Some Black Kids Made Fun of Me For Playing “Shook Ones”
Last night when I got off the bus I decided to unplug my headphones but not stop playing the music on my phone, Shook Ones by Mobb Deep.
It was only for the three-block walk, only as homage to the late, Prodigy, otherwise I concur with the unanimous opinion of educated non-shit heads about playing songs aloud on our phone. Less evil of course, but equally as dumbfounding as terrorism or pedophilia — just… huh?
I guess I’m a sentimental corn ball, wrapped in the cloak of an old school hip hop head, or middle aged white guy; both really, depending on perspective and/or the day’s wardrobe. Apparently both factors combined to label me the latter as I passed a stoop full of black teenagers somewhere around the end of P’s utterly brilliant verse.
“Ohhh! That’s that heat!” one of them yelled.
Translating for old (white) folk, this implies recognition of something new and awesome.
Ironically, as Shook Ones is anything but new, though for most of them it probably was. A legend had passed and they’d spent the day unable to avoid the news on Snapchat or IG or whatever the fuck and the one semi-silver lining of such tragedies is that it educates the youth who think Kendrick Lamar is one iota above mediocre. Suddenly they discovered a “new” song they love, which had pretty much defined my adolescence.
“Whatchu’ know about that heat?!” another one yelled, and I just couldn’t resist.
“What do I know about it?” and they talked over me the whole time, but it didn’t deter me. Maturity is an apparently ongoing process. “You weren’t even born when this shit came out, B. What do I know about it?”
“Yo, whatchu’ know about that?” he persisted with the same argument, this time touching a nerve by pulling on my most pet peeved card.
“I’m from here, yo. You just moved here. We were born in New York.”
Ignorant hood cats and transplants have two (awful) things in common:
1. They solicit 7–11
2. They’re under the impression that there are no white native New Yorkers. Let me say it for the last time for the cheap seats: I believe that most of the white people you run into may be from other places, but MOST NATIVE NEW YORKERS ARE WHITE. Facts.
“I was born on 96thStreet!” I yelled back at him. Facts.
Apparently listening to Shook Ones all day has emotionally regressed me back to the age I was when it came out. Whatever. Nobody likes to be the target of racism, even when it is completely harmless and light-hearted, which it was.
The kids were smiling, really kind of sweet, not menacing at all. I mean, as stated, they’re from Harlem. A wealthy, incredibly safe, racially mixed, coveted Manhattan neighborhood. Sure, we’re all aware of the history and the fact that shit can still pop off in certain projects, but come on, bro. You’re on the west side. There are wonderful restaurants all over your block. You ain’t about that life.
Translation: You ain’t about that life just means that whatever it is that you’re preaching or professing is not consistent with your lifestyle.
After asserting my NY nativity he came back: “Well I was born on this block here.”
Okay, first of all, no you weren’t. There are no hospitals on this block. So unless your mom used a doula for a home birth, which is not out of the question for this bourgie, new age, hipster hood, you were not born on this block. But I get it. You’re from Harlem. I’m not. And since Prodigy was… wait a minute. Prodigy was as much from Harlem as I was. Or should I say, modern Harlem reflects the culture of Prodigy’s upbringing about as closely as mine did? So, what the fuck was this kid talking about? Ah yes, of course. Prodigy’s black, like him; and not white, like me. So, what could I possibly know about Shook Ones?
I walked off, letting him own the victory of having been born closer to where we were presently standing, but later on at home I regretted it. Like every confrontational or pseudo-confrontational exchange in my life thus far, I didn’t say the best or coolest things when I had the chance. I should have had more fun with them, I should have joked around more or discussed the issue. Really, I wished I’d (light-heartedly) raised the proverbial mirror of his racism back at him.
White guys aren’t allowed to complain about being targets of racism because our group on the whole is targeted much less and less severely than other groups. Our group. Not necessarily us individually of course, but the group with whom we share an appearance. Isn’t this paradigm ironically familiar?
Still, we have to take it and keep mum, if for no better reason than eye for an eye, (we in this together, son, your beef is mine (bet my friend wouldn’t get that reference)) — tick for tack justice: The cops are allowed to kill our people, so your people have to spend a lifetime explaining and/or apologizing for the music and culture you adore. Ironically, our personification of unity via appreciation and cultural appropriation gets mostly rejected as inorganic and unearned, or at the least unwanted.
We want equality but until it exists for all of us we choose to deny it for any of you.
Don’t get me wrong. This is obviously not the voice of all black people any more than Donald Trump is the voice of all white people. But albeit unknowingly in his still pubescent mind, it was the angle my friend on the stoop came from, and in fairness to him, I should have been the adult and responded better.
Beyond my 96thStreet birth, I grew up in a safe suburb outside the city, but I grew up on Mobb Deep. And Nas and Biggie and Wu-Tang and every other thugged out rap group of geniuses who came out during the Golden Era of hip hop. We were listening to Shook Ones on 115thSt. when 115thSt. was bad and the only restaurants were McDonald’s and I would occasionally get robbed while buying drugs in illegal drug spots. Sorry Mom. I wasn’t about that life. But I don’t ever reflect back with any realization of pretention or contrivance of character in our behavior. We just adored a music made by people with a different skin color who came from a different environment, and subsequently chose to emulate them. I’m confident there isn’t a neurologist or psychologist on the planet who would diagnose this as pathological.
It’s funny. Has our society ever before fetishized in such criticism any other example of cultural appropriation? Has there ever been a genre of music that we insisted its fans be able to personally identify with in order to sing along to? How safe (and ironically racist) is it to presume that everyone black is about that life? As a kid I felt we were judged simply as “dumb kids:” Wannabe’s who were trying to be something we weren’t. Then there was a sweet spot in young adulthood where we were old enough to demand a bit more credit from all groups; but outside of the old school hip hop parties inhabited by like minds, it seems to have now come full circle. Somehow I’m just a “middle-aged white guy” trying to jam to hip hop, and it wasn’t the first time “some kid” has remarked to me: Whatchu’ know about that? The result is not 1% as bad as that of police brutality, but the mechanism is identical.
Originally published at davidfostercomedyblog.com.