The scene from “Atlanta” my younger son showed me really resonated. A middle-aged mom, like me, repeated graphic rap lyrics into the camera. Tears began to fall from her eyes.
“They actually say these words,” she wailed.
I laughed, watching her, and nodded in great understanding. Apparently it was a parody of a real-life mom on YouTube, lamenting the reality of some rap lyrics that can send shivers down the spine. Has the world gone to hell in a handbasket? Are we headed down the wrong path?
The punchy beats of hip-hop come, often, with an overlay of words and themes that are eye-watering in their shock value. At my age I am not shocked by graphic sexual themes, but hearing a bunch of boys I’ve known since they were toddlers loudly belting out said themes in my house is, well, different, to say the least.
I’m not really sure what to do. I am the understanding mom, the one who accepts that my teens are going to indulge in a variety of things that I am not in control of. I try not to judge, especially since I don’t want them to lie and sneak.
But, laying on my swinging couch listening to loud free-styling upstairs, I sometimes can’t help but feel a little bit sick to my stomach. Is it the misogyny? The violence? The graphic sexual language? What exactly am I reacting to? After all, I appreciate honesty, and am hardly a prude.
Yet sometimes I really just don’t get the allure of screaming my sexual inclinations on repeat until I’m hoarse. But maybe that’s just me. Why do other people like it so much? How come it’s so popular?
I decided to have a sit down with my 16- almost-17-year-old about the appeal.
It was in our sun-filled kitchen the morning of the snow day, the trees outside the windows heavy with a thick white layer. I had, unusually, put the kibosh on a sleepover the night before, sending everyone home at 10:30 pm so I could assure some quiet rap-free hours.
I announced my intentions to attempt to understand his musical tastes.
Mom: So, tell me, what is it you like about rap? Is it nice?
Boy: (Shrugs). People are expressing themselves. I just like the music.
Mom: (Nods). Yes, I’m all for people expressing themselves, but don’t you think some of this stuff is pretty rude? Is there some that’s nice?
Boy: (Begins to look through his playlist. Gestures to iPhone). See, like this one. He’s being nice. He’s paying for a girl’s new breasts.
Mom: That’s lovely.
Boy: And “Magnolia” by Playboi Carti (He raps the lyrics I had heard all the night before on a loop, a lovely refrain of mutual sucking). Since when is reciprocating oral sex a bad thing?
Mom: (Nods, wincing slightly. This is her baby after all). Yes. I see now. You have a point. I should really be looking at this differently.
Boy: (Searching for more “nice” rap lyrics. Finally, he points). And this one, Action Bronson, he says, “I use MILFh
Mom: Oh, how sweet. I feel so grateful.
This concluded our chat. I actually felt slightly better that, amidst the seemingly nasty lyrics, my son was seeking out the positive themes, specious though his arguments might have been, and those only determined under duress.
In reality, I have no idea how this music really influences him or any of his friends. My guess is that, like he said, it is a form of expression that feels cathartic.
I have learned as a fly on the wall, watching these teenage boys, that lots and lots of thoughts are flitting through their developing brains, so many of which are happily shared through song. And even though I may find some of these thoughts a bit revelatory, even for me, I have to force myself to understand that humans have a lot of sorting through to do, and to do so in such a joyous rhythmic way can’t be all bad.
I just have to find a way to leave the house, or drown it out with the more melodic love songs I prefer. Or maybe, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Maybe I’ll learn some of the more graphic lyrics and just start singing them at the dinner table.
That should give everyone a think.