On Wondering If You Might Be Too Old — Or Too Smart, Too Responsible, Too Feminist, etc — To Still Love Rap » VSB

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On Wondering If You Might Be Too Old — Or Too Smart, Too Responsible, Too Feminist, etc — To Still Love Rap


I took my fiancee’s nephew (“Derek”) to the YMCA to play basketball. He’s 12. On the way to pick him up, I listened to Fabolous’s Soul Mixtape. Usually, when anyone much younger (nephews, nieces, etc) or older (parents, aunts, uncles, etc) gets into the car with me, I’ll listen to the radio. That day, though, I forgot to make the switch. And, as soon Derek got into the car, a very aggressive chorus of “fucks” came through the speakers. Embarrassed, I quickly turned the music down, and we started talking about Kemba Walker and left-handed layups.

I know I’m not the first person to recognize the unique dynamic of being a rap fan. Well, unique in comparison to other popular genres. When my dad would drive me to school and basketball games when I was a child, we’d listen to Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson and Miles Davis and other artists he grew up on. People who grew up on rap—specifically, the ultra vivid and ultra violent rap music from “my” era—will not have that luxury. I can’t image a parent (well, a responsible parent) breaking down “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” the same way my dad broke down “Trouble Man” to me. While not embarrassed (at all) that I’m a fan, part of being a responsible rap fan is acknowledging and understanding that some of the music can be embarrassing if heard around people who don’t happen to be your peers.

Something else recently dawned on me, though. Something that adds another layer to the cognitive dissonance needed to be a fan of a certain type of rap music. The first rap album I owned was LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad.” But, I didn’t become a “hip-hop head” until maybe 1995, when Raekwon and Mobb Deep and Biggie and Big L dominated the airwaves and the homeroom conversations. And, while I know a part of me appreciated and admired their creativity and lyrical dexterity, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this anti-social and nihilistic music most resonated with me when I was a teen—the time when I was the most anti-social and nihilistic. Although I wasn’t outwardly rebellious, the music connected to the latent rebellious spirit I, like most other teens, possessed.

Considering the content found in most popular rap—and most rap I currently listen to—I doubt I’d be a fan if I was first introduced to it as an adult in 2013 instead of a teen in 1993. Maybe I’d appreciate The Roots and other acts with more conspicuous connections to jazz and/or R&B. But, I’d likely find most of the rest to be noisy, vulgar, and embarrassingly misogynistic. Basically, I’d be my dad.

The preceding passage is from “Hey Young World: You Don’t Have to Be a Kid To Fall In Love With Hip-Hop, But It Sure Helps” — a piece I wrote for Complex earlier this week.

Although I made it clear that I’m still very much a fan of some very vulgar and very violent rap music — and I don’t feel bad in anyway about that status — I do sometimes wonder if I should feel bad about itBasically, should I be more bothered by how easily I do the mental gymnastics needed to compartmentalize the music I listen to as just music?

Also, although I can be a bit robotic, I’m not actually a robot. (Surprise, right?) And, because I’m not a robot, I can’t say with 100% certainty that the music I listen to doesn’t have an effect on both my psyche and my personality. Who’s to say that 20 years of listening to violent, vulgar, and misogynistic rap music hasn’t made me a tad more violent, a bit more vulgar, and a little more likely to have negative feelings about women than I would have if I’d never been exposed to it?

(And yes, everything I just said could also be said by someone about TV and movies. But, music tends to be experienced on a more intimate level, and, generally speaking, I think it has more of an effect on you than something on screen does.)

Anyway, am I alone here? Any other long-time hip-hop heads (or just casual fans of rap music) experiencing the same type of ambivalence? Do you ever wonder if you might be too old — or too smart, too educated, too responsible, too feminist, etc — to still love rap as much as you do?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Andrea

    I just came from a Jay Z concert. There was like a 7 year old sitting next to me. Buzz KILL. I ended up sitting down the whole concert because I didn’t want the kid to see me singing along to lyrics about moving keys (kis) I don’t know how to spell that? I feel guilty that my 16 year old cousin knows I attended the concert. I feel like I owe her an explanation. She knows I (occasionally) watch Love and Hip Hop too. Am I failing as a role model? I don’t know what I would do if I had my own kid?

    • Msdebbs

      Why would anybody bring a 7 year old to a Jay-Z concert??? I think it’s okay to enjoy rachet shows like Love & Hip Hop with out compromising yourself. Heck my little sister lived with me all while she went to high school and we would watch that stuff together. She’s currently a sophomore at a 4 year university with 4.0 GPA. Just talk to the kiddies and let em know everything on tv isn’t real its just tv.

