I was riding my road bike the other day, climbing a beastly section of pavement that goes straight the hell up the side of a mountain on the north side of downtown, and I was listening to gangster rap from the late ‘80s, as I’m prone to do. Somewhere in the midst of my climb, just as Dr. Dre dropped the beat, I thought to myself, “this probably isn’t what Ice Cube had in mind when he wrote ‘Straight Outta Compton.’”
Being a white dude from the suburbs, you could make an argument that I don’t have any business listening to N.W.A., or any gangster rap, for that matter. At times, it certainly feels like a kind of cultural tourism. Cube, Dr. Dre, Notorious B.I.G…these artists wrote about life experiences that I simply can’t relate to. A bad day for them back in the day meant someone got shot. A bad day for me back in the day meant I didn’t make it home from school in time to watch the beginning of The Brady Bunch. The boys in my hood were not hard. We were usually fresh off of soccer practice and trying to find a ride to the mall.
The fact that I’m wearing lycra and riding a carbon fiber bike through an affluent neighborhood only exacerbates the divide between me and the lyrics I’m listening to. But I love the music, which is a testament to the genre as an art form. When a song is written well, you don’t have come from the same neighborhood, or have shared experiences in order to enjoy it. And nothing gets me pumped up for a bike a ride like Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize.”
So, I stick with what works, and listen to Cube and Easy E sing “Gangsta Gangsta” and push to the top of the hill. Because what’s the alternative? To only listen to music that I can identify with on a socio-economic level? That would mean I couldn’t listen to British punk from the ‘70s, or any blues legends, or most country songs. The fact is, there aren’t a lot of artists writing songs about my particular lifestyle. It’s hard to write a rap song about the DVD player in your mini van crapping out in the middle of a road trip, or forgetting the map on a weekend backpack. Really, my only option would be Ben Folds Five. He’s the closest thing to a suburban white bard that there is. And you can’t get pumped up to climb a mountain by listening to “Brick.” It’s physically impossible.
Maybe today’s generation of rappers will tackle the cultural divide and start writing songs about cleaning up goldfish crackers from the crevices of a minivan, or forking over big stacks for the latest limited release IPA at the corner (beer) store. There is hope. Rap duo Run the Jewels dipped a toe in my wheelhouse by brewing a beer with Burial Beer Co. called Stay G-O-L-D IPA. If suburban white privilege had an official beverage, it would be craft beer. Specifically, the IPA. So maybe this collaboration is a step in the direction of cross cultural pollination. I’ll continue doing my part by listening to gangster rap while I pedal my skinny bike up mountains.