D.L. Chandler's frequent thoughts on the world of hip hop and beyond

Friday, August 06, 2004

Beats To The Rhyme: The Digital Generation Isn't That Lost

Although driving in the Washington Metro area is usually the most convenient way to get around the city, I'm quite fond of taking our subway train system (commonly called The Metro) because it affords me the opportunity to relax and reflect without tearing my hair out during rush hour. I remember as a kid ditching school in the 80s (yes, I'm old) just to ride the Metro from one end to the other. Even with the so-called threat of undercover truancy officers - and you never saw them anyway - my friends and I had nothing better to do.

Apparently this trend has yet to die out. Just this week I was aboard the train when a bunch of kids hop on board - unnecessarily loud and acting like typical teenagers. They start a pretty horrible "cipher" (freestyle rhyming session) using the empty seats around them to pound out beats and I listened to the amateurs give their best shots. I usually turn away from the noise or just turn the volume up on my walkman when this common occurence happens but this time, I decided to ask if I could join in. Man, you could just hear the record screech across the vinyl then. I’m sure I didn’t look the part; I was wearing a pretty nerdy ensemble of khakis and a buttoned-to-the-top rugby shirt. I most likely could’ve passed for some of the kids’ dad. With the visual shock waning, I showed these boys that looks are deceiving and for a solid hour I owned the Red Line downtown bound Metro train.

The young ones were impressed and asked me how long I’ve rhymed and how I did it so easily. I told them I just use what’s in my head and I expose myself to a lot of written works. Of course they all groaned when I mentioned reading being my most favorite hobby and then when I told them I love watching political talk shows, one of the boys chimed in to my shock.
"When my dad was alive, we used to watch The McLaughlin Group and Tim Russert every Sunday at breakfast".

His boys immediately started to clown him, calling him a nerd and soft. But to his credit, the kid never buckled in his pride in doing so. I was impressed that this young man, all of 16 and slight to boot, would even care about something like that. How funny is it that I did the same thing to him that his friends did to me – assuming the worst based on appearances? By some miracle, all six boys (and one of them soon to be 18) opened up to me saying that they’re tired of feeling like they don’t matter and that they want to go to college and be effective citizens. They actually said the term "effective citizens"! I’m still in shock at how well-mannered they became when the topic moved away from the freewheeling raps to something I would’ve deemed boring if I were in their position. I asked the boys if they had Internet access and some of them said they did; the others were aware of what it was. Although they got all teenaged giggly when they mentioned how they go to "check out girls on BlackPlanet", they said they understood the Internet was best used for gaining information. One of the younger kids even copped to using the Internet to help finish one of his book reports.

I mentioned my work with Music for America and I tried not to bore them too much. I talked to them about being voting, activism and how the rap music they love so much can be more than just beats and rhymes. They all promised to check it out when they could. I’m hoping they do – even if it’s just to say they’re not ready. Hopefully one day those boys will become men and not forget that day when they taught an "old" guy a little bit about not judging a book by its cover.
You’ve read this far, so why not check out this interview with Palestinian- American rapper, Iron Sheik? Pretty interesting read, actually. And I love the fact he’s copping to the fact he’s not from the streets. If only more rappers had that much pride in being from the suburbs.

And in other news:
Hip Hop’s biggest fan, Bill O’Reilly, claims he doesn’t "mind Hip Hop" in his interview with P Diddy by way of MTV. Someone get me his mailing address so I can get him a copy of this new Kay Slay Troublemakers 2 CD. I know my man Billy Bill will think this is the freshest CD since Barry Manilow’s last joint.


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