I used to love h.e.r. By h.e.r., I mean hip-hop, as exemplified by Common’s classic record. Now, I love H.E.R., the R&B songstress. It’s funny how things change.
I used to sit in my room for hours listening to the latest tapes and CDs I bought from the record store. I would sit by my boom box all day just to catch my favorite songs on the radio and record them to make mixtapes. Artists like Tupac, Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr and the Wu Tang Clan permeated the halls of my suburban home from behind the closed door of my 3rd floor bedroom.
I could always relate to hip-hop, although I always felt partly removed from it. Hip-hop was from the streets. I certainly wasn’t. My interaction with the streets came from playing street basketball and going to parties and go-go’s.
During the day time, I was at private school, busting jokes with my homies at lunch and macking on chicks in the hallways. I got very good grades, but not as good as my sister’s. She went to Harvard. So, did my mom (RIP). My dad was an economist at the World Bank.
I grew up with a privileged background. It was much different than the lives of the rap stars I looked up to. But, it was still the music in my heart. Its stories were the closest I could find to my experience as a young black male in America. I was far from a nerd. Girls loved me. I was tall, handsome and athletic and filled with anger and aggression at the oppressive American system and what I saw as moral weaknesses at certain people I encountered.
In hip-hop music I found like-minded individuals who yearned for change. When I discovered Black on Both Sides by Mos Def, I had found my favorite album and my favorite song, “Umi Says.” Hip-hop music had violence, drugs and misogyny from early on. But, it had redemptive qualities. It told the truth, a truth that wasn’t being told in the mainstream media. It was a serious art form. MCs took care in their lyrics. Producers created hot beats with beautiful melodies. Hip-hop was something to appreciate.
Now the youth listen to artists like Tekashi 69, Lil’ Xan and Lil’ Uzi Vert, etc and think it’s good music. They don’t know any better. I used to be excited to rip off the plastic on a new album from a record store. Now I illegally download the latest trash records onto my laptop so I can DJ at parties for millennials and younger audiences.
I get jealous of earlier eras of music. The 60’s had Motown artists like Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross. The 70’s had Soul Train, Marvin Gaye and the Stylistics. The 80’s had Prince, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. We have Jay-Z, I guess. That’s actually somewhat laughable compared to the names I mentioned.
Call me a cultural critic and I’ll say I’m just observant. What if I told you there was a musical genre and culture that glorified murder, drug dealing, adultery, premarital sex, wasting money, disrespecting women and other crimes. You might say that music must have come from the devil. Currently, hip-hop culture, which highly influences black culture is morally bankrupt. We are in need of change, desperately. As Mos Def said on Black on Both Sides, “We are hip-hop.” We need to change our culture for the good of society and humanity, really.
Don’t get it twisted. There is good hip-hop out there. Artists from the new generation like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar come to mind. It’s just for the most part good artists like them don’t get popularized. A lot of that has to do with record label executives restricting the type of music artists can make. They think gangsta music equals dollars. But the blame doesn’t lie solely with them. It’s on us. People still support the terrible music rappers make these days.
I’m in love with a different woman now. I’ll keep playing H.E.R. songs on repeat until the original love of my life decides to come home.