By NICK CHILES
It was Lil Wayne’s song “No Worries” that did it— sent me hurtling down yet another slippery slope on the rollercoaster ride that is parenting.
A prominent part of the song is Wayne’s blushingly explicit tribute to abundant pubic hair. Every time it comes on the radio when my teenage daughter is in the car, I feel shame—a reaction that took me by surprise.
The song triggers my fatherly protective instincts—the desire to shield my daughter from things that will do her harm. I feel shame and embarrassment that as a dad, my generation has allowed “No Worries” and all the songs like it to be presented to my daughter as acceptable entertainment, as lyrics that she should absorb into her brain as an appropriate way for a young man to talk to her and about her.
Of course, we have been accosted by unbelievably explicit and offensive rap lyrics for more than a decade. But the difference for me is that now I have to listen to them with my newly minted teenage daughter in the car, a 13-year-old who has a deep passion for hardcore hip hop.
Gone are the days when I could simply change the channel when something came on the radio that I deemed inappropriate. Out of ear shot; out of mind. Now she’s actively looking for this stuff to download onto her iPhone. There’s no escaping it. The age of innocence is over. We still have some time with her little sister, who at age 10 is (thankfully? painfully?) in love with Taylor Swift and wants nothing to do with the rap that blankets the black airwaves here in Atlanta. Not sure how long this embrace of Taylor will last, but at this point I much prefer Taylor Swift to Lil Wayne (something I didn’t think I’d ever hear myself say).
With the 13-year-old, a part of me wonders, “Am I failing her? Have we all failed her?” every time something like “No Worries” comes on the radio. Yes, her mother and I talk ad nauseam to her about the lyrics in these songs, how they exploit and degrade women, how she should in no way take them to heart. I think she understands that. But that doesn’t mean she’s not going to listen to it, download it, bounce to it.
And I get that. I was 13 once. In fact, when I was 13, I spent the summer in an upward bound program at a local college in Hoboken, NJ, hanging out with young teens from New York City who had started recording these fascinating rhyming songs on cassette tapes—rhyming songs I instantly recognized a year later when “Rapper’s Delight” exploded onto the music scene and started my lifelong love affair with rap. But “Rapper’s Delight” ain’t the same as “No Worries.” They don’t even belong in the same part of the record store (Hold up, I’m trippin’—there’s no such thing as stores where you can go buy records!).
Even though a part of her understands the ridiculousness of the lyrics to songs like “No Worries,” I wonder if the psychic effect of years of listening to such songs will make her a little bit more open than she should be to some knucklehead walking up to her and saying something nasty and disrespectful, thinking he’s kicking game like Lil Wayne. I worry about whether she might have internalized even a tiny bit of Lil Wayne’s message—that her purpose in life is to bounce her butt in his face. I worry that when she and her friends are around some boys who are trying to recreate their own rap videos, will the girls immediately recognize the exploitation taking place—or will they turn around and drop it low?
And if the answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” then maybe I have failed her—and all the young women of her generation—by not speaking up more loudly when the music started to turn toward “No Worries.”
I know, pretty heavy stuff for a five-minute ride to school, right? I guess I should say “Thank you, black radio” for presenting me with these deep existential questions on a daily basis. Black radio, the gift that keeps on giving.
1. Damn that Lil’ Wayne–Now I Have To Live Without My Radio.
2. Chris Brown and Rihanna Are Making Music Again—And Sending A Dangerous Message
3. Stilettos and 10-Year-olds: A Dad Says, “Aw, Hell To the Nah!”
4. If I Hear R. Kelly On My Radio One Mo’ ‘Gin…
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.