I sit sternly beside my piano teacher as I force my way through the last pages of Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu Op. 66., some number I always pretended to know the meaning of. Hitting the last note, I sigh as she finally admits her satisfaction after a long two months.
She then tells me what she always does when I finish a song.
“If you learn to play it, you can enjoy it more.”
But let’s be real. I was never going to turn up to Chopin.
A woman that never seems to age, my teacher usually wears a floral dress or skirt, sandals along with a cardigan and tan tights. She always has her hair in a high ponytail and a light coat of makeup on. I’ll never forget her unique British-tampered Japanese accent as she rolls the “R” in my name.
We often start class with a basic chat, asking about each other’s day. I always try to fake an elegant accent to give off some subtle impression. And so one day, as I thought about going home to listen to Drake’s new album, she asked me the most objective question: “What type of music do you listen to?”
And this was when I finally recognized the true smutty nature of hip-hop. I thought to myself, how was I supposed to tell this Bach enthusiast that I like rap?
I discovered hip-hop and R&B when my sister gave me her old desktop computer. I scanned through the hundreds of songs, sorting out the uninteresting Celine Dion and All American Rejects albums. What did catch my attention was a selection of tracks from Akon and Eminem.
I would wait for my mom to leave the house before I plugged in the speakers and blasted the songs as loud as I could, rewinding again and again to learn individual verses and trying to sound “as smooth as Slim Shady.”
My newfound enjoyment for rap soon grew as I discovered more artists, often while listening to 106.1 KMEL or spending my Saturday afternoons running through every Billboard’s Top 100 Hip-Hop and R&B Songs video.
But during this “enlightenment” as I called it, I never noticed how J. Cole used the word p---y in essentially every song, or that Nicki Minaj was talking about running away from an intimate partner when she said “Don’t want no Forrest Gumps” in Rich Gang’s single “Tapout.”
Don’t get me wrong — I knew what swear words were and that rappers were known to generously sprinkle them into their songs. But, I still didn’t understand why I couldn’t tell my piano teacher my true musical taste. They were just songs, right?
Even when I played music in the car with my friends, I’d get an inquiry afterward about how my parents allowed me to listen to “the guy who beat up Rihanna.”
But I had nearly forgotten the 2009 headliner involving R&B singer Chris Brown. I didn’t listen to his songs to commemorate the damage he did to Rihanna, as well as to his own reputation.
It was his voice that stood out to me, the way he cleanly articulated his lyrics on the same note while maintaining an R&B feel, combined with a snapping rhythm and fluid beat syncopation.
I fell in love with his style, his unfailing way of keeping it the same while being original, especially when comparing his songs like “Make Love,” which doesn’t have a single swear word in it, with the notorious “Only,” which has over 60 in just four minutes.
Sure, he did talk about getting bi----s and liquor. I’m aware.
The lyrics of songs were still important to me, but that wasn’t the point of music. The point was to make those lyrics sound a particular way. What significance is there if you throw some “ohs” and “babies” onto a musical staff without sounding good? Of course my musical interests weren’t restricted to the ones with heavy basses, but they were usually my object of choice.
But, rap wasn’t my excuse to swear and promote substance abuse. It was my form of therapy to the inevitable stress of life.
Take, for instance, our late nights for El Estoque. When you design a forty-page magazine for six hours, there’s undoubtedly an overwhelming environment. It is not unusual to see three people sitting in the same chair trying to remember how to use Photoshop or swearing because they didn’t click save on a page. But as I leaned against the door of the studio connected to A111, frantically trying to figure out Photoshop for the twelfth time, I felt the vibrations of a beat coming from the other room.
I whipped the door open to see some staff members eating Panda Express as our current entertainment editor turned up the volume to “All My Friends,” one of my favorite songs at the time. I immediately put down my computer, trying not to throw it. I grabbed a seat and joined my fellow staff writers as they crooned to the mellow beat of Tinashe’s soft humming.
The urge to rip out my hair over the maddening and foreign demon of Photoshop soon faded away. I found myself screaming the lyrics, gasping for air as my voice cracked on the higher octaves.
It wasn’t a forum for me to pound out my anger after a block day by cussing out my teachers. It wasn’t to pretend like I was raised in Oakland and got a chance to see the rapper Too Short while walking to the only supermarket in my neighborhood.
It’s my way of channeling the mood of my life and reflecting that as part of a chord, a beat, a song.
The nature of rap is uncontrollable. Sure there are songs with an amicale bass that don’t talk about sex, but there are more that do. I don’t listen for the “a--” talk. I listen for myself and myself alone.
And so I turned to my piano teacher.
“Have you heard of Lil Uzi?”