Trinidad and Tobago

Terry's beach banner

Listen up, folks

By Terry Joseph
June 10, 2005

Marketed by William Shakespeare as "the food of love" and throughout intervening centuries described by an obsequious glossary, music enjoys near immunity from debate on deviant behaviour, although overwhelming evidence of its negative potential is literally coming through everyone's ears.

Granted, in Shakespeare's time all music was performed live, its programming and palatability easily varied at short notice and when radio exponentially increased global reach during the early 20th century, there still was Andres Segovia's guitar, Mario Lanza's tenor, Duke Ellington's piano and Ravi Shankar's sitar reinforcing the concept of music as an exclusively calming tool.

As ownership of personal stereo systems became commonplace in the third quarter of the 20th century, the trailing edge of career soothsayers like Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan coaxed us into complacency about music's parallel potential for wreaking social damage.

Liberalism of the 1970s changed the picture and exacerbated the already widening musical gap between parent and child. Heavy metal romanticised the use of psychotropic substances, stirred fresh interest in the occult and devised coded messages, retrievable by playing recordings in reverse. A decade later, hip-hop endorsed mindless violence and like latter-day dancehall, simultaneously reveled in robust homophobia and reckless sexual adventure.

But while changes in music and consequent appreciation of hybrids have been a subject of concern from the time of Plato, contemporary adults tolerated whatever type of music their children brought home or tuned into.

In order to avoid hearing offensive lyrics, parents purchased music systems for children, who bolted bedroom doors to contain irreverent messages or, when in mixed company, clapped on headsets to get the correspondence.

By the late 1990s, subtlety was deemed archaic. Concomitantly, hip-hop lyrics were constructed from ghetto slang or, in the dancehall example, imported further complexity for adults by heavy reliance on Jamaican low-life colloquialisms. Parents didn't know what a "chi-chi" was, so he seemed no more harmless than the gingerbread boy.

Morbid violence, graphic sex, overt racism and brazen challenges to authority became hip-hop fundamentals and then there were videos. 50 Cent, whose Get Rich or Die Tryin was the best-selling album of 2003, signed a deal to produce an interactive DVD titled Groupie Luv, featuring him and the female rap group G-Unit; allowing viewers to match partners and design on-screen details.

Last January, Playboy TV premiered a programme starring mainstream acts like Snoop Dogg, OutKast, Nelly and Busta Rhymes cavorting with a troupe of women acutely allergic to clothes called the Buckwild Girls.

Rap diva Lil' Kim faces up to 20 years in prison for perjury when she comes up for sentencing in August, arising from a shooting incident four years ago.

But she is cool. Hip-hoppers believe going to jail is far nobler than "ratting" on criminals, as happened with the 2002 killing of Jam Master Jay and earlier with Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G; a code of silence that actually condones murder. Next month's edition of the magazine XXL, currently being touted as "The Jail Issue", offers exclusive interviews with "hip-hop's incarcerated soldiers."

We have come to the pass where jail time, shooting history and violence against women are badges of authenticity among the rap and dancehall cognoscenti.

Of course, while parents weren't listening, none of the above is news to teenagers, an increasing percentage of whom have, on the evidence, come to believe crime pays, violence is the primary option in conflict resolution and all authority a pesky irritant.

Evidently, what Shakespeare (and a lot of today's parents) overlooked is that any food can develop life-threatening toxins if its preparation and serving is not properly supervised.

Trinicenter / Terry's Homepage