Music—Probably the Worst Thing Out There
Jul 14, 2010 Other 2001 Views
I was in Argentina for three weeks this year. My wife and I were checking into a hotel, and the young man helping us behind the counter was in his early twenties. There was a radio on behind him, and when a new song began to play, he smiled and turned it up as he found our reservations on his computer screen. The music was Tango — you know, accordions and everything. It wasn’t something I listen to, but going to Argentina, I was looking forward to learning about it.
When the song began, the young man began singing along. He sang quietly, but unabashedly. Another receptionist, a young girl next to him, began swaying her shoulders, as if someone had just come up from behind and put their arms around her. It was a slow love song, and I thought it was quite beautiful. It was obvious Argentina’s younger generation takes their music just as seriously as ours.
You don’t need to be at teacher to see how hooked our youth has become to music and their portable music devices — MP3 players, cell phones — they now carry more music in something the size of a lighter than all the CDs I’ve owned in my life. Not that music itself is a new obsession among the young, but the ease with which kids can now access it makes it seem like it’s more popular than ever. They are plugged in when they wake up, when they walk to school, in between class, in class, after school, on the bus, at the mall, and even at the dinner table. It’s been an amazing thing to see — the evolution that began with the Walkman has ended with iTunes.
Of course we all have our opinions about this phenomenon, and there are a lot of directions I can go with this. Is this reliance on cell phones and iPods making our kids more selfish, closed off, anti-social, and in the end, disrespectful? Or is it an acceptable reprieve from their difficult lives, a place they go to escape? The culture of hand-held electronics is a divisive issue and everyone has strong feelings, I’m sure. But I’m going to focus on the aspect of this issue I feel is most important.
What is coming out of those earphones?
I love hip-hop and rap. Love it. In fact, I grew up listening to it, and I didn’t listen to much else. I know every song of Cypress Hill’s “Black Sunday” by heart. If you gave me a beat, I could rattle off more verses of Biggie Smalls, Talib Kweli, and Wu-Tang Clan than all my students put together (unfortunately I’m not great at freestyling). To demonstrate iambic pentameter to my students, I rap Shakespeare’s sonnets, and have them beat their desks to the stressed syllables. I own turntables (yes, for records), and next school year I have decided they will take up permanent residence in my classroom.
And when Doggystyle first came out, it was the defining album of my youth.
But today, I feel rap music has become one of the worst parts of our culture, and I have turned my back on it.
Whew. It was hard for me to say that, but there it is.
When rap first came out, it was revolutionary. Public Enemy, NWA, Snoop Dogg, Tupac and Biggie. It was new and fresh. It brought to life aspects of America not many people had realized existed until then. It showed us the plight of African-Americans in our poorest cities, and reminded us that we still had a long way to go before true equality could ever exist. And it boldly met these problems with a justified anger, with a new twist to Rhythm and Blues that let us really get funky and freaky. In short, it was cool, and it had a message.
But here we are, thirty years later, and not only has mainstream rap failed to evolve, it has become petty and ignorant. Gone is the political anger that resonated from Run-DMC and Chuck D. Gone is any sort of message aside from a love of material wealth (which includes women, who are possessions and not people) and a hatred of, well, not The Man anymore; now a rapper’s angst is focused only on Haters, whoever the hell they are.
Today, the biggest guy in rap is aptly named Lil’ Wayne, perhaps highlighting rap’s importance in anything these days. Let me show you some of his lyrics:
I say he so sweet, make her wanna lick the wrapper
So i let her lick the wrapper
She-she-she lick me like a lollipop (yeah)
She-she lick me like a lollipop, lollipop (yeah)
She-she-she lick me like a lollipop (yeah)
She-she lick me like a lollipop, lollipop
Shawty want a thug (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Bottles in the club (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Shawty wanna hump (yeah, yeah)
You know i like to touch (yeah) your lovely lady lumps
(She lick me like a wrapper)
Shawty want a thug (she lick me like a, i like that)
Bottles in the club (i like that)
Shawty wanna hump (haha)
You know i like to touch your lovely lady lumps
(come on, yeah)
Honestly, that’s got to be the worst song I’ve ever heard in my life. Unfortunately it is the most popular song on Lil’ Wayne’s album Tha Carter III, and he is the most popular rapper in the world right now. He is The Beatles. He is Bob Dylan. Can you honestly say you think a 13-year-old-girl should be learning this song by heart? No? Well guess what, there are millions of them who listen to that song twenty times a day, and even know the dance that goes with it.
