do I need to be out on the earth?”
They are saying the universe is so huge that all of us have alternate variations of ourselves floating on the market. I discovered mine drowning on the backside of a 40-ounce bottle once I was 19. He was every part I wasn’t on the time: unleashed and unashamed. I dubbed him C-Mike. My hip-hop alter ego. The dude I turned as soon as I used to be lastly outta my momma’s home. I nonetheless wasn’t sufficiently old to drink, or suppose straight. However I might legally purchase a field of Newports, vote for a doobie-smoking president who claimed he by no means inhaled and signal my life away to Uncle Sam.
Becoming a member of the Navy was purported to be my nice escape — a technique to run from duty, expectation and all the opposite Black, decrease middle-class hopes and post-civil rights desires the era prior had invested in me. They stationed me on an plane provider of 5,000 males. We received paid to chock and chain fighter planes, however we clocked far more hours as hip-hop journeymen. Fishing out the toughest bars and deciphering rhymes was our closest factor to remedy. My greatest associates had been ex-dopeboys, second-chance delinquents, teenage dreamers, caught in that liminal house between adolescence and accountability — an area Black boys ain’t granted for lengthy. We bonded over Snoop and Dre weed anthems, “Bitches Ain’t S***” ideology and Thug Life doctrine. We had been politicians. We had been philosophers. We had been malt liquor guzzlers.
I stumbled again to the boat extra occasions than I can bear in mind, blacked out. Fragile egos took a few of us out earlier than our discharge date. A homie wound up within the brig when an excessive amount of s***-talk over a spades sport introduced the knives out. And I fell asleep in my rack means too many chilly nights, pumping Sade by my headphones and tucking my emotions beneath the covers so no one might hear me buzzing “Love is Stronger than Pleasure.”
I popped the piss take a look at for smoking weed, a “zero-tolerance” offense. However the true cause I received kicked out of the Navy was as a result of I received too good at pretending I did not give a f***. One thing about that masquerade felt just like the closest factor to freedom for a youthful me. The stamp on my discharge papers learn “Different Than Honorable.” A risk to the institution. For me, there was some honor in that. By no means thoughts that I might barely saved a dime, or that I used to be going again residence to my momma’s home empty-handed: No less than Ice Dice would not suppose I used to be a sellout now.
After a 12 months of dwelling recklessly, my wake-up name got here someplace between Oakland and Atlanta, on a four-day Greyhound bus journey again to actuality. De La Soul’s Buhloone Mindstate was in my headphones the entire means residence:
“I hold the strolling on the suitable facet
However I will not choose the subsequent who handles strolling on the improper
Cuz that is how he needs to be
No distinction, see
I wanna be just like the identify of this tune, I’m”
— De La Soul, “I Am, I Be”
The act of reshaping my very own hip-hop id began in earnest, possibly, across the time I settled into my profession as a working journalist. I turned the music editor of an Atlanta alt weekly the identical 12 months that T.I. received busted on federal gun costs, DJ Drama’s studio received raided by federal brokers and director Byron Harm dropped his documentary Hip-Hop: Past Beats and Rhymes. The movie was my first complete take a look at how misogyny, homophobia and transphobia turned pillars of rap’s poisonous tradition; there’s this traditional scene the place Busta Rhymes promptly exits the studio when Harm begins asking him about homophobia in hip-hop.We lined Harm’s movie, T.I.’s trial, Drama’s arrest and Nelly’s “Tip Drill” backlash that 12 months. Matter of reality, we lined a lot hip-hop that the editor-in-chief took me out to lunch in the future to complain about all of the rap — and rappers — taking up his music part.
Defending my editorial decisions meant defending the tradition. The racial politics had been thick. However the gender politics at play had been turning into more durable to defend, even in my very own thoughts.
