Kids bop, Mom and Dad’s dated tapes, corny overly sensitive politically correct alt-rock, Will Smith—these are music categories deemed “appropriate” and “right” for seven-year olds by society’s standards. Eminem, DMX, Tupac and Biggie—these categories are deemed inappropriate for children; maybe it’s the lyrical content? I’ve never been one to follow the “right” path.
I can still distinctively remember paying my older cousin to walk into my town’s Sam Goody—now I know how my Grammy feels when she “dates herself”—and buy me Eminem’s sophomore album, “The Marshall Mathers LP.” I was the seven-year old equivalent of a 16-year old high schooler paying a hobo to get them liquor. What a visionary.
I tip-toed up my basement stairs into my house like I had committed murder; checking over my shoulder after every step like a paranoid kid smoking weed for the first time. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and my upper-lip housed a disgusting amount of sweat beads. I had a nervous shit-eating grin painted on my face because I knew how much trouble I’d be in had my parents discovered my most recent purchase.
With swift maneuvering—and thinking I was as nimble as O.J. Simpson—I managed to circumvent all security measures—my parents sitting on the couch—and I safely returned to my room. What a rush. I sat in my over-sized rocking chair, feet not quite touching the ground with stuffed animal in hand, and I just admired. I looked at the album cover tucked behind the shrink wrap. I carefully took note of the artwork—a troubled white youth sitting on the steps of a run-down home with a black and white back drop; really reflective of my childhood… My heart was beating out of my chest like Bugs Bunny with his eyes set on a beautiful temptress. I just sat and thought to myself, “This is so cool. I own Eminem’s new album. If my parents find this, I am so fucked.”
I carefully unwrapped this gift with surgeon-like precision, using my grandfather’s pocket knife to supplement my weak seven-year old fingers. And just like that, my life would be forever changed. Diving into the CD would almost be sensory overload; I had to ease myself in. So I began this cataclysmic journey by leafing through the CD’s pamphlet—if you were born post ’06 you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, or you’re probably just not reading this because you’re eight right now, I digress. I began to read the track-listings and with each title, my smile grew bigger and goofier. “Oh my God, ‘Kill You,’ ‘Drug Ballad,’ ‘Bitch Please II,’ this is awesome!” But reading the track titles only gave me so much satisfaction, it was time to unleash the beast and find out who this Marshall Mathers was.
My hands still slightly trembling from my covert operation, I exhaled and popped the CD out of its case—finger in middle and thumb on the side, of course. I rifled through my nightstand, pushed aside my mini Torah and collection of Yamakas, pulled out my blue Walkman CD player—good lookin’ out Aunt Harriet—and inserted the CD. I hit play, sat on my bed, and waited.
“Slim Shady does not give a fuck what you think…If you don’t like it, you can suck his fucking cock…Slim Shady is fed up with your shit, and he’s going to kill you.” Wow, this was different than the Jackson 5 album previously in my CD player. Good-bye parentally approved “Easy as 1-2-3” and hello to the start of my childhood corruption—porn didn’t come for another six months. I’m literally giggling right now just thinking about the first song’s, “Kill You,” lyrical content through a seven-year old’s vantage point. On this track Eminem explores numerous topics clearly not meant for children. The song is directed towards his mother who, according to Slim, did a less than decent job of raising him. He then takes his vicious feelings regarding his mother and appropriates them to the female gender at large. With explicit references to hate, murder and the raping of women, it’s no surprise that former Second Lady of the United States, Lynne Chenney, lobbied for age restrictions on music. One line seems to stick out more than others: “Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore/till the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?” Again, I was seven.
72-minutes later and I was changed. I sat up from my bed in a confused yet happy state. I didn’t know whether to cry or start jumping for joy—I wasn’t quite sure what just happened and what I just witnessed. But, I’d be lying if I said the scales of justice weren’t leaning in the direction of “this is awesome.” Now, given my age, about 90% of the content flew waaaaay over my head, but from the barrage of “fuck you’s” and “I’ll kill you’s,” my ears caught enough to get hooked and want more. I took out the pamphlet again and carefully examined the track-listings once more to pick out the songs that I enjoyed the most. In album order, here were—and are—my favorite tracks off that album: “Stan,” “The Way I Am,” “The Real Slim Shady” and “Bitch Please II.” I opened up Pandora’s Box of “this is way too inappropriate for youth” and began to explore further into my new childhood friend, rap.
After my 100+ listens to “The Marshall Mathers LP,” my ears craved more. I returned to the initial place that gifted me the first CD and I perused. Oh, did I peruse. Now, without my older heroic cousin there to purchase me an album like last time, I had to resort to more creative means. Given that my seven-year old face and pudgy frame did not scream “he’s old enough to buy Parental Advisory albums,” I couldn’t complete an in-store purchase. So after an arduous search in Sam Goody’s rap rack, one album seemed to stick out more than most: DMX’s debut album, “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot.” Back in the day, CD stores—yes, way back in the day—had headphone stands where patrons could listen to selected CDs and tracks. What a country. I popped in the DMX album and I remember skipping down to a particular song, “Ruff Ryders Anthem.”