      • Andrea

        I Do Not Know?
        I am so happy to hear Lil Sis is doing her thang!!! I don’t have a close relationship with anyone of college age who came up in this new Ratchet TV era. Or this new internet era for that matter. My lil cousin is the only person I have ever had a conversation with who is going through HS with an instagram account. I am not sure Google existed when I was in college. My concept of motherhood is completely attached to how my Mom did it. My Mom never listened to rap music, never watched reality TV, never had a Facebook page. I know I am gonna have a tough time separating those things from my Mom’s image in my head of “Motherly”.

        • Msdebbs

          Yea that FB, twitter and instagram are the devil. I almost shipped her azz back to my folks because of them but persistence, patients, and a whole lot of stalking her accounts helped.

    • Chicken. I would have made a point to scream along to Big Pimpin’. :)

    • Tentpole

      The term is called “FOR ADULTS ONLY”. At one time it was the allowable double standard. The fact that you went is fine. The failure would have been if you took her with you.

  • It’s an odd duality for me to love certain artists/genres as much as I do but I don’t think I’m too smart, educated, feminist, womanist, etc. to enjoy the aforementioned. I’m an AVID fan of Bounce and anything I can shake my jelly to. I still demand respect when I’m bussin’ it open to the new 2 Chainz and Juvenile mash up. People can tell me otherwise but I don’t really care how many degrees I acquire or how firm of an advocate I am for women. I can still enjoy the music I enjoy and uphold my values and beliefs :-)

    • NomadaNare

      I didn’t realize ’till older that part of being a recovering misogynist is defending a woman’s right to do whatever she likes, plus once you said bounce, it was game over.

      • I just don’t think I should have to shun music that tells me to spread my cheeks and get my a$$ ate. That’s something I enjoy and I don’t feel like less of a woman for partaking of the highly gratifying chexual acts which are highly lauded and mostly over exaggerated in the music I listen to.

        I know I’m guilty of pouncing on issues of color and I think the same goes for misogyny. Why can’t men talk about beating it out of the frame without it being some overly violent act? I enjoy that kind of chex. I value it. I enjoy hearing men and women talking about the various ways that a yoni can get pleasured.

        • NomadaNare

          I don’t think it’s possible for me to agree with you more than I do right now. *blush*

          • I hit the nail on the head from time to time ;-)

            • h.h.h.

              I hit the nail on the head from time to time ;-)

              #TWISTH (that’s what i said to her)

    • Val

      I just finished watching the second season of Treme and there was bounce music all through it. I really have to get some on my ipod soon.

  • Sahel

    Age aint nothin but a number just ask Ricky……..

    • again, go away

    • (._. )

    • Well, at least we know who taught him to pander and why. Stockholm Syndrome is a mother, ain’t it?

      • Val

        And the award for most passive-aggressive VSBer goes to….(low drum roll)…….Todd!

        *gets half-azzed standing ovation*

        • I’m sorry for that coming off passive aggressive. I’ll just state it this time.

          RICKY PANDERS TO WOMEN BECAUSE HE WAS TRAINED TO DO SO BY AN ABUSIVE PEDOPHILE WOMAN. There. Glad I could make my meaning more clear. :)

          • This is only half true…..but Malik is a panderer to older ladies so, yea. It is rather disturbing that a 27 year old would be interested in a teenage boy.

          • Val

            Well damn.

          • Rachmo

            Here is the Todd that I’m used to. Whew I feel like my world is right again.

          • Agatha Guilluame

            Are we doing this today? I don’t think we should. In fact, I think you should apologize to Ricky and before you get all swole in the chest hear me out…

            You’ve shared a lot of your personal life on here whenever you’ve felt it was appropriate in order to bolster a point or to shed light on why you have a particular opinion on a particular subject. AND NOT ONCE has anyone thrown that shared information back in your face. No one has played armchair psychologist and told you about yourself. Even though they could, we could, EYE could. We could make judgement calls about the state of your life but we don’t and haven’t. You’ve been messy on here and we’ve let you rock. A LOT of people have been messy on here (although they have the excuse of being young or not that smart or having no fucks to give)…what has your excuse been. Let’s allow Ricky the courtesy of being messy. This is a safe place.

            And I’m PISSED that these last couple of weeks you’ve started making sense again and had me nodding and agreeing and even laughing at your comments ONLY to have you show your a$$ and remind everyone who you really are. I feel like I got got.

