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For most people who know me, you know that I am in love with Ice Cube. Don’t ask me why, maybe it’s his pyroclastic flow, maybe it’s the fact that he looks like a teddy bear, or maybe it’s his prestige as an actor…who knows. Point is I love him, and his music.
I have gone through phases of listening to rap, I really like it, I hate it, I love the lyrical genius, I hate the constant derogatory undertones. Ultimately, I have landed on side of liking rap. From a cultural standpoint it is important, as my mom always says “rap is urban storytelling”. As silly as it sounds, it’s true. It is people passing their life stories onto the community by way of oral tradition. One of the reasons why I have an appreciation for rap is because I like listening to and decoding what artists are saying. (I’m not talking about bullshit pop-rap, I’m mainly talking about 80s-90s early 00s rap). Listening, not passively, but actively listening to rap is so interesting. And, it was, often times, ignorantly, hilarious to me. My middle-class, white, country life is so far removed from the stories told in these songs that I had a hard time believing them. I’d ironically sing along to Bitches Ain’t Shit, but I had no frame of reference, no sense of understanding that this is actually, more or less, what life is like for some people, a lot of people.
This brings me to a sad epiphany and back to my love of Ice Cube. I was jamming out hard one day to my “straight up g-thuggin'” cd, when Hood Mentality came on. I’d heard the song before, but I hadn’t ever really listened to it. And I had certainly never listened to it in the context of my work (long story short I work with at-risk youth of all ages). Not only does the song mix a dope beat (that’s right) with well thought out sarcasm, but it also seriously delves into realities of growing up in the hood.
1. “Fuck school, nigga, I’ma be a dope dealer”- I have had so many first hand experiences with youth and drugs. First, there is always that parent who is a crackhead. Their child stops going to school, stops bathing, they roam the streets. Then they get evicted because of unsafe living conditions, not to mention they haven’t had power or running water for a few months now. Second, there is always that parent who is a drug dealer. Crackheads come up to the house while the kids are there, get high, get belligerent, the feds bust down the door in the middle of the night and the kids get pawned off to some neighbor. Third, there are always those kids who are the drug dealers. Children are our future, and also future dealers, unless something stops them (death, jail, hope, positive role model). I have had multiple students talk to me about dealing drugs at a young age: elementary school. I have re-told some of the stories and people don’t believe me. Sometimes I don’t believe them either. Not only are children witnessing drug culture all around them, but the are engulfed in it and often times see no other way out. Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Right?
2. “if I grow a little taller, everybody tell me I’m gon’ do it, I’m gon’ be a baller”- Far too often, boys especially, are told that sports is the ticket out of the hood. I’m not telling students not to reach for their goals, but they also need to realize that the chances of them being the next LeBron, Jordan, even Rush (I didn’t say it they did) or the next Sproles, Brees, or Graham is slim. This is not a logical or probable goal for most students. (Yes, there will always be that epic all American dream story and I’m sure some waspy white lady will be happy to play the role of “stable mother-figure”). This does not mean that students get a pass on academics or trade skills, because lets face it, unless you’re a Shaq or a Jordan, the chances of you going broke after making it big are seriously high. This a very real conversation I have had with multiple students.
3. ” ’cause you read your first book in the penitentiary”- This is the line that really brought it home for me. I have a student who did not know how to read until he was in juvie in 6th grade. Sixth grade and he didn’t know how to read. This line is what made me realize what I had been too ignorant to see before: this is life for hundreds of thousands of youth around the country.
This life doesn’t seem like life in the all mighty America.