I feel like a traitor, all in my Bishop from Juice skulkiness because I’ve got a secret that, until now, hasn’t done much more than randomly whisper in the back of my mind. It honestly isn’t something I wanted to admit to myself, much less confess out loud. But here it goes:
I think I’ve outgrown hip-hop.
I’m waiting for that feeling of relief, the burden-off-the-shoulders freedom you’re supposed to experience whenever you offload some major confession. But I don’t feel unfettered at all. I just feel sad, like I lost something that was really precious to me and I know I’ll never see it again. Letting the thought bubble up, and then typing it onto the screen, made it real. As much as I’ve loved and lived the music, I can’t really call myself a fan anymore.
I make this declaration, ironically enough, while spectators are steady buzzing about “Otis” and the impending tour de force that is Watch the Throne. I can’t help but be quietly underwhelmed on my side of the single. I love Jay and I adore Kanye. But I sense they’ll be spittin’ more unbridled bravado. More models, money and machismo. More flagrant wastefulness, silly designer name-dropping and references to the posh luxuries that me and my poverty-line straddling behind can’t afford. Kanye says he’s not going to hell because he did Jesus Walks. I’m over here wondering what he’s done for Jesus lately.
Even up until a few years ago, I was a womanist who was all power to the people—until I hit somebody’s dance floor. Then I could turn that revolutionary sensor way, way down for the sake of shaking my hindparts to a hot beat. I knew “Get Low” went against everything I stood for, but let that bass line drop and I’d be dropping right along with it, shaking it like the video girls I was so critical of. Now I can’t even crank my rear up to dance to a song because the lyrical foolishness is the loudest part of the production.
My best friend still enjoys the ability to tuck her Black power fist and She-Ra girl power away when it’s time to cut loose and just enjoy herself. She knows rappers by name and does dances to go along with the appropriate tunes from the 106 & Park countdown. So when we go out, she’s all hip and with it. I, on the other hand, am all crotchety and cranky.
“Ugh, I hate this song,” I complained when an ode to white girls blasted through the speakers. I posted up against the wall in protest. She danced me back out.
“Did he just call her a ‘bitch?’” I snorted in disgust. Back to the wall I went.
Basically, unless the DJ’s playing The Percolator, unoffensive dancehall or heyday rap tracks, I’m pretty much a drag to go clubbing with these days.
You know how in Brown Sugar Sidney Shaw can recall when she first fell in love with hip-hop? You can’t tell me I’m not the real-life version of that character, down to the magazine gigs and the brownstone in Brooklyn—but sadly, minus a Taye Diggs and Boris Kodjoe battle royale for my affection. Unlike her, though, there was never an a-ha moment that launched my love affair because hip-hop’s always just been there, serving up the soundtrack for most of my fondest memories and standout experiences.
When I mustered up the nerve to ask Shide Fells to couples skate in the fourth grade, the spark for my get ‘em girl attitude was lit when the first few notes of “I Need Love” plinked out. I remember hitting my grandmother up for money in high school to buy every Nas album on the day that they dropped, then listening like the answers to life were somehow encrypted on those tracks. I’ll never be able to listen to “Big Mama Thang” and not think about my friend August, who had the audacity to put the unedited version on her voicemail when we were college freshman, knowing full well the only person who was going to be leaving a message was her own big mama.
But me and hip-hop ain’t making memories like that anymore. We just don’t speak the same language, and the thoughts that make me smile all have a past tense twist to them. I’m over here wading through the real-life grown and sexy and hip-hop—most, not all—just doesn’t reflect my reality or my passion or my hunger.
Not that I want to hear Rick Ross spit a verse about his past due electric bill or the what-the-hell price of gas per gallon because that wouldn’t make me want to throw my hands up and party much, either. But people are dying in tsunamis and earthquakes. They’re starving, homeless and malnourished. They’re dying of cancer and AIDS and being bulldozed by medical bills. They’re getting locked up and denied justice. I can’t worry about switching out a Benz for every day of the week if there are real conditions in the world around me that I want to touch and make better. And I sure can’t sit around and listen to no grown man talk about it, either.
Even writing this, I know I sound like a real drag. I can hear my name getting scratched off party invite lists as I type. I really am fun, I swear. It’s just that I want that ol’ thing back, and I crave the diversity and realness that I used to get from hip-hop. Different people from different backgrounds painting verbal pictures of their different truths. But far as I can tell, it’s going to be a craving unsatisfied. Hip-hop sparks good memories from back in the day but it’s not speaking much to where I am now. This ain’t the 90s when I was a clueless kid. I’m a grown woman. And I wish at least a few rappers—besides the underground ones that get no airplay—would come on along and grow up with me.