I’ve gone full cliche, recently dropping the “music didn’t used to suck” on one of my kids the other day, after seeing some lame-ass pseudo-country kiddie pop band on the teevee, a wretched clump of excrement called Florida Georgia Line. We got a good laugh at these bozos, but oh, man…before I knew it I was lecturing on the whole “when i was young” theme, all but telling them how I walked seven miles to school in the snow, up hill both ways–and I listend to some real goddam music when I did it. For some reason, N.W.A. jumped into my mind–about the most opposite thing to lame, mindless cookie cutter pop country drivel I could come up with.
I didn’t listen to a lot of rap, being a rural white kid whowas into what was called “progressive music’ at the time–but what became “college rock” and then “alternative.” I was still buried in melodic punk and some of the Austin to Athens jangle rock of the time, but I did like that they got the establishment’s hypothetical knickers in such a twist. Where I lived, one had to actively seek out any music not firmly rooted in the mainstream, and by mainstream I mean pop and AOR. Interesting music just wasn’t on the radio, and even the black kids I was friends with didn’t listen to cutting edge urban music–it simply wasn’t available to us, which is probably difficult for a lot of younger people to imagine. Simply put: if it wasn’t on the radio, it didn’t exist as more than a few lines of text in Rolling Stone or Spin magazines.
I can’t say that I got the music, but I got that it wasn’t for no reason that conservatives were waging war on this band. N.W.A, in a way, was like Radio Free America, a voice of the underground, of revolution. I was in college and just learning about social justice and the civil rights movement, neither of which had been part of my high school education, and I was brimming with the fervor of the newly converted, the freshly disgusted.
The media was telling me these guys were violent, anti-social thugs but my own sensibilities suggested that rap wasn’t all that different from the 1960s folk music I was just discovering, or the then-current punk with which my day to day life was saturated. It would be another 4 years before Rodney King was beaten within an inch of his life on an LA freeway, and we began to understand what this music was really about.
Postscript: Last week I posted a joke entry about the supremely talented Ice Cube, and another blogger pointed out how great his comedic timing was. I had to agree, but it occurred to me in response that “The N.W.A. stuff was both awesome and prophetic–we’re living in the world they were criticized for putting on records 30 years ago–it’s a short jump from Ice Cube’s Compton, to Ferguson, Baltimore, and the hundred of other communities where folks have been pushed past the breaking point. I’d much rather live in his zany comedies, rather than those harsh realities.” I’m sure all those guys feel a little vindicated, but it’s got to be tough to spend so much time and energy shouting from the rooftops, knowing that you were heard, but that nothing it changed nothing.
And because I can’t resist, here’s a cover from Veruca Salt’s punk goddess Nina Gordon.