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How fatherhood flipped my script on hip-hop masculinity : NPR

A ‘Louder’ host displays on hip-hop masculinity after fatherhood

Like poppa, like son.

Amanda Howell Whitehurst for NPR

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Amanda Howell Whitehurst for NPR

Like poppa, like son.

Amanda Howell Whitehurst for NPR

This story was tailored from Episode 9 of Louder Than A Riot, Season 2. To listen to extra about Black masculinity, accountability and fatherhood, stream the complete episode or subscribe to the Louder Than A Riot podcast.


Of all of the hoods rap ready me for, fatherhood ain’t one in all ’em. I’ve cherished hip-hop for many of my life. It has been my livelihood for almost half as lengthy: I make a dwelling by paying essential consideration to the tradition. However one thing about changing into a dad in the previous few years pulled among the wax out my ears. I hear rap otherwise now.

Multiply that occasions two, ‘trigger a few 12 months in the past, we added a daughter to the combination — and hip-hop heads are likely to obsess over our daughters in probably the most oppressive methods. Like Chris Rock joking a few dad’s solely job being to maintain your daughter off the pole. Or T.I. confessing to occurring his teenage daughter’s gyno appointments to verify her hymen was nonetheless intact. In terms of these child ladies, the patriarchy do not play. In the meantime, we increase sons to be as unhealthy as expensive previous dad.

All this season on Louder Than A Riot we have been wanting inward, at how a tradition created by the marginalized grew to become such a marginalizing drive to so many inside it. At occasions, it is brought on me to query myself, as a result of there ain’t no method to really interrogate misogynoir in hip-hop with out males taking some accountability. Not only for the previous, however the future. So we do not flip our sons into survivors, and perpetrators, of the identical destiny.


My 3-year-old son has turn out to be a Biggie fanatic. He bumps B.I.G. on the best way to highschool. He bathes with B.I.G. blaring within the lavatory. Typically he even requests B.I.G. whereas taking a dump. The fandom began with “Juicy.” Now he is deep into the album cuts — and never the clear variations, both. My spouse purchased him a t-shirt with the Able to Die album cowl superimposed on the entrance, which he rocks religiously. However his rising obsession with all issues Biggie is all daddy’s fault. Each time he hears a brand new track, he has a behavior of me by way of probably the most earnest eyes and asking, “What’s this track about?” It is nearly just like the query he is actually asking is, “Daddy, clarify the world to me.” Possibly by the point he is in a position to maintain a dialog for longer than two minutes, I will have discovered the phrases to elucidate why Biggie is difficult in additional methods than his inner rhyme schemes.

Fifty years after the beginning of hip-hop and nearly 4 years after my very own son’s beginning, I discover myself consumed by this query: How younger is simply too younger to start speaking to my son about rap?

It is kinda like deciding the suitable time to inform your child the reality about Santa. Or intercourse. By the point my dad labored up the nerve to speak to me concerning the birds and the bees, I would already memorized 2 Dwell Crew’s “We Need Some P****.” And the best way Dad talked about intercourse — utilizing the medical verb “insert” to explain the act — was not the best way Luke and them talked about it. His model was even shorter than the track. My dad and I did not even stay in the identical home. Ice Dice, Too Quick, Scarface — they lived in my head rent-free. They have been the rappers who raised me. Particularly when it got here to how I thought of ladies and, finally, ladies.


Kiese Laymon, a genius of a author I’ve lengthy admired, has written lots about rising up hip-hop within the South, and the sexual hurt that usually got here with the territory. I spoke to him about a few of that shared historical past.

“2 Dwell Crew, bruh — I went to the live performance in like ’87. It was 2 Dwell Crew, it was Too Quick, and I used to be going by way of puberty,” he instructed me. “I knew that the s*** they have been saying about ladies was f**** up. I knew it was imply. And I knew they could not rap. However I additionally knew, at 12 or 13, that the album cowl made my physique really feel issues. And once they carried out in Jackson, they’d them dancers on stage — actual stay grown ladies shaking they ass. After which these males are speaking about how these grown ladies ain’t s***. There is a dissonance there.”

2 Dwell normalized issues for us that should not be regular at any age. Earlier than I knew something about what may go down at highschool skip events, their lyrics inducted a technology of Black boys like me into rape tradition: “See, me and my homies prefer to play this recreation / We name it Amtrak however some name it the prepare / All of us would line up in a single-file line / And take our turns at waxing ladies’ behinds.”

