That was the day that mother told me I was too old to listen to rap music. Mid spring, 2002. I was twenty-four and moving out of my apartment. Mother was helping. We got into my car; I turned the ignition. When the engine started the radio was blaring a song by my friend, Snoop Dogg. He was extolling the virtues of a gin and juice cocktail. My mother, needless to say, did not appreciate his music. Mommy quickly flicked the volume knob and broke the news to me. It was so traumatic, so perverted that it has stuck in my head ever since.
In her sweet, irritation-laced voice she said to me, “Josh O’Dell, you are too old for this. You don’t need to be listening to such scary music.” Ahhh. But I love it so much. Scary? It’s not scary.
Since then I have not stopped listening to my beloved musical genre. If anything I have listened to it more even though I’m now thirty-two. Truthfully, I don’t know if I’ll ever retire my library. I can’t envision a scenario in which I’ll say, “Oh, what silly music. What was I thinking?” Of course when I have kids I’ll have to listen in private because no one likes a toddler who tells his grandmother that he’s got ninety-nine problems but a ______ ain’t one. She really might hit him. (Check your Jay-Z lyrics.) (Mom, I would never let my kids listen to Jay-Z. Not until they’re eight.)
I love rap music because of those satisfying moments when I am in the car bobbing my head to Biz Markie’s rough beatbox or the knotty rhythms of Dangerdoom…. In those moments I am cool. Possibly the coolest I will ever be. I’m not kidding. At that moment, when I’m spitting verses I am part of the musical collaboration That’s when I’m MC JLight, standing on stage with my hand cupped around the mic. I am a badass. I’m Steve McQueen with rhythm and gold fronts. And not even you—the staring lady next to me at the stoplight with your finger halfway up your nose—can tell me different.
The coolness factor is a big deal because those of you who know me well also know that my everyday alter ego, Joshua O’Dell, is patently uncool. He crosses his legs because it’s comfortable. (Sorry, it is.) He eats granola. He can’t tan to save his life. And, worst yet, he listens to NPR.
I like many other genres, but nothing is cool like rap. Classic country is twangy-cool. I’m going for urban-cool. Jazz is very cool, but I can’t participate in it unless I want to break out the old saxophone, which I don’t. Grunge is cool if you’re into sitting in a corner, thinking about why life sucks. Bluegrass is moonshine-cool. Metal just makes me weep—very uncool. There’s all that emotional, whiny, songwriter stuff. That’s sensitive-cool or don’t-watch-me-leave-you-but-listen-to-me-describe-the-rain-drops-for-five-minutes cool.
I love rap because, to put it bluntly, I’ve got beats in my bones and I’ve got a sweet booty that deserves to be shook. And it’s always been largely about the beats. Lyrics are cool, but the rhythm is the skizm. Rap allows for the baddest moves on the planet, e.g., break dancing, pop lock, cupid shuffle, stanky legg, lip gloss, Bugs Bunny, scuba hop, lip gloss, Aunt Jackie, running man, a-town stomp, SpongeBob, chicken noodle soup, the robot, the cabbage patch. I can do every one of ‘em.
Without rap there are so many things that I still wouldn’t know. Without Snoop Dogg I wouldn’t have realized that I need to have my mind on my money AND my money on my mind. Without Young MC I couldn’t truly bust a move. Without Busta Rhymes I wouldn’t know how to speak gibberish. If not for Freestyle Fellowship who’s going to tell me that the potato is hot? And without Black Sheep I wouldn’t have the option of this or that.
Besides, I grew up listening to this stuff. And it was okay back then, i.e., Mom knew I was listening to it. So it was okay until I turned, what, eighteen? Twenty? After that I was supposed to skip straight to Larry Welk? I mean at this point it sounds like I ought to keep rapping seeing as I’m so removed from being a grown-up. If I suddenly stop listening to it I might get the urge to sit in an office or eat a tapa.
Now that sounds scary.