            And that’s off the strength of my throbbing puss-C.

            • Val

              Unfortunately I have only one upvote to give.

              • Rachmo

                That is my only regret today.

              • It’s clear you don’t like me. Why?

                • Val

                  Todd, do you have some sort of short term memory problem? You are the one who said, unprompted I might add, that I was your least favorite VSS.It was you who lied on me and said I had some sort of issue with working class folks. It’s you who almost religiously attacks almost every comment I leave.

                  I have never said that I had any issues with you, and I didn’t until you attacked me, so, what in the world are you talking about? Is this some ploy to gain sympathy?

                  • No, I’m asking you point blank. The reason I don’t like you is because you have a nasty habit of attacking people you think are beneath you in very underhanded and passive aggressive ways. Based on what you present here, you think a lot of people are worthy of judgment, and you have no problem attacking people and their motives. Also, you come off very elitist in your viewpoint of the world. That is why I don’t like you, period.

                    • Val

                      Okay, so, why don’t you just leave me alone then? Geez.

                    • Shamira

                      you’re calling someone else elitist? **looks around at all the non-STEM majoring, non-libertarian, “vanilla” secks having regular folk**

                      Must be two sides.

                    • Aly

                      I also found it weird that he called out Val for “attacking people,” yet called Malik “panderer” *shrug*

                    • Shamira

                      Right, and to imply that the only reason that he was able to identify with feminist perspectives more often than not is because of his past? But other people are out of pocket. Interesting.

                    • afronica

                      That’s what happens when you’re always right, but other people are disturbed, elitist, sheep-like, pandering, etc.

            • First, I said it more to clear up the accusation that I was throwing passive aggressive shade at people. I thought my point was clear the first time around, but I had to make myself clear.

              Also, I’ve been messy here, and I don’t really GAF either. I’m curious what this persona I “really am” is about. And hey, I’ll gladly call out my own issues, because they’re ultimately mine and a part of my experience. I’ve done that enough times, and I’ll own that until the end of time because, well, I’m assuming people can read and deduce things for themselves. I’m not mad at Ricky, or looking down at him. It’s just good to know where someone’s coming from, and I apologize if I gave any other impression otherwise. I just don’t like to be accused of something I didn’t do.

              • Rachmo

                So you really didn’t see how that was messed up? Like for real? Bc I read your comment, deeply sighed, and then had to go take a walk.

                • I was accused of attacking someone with a joke, so I decided to put it out there. I was responding to Val more than anything else.

                  • Rachmo

                    Todd. That wasn’t a joke. Pedophilia and what not isn’t funny and you and I both know that. Mocking someone’s chexual history isn’t funny. And saying someone was chexually abused isn’t funny. We know that.

                    Edit: also as I understand Malik’s relationship wasn’t chexual.

            • afronica

              Upvoted infinitely. Thank you for that.

            • Sigma_Since 93

              Why did this post feel like you listened to the Kendrick Lamar verse of Control 40 times before you wrote this?????

              *she spits hot fire*

  • Inspector Ratchet

    It doesn’t bother me at all. Music at it’s core, is supposed to be sonically pleasing. Rap music does this well. Extremely well. I’m aware that a lot of it is misogynistic, materialistic, etc. But I also understand that their (rappers) realities/ideologies aren’t my own (most of the time) and are just presented for entertainment purposes.

    What bugs me, is when people act like you can’t have a valid opinion about certain social issues because you support certain artists. Don’t tell me I can’t be a fan of Rick Ross, and simultaneously try to educate other men about America’s problematic rape culture and victim-blaming.

    Oh and sidenote, my birthday’s tomorrow, but I’ll be working, so if someone can turn up for TUK, that’d be sweet.

    • locks & beards

      Happy early birthday!!! :)

      • Inspector Ratchet

        Thank you. I’m getting up there. Old man status. I’ll be turning 24 years old. At this point I can legally do everything. Except rent a car.

        • locks & beards

          why can’t you rent a car?

          • Inspector Ratchet

            Majority of rental companies in Illinois won’t rent out to people below the age of 25. But I can buy a gun, though…

            • locks & beards

              that don’t make no damn sense. but oh well…..

              • kidvideo

                I’ve heard of niteclubs with a 25 and up age limit…it could have saved Doe B’s life…even though he would not have been able to get in himself.

            • Msdebbs

              Florida too….HBD!

