Friday, August 14, 2009

Black People….It’s okay to branch out when it comes to music

I went to a fairly diverse high school. In fact, our principal, often boasted that our high school was a microcosm of the United States. However, despite the diversity, we still manage to segregate ourselves in to various factions biased on thought, religion, race, and social status. It seemed the main factor for these divisions at the time was musical taste. It defined who you were, and connected you to the members of your various social groups. For example the Emo kids listened to Evanescence and Jap pop, Theater nerds exclusively show tunes (or the occasional rock opera), etc.

Now being a black kid it was expected that I listened to one thing: Hip Hop. So when I reached high school I was immediately placed into a gallant of social stigmas biased on my knowledge of hip hop. Unfortunately for me, hip hop was banned from my home until high school. The first album I even thought of owning was Stankonia by Outkast, and was so shocked by the profanity that I immediately apologized to my mom for purchasing it. I myself was a little budding nerd, who dug Red Hot Chili Peppers, Korn, Linkin Park, and the music of Final Fantasy. As an effect I was hit with a landslide of judgment, and public scoffing.

So what did I do? I faked it. I didn’t particularly like hip hop (with the exception of Outkast, Public enemy, and Eminem) so I forced myself. I believed that to be truly “black” I had to not only love this music, but embody it. Consequently when I entered college I was a hip hop head, to the point where it was in the very swagger of my being.

>But this became an issue. It wasn’t me. I wasn’t gangsta, quite the contrary. I wasn’t a playa. I was just a nerd, who was trying way too hard. As an effect I stuck out, having thrown on this mantle, and trying to fit into my own stereotype of what I thought hip hop was.

In college I found myself hanging in groups of radically different people, unlike in high school, and consequently listening to their various forms of music. It became insane the amount of music that I was exposed to. I listened to everything from show tunes, to classic rock, to blues, to jazz, to salsa, to even country. As an effect I began to form my own taste in music, that is truly and uniquely me.

I thought this would put me at odds with the hip hop world, whose forced exposure helped me form a resounding passion for it, and throughout college it did. What I listened to was not played by my black friends, and my other friends were perplexed and often openly laughed at hip hop. Once again I was at odds with myself.

Then I went to the Roots picnic.


What I discovered was hip hop is not limited to one style of music, rather it is an all encompassing culture that is linked within our generational heritage. It exists in the very foundation of our self expression. The Roots gathered bands from across the musical spectrum, to create an event and a sound that was truly American. It was hip hop. And it was divine.

>It helped me rest a little easier in my skin. I realized that my musical taste could not, nor should it, be dependant on the social groups that we claim.

To my beautiful people who find themselves too often listening to just hip hop or R&B: Music is a part of your identity and a foundation of what you use to express yourself. So let it. Develop a deeper love for all things with a melody, and help it inform you as a person. Allow it to enrich yourself, and perhaps we all will be a little better for it.

And Now for your viewing pleasure the Yeah Yeah Yeahs:


Dead Mike said...

I love it!

Maximillian said...

Couldn't agree more. One of Janet Jackson's most eclectic songs, The Velvet Rope, says "We have a special need to feel that we belong." This need will drive us to listen to music that we believe will help us to belong to the circles that we long to be a part of.

I've been listening to music since I was four years old when I saw Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation video. I've been a music collector ever since. Now that I'm approaching 20 years of listening to music for expression, relaxation, entertainment, and leisure, I can recall going through musical phases like you did.

Listening to certain artists because I thought it would validate me or help me to fit in, pressing the forward button on the iPod too often when certain people are riding with me, forbidding myself from listening to certain types of music for no legitimate reason. Deep down, I think your spirit is trying to tell you what music it enjoys and thrives off of the most but we'll choose to listen to our need to belong instead. When you do finally find the music that you love, it's a liberating and incredible feeling.

ELA Exclusive said...

Very insightful. It is my belief that almost everyone has gone through a musical identity crisis. However, a true lover of music can appreciate how one genre often influences and even samples from another. Blondie was the first female MC I was introduced to, Justin Timberlake (and the rest of the music universe) was influenced by Michael Jackson, and Limp Biskit remade a George Michaels song, same is true for one of Whitney Houston's greatests hits - was written and originally performed by Dolly Parton We are more connected than we sometimes wish to admit.