So Hip Hop is from the prison culture? I missed the memo

The only thing worse than white innocence is white ignorance.

A quick Google search didn’t show that the aforementioned quote is a particularly famous one, so I’m personally attributing it to my friend over at Soul Jonz.  That quote was the result of title statement that my host mother told me.

We were all sitting around after going to a Greek tappas bar for dinner and we were back home discussing music.  But before I go into how my host mother hopped herself on the Stuff White People Like train of ignorance, I must preface this by saying that music this summer for me has been, and is proving to be a sore point for me.

My co-workers and host family and some of the students I work with have asked me have I heard a certain David Crowder song, or a certain Toby Mac song or a certain Reliant K or even August Burns Red song and I would politely, like a good lil’ Negro, say “No, I only listen to hip hop, r&b and gospel.” At first they just said “Oh” and kept on going as though I said nothing at all, and I actually knew who and what they were talking about.  After I realised that statement wasn’t doing any good, I replied with just a simple “No, I haven’t [heard this song, or whatever it is they were talking about].”  To which their myopic minds allowed the following words to pass the barrier of their lips: “What do you mean no?!  What kind of music do you listen to?”

It’s REALLY frustrating right now.

Not just because stupidity is coming through because clearly they haven’t comprehended that I DON’T listen to the same music they listen to based on the simple fact that I told them that I don’t, but that they met me with the blanket expectation that I was “one of them.”  That I was a suburban kid, who maybe dibbled and dabbled in that which was “urban” culture.  I mean, it’s frightening the number of times I’ve had to explain to the grown adults at my internship that “I’m from Chicago” and they’re response is “Oh, what suburb?”

I mean, my uppity Negro brain can’t wrap around the problems with their line of thinking.  Is it that they can’t imagine that a kid, who yes privileged, but a city kid nonetheless, who has some semblance of what it means to not wear blue and black or red and black when I was 10 years old, or who remembers going certain places and hearing gun shots, or hearing gun shots from the neighborhood school, remembering Dantrell Davis being dropped from the Robert Taylor projects, being out in their suburban enclave that is Gaithersburg?  Or is it that I’m really some random black oddity to them?  I mean, one of the adults that asked me “Oh, are you from Chicago the city or the suburbs?” just yesterday went on to ask me point blank “What do your parents do for a living?”  Or, is it that I got the city stickers that my mother mailed sent to my job (it was perfectly okay to receive mail here, I asked first) and I found my mail opened first, but today, one of the other interns got mail sent here from his college and his envelope (yes addressed with the school’s address versus the handwriting of my Mama Uppity’s famous, or infamous if you will, purple pen?

Anyway, addressing the topic at hand about hip hop and the prison culture….

I think my host mother is straddling both the trains of white ignorance and white innocence at the same time seeing as how the two run on close and parallel tracks.  I’m just hoping that she hits track switch of reality and falls from both of the trains and is forced to go and search for that reality.

I mean, I should have seen that statement coming.

Earlier that day as she had irked my nerves in the respect that she had asked me about some random white Christian rock or worship band, and of course I said “No” and she playfully hit me on my shoulder and said “Oh come on now, you must have heard of (insert any random white Christian worship band you know) _________.”  This time I fired back “Well have you heard of CeCe Winans?” to which she responded “Yes.”  And I thought, well, yeah CeCe is….well….CeCe.  (Some of y’all know what I’m talking about.)  Next I said “Have you heard of Hezekiah Walker?”  She scrunched up her face and I said “and the Love Fellowship Choir?” to which she said “Maybe.”

I knew I got her when I asked the next question “Have you heard of The Clark Sisters?” to which I got a resounding “No” and I said, “Well, then how are you gonna get mad at me for saying I don’t know music and you don’t know what I’m talking about?”

“Awwww, I’m just joking!” she said smiling, and then asked “Well, have you heard of Mikela Jackson?”

I scrunched up my face, racking my brain thinking of a gospel artist named Mikela.  I really would have dismissed it as probably some random black lady who might have sang with one of those white bands and she had put it in her mind that this was some big time gospel artist, so  I just said “No.”

“What do you mean no?  She’s like the biggest gospel artist ever!”