Of course, I’m being hard on Rap, but this kind of ridiculous drivel is evident in ALL the music our kids listen to. One of the most popular songs in 2010 has been “I’ve Gotta Feeling”, a techno-dance song by The Black Eyed Peas. Here is the last verse:
Here we come
Here we go
We gotta rock
Now we on top
Feel the shot
Rock it don’t stop
Round and round
Up and down
Around the clock
Saturday and Sunday
Get get get get get
With us you know
what we say
What in God’s name are they even talking about?
I try not to think about the fact that by writing that song (which is really just a list of clichés followed by the days of the week), will.i.am, their main songwriter and performer, made more money than I’ll ever make in my life.
If a 9th grader wrote this as part of my Poetry Unit, I would fail them, and maybe set up an IEP meeting, because I might worry something was wrong with how their brain was processing language. I mean look, I get it, it’s got a cool beat and is fun to dance to. It’s about partying and sex. But really, I would love to sit will.i.am down and ask him just what in the hell he is trying to say with his music. And I would ask him and Lil Wayne this question: “Do you think your music is good for your youth audience in any way, I mean, do you think it benefits anyone on Earth?”
Granted, I could also post lyrics from Doggystyle and NWA, and could give an analysis of their lyrics in just as stark a light. But the difference is that with them it was new, and they really did have a message our country needed to hear at the time. But after thirty years, rap is nothing but a parody, and rappers are these ridiculous caricatures who stand for nothing but their own personal gain.
I remember something Ice T said in an interview about today’s rap music. He said something to the effect of, “The funny thing about rap is that you sing about cars, women and money, and by doing that you get cars, women and money. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.” But here is where rap fails to really be an art — cars, women, and money are things, not themes.
Like I said before, it isn’t just rap music. Look up the lyrics of any of your kid’s songs, and you’ll be surprised, and a little confused as to what they are even about. You’ll also be mortified.
Here’s the thing: when I was in Argentina this year, watching the young boy and girl sway to a Tango love song, I couldn’t help watching them with awe and admiration. They were raised listening to this deep, cultural sound, and it had made them who they were. It was a part of them, and I thought about our kids back home, and what kind of music had bonded into their beings.
In Argentina, a poignant love song in the Tango is a part of every kid’s soul. In the US, the souls of our kids are made up of “She-she-she lick me like a lollipop (yeah).”
So it has been with a heavy heart that I have turned my back on rap. Although it hasn’t been too hard for me, because to me, Lil’ Wayne isn’t rap or hip-hop. He is nothing.
But the biggest issue here is that our kids don’t stand for anything anymore, because the music they listen to doesn’t stand for anything. They are focused on material wealth, and other things, because our music has lost its deeper themes. Today’s music is about sex, partying, and things, and nothing else.
Actually, it is about one other thing—being stupid. There is actually a movement out there in music that is simply calling for kids to be as dumb as they can possibly be. They actually say it! “Go dumb,” “Get stupid,” and the latest by none other than the Black Eyed Peas “Let’s get retarded.” These artists are literally telling kids to be morons, and they are voluntarily tuning in by the millions.
So when I see all these kids on campus, and at the mall, and on the streets plugged into their iPods, I know they are bonding with the music that is absorbed into their bodies every day, and it is becoming a part of who they are. The problem is that they are absorbing guys like Lil’ Wayne, or as I call him, nothing. And they are becoming nothing, because that is what our music has become, especially rap, my first love.
As for me, I’m still going to listen to the hip-hop of my youth, and the underground artists out there who still have a message. But it will always be with mixed feelings. Maybe next time I teach Romeo and Juliet to my 9th graders, I’ll rap these lines:
“My only love sprung from my only hate, too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me. That I must love a loathèd enemy.”
Better yet, I’ll recite it to my students with some Tango music in the background.