People always say to play classical music for your child. Call me uncultured or what have you, but classical music has never done anything for me and isn’t relevant to my life. However, we do subject him to classical or jazz from time to time, as I do feel it’s important for him to get a feel for various instruments, rhythm and so on. Beyond that, I’m a staunch believer in exposing my son to the artform and culture I love, which is hip-hop.
The first song my son ever heard directly was “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” by Pete Rock & CL Smooth. I took a pair of headphones and placed them on my wife’s belly and played the song in its entirety. It was a song that held importance, as I remember my father spinning the record at home when it initially dropped and playing the cassette in the car as well (he had bought both, as was his custom). As a matter of fact, on the way back home from the hospital, I was playing Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, namely the “All Of The Lights” interlude and “Lost In The World” (it was a short ride). Though not the classic approach, it was relevant to the time period, as I was playing the advance copy of the album, about a week prior to the official release.
My willingness to share hip-hop, which is often maligned for not being okay for children, comes from my father and his willingness, or rather insistence, on sharing it with me. While he was also fond of Thelonius Monk and Coltrane, his collection also had a healthy dosage of hip-hop…everything from Eric B & Rakim to Ice Cube and N.W.A. To him, there was room for everything and it all tied in. To this day, I can’t respect your ear for hip-hop if hip-hop is all you listen to. Your palate isn’t sophisticated enough to understand the origins of what you’re listening to. Respect the originators and the originating genres. I believe that the reason we see so much drivel being pushed in urban music nowadays is because a previous generation failed to lay that foundation, cultivating good taste in their children by exposing them to the greats who came before. If you were familiar with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes growing up, Chris Brown is probably going to sound like audio trash to you as an adult.
In terms of the negative themes in hip-hop, I often see them more as reality. While of course there are songs and artists that are overwhelmingly crass and unnecessary, I think it’s important that a parent lay a foundation that’s impervious to influences from music or any other form of media. I had the luxury of knowing that, in the era when gangster rap was created, there was nothing to be glorified in reality about gang life, drugs and violence. I was living in Richmond, California in the late 80s and early 90s, when people were getting shot in the face over Raiders Starter jackets and all kinda wild behavior. You didn’t have to go far to see the ill effects and though I was relatively sheltered from a lot, the music was a reminder that the same sh*t was going on all over and to stay mindful of the fact that life isn’t sweet for everyone, so remain aware and humble.
I always hate to see parents blame the media or hold the media responsible for messages they deem to be negative influences because I feel like it’s a cop-out and exonerates parents from having to build the foundation I’ve discussed here. If your child doesn’t look to you as a role model and instead looks to the persona an MC raps about, then you have failed as the parent; the artist hasn’t failed because it was never his job to raise your kid. If your kid can be influenced by a song, then they can easily be influenced by another person and therefore were bound for self-destruction anyway.
On the flip-side, there’s something beautiful about hip-hop that I would be a fool not to pass along to my son. There’s something in hip-hop to accompany almost anything you encounter in life and there’s so much about it that goes hand in hand with my experience as a Black man in America. The best part of hip-hop is its ability to evolve, but we won’t be able to do that without raising a new generation who loves it, not just as something to play in the club, but as a culture…a generation who respects what came before and is dedicated to demanding more of our current breed of artists.
I leave you with greatness:
They Reminisce Over You x Pete Rock & CL Smooth