Music Read

Music For Thought

Justin Laidlaw
Justin Laidlaw

There's a reason that medical experts insist on playing Beethoven for newborns and not Lil' Pump. It's the same reason parents are discouraged from giving their children Fruity Pebbles over actual fruit. The things we digest have a direct effect on our health and emotional state. A healthy diet consists of balance; all your different food groups represented in a meaningful way. Unbalance leads to any number of diseases and conditions. Am I saying that extended exposure to Migos can cause diabetes? Scientifically? The results are unclear.

But it made me wonder about the people who only consume music I would consider “junk food.” I’m not one of those people who thinks playing shooting games turns you into Jesse James, but it would be naive to deny the impact media has on our psyche and outlook on the world. Even as I’m writing this, I’ve heard two prominent rap stars from the 90s using the word faggot so flippantly and neither one is Eminem, the undisputed champion of homophobia. I shared my own trouble overcoming the use of the word in high school on a recent episode of The Buddy Ruski Show with Bliss Floccare. No doubt, their music shaped my ignorant vocabulary.

Problem with our people, there's too many wannabe Jordan

Too many forces thinking they could make a fortune scorin'

Too many wannabe actors instead of achieving their masters

At least a bachelors but no, too many wannabe rappers

- Joey Badass

Anyone that's had a conversation with me about rap music knows that I'm not a huge fan of modern hip-pop, sans the all-too-frequent Travis Scott banger. Perhaps, if I had grown up on a different subset of hip-hop, my opinion would reflect the tastes of the era. But I've always been drawn to a sense of curiosity and intellect that mainstream pop-rap just doesn’t stimulate. Growing up, people, usually my Black peers, would tell me this made me “White.” Sure, most of my friends were White. They were also bigger fans of Lil Wayne than I was. Sure, my first rap concert was with my White dad. He was a DJ for a living. Whatever. I got over it after a while. I wasn’t going to compromise listening to conscious hip-hop for the sake of my social status.

But I never dummy lyrics and they kick it to my people

It's about communication not a rappers ego

Messages I sneak in they seem to seep in

Mixed with alcohol and weed on the weekend

- Rakaa Iriscience (Dilated Peoples)

At the start of the year, I found myself revisiting music from my childhood; The Roots, Jurassic 5, Atmosphere, MF DOOM, and Dilated Peoples; the emcees who were my shepherds into the genre. The ground beneath my feet was beginning to shift and I needed guidance. Particularly now, given the state of our planet, hearing about trapping and lounging in swimming pools with strippers didn’t provide the same blissfully ignorant distraction.

Contrary to what the legendary B.I.G. had to say

You don't have to sell drugs or make the NBA

It's easy to get a grant and get an MBA

To achieve one goal there's more than one way

Young people on the whole we have lost our way

- Murs

If all you listen to is [insert mumble rapper here], who do you turn to for answers? (Where’s Ja?!). Imagine only eating fast food and then asking your doctor why you’re obese? Look, this is going to sound like I’m a hip-hop purist who can’t be bothered with the “new school,” or that the only artist I listened to from the 90s was Will Smith. Tangent: I have nightmares about the time I told Pete Rock that the first rap CD I ever bought was Big Willie Style. His look of disappointment and disgust haunts me to this day.

Trust me, I’ve got playlists bursting at the seams with ratchet flows and ad-libs. But even the most chronic blazin’ drug slangin’ gang bangin’ rap from the 90s had a certain imagination that is absent in a lot of contemporary work. Rappers took the craft of writing intricate rhymes as a challenge; my bars versus everybody. Even Lil Wayne, lauded for his ability to stretch schemes and similes to the brink of absurdity, frequently cracked “Top Rapper Alive” lists thanks to lyrical exercises like Da Drought 3 and No Ceilings. “I would bet a million dollars on Wayne against Lil Uzi Vert. What up? To all rappers shut up and while you shuttin’ up put a shirt on, at least a button-up.” Good luck trying to convince a single person that anyone on Rap Caviar (except Drake) is in the top 100.

Reading articles like this one from Ambrosia for Heads makes me think I am way off base. Perhaps younger listeners aren’t all aspiring to face tattoos with a backpack that looks like a mobile pharmacy. My assumption with music, like politics, is that I am securely in a bubble and have no clue how the outside world lives. My observations come from Instagram and the random 19-year-olds who pull up beside me on my bike with their car blasting inaudible ramblings from whatever’s playing on Hot97. If only there were a local hip-hop blog/podcast that excelled in deconstructing ideas like this one…

On an episode of The Boondocks tv show entitled “Riley Wuz Here,” Huey, an intellectual, commits to watching 14 straight hours of “Black television,” television that he considers to be trashy and ignorant, wondering whether the effects will take his life. The effects cause his health to regress while he becomes apathetic and forgetful. He eventually snaps out of his trash-tv-induced trance 14 days later by flipping the channel to National Geographic.

I’m not asking anyone to give up junk music cold turkey. Just make sure you consume a balanced dose of Kodak Black and Black Thought.