            • Sahel

              Aha,but no drive by shootings that involve rented cars

            • SuperStrings

              You’ll also see your car insurance go down drastically when you turn 25. It’ll be a great day in your life.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      *Daps fellow Capricorn *

      I’ll have a nightcap tomorrow in your honor.

    • Tentpole

      Happy Birthday

    • Happy birthday brother.

    • T-minus 14 hours and counting til the 24th lil ugly. Enjoy it when it hits

    • afronica

      Happy birthday, TUK!

    • Shamira

      Happy Birthday!

    • b sweet

      Happy Birthday TUK!!!

    • Val

      Enjoy your birthday, TUK.

    • Rachmo

      Happy Birthday!!!!

  • Msdebbs

    Sometimes I feel too educated to listen to anything future sings/raps or what ever that gibberish is he is mumbles over those beats. His music is so catchy though….I just can’t help myself.

    • locks & beards

      that song he has with my boo ace hood, where they go looking for Haitians or have some type of Haitianism going on, shoooooooooooo……

    • kidvideo

      So, u like and hate Future’s music…at the same damn time.

  • locks & beards

    I don’t know what devil got into me, but all I listen to nowadays since this past summer is RATCHET/twerk that ssa music (is that considered rap music or is it just noise?). I’ve fallen in love with the devil’s music. To get amped for church, I have my ratchet music lined up (Father forgive me). I LOVE the beats, don’t know the words, should care, but really don’t. Proud feminist, and recognize the hypocrisy in that.

    • Ratchet music will have u amped to do anything

  • Ms Butterfly

    The older I get, the higher my income bracket, and the more removed I feel from rap music. I’m more likely to associate an old rap song with a specific memory or time period in my life than identify with the lyrics. It’s easy to listen to ratchet rap music bc now it feels like a novelty experience, more than a way of life.

    That being said “Beware” by Big Sean does give me a visceral negative reaction. I wonder what that’s about.

    • Inspector Ratchet

      Considering that a lot of rappers brag about having a lot of money, I find it intriguing that the higher your income, the MORE removed you feel from rap.

      • Sahel

        Rap is about the struggle. Can you understand rap if you don’t struggle no more and you call the police for help ????

        • locks & beards

          probably rap from Botswana is about struggle. the one over hurrr NOW or rather MAINSTREAM, is all about money, grinding and phakking.

          • aha! mami, is that you?

            • locks & beards


        • Whose struggle? About Kanye’s struggle to break into Versace clothing? About Jay-Z’s struggle whether or not to buy that Warhol or the Basquiat? The most struggle I hear rappers talk about THESE DAYS is how to keep their money away from heaux.

          • I cannot relate lol But I think no one who isn’t in their circles can. I can relate to J.Cole though (at least his Warm Up mix tape lol) Once rappers (of today) hit this wave of success, they tend to become intangible in terms of relation but the funny thing is that some people go above and beyond to relate to them.

            Twitter is evidence enough that people are dumb enough to try and emulate the lavish or violent lifestyle rappers speak of. I wasn’t around when hip-hop/rap was “authentic and pure” so to speak but there was much more storytelling in the 80’s/90’s as opposed to the extravagant “humble” bragging which I hear in songs now. Different times though. I’m sure as soon as the 20’s hit hip-hop will be fully transformed into techno pop and I really won’t be able to relate.

          • Pusha T speaks to my soul.

          • SuperStrings

            Rapping about shopping…

          • Sigma_Since 93

            At a minimum, these things have the potential to make them money. However, they are too far removed from their base. I think THIS is what the chilren need


            • Sigma_Since 93

              Who downvoted me?? It’s about the lyrics mayne!!

              • Me, you want to fight about it?

                • Sigma_Since 93

                  I’ll race you and I’ll even give you a one hurdle head start. Then you can watch your pappy spank dat azz! LOL!! #HURDLELIFE!!!

                  • You’ll dislocate a hip trying to race me lol Stay in your geriatric lane gramps. Your sons need you healthy.

                    • Sigma_Since 93

                      I can still get over dem 42’s. Don’t get scared.

                    • You aren’t trying to see how expensive hip replacement and rehab is. Don’t do it. It’s a long and painful road.

                    • Sigma_Since 93

                      Look just because YOU haven’t straddled a hurdle since high school doesn’t me that I haven’t been putting in my work. You just don’t want to get beat by a man nearly twice your age! *Breezy ques up the song*

      • Ms Butterfly

        I guess because I know it’s an illusion. Most of them are one flop single away from poverty and obscurity. Plus I don’t hear anyone rapping about pension plans, stock options, and mutual funds. A strippers’ panties is not a viable investment.

