Discovering Hip Hop at 40

Having kids leads to some strange changes in your life.

Like listening to hip hop.

I was born in the mid-70s, so suggesting that I’m a child of the 80s wouldn’t be far off. But puberty wrecked havoc on me, to the point that I became almost a different person. At the very least, I went from a kid who generally did what he was told to a kid who generally tried to do his own thing. By this token, the 80s weren’t so much my decade as the 90s, after puberty, after I’d decided to start making decisions for myself.

Rap music “broke” in the 90s, really. It had been bubbling below the surface of mainstream music for years, but it really broke through in the 90s. That’s when it became popular music. And even now, I have some affection for 90s hip hop.

But that wasn’t me. I was an angry white kid from the suburbs who had no idea why he was angry and seemingly out of no where came an entire genre of music that spoke to me: grunge. And when grunge burned away, I’d already jumped ship to its main influence, punk rock. And punk rock led me to indie rock, which more or less allowed me to mix some sadness in with my anger.

I stayed away from hip hop. I needed music that spoke to me, but I was also for anti everything, which meant that listening to popular music was out of the question. And, like I said, rap had taken over the Top 40.

I dabbled in hip hop over the years. At a certain point, indie rock began embracing lesser known rap acts, I suppose the way that Anthrax embraced Public Enemy. And I liked hip hop. I’ve just never had any idea where to begin with it and, really, not motivation to do so. I was waist deep in minor chords and feelings and adding another style of music to the mix was just too much for me.

But when you have kids, you suddenly find motivation for things, motivation that wasn’t there before.

I started listening to hip hop regularly after our son was born. The internet is great for getting suggestions; there are a hundred streaming music services that will take one song you like and turn it into an entire playlist. So slowly but surely, I waded deeper and deeper into the hip hop waters.

I’m still a novice, I fully admit that, and I doubt anyone would ever accuse me of being anything other than a dabbler. But I’m open to anything. I want to learn.

What does this have to do with my son?

I wasn’t raised on music. My parents loved Abba and Neil Diamond, but beyond that seldom even talked about music. When I discovered the Beatles, I raided my parents record collection, but I’d never heard of them from my parents and was surprised to find those albums in the house.

I want my son to be exposed to as much as possible. I know that hip hop might seem like a small thing, but I feel like it’s important. I feel like growing up around a diversity of music is important.

It’s more than that. We live in the Bay area and his class at school is fairly diverse. But I know how much more impact parents can have on kids and I don’t want him to see me living on a steady diet of sameness. I want him to experience a wider world that I only ever got glimpses of and I at least want him to feel like that experience is encouraged, not just overtly.

Honestly, it’s been a lot of fun to dig into a new genre of music, particularly something that’s so far removed from what I’ve listened to for most of my life. It’s like learning a new language. I’m starting to become discerning, starting to notice what I like about particularly songs and what I don’t. I can’t really verbalize it yet, but I’ll get there.

And I still can’t dance, but my son doesn’t care.