For those of you that don’t know, most of the writing I’ve done prior to this whole parenting thing has been about Hip-Hop. I’ve been a Hip-Hop head since I was six and can’t live without it – flaws and all. As much as I love the music, it isn’t perfect. There’s the bling and the violence and the drugs and the objectifying of women. Growing up, older family members and friends would ask me: If you have a daughter, are you going to let her listen rappers call her a b*tch?
Well, here I am, a man that loves Hip-Hop with a young daughter. While I want to enjoy my music and share my love of it with her, I don’t want her subjected to the admittedly negative aspects of the music. What follows is how I’ve approached the Hip-Hop issue with my daughter. We enjoy rap music together, but it takes care and attention to make it work responsibly.
Here are a few steps I make sure to take:
The first thing you need to do is make sure the music you play is devoid of foul language. This is a no-brainer. Even when a kid doesn’t necessarily understand all of the lyrics in a rap song, she’ll definitely notice and those words will stand out. Here’s my trick: since it’s 2012 and you probably don’t buy many records anyway, just download the original version of an album like you would normally and grab the edited version from iTunes. Edited versions of albums are extremely hard to find if you’re just an Internet bootlegger, but paying money for the ability to listen to the album while you’re with the kid makes the purchase worth while. Beyond that, even the most irresponsible rap listener should be listening to music without explicit lyrics.
Did I really have to say that?
You also want to listen to your music beforehand. Don’t judge a book by its color. While you may assume that someone like Mos Def or Talib Kweli will be safe music for your kid and someone like Wacka Flocks should always stay away from your child’s ears, you still have to listen before it gets played in the car. You really have to study the lyrics and put yourself in your child’s mind. Rap music is typically too quick for a kid in elementary school to pick up the lyrics or understand what’s going on but certain words will stick out.
Just last week, my six-year-old daughter let out a loud “ewwww” when Nas referenced “panties.” So for the most part, larger concepts are lost - she basically just catches the words that stand out. That means, while Mos Def may have a great overall message, you have to make sure you listen to every word he says on a micro level before approving it for family listening. That’s why, oddly, the older the kid gets, the more closely you have to pay attention to the music as he or she will catch on to more nuances with each year.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, edited music puts a whole new spin on songs that you may have previously written off as detrimental to your child.
My kid loves Rick Ross.
Before you call social services and have me sent away, let me explain. She was initially drawn to his deep voice and – get this – biblical references. Look at the edited lyrics from one of her favorite songs “Holy Ghost,”:
They say I’m getting money, must be Illuminate/ talking to the Holy Ghost, in my Bugatti/ They knockin’ on the door don’t let the devil in!”
As she gets older and understands the more complex street references, I’ll have to curtail the Rick Ross, but my child finds inspiration and a biblical context to the song. How can I be mad at a kid screaming “they knockin’ on the door don’t let the devil in!” at the top of her lungs? In her mind, Rick Ross speaks with a deep, booming preacher’s voice and inserts enough references to the Bible that she understands him as making positive music. Yes, I know this all sounds absolutely insane, but part of parenting is listening, so I listen to her take on the music as well as my own. Of course, as with any artist, I filter the music so she doesn’t hear Ross’ more explicit subject matter. One day I know I’ll have to explain to her about his content and why it’s not always good, but for now she’s enjoying the music and inserting her own positive associations with it. Maybe your kid will notice certain references he makes and see Ross as someone that makes negative music (which, there’s plenty of that to go around in his music, too) so he may not be good for that child. Each kid reacts to music differently and it’s our job as parents to pay attention to their reactions and base what we play off of them.
Most important in all of this is the necessity of open dialogue. Last month, I spoke at a panel about the use of the word “b*tch” and its impact on women. Even though I knew the word would be said, I made sure my daughter was there to hear every word of it.
(Cute kid story alert: after the discussion was over, she stormed on stage and cornered the first rapper she saw, demanding that he explain to her why rappers use bad words. Have I mentioned how amazing this kid is?)
For me, the discussion was monumentally important as I want her to know how she should and shouldn’t be treated. Afterwards we had a discussion about the word and what it means. Heavy stuff for a six-year-old? Maybe. But I want her to know early that she should demand respect.
Recently the three of us listened to Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools” – a song with a catchy hook about alcohol, that’s actually a cautionary tale about excessive drinking on a night out – and had a discussion about “grown up juice” and why it can be bad for you even if you’re of age.
When the forefathers of rap set a goal for the genre, they wanted to create music that could affect change and create dialogue. That’s exactly what the music is doing for my family. But it takes work. As a parent, I have to be diligent in screening the music, listening for key phrases that will stick with her – good or bad – and be cognizant of where to draw discussion. The music has helped bring us together and created some great teaching moments for all of us. Yes, we’re a Hip-Hop family. And we’re better off for it.