Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Lyrical Regression

I feel sorry for my son, who is, inexplicably, a hip-hop fan.  Because I grew up with song lyrics that were simple declarations of love, like these:

Can't get enough of your love, babe.


Love to love you baby.


Love is you
You and me
Love is knowing
we can be.

And other lyrics that reflected humility, humanity and respect, like these:

It don’t matter to me
If you take up with someone who’s better than me
‘Cause your happiness is all I want.


What I feel, I can't say
But my love is there for you anytime of day
But if it's not love that you need
Then I'll try my best to make everything succeed

Tell me, what is my life without your love
Tell me, who am I without you, by my side.


When you're weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all;
I'm on your side. When times get rough
And friends just can't be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

My son, on the other hand, has this:

Put molly all in her champagne
She ain’t even know it
I took her home and I enjoyed that
She ain’t even know it.

I had love and respect.  He has the glorification of rape.

He also has this:

Bout to put rims on my skateboard wheels
Beat that pussy up like Emmett Till.

Emmett Till was an African-American boy who was savagely beaten and murdered in Mississippi at the age of 14 after reportedly flirting with a white woman.  So, not only are Lil Wayne’s lyrics shockingly misogynistic, they are in unimaginable bad taste.

And this:

My dick hard as a motherfucker
You don’t what?
Tell that shit to another sucker.

How romantic.

The controversial lyrics I grew up with were more like clever guessing games: Does Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds stand for LSD?  Is Van Morrison referencing heroin in “Brown Eyed Girl”? Is Rosie, in the Jackson Browne song of the same name, Rosie Palm (the character’s masturbatory hand)? And the lyrics of many songs of the era lend themselves to thorough analysis, like “Hotel California”, “Fire and Rain”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “American Pie” among many others.  

Instead, my son has:

Yeah, long as my bitches love me (yeah, yeah)
I could give a fuck about no hater, long as my bitches love me.


I’m ’bout to dust some cops off
cop killer, better you than me
cop killer, fawk police brutality.


A young nigga on the warpath
And when I’m finished, it’s gonna be a bloodbath
Of cops, dying in L.A.


Fawk money
I don’t rap for dead presidents
I’d rather see the president dead
It’s never been said
But I set precedents and the standards.

Impressive standards, Mr. Mathers.

Do the blatant misogyny, unabashed sexism and glorification of senseless violence in today’s hip-hop lyrics represent simply the latest chapter in the constant evolution of our culture?  Can they be compared to other aspects of music that were initially deemed unacceptable but later became mainstream, such as Elvis’ hip movements and song titles like “Let’s Spend the Night Together”?

No. Absolutely not.  Quite the contrary.

The acceptance of more overt sexuality in both song lyrics and dance movements is progressive in nature and liberating to both artists and consumers.  It reflects the increasing openness and honesty with which we deal with each other, and it lowers the barriers between what we are really thinking and what we are able to comfortably express.  No question, our society is progressing, as is evidenced by our finally coming to our collective senses with regard to issues like same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana.  

Today’s hip-hop lyrics fly in the face of such progress, and represent a disturbing regression.  The objectification of women has no place anywhere, but is particularly offensive when expressed by artists who are supposed to inhabit the leading edge of their craft, and especially disturbing when featured in songs that are actually successful.  Lyrics like these:

Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks
Lick on these nuts and suck the dick.


It’s damn near four in the morning, ain’t shit to discuss
Til you ask which dick do you suck.

should make us cringe, the same way that the racism in “42” does, or the sexism in “Mad Men”, or just seeing a confederate flag anywhere.  But the lyrics should make us cringe much more.  Embarrassing as our past may be, at least it is our past.  We can look back on it, realize how horrible our actions were at the time, and at least take solace from our subsequent progress.

These song lyrics are not part of our past.  They are our present.  And based on the demographic that celebrates them, they could, disturbingly, become our future.

Where’s the solace there?