Floyd Middle School, in beautiful Mableton, Georgia, was where I
discovered rap music.
Actually, let me correct that...it's where I got into rap music. As any
self-respecting musicologist would know, rap music was around long
before 1990; in fact, it was over a decade old by that time. And to
be sure, I had heard snatches of it before---mostly MC Hammer and
those of his ilk (read: clean, relatively sanitized rap).
But at the top of the bleachers in the gym, I discovered the not-so-
clean, no-so-sanitized version...gangsta rap. An Asian-born friend
of mine (or maybe he just tolerated my presence) had a yellow
walkman and a pair of split-ear headphones, so that two people could
listen at the same time. And in that walkman, he had N.W.A.*
It's hard to imagine today, when regular TV shows, radio shows
and the Internet spew out all sorts of crude, crass, scatological
stuff, that things like N.W.A. records could actually be shocking.
But they were...at least to the ears of a twelve-year old boy. The
same words that he had gotten his mouth washed out for saying
when he was in fourth grade were now coming through loud,
proud, and unexpurgated.**
Of course, it wasn't just four-letter words; it was other bodily-
related verbiage as well. But when you're twelve years old---
or, at least, when you're twelve years old in 1990---you don't
really understand the full implications of swaggering references
to freely committing sordid, carnal, animal acts twenty times
before breakfast. You have enough sense to understand that
it's willfully subvervise, to be sure, but not quite enough to
see how truly messed up it is.
And not quite enough to realize how messed up it is to laugh
at that kinda stuff as it streams out of the earphones and
into your impressionable mind.
Because most of it was, I'll admit, pretty funny at the time.
Due to my age, access to this wonderfully wicked music
was naturally restricted, commercially speaking. Listening
to it on someone else's walkman was one thing; getting my
own copy was another matter.
Fortunately, I had an accomplice: my older, cooler sister,
who had already blown my mind with the oddityy of playing
"Mr Roboto" at the wrong speed (see the previous post).
Sis was dating a football player at Osborne High School who
was into the same kind of music. Sis would also sometimes
insist that I accompany her to the store to buy various
things. And during these brief little jaunts into the countryside
(for the area around Milford Church Road, where I lived at
the time, was indeed countryside), she would introduce me
to the equally-hilarious obscenities and vulgarities of 2 Live
Crew. (She would also drive at least 15-20 miles over the speed
limit on each trip, yet was never pulled over by the police.
Some people have all the luck; nearly all of my speeding
tickets have been for 10 miles over.)
Somehow that 2 Live Crew tape found its way into my hands,
where it would remain for the next few years. (Apparently
the football player never asked for it back.)
From the Asian-born friend mentioned above, I got
copies of other 2 Live Crew albums, and a few from N.W.A.
These were copied onto clear plastic tapes with pastel-
colored geometric shapes and other late-80's frou-frou
on the sides. They were usually passed over underneath
a book or a stack of papers, to prevent discovery and
confiscation---a very real danger, I might add: another
girl in my eighth-grade class was caught with a particularly
racy rap tape, and after the teacher listened to it in her
own walkman, she had a ticket straight to the principal's
office (once considered a fate worse than death!)
Slowly I built up a collection, accepting copies when offered,
or else borrowing someone's original tape, smuggling it
over to my grandparents' house, and using my grandfather's
two-cassette copier to make my own (with the volume dialed
all the way down, of course).
Sis also bought me a few on the sly, such as Public Enemy's
Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black.
Again, I didn't understand most of the political
issues being discussed on that album; I just knew
it was something that would upset my folks if they
knew I was listening to it...which alone made it
Somewhere in the midst of this, I decided to take a stab
at "composition"---if you can call writing rap songs composition.
To accomplish this, I had an old tape recorder with a large
input speaker (Dad used it to record important meetings
at work, or Evangelism Explosion seminars), a late-80's
electronic keyboard with all the bells and whistles (a
Christmas '88 present, I believe)...and my own keen mind.