Author and cultural critic Jamilah Lemieux has spent years unpacking these politics. When she dropped “Dave Chappelle and ‘the Black Ass Lie’ That Retains Us Down,” her 7,000 pound essay in response to Chappelle’s comedy particular The Nearer, it was greater than “Roxanne’s Revenge.” I bear in mind tweeting it out on the time and calling it “required studying for straight Black males” or one thing like that. The primary response I received was some bruh saying Black males had no avenue to specific our ache. “The story that we have at all times been bought about hip-hop was that hip-hop is Black males telling their fact,” Jamilah tells me. “That is their facet of the story. That is how they get to inform the world what they undergo. And so for us to problem that, we have been advised, we’re difficult your capacity to talk freely and speak about your experiences. However what you all are saying is extremely hurtful to us, and about us. And so, what does that imply? Am I to consider that we’re so vile to them that we’ve someway earned this loathing?”
They are saying misogyny is rooted in hatred. I’ve by no means considered myself as a hater, least of all of Black ladies. I’ve cherished them and been cherished by them, in a single regard or one other, for my whole life. That love nurtured me, even once I did not totally love myself.
However I’ve additionally cherished hip-hop, with my entire whole soul, and I by no means noticed these two issues in such stark battle till not too long ago. It is compelled me to think about my very own complicity. I’ve considered how I’ve contributed to misogynoir in methods I did not understand earlier in my profession, as a author and editor who typically penned items — beneath the guise of celebrating ladies in rap — that solely painted them additional right into a nook. Or hotepping earlier than hotepism, with profiles that objectified ladies sexually or moralized over them exercising their very own model of sexual company.
Placing concepts like this into the world influenced the best way individuals learn the artwork and actions of Black ladies, inflicting a selected form of hurt that is worsened as ladies have come to dominate the style. And it could be hypocritical of me to ask why that’s with out questioning myself first.
“It is consistently a course of,” Jamilah says. “It is consistently a negotiation. And I feel that usually, Black individuals have negotiated quite a bit to like hip-hop. … There’s this adherence to white male patriarchy that’s deep in a few of our males. Hip-hop is hyper-capitalist. It is about who’s received the largest checking account, who’s received the largest watch, who’s probably the most seen? That is the place success and freedom are measured. And so as a substitute of looking for a model of revolution that features all Black individuals, they’re pondering of how they get to dwell and be like white males.”
The truth that a lot of mainstream rap, for thus lengthy, misplaced or altogether lacked any form of actual intersectional come-up appears like a significant fail. As an alternative we turned a tradition of exclusivity and exclusion — a billionaire boys’ membership, corporatized and commodified to loss of life.
It jogs my memory of a line from an previous Outkast album I nonetheless bump religiously. It comes close to the top, like a contemporary sprinkling of Southernplayalisticriticalracetheory, after practically 60 minutes of post-adolescent posturing:
“When you suppose it is all about pimpin’ hoes and slamming Cadillac do’s
You in all probability a cracker, or a n**** that suppose he a cracker
Or possibly simply do not perceive”
– OutKast, “True Dat”
When Dungeon Household sage Huge Rube mentioned that, it took me years to know. Rube was critiquing capitalism, or the crooked American system, as he referred to as it. However he was additionally calling out Black males and our timeless allegiance to it. Being an enormous ol’ pimp turned the modern-day remix on the slave grasp — however in blackface. Even the countercultural stereotypes we claimed as uniquely our personal had been simply spin-offs of our usually scheduled programming.
Like Audre Lorde mentioned, “The grasp’s instruments won’t ever dismantle the grasp’s home.” What we want are some instruments that see racism and misogynoir as flipsides of the identical oppression. But it surely’s arduous to assemble that future when the toolbox you are working from is a hand-me-down.
“And to my companions that figured it out
With no father I salute you
Could your blessings be impartial
To your toddlers”
– Kendrick Lamar, “Father Time”
I’ve come to phrases with the truth that I haven’t got numerous issues I can supply my son. I will not die with important materials wealth to bequeath him. I am unable to cross down any form of athletic prowess that’ll assist him excel in sports activities. Even once I was a straight-A pupil and one of many smartest children in my class, math stayed kicking my ass. Music is the one language I’ve ever been fluent in. It is nonetheless probably the most revolutionary artwork kind in my lifetime, although my relationship to it might be far more sophisticated now. At this level, my legacy is previous baggage. It is stuffed with dusty information and dustier beliefs I picked up — by all my dads — about learn how to embody manhood.