        • locks & beards

          they may not rap about the aforementioned, but what I do know is that some, like Lil Wayne and company, invest in obscure assets we would never think of them to do, such as OIL.

          • Sahel

            Nobody wants to end up like Hammer…..

            • Ms Butterfly

              …..or thousands of other rappers who only had one semi-hit that people barely remember.

              • Sahel

                Ay bay bay

                • Ms Butterfly


                  I’mma throw some D’s on it, then shoulder lean bc I’m sick of being lonely.

    • That statement sounds so archetypal of the ‘bougie black person’. Not a knock on you, but I’ve run into a lot of people (usually 35+) that say pretty much verbatim what your first paragraph entails. They always talk about Nas and Dilla and De La or what have you when you talk to them about rap, and have absolutely NO interest in new, interesting, intellectually-stimulating rappers in the underground today.

      Tanya Morgan actually did a skit about it on their Moonlighting album (http://tanyamorgan.bandcamp.com/track/the-record-spot-intro).

      • It’s called being old and hidebound. Apparently, people think the music they listened to from 13-25 will be the best music EVAH, no matter what else comes out before or since. Personally, I think that if they would engage in some self-directed euthanasia, the world would be a better place, but that’s just me.

        • You’re so mean :-/

          But it happens in every generation. The 35+ crowd will live and die by 80’s and early-mid 90’s hip-hop and tell anyone born post 1983, that they’re life isn’t worth living because they don’t know true hip-hop.

          Circle of life.

        • Ms Butterfly

          ….well dang. People aren’t allowed to grow up?

          • Yes, but they aren’t allowed to pretend that they aren’t growing up.

      • Ms Butterfly

        Most of us don’t have the time to constantly keep up anymore. I might check out some new underground artists if I happen upon them while listening to Pandora, but that’s it. Plus I can’t see most self respecting black women spending hours sifting through all the misogynistic crap to find the few gems.

        • If you look in the right places, you’re not sifting through such crap. Find a couple of quality blogs, and you’re golden. Ask your friends. Listen to hip-hop podcasts that feature your favorite artists. Go to Okayplayer. There aren’t really any excuses, if you do find time (I’m assuming) to get up on the new TV Shows or Books or Movies that are out there these days. I know it takes energy…but it’s worth it. If you need help, I can start you off with a list of about 10 cats to peep.

  • Kinghenry2007

    I love me some ROOTS, The next movement

  • I Am Your People

    Me watching the BET Awards – “Is that Future and/or Ace Hood and/or 2 Chainz? Why are Rick Ross’ boobs bigger than Nicki Minaj’s? Who is that? Who is he? Wait…El DeBrarge is still alive??”

    So yeah, too old. I’m like


  • It’s a LOT easier when you became a ‘head’ around the Rawkus era. I have a similar story to you, Champ, about how I first started with a couple of albums that I didn’t really sink my teeth into. My cousins introduced me to Hip-Hop, but what they were listening to devolved over the years, from Run DMC, Kane, “Hard as Hell” LL, and Rakim, to NWA, UGK, Spice-1, and Ghetto Boys. At this point, they were getting into gangs and probably doing illegal things. I was a little younger, so I just shrunk away into my video games.

    Fast forward about 5 years, and I really got into BlackStar, Slum Village, Common, and “Posthumous/Introspective” Pac. But being from the Midwest, I heard it all, from E-40 to Dungeon Family to Bone to DMX to The Liks. Because of that, I was able to get a SUPER-wide perspective on Hip-Hop as a whole, and I was able to choose my own lane. That helped a lot, and considering I didn’t go down the same path as my cousins, the music I listened to reflected my path.

    I did have that bit of ‘fitting in’ during my late teens that mandated me to listening to more of the stuff I wouldn’t personally pick out for my own mixtape (Too Short, Biggie, Wu-Tang, Jay-Z)–cause you know, back in the late 90’s, MIXTAPES were actually cassettes on which you would record off the radio mix shows and whatnot. So I ended up going the mostly Rawkus and Violator route, Pharoahe Monch, Wordsworth, Q-Tip, Busta, Dilla, Kweli, Mos, etc.

    I’m actually proud of my tastes these days, because it shows diversity throughout Hip-Hop. Listen to one of my 40-song playlists and you’ll give me several side-eyes, but afterwards you’ll probably have a much broader perspective of not only my tastes, but the landscape that continues to survive today. Sure, there’s some foul language in there, but hell, my grandparents cussed as much as DMX at one point when I was growing up.

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