Hip-Hop Nutcracker and Empire: My mom's gateways into rap

The stars of <i>Hip-hop Nutcracker</i> winning over moms.

The stars of Hip-hop Nutcracker winning over moms.

A couple of months ago, I got a message from my mom asking me if I’d be interested in seeing Hip-Hop Nutcracker at the Ordway. I replied enthusiastically with a yes and a bunch of exclamation marks. I knew there was no way that the most trite ballet of all time slathered in water-downed hip-hop would leave me anything less than thoroughly entertained.

Hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow, of hip-hop of “Basketball” and “The Breaks” fame, MC’d last Wednesday in St. Paul, so I knew my suspicions were correct as soon as he walked out on stage and started to half-rap, half-talk, half-smile his way through his performance.

I thought the choreography of Hip-Hop Nutcracker was stupendous as well, even though I wasn’t that impressed with the breakdancing parts. Although, I’ve never been that impressed with breakdancing. I think Dragon Ball Z ruined it for me. I just expect too much.

I had a great time, and I appreciated the ticket, but I was surprised that my mother wanted to go. Like a lot of white people her age, I was under the impression that she hadn’t ever really given hip-hop a second thought. Comments she’d made when I was younger had always made me think she had a poor opinion of the genre. It turns out that she had just recently had that second thought, as a result of the Fox television show, Empire.

“I’ve been enjoying the music, even the hip-hop stuff, because I like the beat,” my mom told me about the show. She said that for many years, the only way she accessed hip-hop was through the media, and that gave her a negative portrayal of the genre. “It seemed like when it was on TV all the guys did was grab their crotch and say foul things.”

Now she understands hip-hop and rap to be as varied as rock or country, but that wasn’t the case for many years. “I guess because of what I saw (in the news) I never really investigated it further.” Well, if you want a suburban mom to take an interest in something, make a primetime network drama about it. My mom didn’t give two shits about the Navy before NCIS.

She says that while the characters on Empire do some nasty stuff, the subject matter of many of their songs isn’t what she had come to expect. Before becoming a fan of the show, she really only was acquainted with gangster rap. “When you turned on the TV, that’s what they played when they played hip-hop (for a long time).”

She says she remembers when Tupac Shakur was murdered and that left an impression on her that only faded in the last few years. Nowadays though, my mom says that she thinks the media is highlighting different types of rap and hip-hop on Empire and beyond.

SInce she’d taken an interest, I decided to share some of my favorite hip-hop songs with my mom. I showed her Nas’ “Memory Lane (Sittin In da Park)," Kanye West’s “I Wonder," Language Arts Crew’s “Past Time," Eyedea & Abilities’ “Paradise," and Dessa’s “The Chaconne.” I also threw in a random Tegan and Sara song as a control to see if she was paying attention. “That last one ... it was just noise.”: my mom’s opinion on Tegan and Sara’s “Nineteen”.

Musically, she seemed to enjoy all of the songs, but took issue with many of their lyrics. On Nas, “It just turned me off when he started saying fuck-this, fuck-that.” She had a different kind of complaint when it came to Yeezus, though. “It sounded like (Kanye) was rapping about an argument with his wife or somebody, but he sounded like a little boy," and she says she found that disturbing.

She thought that “Past Times” was a stump speech for spending your entire life smoking, drinking, and having sex. Which, yeah it is, probably why it’s one of my favorite songs. But, yeah, I think it’s OK that mom’s aren’t super into that whole deal.

I tried to get my mom to empathize with the subject matter. But, when I asked her about her own youthful dalliances, she said “You’re interviewing me and you’re recording this so I’m not talking about that stuff.”

Unsurprisingly, at least for me, she fell in love with Dessa. She loved the specificity of the story, which I think mirrors a lot of what she likes about the storytelling in country music, and she admired the way the song shown the spotlight on Dessa’s voice. “I didn’t know that was a kind of hip-hop,” she said.

I hope that’s not the last time she says that.