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Rap Music: One Really Can Be Too Old For Some Things
by Marjorie Dorfman

Do you ever wonder what those noises are that seem to blast down the street alongside every teenager that passes you by? Do you yearn for the doo-wop of another time? Well, as far a I am concerned, here's to the generation gap and may we always be too old for some things!

As a soul who came of age on the tail end of doo-wop and the wriggling cusp of Elvis’s pelvis, the progression from rock ’n roll to rap music is a twisted and rocky albeit natural road. Each age has its heroes, its fads and it’s music, the most important moniker of all. Once a generation has bonded with the music of its time, it is always "theirs," sealed in an immutable cellophane of memories without pain or responsibility. Wherever adulthood and maturity may lead, a spark of the past will always ignite at the sound of a familiar melody or lyric. That’s how I feel about doo-wop and, I suppose, today’s youth will someday feel about rap. The problem seems to lie somewhere in the translation. I will admit that "ooh-wah" and "do bopsie doo" lack any universal significance, but at least I can tell where the "doo wah" ends and the words to the song begin! With some of the rap music I have heard, I’m not really sure where the words are, much less what they mean.

I do not understand rap music. Perhaps that’s because I am not a teenager and not meant to comprehend the message that lies between the lines that I can’t read without my glasses anyway. But please consider that age has given me, if nothing else, more time to practice being equitable about most things. I can offer a different although somewhat foreign perspective. One of the problems with gathering data is that there is so much of this "rap stuff" for my middle-aged ears to evaluate. There’s Gangsta Rap, Hip Hop Rap, Old School Rap, East Coast Rap, Christian Rap, West Coast Rap and Southern Rap. That’s a lot of rap!

It seems like the appeal of this music lies below the surface, skimming among society’s restless and abandoned youth. This is certainly nothing new, either in songs or cinema, going back to the covered wagon days of early rock ’n roll, rebel Jimmy Dean and Mr. Elvis-you-know-who. The music of each age mirrors the pulse and psyche of its listeners, but the language and themes of rap are what I, personally, find quite disturbing. They scream of overt sexism, racism, homophobia, the glamorization of violence and the degradation of women. I’m willing to stand corrected, but right now that’s how rap and its message looks to middle-aged, not-quite-over-the-hill me.

I have chosen two rap stars for my impromptu and highly subjective study: Eminem and Tupac Shakur. I know there are many others out there worshipped and adored for their own unique message, but it seemed more equitable to focus on two rather than to skim over twelve. Compare this idea to that movie of a long time ago, "If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium," the story of a young American couple who tour so many European cities in one week that they lose track of where they are.

Of the two, Tupac Shakur, the son of two Black Panther party members, amazes me the most. Gunned down in 1996 at the age of 25 under very mysterious circumstances, the man is still selling more records than most living artists! I guess a little thing like being dead can’t keep a good man down. He is an unlikely martyr for urban Black America and the world of gangsta rap, but he is also a tragic symbol of its dark and terrible underbelly. The latest album, "Until The End of Time," with its collection of nearly twenty songs is the fourth posthumous release of new material produced by Shakur’s mother and Suge Knight. His fatalism and sense of prophecy seem to be big factors in his appeal. Consider the powerful lyric of "Death Around The Corner," a cappella, if you please.

". . . I see death around the corner anyday.
Trying to keep it together, no one lives forever anyway
Struggling and strivin, my destiny’s to die
Keep my finger on the trigger, no mercy in my eyes . . ."

2Pac’s success lies mostly in the area of gangsta rap where I‘ve heard some talk about living by the sword and dying by the sword. His life was a turbulent mess and he spent as much time in prison as he did in the recording studio. He was the first artist to enjoy a number one record while actually serving a prison sentence! Still, the music and influence of this fallen great are more than worthy of discussion. He does stand up for women on welfare as evidenced by his piece "Keep Ya’ Head Up". There is hypocrisy, however, or at best severe contradiction in his lyrics as well, for he does refer to women in other songs as "jealous ass bitches". Still, his message reaches and penetrates, even though his is a most uncomfortable truth. Consider the sincere lyric in his latest album "I let my heart die." The man feels for his world and his place in it. I may not understand him, but I can respect him for that.

In a recent interview the mother of Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminen, claimed that her famous son is not at all concerned with his message to the youth of today or whether or not he speaks the truth. All is for show and commercialism. Lyrics like: "bitch, I’m a gonna kill you" and "you faggots keep egging me on" make anyone outside looking in wonder about the positive nature of his message. His impoverished Detroit childhood and meteoric rise to fame dubbed him "the next great white hope". His style falls into the Hard Core Hip Hop variety, which is about as clear to me as mud. His lyrics are considered harsh, irreverent, nihilistic, hostile and acerbic, just to drop a few adjectives. His big successes "Slim Shady" and "Infinite" hallmark his highly exaggerated nasal rapping style and lyrical ability, but there is much controversy over his repeated use of graphic violence.

In a recent biography, Sidney Poitier earmarked the measure of a man as being the way he treats his family. With such a yardstick, according to Mrs. Mathers at least, that leaves a lot to be desired by Eminem. Despite all his millions, the super star won’t pay for his younger brother’s school and Mama herself is not permitted in his house because Mrs. Eminen won’t let her in! Truth or lie, and considering that there are two sides to every story, all of it stinks. Sorry, but it does. Just consider how Elvis Presley treated his family and friends. He may be old hat to today’s rappers, but his respect and love for his family, despite his tragic and drug induced end, were positive examples for the youth of his generation. (Let’s forget about his pelvis and how immoral Ed Sullivan thought it was to shake it in front of the television.)

In conclusion, "the king of rock ’n roll" still reigns over his generation and the stars of rap rule over their own. There’s room for both and more in this ever-changing world of cardboard icons and rhinestone dreams. Fame is as fleeting as time sifting through an hourglass. The things that never do change for any generation are the values that challenge our collective conscience and our honor. Standing up for one’s rights is always the correct course of action, despite repercussions from those who resent the reflection that might cast in the mirror of their own particular shame. I could stand up against my crow’s feet, but I know I will have to learn to accept them. That’s what happens with middle age; hopefully, we all come to accept the things that we cannot change. Still, when it comes to rap music and its message, I guess one really can be too old for some things.

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