It’s the beginning of the holiday season yet again, and with it comes the slew of magical moments we look forward to every year: Carbo-loading with sweet potatoes, casseroles and assorted flavors of pie. All day marathons of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” and other Bravo reality favorites. Never-ending hunts for the one burned-out bulb keeping an entire strand of Christmas lights from glowing.
Oh, and getting flak from family members when you’re home for winter break — especially about your taste in music.
At least, that’s what happens at my house. Every time I play hip hop in front of my older relatives — be it when I’m washing Thanksgiving dishes or cleaning the house for a Christmas party — they use it as an opportunity for criticism, commenting on what “kids listen to these days” and the collapse of our culture’s values. It becomes a war between generations, and I struggle to defend young people everywhere. After years of enduring these battles, I’ve heard it all: Every rapper is sexist. The only thing rappers care about is “getting hoes” and money. Hip hop in general is more shallow and offensive than it ever was in the past.
It’s usually a hopeless fight. After all, it takes a lot of courage to tell someone as lovable (and as good at cooking) as my mom that she’s wrong. Still, not even the loudest Waka Flocka Flame song can quiet the argument brewing in my head: Today’s hip hop doesn’t suck any more than it did when my parents were kids.
Let’s face it — listening to rap in the company of family members is rarely a positive experience. Adults just have an uncanny ability to drain this genre of its joy, as they make it less about articulation and rhythm and more about the moral implications of Ludacris’s sex life. What parents overlook, however, is how graphic their music was, even when they remember it being harmless.
Take, for instance, Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” Sure, the late ’70s gem is dressed up with a barrage of “boogies” and exclamatory “oh yeah!”s, but it still contains the controversial themes found in today’s rap music. The song thoroughly covers the importance of hotel parties, strategies for picking up women and why the gang is better than every other rapper out there — for 14 entire minutes. Some of the lines are just as shocking as your average Lil Wayne single, as they boast about having “super sperm” and sleeping with their ladies’ friends as soon as they start “actin’ up.” Arrogant? Check. Sexist? You bet.
But the obscenities don’t stop there — they just keep rolling through the decades. Your mind doesn’t have to be wedged in a gutter to pick up on the sexual tones in the 1986 song “Push It,” as Salt-N-Pepa supplies listeners with enough breathy vocals and “Ooh baby”s to nourish a late-night Pay-Per-View purchase. LL Cool J’s “Big Ole Butt” is even crasser — yes, the lyrics are as literal as the title suggests. And when was the last time you listened to N.W.A. without hearing some sort of reference to domestic or gang violence?
Even the rapper-turned-reverend Joseph Simmons’s lyrics are far from pious: Run-DMC songs like “Dumb Girl” quake with the same sexual and misogynistic undertones found in today’s Top 40. The premise of the song is simple, as the rappers viciously condemn a girl for being too easy. They call her a “stupid sex fiend with no willpower” and criticize her active nightlife — word on the street is that she’s “always sniffin’ or givin’ somebody a blow.”
Sorry, Mom and Dad, but your music just isn’t appropriate to play at the dinner table.
Don’t be fooled by this superficial boldness, though. I’d never actually use this as ammo in arguments with my parents, especially with the month of presents and free laundry service drawing near. I’ve accepted the awkward friction between our music as something young people have endured since the beginning of time — or more specifically, since Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” first played in our family’s car on the way to the Christmas tree lot 10 years ago. Now that’s a holiday memory worth forgetting.