August 19, 2012, 7:00 AM
By RANDYE HODER
A few weeks ago, I was cruising down the freeway with my 14-year-old son, Nathaniel, and as always, he asked if he could listen to music. I said yes, and he slipped in a CD. Many times, when I am driving and he is listening to music, I tune out. But on this occasion, I was very tuned in — and horrified by what I heard.
I can’t quote the lyrics here, which makes it hard to convey the impact of the words. To translate the song “Rack City” into non-profane lyrics is impossible, but suffice it to say, it’s hard-core misogyny: ugly, hateful stuff. I asked Nathaniel if he had thought about the lyrics and what the rapper (in this case, a 22-year-old known as Tyga) was actually saying and what he meant by it. Nathaniel shrugged. “I’m into the beat,” he replied. “It doesn’t matter.”
I tried to tell him why it did matter, but I wasn’t getting through.
A short while later, my husband, Rick, and I were in the car on our way to a basketball game with Nathaniel, and he put his music on again. This time — as more hateful speech directed at women filled our car — Rick popped out the CD and told Nathaniel that the lyrics were offensive and that he should be more discerning about which rappers and songs to listen to. Rick added that he doesn’t dislike all rap music; much of it, he acknowledged, has important things to say about black history, the struggles of growing up in urban America and the scourge of racism.
None of these attempts to be reasonable made a difference. Nathaniel rolled his eyes. You could see exactly what he was thinking: “You old fuddy-duddies. You just don’t get it.” In that moment, I flashed back to when my father heard me as a teenager listening to the Rolling Stones at full tilt. “You call that singing?” he’d ask, and order me to turn it down.
But I believe my battle lines with Nathaniel are different. This isn’t about taste. It’s about the fact that many rap songs sexually objectify women and more than a few of them go so far as to legitimize violence against them.
In the days since that trip in the car, Rick and I have talked about how to handle this situation.We quickly agreed that we weren’t going to ban Nathaniel from listening to anything in particular; censorship never works. Instead, we’ve decided to keep talking to Nathaniel about what we find so objectionable, and hope that it eventually sinks in.
Interestingly, the more we’ve discussed this issue with him, the more Nathaniel has changed his tune. After first saying that he and his friends don’t pay attention to the words, he then started to say that hateful lyrics don’t have any effect “in real life.” I challenged him on that, arguing that hip-hop culture is hugely influential and, therefore, he shouldn’t assume that rappers’ attitudes toward women don’t impact a person’s views and behavior.
With that in mind, I asked him if he would be O.K. if anybody treated his mother or sister the way that women are treated in a song like Tyga’s “Rack City.” (On that, he was speechless.) I’ve also tried to impress upon Nathaniel that his choices as a consumer are powerful — that he can and does impact the marketplace.
Of late, Nathaniel has backpedaled a little more. His most recent line is that he doesn’t like it when rappers simply toss out expletives. “But if it’s part of a story, then it’s O.K.,” he said. “That’s good rap.” I’ve tried to tell him that whether it’s gratuitous or not, the effect is still the same.
So far, as parents, Rick and I have been lucky. On most things, we have been able to impart our values to our children. On this, we still have some work to do. Nathaniel is not yet willing to reject certain rap songs because of misogyny.
But I think that we’re slowly moving him in the right direction. And for now, my plan is to just keep on talking about the issue because I know that a bass-driven beat is no longer the only thing in his head. He can’t listen to a rap song that demeans women anymore without hearing my voice, too. And that is music to my ears.