"Composition" usually consisted of filling a sheet of paper with
lyrics, using one of the keyboard's admittedly-lame tempo
settings (I didn't have a beatbox, so I didn't have any other
options, really), and rapping it out into the input speaker.
I might also throw in a few sound effects, usually the racing cars
or the gun shots. A friend of mine also showed me a cool trick
to get the sound of a slamming car door---essential for
replicating that genuine, just-robbed-the-convenience-store-
and-shot-the-clerk, now-let's-get-outta-dodge-sucka vibe---by
running one's hand along the serrated edge of the keyboard,
and then slamming it down quickly.
Sometimes I recruited a friend of mine, Johnathan, who used
to sleep over on weekends, as co-emcee. He'd do a verse, I'd
do a verse, and there it was. After a few songs, though, we'd get
bored and see what was on TV.
I stopped the recording part after about a year. I think I
wanted something more realistic, and I even asked a friend
of mine how much turntables cost---the kind you used to get
that scratchety-scratch feeling. (I had tried to do my own
scratching on my childhood plastic 45 rpm record player---
don't laugh, I'm being serious---but discovered that all I
could do was make the record slow down. I guess I didn't have
a quick enough wrist to do it right.) He mentioned a price,
but it was A) cost-prohibitive and B ) unlikely to fly with the
folks, since it would have blown my "cover", so to speak.
It never occured to me to use my parents' turntable, which
is just as well; if Paul Simon or Gordon Lightfoot had been
scratchety-scratched beyond the point of no return, I might
have been left without a hide once they found out.
But I kept writing. Lyrics poured out of me in the first
two years of high school, in the department store with my
folks (where I would find the typewriter section, sit down,
and start pecking away), and on the back of sermon outlines
at church (for which I ought to have been smote by the Lord,
given the content of my lyrics!).
Sometimes I was caught, as I was at Floyd when I left a
particularly nasty rap that name-checked several teachers
(in a not-so-complimentary way) in the metal book "cage"
below my desk. At other times, it jeopardized my school
work, as it did in typing class when I spent most of the allotted
time typing out lyrics, then couldn't understand why, when I
had no time left to type out the full, assigned work and turned
in something incomplete, that I got a bad grade for it.
No matter; the writing continued, through all of freshman year at Marietta High School, and half of sophomore year. All the while I was
listening to rap---N.W.A., Ice-T, Ice Cube, Naughty By
Nature, Cypress Hill, Compton's Most Wanted (I'm surprised
I can remember these)---24-7. I even took these decidedly
non-Christian tapes with me on choir tours...although in my
humble, ineffective defense, other guys in choir did much
Then, the spring of my sophomore year, my interest in
rap declined, and then disappeared. To this day, I can't
explain why it happened. I suppose it's no different than
falling in love with a particular band, then one day waking
up to discover that you don't really care for their music
Some of these lyric sheets---banal, vulgar, and clueless
about the real world within "gangsta" chic---still exist.
My sister and my brother-in-law dug one out of some
papers a few years ago, and were amused/bemused at
what they contained. They asked if I wanted them back.
That chapter in my life was over. I had moved on to
Oh, in case you're wondering, yes, I did have a rap name.
It was...hold your applause...Ice-Box.
That's right. Ice-Box.
*If you don't know what that abbreviation stands for...look it up. For
most of you, it should be familiar enough.
**No joke; I dropped the f-bomb on someone who was annoying me
on the bus ride home, and got kicked off the bus for the next week.
When the folks found out, I quite literally received a mouthful from the
soap dispenser and a go-to-bed, go-directly-to-bed, do-not-pass go,
***One of the last rap groups that I was into before I lost interest was Arrested Development. Looking back, I think this suggests a maturation in my musical tastes, since their albums were much more complex and thoughtful that many of their contemporaries. You might say they were a "gateway" group to other kinds of music.