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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, June 30, 2006

Why the Vanilla Ices of the World Ultimately Fail

I am an old school hip-hop kid. I've said that before on this blog. Hip-hop, for the most part, is a welcoming, open-armed culture.

Let's be clear though, before it started looking like a Benetton commercial, which I think is a good thing, hip-hop was born in the black and Latino 'hoods of New York.

So I've always been fascinated by the two general types of hip-hop fans: those who understand and accept its history, and those who base their knowledge and embracing of it on music videos.

I have a neighbor who fits the latter description, I think. Based on his behavior and appearance, he is less about hip-hop culture, and music, and style, than he is about trying look a certain way.

See, he's one of these guys who thinks that in order for him to be taken seriously as a hip-hop fan he must have what he thinks is black street cred. And to him, black street cred means speaking Thuglish, wearing his pants 4X too big, and always snarlin' at people.

I find it insulting, 'cause I know plenty of black fans of hip-hop who wear suits, speak perfect English and are smart enough to separate the entertainment from real life. Besides, guys like him don't really want to be black. If they did, one of them would have taken my place in high school when I was pulled over and hassled by a racist cop who felt like I was in too clean a car in too nice a neighborhood. That's a more "authentic" experience than any music video performance.

My suspicions about this neighbor were confirmed not so long ago when my wife got a call from a real estate agent and friend who said a client might be interested in purchasing the duplex/apartment building this guy lives in. The agent/friend invited my wife to join her on a walk-through of the house. When they arrived, Ice, as we'll call him opened the door, immediately straightened his posture, put on the airs of a gentleman and greeted my wife and the agent/friend....Politely, and with proper English! It's funny though that when my wife and I passed the guy later, walking our dog or something like that, he was standing in his driveway back to his tired thug act - and I mean act, what with the swearing, and crotch-clutching, and with the bragging to his buddies about how tough he was. And yes, his pants were back down at half mast.

He's a fraud. If he was really the hardcore street kid he was pretending to be, he wouldn't have changed his style and speech for anyone.

And guys like him will never achieve the hip-hop and street cred they so badly desire, 'cause they really don't mean it. They want to look the part, but that's it.

It reminds me of a story from when I was a kid - probably 19 at this point.

I've mentioned before that while I was in college, I worked full-time as an aircraft maintenance machinist at the Norfolk (VA) Naval Air Station. I had a co-worker on that job who spent night and day decrying hip-hop and all its evils. He ranted and raved about how it was ruining America, etc., etc., and then one day I met his oldest son.

Actually, I heard him before I met him. I was standing at my lathe, turning down a piece of steel that would eventually take shape as a machine part. And outside the shop I heard some tremendous booms. Yeah, yeah, I was on a Naval "Air" Station. But trust me, these weren't sonic booms.

I'm nosy. So I turned off my machine, grabbed my drink, and strolled to the hanger door just in time to see a tall, lanky blonde kid get out of a low-rider pickup truck, that was bumping the loudest, angriest, West Coast rap I'd heard in a long time. I'll never forget, he wore a Dallas Cowboys jersey, too-big jeans, a giant "goldish" medallion that Flavor Flav and Mr. T would've been proud of, and he walked with the practiced limp of a pimp or gunshot victim.

Here's where it gets funny: As the kid approached the door, he saw me, proceeded to ask "Yo, homey," where he might find his dad. I didn't know whether to laugh or get annoyed. So I pointed to the break room. He stood there for a minute yammering away in Thuglish about the man breakin' his you-know-whats, and keepin' it real, and a lot of other nonsense. But before he could walk into the shop and to the break room. His dad, who had been expecting him and had probably also heard him, walked outside. Dad's face was beet red and definitely annoyed.

So what do you think sonny boy did when dad got close? Yep, he pulled up his slacks to a reasonable height, he tucked the chain into his shirt, straightened his posture and greeted his dad...in a totally different voice! "Hey dad, how's work," Junior asked gleefully. "Gosh, that's pretty complicated looking stuff you guys are doing in there."

Junior, as with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, had transformed from DJ Suburb into Wally Cleaver too.

Be you, kids. You can be a huge fan of all sorts of music, and cultures, and styles, and still just be you. 'Cause if you're a fraud now, when you finally do grow up later in life and look back on the way things were, you're gonna feel really stupid for having been a pretender.

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