Each technology of Black males has to redefine masculinity yet again for itself. The hand-me-downs from our daddies’ and granddaddies’ previous by no means appear to suit fairly proper. My technology overdid it: We took that blaxploitation-era machismo, added weapons and gangsta grills, a fascination with pimpin’, pushin’ and playin’, and packaged it for mass consumption. By no means as soon as realizing we have been the product your entire time. Hypermasculinity had turn out to be a sword and protect Black males carried to push back 400 years of concern, oppression, desperation. However if you weaponize your self for defense 24/7, you find yourself inflicting probably the most hurt to those closest to you. Even your self.

“Earlier than you may have a revision, it’s important to have a imaginative and prescient,” Kiese tells me. “[We’re] speaking concerning the issues we do not need to be replicated, however a imaginative and prescient is equally keen on what we do need to be replicated. A part of revision for me is simply really sitting in among the hurt I’ve executed. But in addition you may drown in that, too. In order that’s why it is actually necessary to consider who you need to be, versus, like, who you do not need to be. I do not need to be dangerous, however the tougher query for me, Rodney, is who do I need to be out on the earth?”

They are saying the universe is so huge that all of us have alternate variations of ourselves floating on the market. I discovered mine drowning on the backside of a 40-ounce bottle once I was 19. He was the whole lot I wasn’t on the time: unleashed and unashamed. I dubbed him C-Mike. My hip-hop alter ego. The dude I grew to become as soon as I used to be lastly outta my momma’s home. I nonetheless wasn’t sufficiently old to drink, or suppose straight. However I may legally purchase a field of Newports, vote for a doobie-smoking president who claimed he by no means inhaled and signal my life away to Uncle Sam.

Becoming a member of the Navy was speculated to be my nice escape — a method to run from duty, expectation and all the opposite Black, decrease middle-class hopes and post-civil rights goals the technology prior had invested in me. They stationed me on an plane provider of 5,000 males. We obtained paid to chock and chain fighter planes, however we clocked far more hours as hip-hop journeymen. Fishing out the toughest bars and deciphering rhymes was our closest factor to remedy. My greatest pals have been ex-dopeboys, second-chance delinquents, teenage dreamers, caught in that liminal area between adolescence and accountability — an area Black boys ain’t granted for lengthy. We bonded over Snoop and Dre weed anthems, “Bitches Ain’t S***” ideology and Thug Life doctrine. We have been politicians. We have been philosophers. We have been malt liquor guzzlers.

I stumbled again to the boat extra occasions than I can keep in mind, blacked out. Fragile egos took a few of us out earlier than our discharge date. A homie wound up within the brig when an excessive amount of s***-talk over a spades recreation introduced the knives out. And I fell asleep in my rack manner too many chilly nights, pumping Sade by way of my headphones and tucking my emotions underneath the covers so no person may hear me buzzing “Love is Stronger than Pleasure.”

I popped the piss take a look at for smoking weed, a “zero-tolerance” offense. However the actual motive I obtained kicked out of the Navy was as a result of I obtained too good at pretending I did not give a f***. One thing about that masquerade felt just like the closest factor to freedom for a youthful me. The stamp on my discharge papers learn “Different Than Honorable.” A risk to the institution. For me, there was some honor in that. By no means thoughts that I would barely saved a dime, or that I used to be going again residence to my momma’s home empty-handed: At the least Ice Dice would not suppose I used to be a sellout now.

After a 12 months of dwelling recklessly, my wake-up name got here someplace between Oakland and Atlanta, on a four-day Greyhound bus journey again to actuality. De La Soul’s Buhloone Mindstate was in my headphones the entire manner residence:

“I preserve the strolling on the suitable facet
However I will not choose the following who handles strolling on the flawed
Cuz that is how he desires to be
No distinction, see
I wanna be just like the title of this track, I’m”

— De La Soul, “I Am, I Be”


The act of reshaping my very own hip-hop identification began in earnest, possibly, across the time I settled into my profession as a working journalist. I grew to become the music editor of an Atlanta alt weekly the identical 12 months that T.I. obtained busted on federal gun costs, DJ Drama’s studio obtained raided by federal brokers and director Byron Damage dropped his documentary Hip-Hop: Past Beats and Rhymes. The movie was my first complete take a look at how misogyny, homophobia and transphobia grew to become pillars of rap’s poisonous tradition; there’s this basic scene the place Busta Rhymes promptly exits the studio when Damage begins asking him about homophobia in hip-hop.We coated Damage’s movie, T.I.’s trial, Drama’s arrest and Nelly’s “Tip Drill” backlash that 12 months. Matter of reality, we coated a lot hip-hop that the editor-in-chief took me out to lunch sooner or later to complain about all of the rap — and rappers — taking on his music part.

