By Tina Fakhrid-Deen
Hip-Hop. I love it. I will never divorce it. Never. Ever. It’s because of lyrics like these: “I think back when I was robbing my own kind, the police didn’t pay it no mind, but when I started robbing the white folks, now I’m in the pen with a soap on a rope. I said it before and I still thought it, every motherf***er with a color is most wanted.” (Ice Cube) or “Thru all the logic and the theory, I add a motherf***er so you ignorant n****s hear me.” (Lauryn Hill) or “Jumping on the rap bandwagon ain’t helping it. You need to be concerned about the motherf***in’ deficit.” (Scarface) or even “Would you rather have a Lexus or justice? A dream or some substance? A Beamer, a necklace or freedom?” (Dead Prez)
As Dead Prez so eloquently put it, it’s bigger than hip-hop now. I’m grown. I’m no longer Tina, the scrawny college student and hip-hop aficionado. I’ve added to my identity set. I’m a beloved mother now. And frankly, this new role kinda stresses me out. It’s not as if I’m ungrateful. I love being a mother. I just feel like I’ve been set up a little bit. It isn’t as organic of an experience as they led me to believe. It does not come naturally. It’s difficult, fragile and complicated work. Motherhood has expanded me in wonderful ways, but it’s the limitations I’d like to discuss – without judgment, thank you very much.
I am being forced to compartmentalize my loves. I love music, all types, but especially my hip-hop. And being a mother has forced me to dump some of my music in the trash or in dusty shoeboxes under the futon. I can’t bump my Ludacris, Rah Digga, Common, or Mos Def in the car or around the house like I used to – pre-motherhood. Hell, I feel like good parenting is holding me hostage. Can I live? Can I enjoy the more salacious or scummier things in life without the mama patrol (that sits just above my right breast, but not quite on my shoulder) smacking their lips and rolling their eyes with catty whispers of how horrible a woman and mother I am to listen to such demeaning, profane crap – and with a child in tow? Oh the horror! Una madre malcriada!
Motherhood has made me self-censor in a huge way that I’m not sure if the “pop” and “easy listening” moms have to do. I know; I have to woman up and take one for the team. Right? I have to be responsible for the things I bring into the home that might impact an impressionable, young mind. But damn, the lyrics were here first and they’re not only on my shelves, they’re stuck in my head – forever. I’ll be that eighty-six year old grandmother singing the lyrics to Rakim’s Mahogany, talking about, “She wanted my agony, agony, agony in her body!”
See, I don’t mind being a good mother, but I do mind feeling disconnected to me and the very thing that helped to raise me. And believe it or not, hip-hop did raise me. Through all of the misogyny, violence, homophobia, racist rants, celebration of drug use/selling, and gratuitous profanity, I found purpose, motivation and resilience. I learned how not to be a gold digging hoodrat. I learned how to stand up for myself and for what I believe in. I learned that other teens around the nation were going through many of the things that I was going through. And in that, I found a community of peers that could articulate my unbridled anger and strong feelings of oppression.
How do I bridge the love that I have for hip-hop culture and textbook good parenting skills? I often feel like I can’t listen to the things that I want to listen to the most because rightfully, I don’t want my seven-year old daughter spitting Geto Boys lyrics at school, even if they do break down American politics better than her social studies teacher probably will. Yes, the politics and social justice aspect of the songs are fantastic and they get me pumped up to go teach the youth everyday, but the language and delivery is strictly Rated R. However, I do think my daughter needs to know her hip-hop history and that Hannah Montana’s “Nobody’s Perfect” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” aren’t the only songs worth listening to.
So how do I share and pass on this prized possession to my seed, ultimately, the next generation? How do I show and teach her what real hip-hop is before the media and BET try to teach her their version? I actually got the answer by watching my husband’s habits. He listens to hip-hop every single day. I don’t think that he’d survive a day without it. He spends alone time in his room every morning and evening, listening to the latest artists. He listens to his Ipod on the train, to and from work. He plays his headphones as he washes dishes and does other chores. He has even made several hip-hop and R&B CD’s for our daughter, all kid-friendly and censored.
From him, I learned that I don’t have to be disconnected from my musical passion in order to be a good mother. Instead, I have to keep being true to myself and listen to what I want to listen to (although she may not be in the room for the racier lyrics). Once she is older, I will do her like I do my students – teach her by breaking it down. Hip-hop is an integral part of my classroom and how I teach. I’m the KRS-1 of theater and English at my school. I print out lyrics, old school and new – their choices and mine. Then, as we listen to the songs, we read and respond to the lyrics. As a class, we correct the grammatical and spelling errors therein and then, we critically analyze and deconstruct the raps as a form of poetry, as pieces of history, and as voices of the oppressed and sometimes, ignorant.
I see hip-hop like I see black culture. It’s flawed on many levels. It’s oppressed. At times, it struggles to make the best decisions. On the flipside, it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s brilliantly designed and built to last. It is progressive and evolutionary. It’s filled with love, confidence and eternal “qwan.” As Mos Def put it best, it is us. We can’t ignore or dismiss hip-hop, just as we can’t ignore and dismiss ourselves. We have to acknowledge the challenges and work towards solutions. We have to work on the very things that hip-hop reminds us of – ill-functioning schools, the struggles of single parenting, the need for Black love, the rampant violence, the lack of unity, the disrespect we have for our women, the low expectations we have for our men, and how our children are suffering as a result of all of the above.
And as a mother, I will use hip-hop to raise a conscious child. Hopefully, she will use it as I have – as a tool for social justice. Hip-hop is about having a voice and not allowing others to oppress that voice because it is worthy of being heard. The next time I’m in my room bobbing my head and she knocks, I’ll simply say, “Khari, come listen to this new Common cut and dance with mommy.” And if she says, “No thanks, I don’t like your music.” I’ll know that I’ve done my job because my child has a right to claim her voice and stand on her choices, too. Music is deeply personal and serves a purpose, moving us all in various jactating ways. My job as a parent isn’t only about teaching and trying to maintain who I am through the mothering process, it’s about letting go and supporting the funny, confident, precocious spirit my daughter is becoming. At the end of the day, I need to accept that I will make many, many mistakes along the way because as Hannah Montana said, “nobody’s perfect” and my process as a mother isn’t either.