“Stop, drop, shut ‘em down open up shop.” This track had a raw street-like vibe with hard hitting beats and even harder hitting emotions that made this juvenile Jew feel like he was part of the hood—what the hell is wrong with me? I was boppin’ my head, throwing up my hands trying to resemble what I thought gangsters did—I probably looked like a seizure victim at a Bar Mitzvah party—and flat out, I felt badass. Although I couldn’t purchase the album, that didn’t mean I was done with the song.
I returned home later that day and quickly went into my Dad’s office and I fired up our ’98 Gateway PC. After logging into Netscape, I searched for the “Ruff Ryders Anthem” lyrics. Now for some reason that is lost on me to this day, I printed out the lyrics—as if some tangible copy would mimic listening to the song. I looked left, I looked right; my parents weren’t in the immediate vicinity. I completed the print job and I read. I read each line over and over again, trying to understand at a deeper level DMX’s message. With some level of satisfaction regarding my cognition of the lyrics, I “slyly” pushed the pages under my Dad’s file cabinet for safe keeping. Dumbass. Apparently, the papers were peeking out of the bottom of the file cabinet just enough to catch my Mom’s attention—oh shit.
The woman who endured my child birth skimmed over the papers at first, probably not thinking too much of it, and then she realized what she was reading. “ZACH, GET DOWN HERE!” My power ranger playtime session would have to wait. I slowly stood up and made my way to the stair case. I swear it was like a scene out of a horror movie when the next murder victim is running towards the door but the hallways seem to keep getting longer. I slowly made my way down the steps, sweat pouring out of me like a busted fire hydrant. I can’t remember the conversation word-for-word, but I remember it going something like this:
“Do you want to explain what the hell this is?” Mom yelled.
“Um, uh, er, it’s this new song that kids are listening too…?” I said like a pussy.
“REALLY?! The kids are listening to this?!” Mom exclaimed.
My mother then proceeded to read me the song, line by line—I don’t think my face has ever been redder. It’s one thing to hear your mother curse on occasion, it’s an entirely different thing when the words “I resort to violence, my niggas move in silence/Like you don’t know what our style is, New York niggas the wildest,” come out of your Mom’s mouth. This story ranks up there in my most embarrassing moments right in front of me losing in one-on-one to my sister in front of my friends, and right behind me shitting my pants on the school bus when I was eight. Even though it was horrible having my mother discover these lyrics, and read them to me, it was nothing compared to the wrath I was about to face from my Dad.
I pleaded and begged to my Mom, “Please, please, I’ll do anything, I’m so sorry, just please don’t tell Dad!” She had already called him to alert him of their delinquent son listening to these atrocious lyrics. I don’t think I’ve ever paced around the house so much in my life besides when my mom found my weed for the first time and informed my Dad. Just to clarify, my father is a caring, loving, great guy who would never in a million years lay a finger on me. But at 6’2” 200 lbs., the man was pretty intimidating. I sat in the kitchen, head in hands, wiping the tears away my face, awaiting my inevitable fate.
It was 7:30PM. Our creaky, rusty, highly in-need of WD-40, garage doors pried open and the booming sound echoed throughout the house, effectively knocking my heart into my ass. I heard him coming up the stairs, with each ascending step getting louder and louder, perfectly mirroring my audible heartbeat. He opened the door, didn’t say anything, and just looked at me. That look was worse than any tongue lashing that I could have received. It was a look of equal parts disgust, disappointment, and “who the fuck do you think you are?”
My parents then proceeded to team up and dissect the lyrics. Humiliating is an understatement. The two of them were going back and forth, deciphering the song’s meaning, rhyme by rhyme.
“Me walk through the door, with that .44/Now it’s time for bed, two more to the head.”
“Oh that means that this DMX guy is going to walk into someone’s home with this .44 caliber hand gun and put two bullets in someone’s head.” My Dad said as if he had discovered a new disease cure.
“Yeah, ugh, this man is disgusting!” My mom agreed.
Keep in my mind that my parents are some of the most philanthropic people to exist. Most of their charitable efforts are directed towards the inner city youth program, The Fresh-Air Fund—home to many impoverished black youths. So the repeated use of the “N word” wasn’t exactly Kosher with them.
After a thorough dissection of a song, and my face now resembling a tomato, my parents said to me that I was done with rap and I was not allowed to listen to it anymore. Oy, bad idea guys. When parents tell a kid not to do something, it’s like giving them all the ammunition in the world to perform said prohibited act. I nodded my head and claimed that I had learned my lesson. Little did they know that my fingers were crossed; my rap discovery journey was just getting started.