Defending my editorial selections meant defending the tradition. The racial politics have been thick. However the gender politics at play have been changing into tougher to defend, even in my very own thoughts.


Author and cultural critic Jamilah Lemieux has spent years unpacking these politics. When she dropped “Dave Chappelle and ‘the Black Ass Lie’ That Retains Us Down,” her 7,000 pound essay in response to Chappelle’s comedy particular The Nearer, it was greater than “Roxanne’s Revenge.” I keep in mind tweeting it out on the time and calling it “required studying for straight Black males” or one thing like that. The primary response I obtained was some bruh saying Black males had no avenue to specific our ache. “The story that we have all the time been offered about hip-hop was that hip-hop is Black males telling their reality,” Jamilah tells me. “That is their facet of the story. That is how they get to inform the world what they undergo. And so for us to problem that, we have been instructed, we’re difficult your potential to talk freely and discuss your experiences. However what you all are saying is extremely hurtful to us, and about us. And so, what does that imply? Am I to consider that we’re so vile to them that we have now by some means earned this loathing?”

They are saying misogyny is rooted in hatred. I’ve by no means considered myself as a hater, least of all of Black ladies. I’ve cherished them and been cherished by them, in a single regard or one other, for my whole life. That love nurtured me, even once I did not totally love myself.

However I’ve additionally cherished hip-hop, with my complete whole soul, and I by no means noticed these two issues in such stark battle till lately. It is pressured me to contemplate my very own complicity. I’ve thought of how I’ve contributed to misogynoir in methods I did not notice earlier in my profession, as a author and editor who typically penned items — underneath the guise of celebrating ladies in rap — that solely painted them additional right into a nook. Or hotepping earlier than hotepism, with profiles that objectified ladies sexually or moralized over them exercising their very own model of sexual company.

Placing concepts like this into the world influenced the best way folks learn the artwork and actions of Black ladies, inflicting a specific form of hurt that is worsened as ladies have come to dominate the style. And it could be hypocritical of me to ask why that’s with out questioning myself first.


“It is continuously a course of,” Jamilah says. “It is continuously a negotiation. And I believe that typically, Black folks have negotiated lots to like hip-hop. … There’s this adherence to white male patriarchy that’s deep in a few of our males. Hip-hop is hyper-capitalist. It is about who’s obtained the most important checking account, who’s obtained the most important watch, who’s probably the most seen? That is the place success and freedom are measured. And so as an alternative of trying to find a model of revolution that features all Black folks, they’re considering of how they get to stay and be like white males.”

The truth that a lot of mainstream rap, for therefore lengthy, misplaced or altogether lacked any form of actual intersectional come-up seems like a serious fail. As an alternative we grew to become a tradition of exclusivity and exclusion — a billionaire boys’ membership, corporatized and commodified to dying.

It jogs my memory of a line from an previous Outkast album I nonetheless bump religiously. It comes close to the top, like a recent sprinkling of Southernplayalisticriticalracetheory, after almost 60 minutes of post-adolescent posturing:

“For those who suppose it is all about pimpin’ hoes and slamming Cadillac do’s
You most likely a cracker, or a n**** that suppose he a cracker
Or possibly simply do not perceive”
– OutKast, “True Dat”

When Dungeon Household sage Massive Rube mentioned that, it took me years to know. Rube was critiquing capitalism, or the crooked American system, as he referred to as it. However he was additionally calling out Black males and our timeless allegiance to it. Being an enormous ol’ pimp grew to become the modern-day remix on the slave grasp — however in blackface. Even the countercultural stereotypes we claimed as uniquely our personal have been simply spin-offs of our recurrently scheduled programming.

Like Audre Lorde mentioned, “The grasp’s instruments won’t ever dismantle the grasp’s home.” What we’d like are some instruments that see racism and misogynoir as flipsides of the identical oppression. Nevertheless it’s onerous to assemble that future when the toolbox you are working from is a hand-me-down.