I had convinced myself that this lady was white and delusional and there wasn’t much I could do about it.  And she pulled me into the computer room and said “Come on.  I’ll google her and tell you about her.”  So I followed not know who the HELL she was talking about.  So, I figured this wasn’t someone totally random, so I asked what song, thinking maybe I had heard the song, but didn’t know the artist.  Tha’s common enough.  When she replied “Amazing Grace” I really wanted to go out to my car and just drive to find the nearest black pentecostal church with a Wednesday night Bible study.

She meant Mahalia Jackson.

And what further incensed me was that she “poo-poohed” her mistake so much, it was like calling Martin Luther King, Marshaun Luther King–THAT’S SOMETHING YOU NEVER GET WRONG!  Well, okay she got it wrong, but she was sooooooooo ignorant of black culture, and hell, my facial expressions that she failed to see just how egregious her error really was!

So, that evening when she said with such authority that “hip hop comes out of the prison culture” I turned to her and said “Excuse me.”

My friend, the other intern looked at me, because he knew I was really ready to go off.

Honestly, when I look back on how I handled that experience, I’m both amazed at how calm I was through the situation, but equally as amazed at how it made me sooooo angry.  I actually had a mini panic attack.  I remember my heart rate going up and my breathing accelerating and my entire face just starting to itch.  I’ve had those sensations before, and usually it’s some that triggers it–clearly her statement, and the fact that I was forced to remain uppity Negro and shelve militant and angry Negro for the time being caused this reaction.


I mean, did I need to start listing off Sugarhill Gang, LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash and how they were around prior to 1988’s N.W.A. release of “Straight Outta Compton”  but, as I continued to talk, I realised this was about to be the most futile conversation I’ve ever had in my life.  I tried to delineate the difference between Hip Hop and what we know now as rap and even Gangsta Rap, which I personally consider the bastard child of Hip Hop, but a genre nonetheless that requires an equal amount of respect.  I tried to explain to her, and the rest of the listening audience, that yes, it’s really the commercial distributors, not the rappers themselves who are ultimately causing all of controversy as far as lyrics are concerned and she informed me–yes, the white, suburban lady informed this uppity Negro–that “those people aren’t talented anyway.”

I was really done, and I felt angry Negro surface first.

I snapped back “What evidence do you have of all of this?”

Of which she had none, and she promised to get me some eventually.  I’d love to see what Bill O’Reilly or FoxNews clip she may find to disprove EVERYTHING that I’ve said.  I mean, what I really want to know is what the hell is prison culture in the first place?  I could give a better description of hip hop culture, but prison culture?  I mean, this lady went on saying all of them have been to prison and then marvelously her son said “Mom, what about Aerosmith and the Beatles?  All of them had did drugs and had been arrested.”  I was waiting, just WAITING for her to say “At least they didn’t shoot or kill someone” because then then angry Negro definitely woulda came out and I really would used the words “white” and “suburban” um, let’s see “living in isolation” or “in a bubble” would have been phrases used heavily as well.

Well, to my fellow blogger Bats, I hope you read this because I’d LOVE to hear what you got to say about this one. 

To all my readers, please comment because I’d love to hear what you think my response should be to this lady?  You all know what I want to say and it really has nothing at all to do with Hip Hop!! (thanks to militant Negro)

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

2 thoughts on “So Hip Hop is from the prison culture? I missed the memo

  1. you have an interesting life my man. Very interesting. I thought you were in school somewhere in the A, where are you exactly? I mean I know it’s in the DC area, I used to live up there when I went to Howard, but I’m wondering what it is exactly you’re doing.,

    Also, stop letting those white folks make you so angry. You can’t let them get your blood pressure up like that.

    I wrote about it on the blog that you commented on, but simply, they live in a different world. Let them know their and world is not the only world, but don’t feel like you have to convince them that your world has merit. You can’t win that battle. Just do your thing.

  2. I’m in the suburb of Gaithersburg up in Montgomery County doing an internship for the summer. During the school year I’m living in Atlanta, so yeah, you not going crazy, lol.

    It’s an internship related in my field, working with a high school youth group and I get to stay with a host family (who has youth in the same group) for the whole summer. It’s definitely a new experience, I’m getting exposed to somethings that “folk” from my background only read about and know about simply because we, as blacks, must be bi-cultural in order to survive.

    I mean, I lived a relatively privileged life, but I grew up in inner city Chicago and went to public schools. So, for me to get to know life in MoCo in white suburbia is not an experience most black people I know are afforded.

    But, yeah, I’m learning coping techniques–it’s definitely a discipline thing I’m learning.

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