A previous version of this article misidentifies the Hip-Hop Love Project.
Why I Gave Up On Hip-Hop
My 12-year-old daughter, Sydney, and I were in the car not long ago when she turned the radio to a popular urban contemporary station. An unapproved station. A station that might play rap music. "No way, Syd, you know better," I said, so Sydney changed the station, then pouted.
"Mommy, can I just say something?" she asked. "You think every time you hear a black guy's voice it's automatically going to be something bad. Are you against hip-hop?"
Her words slapped me in the face. In a sense, she was right. I haven't listened to radio hip-hop for years. I have no clue who is topping the charts and I can't name a single rap song in play.
But I swear it hasn't always been that way.
My daughter can't know that hip-hop and I have loved harder and fallen out further than I have with any man I've ever known.
That my decision to end our love affair had come only after years of disappointment and punishing abuse. After I could no longer nod my head to the misogyny or keep time to the vapid materialism of another rap song. After I could no longer sacrifice my self-esteem or that of my two daughters on an altar of dope beats and tight rhymes.
No, darling, I'm not anti-hip-hop, I told her. And it's true, I still love hip-hop. It's just that our relationship has gotten very complicated.
When those of us who grew up with rap saw signs that it was turning ugly, we turned away. We premised our denial on a sort of good-black-girl exceptionalism: They came for the skeezers but I didn't speak up because I'm no skeezer, they came for the freaks, but I said nothing because I'm not a freak. They came for the bitches and the hos and the tricks. And by the time we realized they were talking about bitches from 8 to 80, our daughters and our mommas and their own damn mommas, rap music had earned the imprimatur of MTV and Martha Stewart and even the Pillsbury Doughboy.
And sometimes it can seem like now, there is nobody left who is willing to speak up.
I remember the day hip-hop found me. The year was 1979 and although "Rapper's Delight" wasn't the first rap song, it was the first rap song to make it all the way from the South Bronx to Hazel Crest, Ill.
I was 12, the same age my oldest daughter is now, when hip-hop began to shape my politics and perceptions and aesthetics. It gave me a meter for my thoughts and bent my mind toward metaphor and rhyme. I couldn't sing a lick, but didn't hip-hop give me the beginnings of a voice. About the time that rap music hit Hazel Crest, all the black kids sat in the front of my school bus, all the white kids sat in back, and the loudest of each often argued about what we were going to listen to on the bus radio or boombox. Music was code for turf and race in the middle-class, mostly-white-but-heading-black suburbs south of Chicago.
One day, our bus driver tried to defuse tensions by disallowing both. Left without music, some of the black kids started singing "Rapper's Delight." Within a couple of lines, we all joined in: