kids

'I can't play music I love around my kids and I feel like I’m missing a part of myself.'

I really love my kids. I also really love hip-hop music.

Sadly, just like the winner and runner-up of The Bachelor, these loves can’t exist safely in the same room. As I spend most of my time with my kids, this means that I don’t listen to as much rap music as I used to. I love the grit and history of rap, but I don’t feel comfortable with my kids hearing lyrics that are full of swear words and adult content.

Without rap constantly blasting from my car stereo or from speakers at home, I feel like I’m missing a part of myself – the part of myself that won’t take anyone’s bullshit, who will stand up for herself aggressively and will stomp on a man’s heart and fingers. This is but one of many ways that life with kids has made me a little more mellow – which isn’t always something I’m comfortable with. The absence of beats and spoken lyrics has left me feeling a little disconnected from my inner badass.

My love for rap started when I was twelve, when I listened to Salt-N-Pepa’s 1993 album Very Necessary. While mostly famous for the hits Shoop and Whatta Man, this album opened my eyes to what Cheryl James (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa) and Deidra Roper (DJ Spinderella) experienced as young black women in 1990’s America. There were lyrics about drugs, domestic violence, unreliable partners and of course, sex. I discovered that music and hip-hop could be a powerful way to raise awareness and impact the world (it was largely thanks to Salt-N-Pepa that kids of the 90’s learnt about condoms and safe sex), and that women of colour could have a voice.

Before Very Necessary, most of the female pop stars I knew of were white, and sang about things that were demure and safe. I was so into Salt-N-Pepa as a kid that I would rap in the car – unsuccessfully of course, as my parents would ask why I was talking to myself.

As I grew up, rap helped me to access a strength that I didn’t have for myself, whether it was during a bad breakup, career uncertainty or an at-risk pregnancy. It helped me to get into the zone. Rap has had a huge influence on me as a writer, both in terms of the rhythms and the words themselves.

When my daughter was a newborn, I was still pumping rap from my car stereo. This time, it was Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail album. I knew that my days of listening to lyrics such as “I want a wife who fucks me like a prostitute” (um, he is he talking about BEYONCE?!) were numbered, so I soaked up the beats while I could.

Now, I am more likely to listen to The Wiggles or the My Little Pony movie soundtrack in the car, mostly because I can’t be bothered to deal with the screams of protest when I change it to ‘Mummy’s Music’.

And ‘Mummy’s Music’ is free of swear-words, because little kids hear everything – and they also love to ask questions.

 

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Even music that I thought of as “safe” has brought forth a line of enquiry I’m just not prepared to deal with. Think about it. Most pop songs on the radio have some sort of mature content in them – and I don’t even mean the sex and swears. I just mean stuff that we go through as adults, like heartbreak and betrayal and loss. The stuff that scars us emotionally, that requires the medicine of music to soothe and heal.

Say you’re driving and listening to your “Daily Mix 3” on Spotify, which is full of 90’s and 00’s folky ladies, and Jewel’s Who Will Save Your Soul comes on. Imagine you’re stressed and trying to get from A to B without the kids in the back throwing a tantrum or yelling at you because you forgot the snacks.

Then add questions from your kids like this: “What is a soul? Do I have one? Why is this lady singing about saving them? Why was a tower built where the homeless people lived? Where are the homeless people now? Are they okay?” Sure, it’s a great opportunity to talk about spirituality, ethics and morals, but could we just have a chat when we’re sitting quietly and not on the way to Mummy’s kidney doctor appointment and driving at 100km/h, please?

Recently, I tried to play Kanye West’s Stronger to my kids, because I thought hey, it can’t be that dangerous, right? It’s about perseverance and strength! Katie Holmes said she listened to it when she was running the New York Marathon, as Tom Cruise and Suri waited for her at the finish line! What could be more wholesome than Joey from Dawson’s Creek, I ask you! The song was from a more innocent time – surely, it must be harmless?

“That that don’t kill me can only make me stronger…”

So far, so good. Empowering message, check!

“Let’s get lost tonight, you can be my black Kate Moss tonight, play secretary I’m the boss tonight…”

Yes, this used to be one of my favourite lyrics, but it sounds…different, now that I’m listening with the kids. Hopefully they won’t ask why Kanye wants his girlfriend to be a completely different person, and please don’t ask about the gendered role-play!

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“Y’all don’t give a fuck what they all say, right?”

Apparently swearing can actually make you pretty damn strong. Post continues below…

Oops, hopefully the kids didn’t hear that one. It slipped through, right?

“Do anybody make real shit anymore?…That I would even show up for this fake shit, so go ahead go nuts go apeshit…”

Argh! Argh! Cue the Play School CD, NOW!

Look, I occasionally swear in front of my kids, like when I burn myself taking the lasagne out of the oven. They know those words exist, and they know not to say them during everyday conversation. I just don’t feel comfortable with my kids knowing that I listen to misogynistic, swear-y lyrics for my entertainment and pleasure. That dichotomy seems to be a very grown-up thing to understand – that I can still be a nice person and a feminist while listening to rude lyrics. I mean, I used to listen to Kanye’s Hell of a Life on repeat when I was pregnant, and I’m really hoping that lyrics like “Make a nun come, make her cremate…no more drugs for me, pussy and religion is all I need” weren’t heard or understood in-utero.

In the past decade, rappers of different ethnicities have gained visibility, no doubt due to their tight rhymes – and hustling. My favourite rappers at the moment are Dumbfoundead, who is Korean-American, and Awkwafina, who you probably know from her roles in Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians. Both rappers appeared in the 2016 documentary Bad Rap (currently on Netflix), which is about Asian-American rappers. As an advocate for diversity in popular culture, and a lover of great hip-hop, I am obsessed with Dumbfoundead and Awkwafina. I am constantly trying to show my mixed-race children role models who look like them, who do things that were previously impossible or laughed upon for people of our appearance and colouring.

Yet that doesn’t mean that I play them lyrics like, “My vag squirts aloe vera; your vag looks like Tony Danza.” (Awkwafina, My Vag.)

 

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I get so excited now when I hear rap in kid-friendly music that I call out, “This is the rap! This is the rap!” to the kids. They are forced to listen to me enthusiastically rap Jay-Z’s intro to Umbrella. My daughter also asks, “Is this the rap?” during Taylor Swift’s “this sick beat” bit in Shake It Off. (Rap purists, don’t answer that question.)

I have also tried to rap my kids’ story books to them (Boo’s Adventures at the Pool is great for that), but sadly my efforts have been met with, “Mummy, doooooon’t! Just read it normally!” I guess they’re not too young to be embarrassed by me, after all.

A year has passed since that fateful evening of rapping about swimming pool safety. I listen to rap music only when I am alone in the car, or on my headphones when the kids are asleep. I get my badass vibes in small doses.

Then a few days ago, my daughter asked me if I had ever rapped. Could I rap? Bet your bottom dollar I work best under pressure! (Shoop, Salt-N-Pepa.)

“Don’t you remember when I used to rap your bedtime stories, honey?”

“No, when was that?”

Yesssss, a clean slate for my rhymes! So I played Whatta Man by Salt-N-Pepa on my iPhone, and rapped along to the first verse.

“How was I? Did you like Mummy’s rapping?”

“Um…it was awkward. You were kind of talking loudly. It was weird.”

You know what? I’ll take that.

Carla Gee definitely has a soul. She lives and writes in Canberra, which also has a soul. You can find her on Instagram at @bycarlagee.

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