“And to my companions that figured it out
With no father I salute you
Might your blessings be impartial
To your toddlers”

– Kendrick Lamar, “Father Time”

I’ve come to phrases with the truth that I haven’t got a variety of issues I can provide my son. I will not die with vital materials wealth to bequeath him. I can not go down any kind of athletic prowess that’ll assist him excel in sports activities. Even once I was a straight-A pupil and one of many smartest youngsters in my class, math stayed kicking my ass. Music is the one language I’ve ever been fluent in. It is nonetheless probably the most revolutionary artwork type in my lifetime, regardless that my relationship to it might be far more difficult now. At this level, my legacy is previous baggage. It is filled with dusty data and dustier beliefs I picked up — by way of all my dads — about the best way to embody manhood.

My relationship with rap these days is lots like my relationship with Black males typically. I name few pals, and name on these precise pals even lower than that. As males become older, our connections to different males turn out to be much less tangible. We get busy with life’s obligations: constructing a profession, elevating a household, hiding from our feelings. We get onerous, or attempt to metal ourselves. Not simply in opposition to the skin world, however from our interior selves too. Once I was younger, me and my n****s bonded over hip-hop. Memorizing express lyrics. Reciting raps within the mirror like we wrote them. It was a launch. However I finished memorizing lyrics a very long time in the past. I do not dance within the mirror now. And the one raps I sometimes recite are those that make me really feel like I am C-Mike once more. I by no means heard music the identical after that. However possibly as a result of I by no means had pals who made me really feel music fairly like that once more, both.

“A number of males are feeling that, bruh,” Kiese says. “In listening you may hear folks discuss a form of loneliness. And I believe a part of that’s a few of us do not make area to the touch and commune with different brothers and our pals. For me, my friendships with my brothers, that was love. And what did we do in these teams? We talked about hip-hop. Hip-hop, proper on the core — along with being the entire f***ed-up issues that the nation is — there is a textured love in there for me that I’ve not discovered wherever else but.”

My son has this behavior of calling me his greatest good friend. It is cute. Nevertheless it all the time makes me take into consideration how that was a parental no-no to the technology earlier than me. Our dad and mom weren’t our pals. Did not need to be. Did not fake to be. They usually had particular methods of reminding us if we slipped up and forgot. However when he calls me his greatest good friend now, a part of me thinks about all of the folks I referred to as pals rising up – all of the rappers who schooled me arising, all of the individuals who I regarded to, much more than my dad and mom, to present me the sport — and I believe him seeing me as a good friend may not be the worst factor on the earth.

Instructing my son the best way to pay attention critically and empathically, the best way to hear the love and the shortage within the music, the best way to distinguish the nice s*** from the bull**** — even when the bull**** is that s***, feels just like the work. Essential work. Nevertheless it’s additionally the enjoyable. And in the suitable arms, possibly rap is usually a software for instructing my son one thing it is taken me this lengthy to study. So long as he by no means stops asking his favourite query, “What’s this track about?”

I see a softness in my son. The child’s 3 years previous. He is speculated to be smooth. However typically I see that softness and I am embarrassed by it. Possibly ‘trigger it jogs my memory how smooth I’m, and the way I spent half my life attempting to camouflage it. I take a look at him and I see the child that cries too lengthy when he is hurting inside. I see him and I keep in mind the look my dad used to present me once I did that.

I’ve tried to present him that look. However my son simply retains on wailing. The look does not work on him both. And I secretly take delight in that. At the same time as I struggle again the urge to strip it away. I do not wanna make him onerous. I do not. Not too onerous. Onerous sufficient to outlive. However smooth sufficient to stay. With out being afraid. Or unforgiving. Or lifeless.

And I hope music is usually a lifeline by some means. I do know this downside is larger than my one son. Nevertheless it seems like probably the most significant work I can do. One thing I can maintain myself accountable for. As a result of the reality is: I would like work too. I will undoubtedly need to unlearn some issues about who I’m and the particular person I think about him to be. I am additionally attempting to go away myself open to no matter he has to show me. Even when it is the best way to be softer.

‘Trigger the identical manner I gave my son blood and breath, he gon’ get these beats n’ rhymes. We Black. And rhythm is all we have now that could not be stripped from us or stolen away. So he deserves each little bit of that. It is his with out asking. However he deserves to have it in a manner that does not require him to lie, die or trigger hurt — to himself or anybody else.

What I’ve all the time cherished about hip-hop is it is a self-regulating tradition. We decide what’s cool, what’s corny, what’s cap. We set the tone, take the temp and inform the time. Meaning there’s area for the following 50 years of hip-hop to be a jammin’-ass course correction — a counter-revolutionary remix, intersectional and liberatory as all hell. Me and also you, yo mama and your cousin, too. I believe that is the textured love Kiese’s speaking about. And I wanna give that to all our kids.

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