Saturday, April 23, 2005

Whitey As You Wanna Be

As a kid growing up in the bland, stripmall hell of the Southwest during the '70's, my first impressions of rap were mixed. My oldest sister was my first big musical influence--whatever she listened to, I listened to. Her tastes ran from the pedestrian (The Beatles, The Turtles, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Carly Simon, etc) to the more esoteric artists that were staples of the freeform FM radio waves at that time: Frank Zappa, Randy Newman and so on. This might explain why, when I began formulating my own tastes in my teens, I leaned towards the obvious (Queen, Styx, Heart, ELO) and the fringe (Kraftwerk, more Randy Newman). During this time, rap did not enter the equation. So you can imagine why my early opinions of rap were stunted by this myopic viewpoint. Nobody at my school was playing it--the only person I knew actively collecting it was a cousin of mine, but even then I just didn't get it. The shortsighted opinions I had about rap at the time are the same opinions I hear some rap-haters using today: "That's not singing! Where's the melody? Those are just nursery school rhymes set to music!" Anyone born during the 1980's probably never knew of a time when there wasn't rap, but when it emerged during my youth, this just wasn't the case. It was too new, too urban and too outside of our cultural signposts to make any sense. That's why it's such a pleasure to be older and wiser, because now I'm able to dig deep back into the origins of hip hop and discover all these gems I left behind during my formative years. Case in point: Get Up (And Go To School) by Pookey Blow. By today's ears, it's such a cute little record (even Kris Kross wouldn't have attempted something like this), but it also shows how the early leanings of rap were perhaps more wide open than today's standards. I couldn't imagine any of today's rap stars attempting a song about waking up to face the school day. You can find this on the wonderful The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip Hop, 1979-1983, which is chock full of tracks like this. I suggest you buy it here.

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