My relationship with rap these days is quite a bit like my relationship with Black males usually. I name few associates, and name on these precise associates even lower than that. As males grow old, our connections to different males grow to be much less tangible. We get busy with life’s obligations: constructing a profession, elevating a household, hiding from our feelings. We get arduous, or attempt to metal ourselves. Not simply in opposition to the skin world, however from our internal selves too. After I was younger, me and my n****s bonded over hip-hop. Memorizing specific lyrics. Reciting raps within the mirror like we wrote them. It was a launch. However I finished memorizing lyrics a very long time in the past. I do not dance within the mirror now. And the one raps I sometimes recite are those that make me really feel like I am C-Mike once more. I by no means heard music the identical after that. However possibly as a result of I by no means had associates who made me really feel music fairly like that once more, both.
“Loads of males are feeling that, bruh,” Kiese says. “In listening you may hear individuals speak about a form of loneliness. And I feel a part of that’s a few of us do not make house to the touch and commune with different brothers and our associates. For me, my friendships with my brothers, that was love. And what did we do in these teams? We talked about hip-hop. Hip-hop, proper on the core — along with being all the f***ed-up issues that the nation is — there is a textured love in there for me that I’ve not discovered anyplace else but.”
My son has this behavior of calling me his greatest buddy. It is cute. But it surely at all times makes me take into consideration how that was a parental no-no to the era earlier than me. Our dad and mom weren’t our associates. Did not need to be. Did not fake to be. They usually had particular methods of reminding us if we slipped up and forgot. However when he calls me his greatest buddy now, a part of me thinks about all of the individuals I referred to as associates rising up – all of the rappers who schooled me arising, all of the individuals who I regarded to, much more than my dad and mom, to provide me the sport — and I feel him seeing me as a buddy may not be the worst factor on the earth.
Educating my son learn how to pay attention critically and empathically, learn how to hear the love and the shortage within the music, learn how to distinguish the nice s*** from the bull**** — even when the bull**** is that s***, feels just like the work. Essential work. But it surely’s additionally the enjoyable. And in the suitable palms, possibly rap generally is a instrument for instructing my son one thing it is taken me this lengthy to be taught. So long as he by no means stops asking his favourite query, “What’s this tune about?”
I see a softness in my son. The child’s 3 years previous. He is purported to be comfortable. However typically I see that softness and I am embarrassed by it. Perhaps ‘trigger it jogs my memory how comfortable I’m, and the way I spent half my life making an attempt to camouflage it. I take a look at him and I see the child that cries too lengthy when he is hurting inside. I see him and I bear in mind the look my dad used to provide me once I did that.
I’ve tried to provide him that look. However my son simply retains on wailing. The look does not work on him both. And I secretly take satisfaction in that. At the same time as I struggle again the urge to strip it away. I do not wanna make him arduous. I do not. Not too arduous. Arduous sufficient to outlive. However comfortable sufficient to dwell. With out being afraid. Or unforgiving. Or useless.
And I hope music generally is a lifeline someway. I do know this downside is larger than my one son. But it surely appears like probably the most significant work I can do. One thing I can maintain myself accountable for. As a result of the reality is: I want work too. I will undoubtedly need to unlearn some issues about who I’m and the individual I think about him to be. I am additionally making an attempt to go away myself open to no matter he has to show me. Even when it is learn how to be softer.
‘Trigger the identical means I gave my son blood and breath, he gon’ get these beats n’ rhymes. We Black. And rhythm is all we’ve that could not be stripped from us or stolen away. So he deserves each little bit of that. It is his with out asking. However he deserves to have it in a means that does not require him to lie, die or trigger hurt — to himself or anybody else.
What I’ve at all times cherished about hip-hop is it is a self-regulating tradition. We decide what’s cool, what’s corny, what’s cap. We set the tone, take the temp and inform the time. Which means there’s house for the subsequent 50 years of hip-hop to be a jammin’-ass course correction — a counter-revolutionary remix, intersectional and liberatory as all hell. Me and also you, yo mama and your cousin, too. I feel that is the textured love Kiese’s speaking about. And I wanna give that to all our youngsters.