Click here for the Spanish version titled "Al son de los chamacos eternos," published in today's El Diario / La Prensa, Wednesday, June 27, 2007.
To the beat of the eternal boys
"What I want is grown man rap." I don't mean to put words in Carlito Rodriguez's mouth (writer, producer and ex-Editor-In-Chief at The Source), but something to that effect is what I heard from his lips last year during a panel discussion at the Schomburg Center with other writers like Cornel West, Imani Perry, Greg Tate, Akiba Solomon and Mark Hill.
I may not be able to cite verbatim all that he said so eloquently, but one phrase got stuck in my head: "grown man." Emphasis on psychology rather than chronology. Synonym of experience, maturity, introspection.
That night, thirty-something Rodriguez's words had a big impact on me. Partly, it was because of their courage and honesty; if you work in an entertainment industry obsessed with youth, to brandish your maturity is to make yourself vulnerable. Partly, his words also impacted me because they addressed some vague questions that had been circling my brain for a while: How to speak about maturity in music without forsaking play, pleasure and shamelessness? How to start talking about all those aspects of the obligatory commercial hip-hop and reggaeton aesthetic that are much more understandable in a teenager than in men pushing (and past) thirty?
Rodriguez and many of his generation (which is also mine) grew up to the beat of hip-hop and reggaeton. But the music—at least its most commercial expression—refuses to grow up with us.
But that's actually not the problem. Music can stay perpetually immature. Music doesn't have to grow up. But people do. And it's distressing to see adults hiding their existential pain behind the buckwild youth mask. It's distressing to see adults get old but not mature.
I derive a lot of inspiration from folks like Rodríguez who, like myself, are committed to maturing and aging gracefully. Or at least trying.