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boom boxesRap Music: One Really Can Be Too Old For Some Things
by Marjorie Dorfman

Do you ever wonder what those noises are that seem to blast down the street alongside every teenager that passes you by? Do you yearn for the doo-wop of another time? Well, as far a I am concerned, here's to the generation gap and may we always be too old for some things!

jazzAs a soul who came of age on the tail end of doo-wop and the wriggling cusp of Elvis’s pelvis, the progression from rock ’n roll to rap music is a twisted and rocky albeit natural road. Each age has its heroes, its fads and it’s music, the most important moniker of all. Once a generation has bonded with the music of its time, it is always "theirs," sealed in an immutable cellophane of memories without pain or responsibility. Wherever adulthood and maturity may lead, a spark of the past will always ignite at the sound of a familiar melody or lyric. That’s how I feel about doo-wop and, I suppose, today’s youth will someday feel about rap. The problem seems to lie somewhere in the translation. I will admit that "ooh-wah" and "do bopsie doo" lack any universal significance, but at least I can tell where the "doo wah" ends and the words to the song begin! With some of the rap music I have heard, I’m not really sure where the words are, much less what they mean.

I do not understand rap music. Perhaps that’s because I am not a teenager and not meant to comprehend the message that lies between the lines that I can’t read without my glasses anyway. But please consider that age has given me, if nothing else, more time to practice being equitable about most things. I can offer a different although somewhat foreign perspective. One of the problems with gathering data is that there is so much of this "rap stuff" for my middle-aged ears to evaluate. There’s Gangsta Rap, Hip Hop Rap, Old School Rap, East Coast Rap, Christian Rap, West Coast Rap and Southern Rap. That’s a lot of rap!

rapper giraffe It seems like the appeal of this music lies below the surface, skimming among society’s restless and abandoned youth. This is certainly nothing new, either in songs or cinema, going back to the covered wagon days of early rock ’n roll, rebel Jimmy Dean and Mr. Elvis-you-know-who. The music of each age mirrors the pulse and psyche of its listeners, but the language and themes of rap are what I, personally, find quite disturbing. They scream of overt sexism, racism, homophobia, the glamorization of violence and the degradation of women. I’m willing to stand corrected, but right now that’s how rap and its message looks to middle-aged, not-quite-over-the-hill me.

I have chosen two rap stars for my impromptu and highly subjective study: Eminem and Tupac Shakur. I know there are many others out there worshipped and adored for their own unique message, but it seemed more equitable to focus on two rather than to skim over twelve. Compare this idea to that movie of a long time ago, "If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium," the story of a young American couple who tour so many European cities in one week that they lose track of where they are.

Of the two, Tupac Shakur, the son of two Black Panther party members, amazes me the most. Gunned down in 1996 at the age of 25 under very mysterious circumstances, the man is still selling more records than most living artists! I guess a little thing like being dead can’t keep a good man down. He is an unlikely martyr for urban Black America and the world of gangsta rap, but he is also a tragic symbol of its dark and terrible underbelly. The latest album, "Until The End of Time," with its collection of nearly twenty songs is the fourth posthumous release of new material produced by Shakur’s mother and Suge Knight. His fatalism and sense of prophecy seem to be big factors in his appeal. Consider the powerful lyric of "Death Around The Corner," a cappella, if you please.
rap dancer
". . . I see death around the corner anyday.
Trying to keep it together, no one lives forever anyway
Struggling and strivin, my destiny’s to die
Keep my finger on the trigger, no mercy in my eyes . . ."


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