I don’t claim to be a rap aficionado; I only know the mainstream artists and have a few comforting favorites. Before college I was solidly a classic rock fan. We all listened to the “Dazed and Confused” soundtrack on school trips. I have fond memories of Foghat’s “Slow Ride” blasting through my Walkman headphones as we glided along the vast, cotton field-flanked West Texas highways. I have no idea what music was popular in the 90’s because I listened to the music from my parents’ school days. The Beatles had formed my foundation in junior high, accompanied by Led Zeppelin in high school, and later The Who in graduate school.
Over the past year or two I’ve settled into a comfort zone of late 90’s rap, which reminds me of my (somewhat) carefree college days. Each time I get in the car and turn on my stereo or put in my headphones at the gym I gleefully anticipate the sarcasm of Jay-Z, the grumpiness of Dr. Dre, the smart-alecky wit of Tupac, the menacing broodiness of Biggie Smalls, and the psychotic self-deprecating ramblings of Eminem. It started out with a few guilty pleasure songs (come on, Lil Jon is FUNNY, and “F**kin’ Problems” by A$AP Rocky is genius) and then it soon demanded an extensive folder in my iTunes. I’m not sure what flipped the switch–the unintended (or intended) comedy, the aggressive beats that drove my workouts, the poetic gems hidden amongst the drugs and violence, or maybe it was something else.
To say I “identify” with these artists implies that I have an intimate understanding of the desperate struggles of poverty, oppression, violence, and bigotry described by some of these ladies and gentleman. I don’t and to do so would be naive, disingenuous and disrespectful of their real experiences.
So what’s the appeal? Perhaps that “something” was the awakening of my alter ego, the confident badass with the power to shape my future into anything I want. Rap music is the perfect way to indulge that growing flame. The brazen swagger, the almost foolish bravado they demonstrate in the face of adversity is admirable albeit laden with cautionary tales.
Rappers are unknowing proponents of the Law of Attraction. Don’t you think the descriptions of bling and other accoutrements are just a little bit exaggerated? Don’t you think John Gotti just chuckled when rappers playing pretend acted like they knew him? But they sure seemed to have fun pretending they were honorary mob bosses with Cristal flowing every night and diamond-encrusted necklaces shining by day. Why the hell not? Remember the old ditty “We’re In the Money” from cartoons? It was popularized by a Warner Brothers film called “The Gold Diggers of 1933.” If I know my history sh!t had gone down in a very bad way a few years before and would stay solidly there for a decade. I bet there were a few people in the bread line who felt a little better when they hummed that tune despite the misery all around them. Dress for the job you want, adopt the “feeling” of your desires (even if they haven’t manifested yet), muster up the courage to try something new, and you just might up end up getting what you want. That’s actually not a bad approach to life if you take out the…you know…not-so-legal stuff (although some of that sounds fun, doesn’t it? Come on you know it does).
I may have gained some disapproval by what might appear to be glorification of music that promotes violence, misogyny, and sometimes homophobia. I don’t condone any of those things…except for violence towards people who deserve it. I’m not just doing taekwondo for my health after all. This isn’t the first time I’ve rhapsodized about something unsavory–see my blog post on smoking. I’m an adult who can think for herself and treat my pleasure of rap music as indulging in a fantasy like watching a movie or reading a book. Don’t we all root for Hannibal Lecter? Rap music helps me feel like I can do anything I put my mind to, that I’m not the mousy little doormat that took so much abuse for so many years, that I can zero in on what I want and take it (without harming anyone else. I’m a nice gangster).
My fantasy of being a confident, optimistic badass is closer to becoming a reality. Sometimes my taekwondo Grandmaster will have the little kids jump up and shout “I’m the best in the world!” when their energy is waning. I feel the same way when Jay-Z tells me to brush the dirt off my shoulder. Watch out, world. A new gangster is in town.