Music is sometimes called a universal language. Living here in New Orleans, it is quite apparent that many folks from all over the planet feel the power of music even if the words may be in a language they don’t know. Music has kept me going throughout my life- I wonder, looking back, if I would have even been able to stay alive this long if it wasn’t for the sounds I heard along the way that gave me inspiration to grow and change, and survive.
I mainly listen to hip-hop, and many people who I talk to about music seem to have a twisted notion of what that “genre” is about. For some, it is a spiritually void capitalist worship chant, “hypnotic donkey rhythms”. But for the discerning listener there are a wealth of truthful, love-motivated artists out there who paint a very different picture.
This is the music that saved my life, whether anyone else supports it or feels it at all, it is so close to my heart that actually in the course of writing this post I am getting emotional. Part of why I keep this blog is to challenge myself to share those parts of me I keep most hidden, most quiet. Being white and female and an avid fan of rap music has been… interesting. To say the least. I have never felt that I fit in with any part of the hip-hop culture, and to be honest I still don’t. I don’t know where my place is in this world.
I just wanted to share some of the music that has been in my mind, shaping my journey for the last few years. I hope these songs can reach fertile ground in others, and plant new seeds of inspiration or nurture the roots of change already growing strong within you. Enjoy!
First off is my favorite song by Ms. Erykah Badu, “Bag Lady”:
Nitty Scott is a young female MC who I have been following for just a year or two. She has several excellent mixtapes under her belt and just released a full-length album for free online, called “The Art of Chill”. She is completely unique and has a wonderful voice, great lines and is outspoken about her ideas, which run completely against the mainstream. I could (and maybe will!) write a whole piece just about this amazing lady but for now here are a couple special tracks that inspire me:
Brandon Cochise is an independent artist from Chicago who works in many different media. Here’s a couple of my favorites he’s released so far:
Kendrick Lamar is a poet, storyteller and hip-hop artist about whom a lot is said these days. I first heard him on the radio, a song about binge drinking (“Swimming Pools”). It rubbed me the wrong way and I actually wrote him off for about a year after that, until I moved to Oakland and had no choice but to be exposed to more of his music. I discovered quite quickly that the drinking song was an anomaly, and most of his music is quite conscious (athough I guess he doesn’t like that term). Anyway I am grateful for what this man is doing, and I feel his music speaks for itself. Here’s a couple of songs I have playing in my head regularly:
And happily enough, his latest single may be one of the strongest as well. The revolution must begin within us, possibly the most radical stance of all to take is that of inner work and cultivation. This is “I”
I was introduced to the duo Dead Prez by my UU church youth minister, oddly enough. That was about half my lifetime ago, at age 14. I pirated their first official album, “Let’s Get Free” off Napster and burned it onto a CD, and I could not point to any other work that has had more of an impact on me as a person. They basically raised me with that album, and the works that followed… Here’s just a few select tracks.
“Turn Off the Radio”
“Learning, Growing, Changing”:
At this point it seems relevent for me to say, I do not use “the N word” nor would I ever. With me being the ethnicity that I am, it is too steeped in historical oppression and hatred, something I want to give no quarter for in my own life if possible. That being said, most of the artists I listen to as well as many people of color I have known do use the word, in their own varying degrees of meaning and inflection. Sometimes it simply means a man, or a black man, or it can be derogatory in varying senses. I try to listen to the message of the artist and not get put off by the “brash delivery”. Of course, being white it’s easy enough for me to just shrug off the use of violent and racist language in music- at least , until I am sharing that music with others. It’s always been awkward for me, and rightly so. If I am listening to an album on my headphones, I can sort of listen in between the curses and slang to divine what story is being told, and I feel like I gain understanding and insight into that person’s worldview. But, to change the situation, what if I am in a car with other people, of varying ethnicities? I generally would not play most of the music I actually like because I don’t want to offend anyone or be taken the wrong way. So is that hypocritical of me? I don’t know. It changes when the audience is more than just me.
So in short please do not assume that I support the use of derogatory language because I don’t! I support speaking truth to power, and to me that is what these men and one woman are doing. The gender imbalance… ok that’s gonna have to be another topic for another time.
I’ve been called the N word by a black guy, it was kind of odd but I did not take offense. In that context, it was used by people of all ethnicites to mean “a person”. Perhaps it’s because we have all been raised by the same rap music? I have also been around white people who use the word rather casually, and I find that repugnant, dangerously ignorant and insensitive. So why am I not offended when black people use it? I don’t know… truthfully I don’t put that much stock into the concepts of race and ethnicity but I realize I live in a culture that largely does. So, yeah.
Being white gives us sooo much privilege in this country, and awareness of that privilege is one step toward truly doing away with the false systems that keep people of color under attack.
Word becomes deed, so I try to keep my speech impeccable as much as possible. Meaning I don’t like to say something I wouldn’t say in different company, if that makes sense. It’s tricky because I have to really think before I open my mouth! ANd then with something like this that I’m writing, I have to consider if others are going to see it, how they will feel etc.
I also don’t have a lot of friends, not real close ones. So maybe this reticence I have about music extends into my personality to a general avoidance of intimacy and honest sharing. And if so, that’s what I’m combating here I guess. I heard recently, that to help evolve our culture out of racism we need to just statr speaking on it, even though it is uncomfortable and leaves us vulnerable to criticism. So that was a motivator for me in writing this. Whether anyone else reads this, I have no clue, but I know the currents of energy connecting us are affected by everything we say and do, so in that way it is enough for me to just speak my mind here today.