shutup

In November of 2004, I was getting my BA in Feminist Studies and debating if I should move to Canada because, really America, another four years of W? Ugh. Aside from the anti-Bush sentiments slapped on my truck–“The Only Bush I Trust is My Own” (and underneath that I wrote “and my girlfriend’s”), “Not My Government” and “F the President”–some of the other bumper stickers on the tailgate of my black Ford Ranger were:

I kid. I have nothing to contribute in terms of White Rock journalism, which is fierce over here as of late. And that’s not to say I haven’t loved this year’s releases by screamy white-boy bands like the Japandroids, the Cloud Nothings or, say, Titus Andronicus. White Rock is in pretty good shape, and when is it not?

Nah, right here is this petulant white boy’s favorite rap tracks of 2012, in no particular order, mostly Black, in no way comprehensive, just as good as good gets.

If Run DMC are The Beatles of the rap world, then Public Enemy are The Rolling Stones. Hell, they’re The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Sex Pistols all rolled into one unstoppable rhythmic megaforce. Few bands  have left a cultural footprint as massive as Public Enemy, who began their recording career twenty-five years ago with a sound that paired the funk of James Brown with the snarl of punk rock. That these New York-based rappers have lasted a quarter century, selling millions of albums and touring over eighty countries speaks to the universal, gut-level appeal of their uncompromising lyrical attack.

I

We mad fly; we
Dream dry; we
Scribble drunk; we
Fake the funk; we
Keeps it real; we
Sly conceal; we
Royal hall; we
Southern drawl; we
Bleed tears; we
Clink cheers; we
Fling curves; we
Gnaw nerves; we
Break it down; we
Class clown; we
Write raw; we
Down by law.

“Writing about architecture is like dancing to music.”

-Nobody

 

Last summer I gushed over the unbridled majesty of a well-written music biography. The purpose of the essay was to highlight the elements of a compelling rock biography and to point out some of the better examples in the last twenty years. I confess that I also enjoyed writing about the mud shark incident.

De gustibus non est disputandum.

Even before I became a Latin major in college (another in a long and colorful string of jackass moves by yours truly), I knew what this sentence meant.  It basically means “there’s no accounting for taste.”

From my earliest age, music has been manna for my soul.  It has been one of the primary platforms where I relate to the world (and to myself).  From my first album (Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman”), to my first concert (Aerosmith, 1984, Worcester, MA), through tens of thousands of LPs, cassettes, cds, MP3s, concerts, shows, festivals, mix tapes, radio stations, etc., right up to the last time I played guitar (twenty minutes ago), music has accompanied me in virtually all endeavors, big and small.  As I compose this article, I am listening to the album “Wrecking Ball,” by Dead Confederate.

For every trip I’ve taken, there has been a corresponding mix.  Every relationship, an artist. I have go-to albums for every mood, and to this day few things excite me more than making a mix for a friend.  My tastes, like Tiger Woods’ girlfriends, are all over the place.

“No, Delilah … you don’t gangbang,” I said softly, almost absentmindedly, as I stroked the animal’s soft furry head and underbelly. Curled in my arms, Delilah was purring blissfully — and I was even feeling rather relaxed myself.

“What did you just say?” my mother, who was sitting across the table from me smoking an after-dinner cigarette, said suddenly, an odd look on her face.

It was 1994. I was 14 years old and I had recently discovered hip-hop; rap; well, gangsta rap really. Snoop Doggy Dog and Dr. Dre, Notorious B.I.G., the Wu-Tang Clan — their lyrics floated through my head constantly, a strange but beautiful and fascinating tapestry of violence, bravado and poetry. At that moment, I had been reciting Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage” to myself:

Niggas are the same from Watts to Brooklyn /

I try to keep my faith in my people /

But sometimes my people be acting like they evil /

And you don’t understand about runnin’ with a gang /

Cuz you don’t gangbang …

Staring down at Delilah, her tiny gray head, her squinting, innocent eyes, the calm rumble of her contentment, I reflected on the powerful truth of these words: No, Delilah did not understand about running with gangs — she did not gangbang.

“Oh, I was just joking around with myself I guess,” I said to my mother, who had crushed her cigarette in the ashtray and was staring at me: “I was imagining Delilah in a rap song … I just said that she doesn’t gangbang.”

“Robert, don’t use that word,” my mother said quietly, seriously. She looked uncomfortable, and that was making me uncomfortable. I could probably count on one hand the number of times my mother had told me not to do something.

“Well, I don’t see what the big deal is,” I said quickly, wanting to laugh it off.

“It’s a very derogatory word … very disrespectful to women.”

“What? No — it’s got nothing to do with women,” I said. Clearly my mother was confused about something. Of course, she couldn’t really be expected to understand — what could a 46-year-old white woman possibly know about gangbangers? I had tried to play her parts of Enter the 36 Chambers and some other favorites, but they were beyond her comprehension. I, on the other hand, knew all about gangbangers, original gangstas, studio gangstas, real muthaphuckkin’ G’s — just about any type of G you could imagine, really. I decided to illuminate her:

“Mom — gangbanging means, like, you know, being a gang member. The black guys in the gangs in Los Angeles and whatever — and some rappers, the real ones — they’re gangbangers.”

My mother just shook her head at me.

“Well, what do you think it means?” I said, suddenly feeling defensive.

There was a long, awkward pause. My mother lit another cigarette.

“A gang bang,” she said tentatively, “is when many men have sex with one woman at the same time. It’s very degrading. You shouldn’t even joke about it.”

I suddenly had that same terrible feeling I’d had, years before, when after being tormented on the playground for my ignorance, I’d asked my mother what “horny” meant. Oh dear God. We never spoke about sex, and for it to come up now, in this bizarre context — it was almost more than I could bear. (Delilah, perhaps sensing the horrible tension hanging over the table, hopped down from my lap and dashed out of the room.) My mind was racing — what was my mother talking about? I’d never heard of this before. Why would a bunch of men even want to have sex with the same woman at the same time? Had I been misunderstanding all these rap lyrics all this time? I considered myself a student of rap slang, and it seemed impossible that I could have gotten it so wrong.

“No … I mean, come on … I don’t think that’s what it means. That’s not what they’re talking about. But, well … okay, I won’t say it again. Sorry. That’s really not what I meant.” I rose from the table as quickly as possible and dashed upstairs to my room.

Fourteen years later, Delilah, who was maybe a year old at the time, is still having kittens like clockwork. She’s so fertile that my friends often joke about it: “Man, she’s having more kittens? She’s such a ho! She must’ve had kittens by every cat in the neighborhood.” I always smile and laugh — and, inwardly, cringe. Perhaps the sweet, slinky, and always mysterious Delilah does, in fact, gangbang.