(EDITORS NOTE: My man Mason Jamal of the blog Mason Says drops science as he does here at the Intersection today. Do check him out and show him some love by visiting his site and adding it to your Blogroll. His blog is definitely one worth reading and I’m honored to share ‘the corner’ with him today. You can also follow Mason on Twitter @masonsays.)
I hate it, although I get it. But since hating something is like a natural born instinct that humans share, let me start with the latter because ‘getting it’ requires a more thoughtful process. So I get that people, of a certain age demographic, like their music loud. And it really doesn’t matter by what conduit – earphones, car stereo, clock radio, television, computer speakers, etc. I live with a sixteen-year-old. I hate it, although I get it. I realize that volume is like drugs, albeit less insidious. The more you consume, the higher your tolerance elevates and, therefore, the more you need of that particular thing to fulfill that rush. In fact, if you merge the two worlds of volume and drugs, you get some warped anthem like “Play it Loud. I’m on Crack & I’m Proud”. But I digress.
In some cases, however, it’s not just volume for the sake of volume. I’m telling you. I’ve given this some thought and I get it. Music blaring from car stereos is of particular interest. Look, I live in a Cincinnati neighborhood that Katt Williams calls home. Need I say more? It’s very urban and very unapologetic about it. With that, comes our fair share of cars (registered and unregistered) cruising down the street sounding like a block party rolling on dubs, whatever the hell dubs are. But as I was saying, the volume is about more than just vanity. For young black men, there is an element of social resistance at play, literally and figuratively. For some, it’s very conscious. For others, it’s planted deep in their sub-conscious. For many of the young men that I see and ‘hear’ everyday, they feel set aside and discarded by mainstream society. Right or wrong, they feel their voices are muted. This is where the music comes into play. It’s a rebellious messenger of how they see themselves.
From LL Cool J’s 1990 “Boomin’ System”:
Big beats bumpin with the bass in back All the sophisticated suckers catch a heart attack Cos they don’t understand why I act this way Pumpin up the funky beat until the break of day
Not feeling me yet? Recall the memorable scenes with Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing, which, by the way, marked its 20th anniversary this year. Radio Raheem embodies everything I’m talking about. The entire character is a social statement. He loved his music, loved it loud and loved the idea that it was welcomed by some, but unwanted by others. The music for Radio Raheem was how he asserted himself in a society that often marginalizes young black men. Ralph Ellison brilliantly dissects this whole phenomenon decades ago with his classic novel The Invisible Man. Granted, the storyline doesn’t include a behemoth ‘boom box’ or a tricked-out Monte Carlo, but it does include an unfortunately timeless narrative of a young black man fighting for visibility in a larger world that turns a blind eye.
LL Cool J recited in the same song “a jam that you love that don’t be gettin’ no airplay”. That’s what these young men want – the equivalent of airplay. They want to be heard. The music is both a messenger and a metaphor for their lives. I’m telling you I’ve given this some thought. And I still hate it, although I totally get it. The music is resistance to the rules of the game that has left many young men of color feeling sidelined. To be clear, I hate the loud music that I’m often subjected too, but that hate is eclipsed by the concern I have for our young men and conditions that are both foisted upon them and self-created.