Nurturing a Growing Hip Hop Head: Sharing a Love for Music With My Nephew
There are a few things that are straight up and down facts that won’t change.
I’m a journalist. I’m a woman. I’m a black woman.
And I’m a very proud auntie.
I love being an auntie. And even though my nephew lives hundreds of miles away, it’s a relationship I hold near and dear to me. He’s someone I loved before he showed up in the world and from the start I looked at him in amazement.
I knew he’d be someone very special to me.
Now he’s 12 and about to be 13 over the summer. I was always tickled by how smart he was as he was a small boy. And I worried about him turning into a dumb teenage boy.
A recent visit let me know that while he’ll probably make dumb teenage boy mistakes, he’ll be in good shape. He has a good head on his shoulders.
What I also realized as he gets older, is that we are a lot alike.
He’s a high achiever, he’s confident in his intelligence and tends to be the more serious conservative friend of the group who wants to keep himself and his friends out of trouble. Sometimes his jokes may go over his friends heads, and like me he enjoys a good pun.
He even said it. And I cracked up and responded, “There’s nothing like a good pun.”
At a recent event celebrating the achievements of 7th graders in his state who tested well taking the ACT, a college entrance exam, it wasn’t lost on him that he was one of about 6 black students. It also wasn’t lost on him how either super competitive or socially awkward his peers were at the event. He wasn’t really impressed, and loathed the constant discussion of who had the highest scores.
“No one is better than anyone else, Auntie,” he said casually. “We’re all equals. We all won the same award.”
He understood already, at a young age the importance of being the cool, well-adjusted nerd. It was something I had to learn at exactly his age and perfect through middle school and high school.
But as our conversation went on, I learned we had more in common than I thought.
My nephew is a budding hip-hop head. He dislikes most of the hip hop that’s popular– the indescernable stuff, and has an ear for the older music. And by older, 90s and early 2000s. Yeah, old, right? LOL.
Right now, he loves Kendrick Lamar and says “To Pimp a Butterfly” is currently his favorite album. He also likes J. Cole. My sister couldn’t contain herself, she asked him to tell me what his favorite song is.
Brace yourself, someone born in freaking 2003 says that the Humpty Dance by Digital Underground is favorite song. Yall, I had to google the year that song dropped. 1990.
I was 8 years old when that song came out.
Who is this kid? Has he been here before?
So our conversation goes on. It appears that my nephew enjoys blogs about hip hop and like any person who loves music gets put on and led to other music that people dissect. He’s a Nas fan, he enjoys Biggie and DMX.
DMX threw me for a loop because I figured kids today only knew him from being the Kat Williams of Hip-hop as of late, a perennial subject of a TMZ story.
But somehow my nephew unearthed some of his good stuff. I quote. “The first time I heard DMX, I just stopped everything.”
“Well, I’m curious. What do you like about him? His voice?”
“I don’t know auntie, it’s just… the aggression.”
I had to smile. My nephew appreciates a great pun, dislikes arrogant smart people, can point out the irony in a girl at his school named Harmony who’s always fighting, yet loves the aggression in DMX. I’m tickled just writing this. I can’t make it up.
So, being the hip hop lover I am. I ask him if he knows about Tribe Called Quest. And he says he’s heard of them, but doesn’t really know them like that.
He also explains to me that he loves Tupac basically because of Kendrick Lamar.
I had to smile because that’s the real beauty of true artists who love and understand music. I presume he likes NWA because of all of the success of Straight Outta Compton and was curious.
It’s wild to see him absorb the music like a sponge and be able to explain what it means. Because my nephew has been an Obama fan since forever, we both gushed over Obama’s favorite Kendrick song “How much a dollar cost.” We discussed the symbolism, and Kendrick’s take on humanity.
My sister sat at the table, and I could tell she was impressed and probably relieved my nephew had someone to talk about this stuff with equal enthusiasm.
At this point my sister was not actively participating in the conversation because we were going at a rapid clip, but I was very careful to explain the positive messages in the songs he was listening to, and he was too. I think he knew he had an ally in me in case his mother wanted to clamp down on what he was listening too. I had his back.
My mind was racing about all of the music I wanted to put him on to. All of the future discussions we could have about the music I loved so much and the music that was already shaping his tastes and thoughts.
There were several books that came to mind. I was already on Amazon getting him the illustrated Hip Hop yearbook that spans from the 1970s-2014. And then I also gifted him “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” a book of poems by none other than Tupac. I purchased that book in 1996 as a freshman in high school. Even though he is 12 going on 13, the poems, in my opinion were safe enough for him to read and the love poems Tupac wrote had very limited references to sex. So I don’t think my sister will kill me.
At his age I attempted to read Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” I know he can handle it.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how wonderful my nephew is and that as he grows older, I don’t have to worry about our relationship or him growing too cool even for his cool aunt. I will always be the cool aunt.