Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I stopped understanding rap about the time of Run DMC

I just took a look at the Billboard "Hot 100" pop chart.

Do you know the last time I looked at the Hot 100? It had to have been 1988 or so. And I saw it in glossy print format, rather than finding it on the Internet like I did 30 seconds ago.

This, you understand, was back when I read Billboard. I think I had a subscription for awhile.

A subscription to a print publication. How cute!

Back then, I knew every artist and every song on the charts. Perhaps stunningly, I just realized I'm familiar with nine of the 10 songs on the current chart, and I'm actually rather proud of myself for that.

Of course, the only reason I know any of these modern groups is because I have teen-aged children. We listen to "their" music when we're in the car, which is why I'm acquainted with Imagine Dragons and can confidently say that Selena Gomez is famous for something other than being on the Disney Channel.

My interest in pop music waned quickly in the early 90s when grunge burst onto the scene. In retrospect, I actually like grunge. But at the time it seemed like a wild departure from the 80s New Wave music I had loved for so long.

And as far as I was concerned, the 90s didn't get much better as the decade progressed, musically speaking. After awhile it all sounded like the same four distorted guitar chords and/or tired R&B artists over and over, so I tuned out.

Only when my kids started getting old enough to have an interest in pop culture did I return to the modern music scene, and I have to tell you it's not that bad.

There's a lot of stuff being played on Top 40 radio today that interests me. (NOTE: I have no idea whether "Top 40 radio" means anything anymore, but it's a phrase I understand so I'm going to use it.)

There's also a lot of stuff I think is just rhythmic noise, but that's only because I'm middle-aged and I'm required by law to complain at least a bit about these darned kids and their loud music.

The music that totally lost me by the late 80s was rap. I liked a lot of rap in the 80s, or at least as much rap as a pasty white suburban kid was supposed to like.

I liked Run DMC the best. They were talented. And they were funny. And they didn't rap about shooting policemen in the head. That seemed pretty non-threatening to white people like me.

Even more Caucasian-friendly was D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Jeff, incidentally, became the Andrew Ridgeley of the rap scene when Will Smith emerged as a star. I felt bad for him.

But I enjoyed the hits he and Will cranked out for awhile, including "Parents Just Don't Understand" and "I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson." Again, no cop-killing, no N-word, no angry bass-thumping and screaming. I could semi-relate.

But then came NWA and Ice-T and Ice Cube and Iced Coffee and whatnot, and the whole genre just flew off in a direction that didn't interest me in the least. So I stopped paying attention.

Nowadays two or three pop songs come out every year that intrigue me enough to download them from iTunes, and that's about it. The rest of the stuff on the radio is OK and no more than that for me, so I listen to a lot of Duran Duran and Men at Work and Paul Simon and The Fixx and whatever else comes up on my "Pathetic Old Guy" iPod playlist.

At one time or another, all of those groups were played regularly on Top 40 radio. And that, as far as you kids know, is saying something.

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