My Generation Through My Eyes 1969…
Today I went to see Straight Outta Compton. The film tells the story of the lives and careers of the members of NWA, but in doing that, it also tells the story of the African-American experience during the years when I grew up- the late 80’s and early 90’s. Along with groups like Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and KRS-One, NWA used rap music during this era as an artistic outlet with which to expose the reality of life as a young black person, and express their frustration with that reality.
This was my generation- a generation that was parented by those who fought in the Civil Rights movement, and understood the significance and responsibility of what that meant. We were the first generation to work WITH white men as opposed to working FOR them. We watched television shows like The Cosby Show and A Different World that depicted African-Americans as successful, educated, goal-oriented people. We listened to artists like NWA who conveyed words and ideas that had purpose and power. We watched, we listed, and we aspired to be like them- to be great, to make a difference, to make ourselves worthy of the path that had been paved for us.
During the Civil Rights era in the 50’s and 60’s, leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. spoke using a vernacular of hope and optimism regarding the realization of equal rights for African Americans. But by the 80’s and 90’s the racism and discrimination that remained in our country gave way to a vernacular of frustration and truth that was no longer tempered by hope- but rather fueled by anger and resentment. The rap groups of that time had a purpose and a message. They empowered themselves by exposing their reality. Their lyrics were raw, but they were real. They were the evolution of a movement that began decades before they were born. Our parents knocked on doors as a means to progress- NWA knocked the doors down! For me, listening to the lyrics of F*** The Police by NWA or Fight The Power by Public Enemy was just as relevant, and just as powerful as watching Kadeem Hardison work toward his engineering degree as Duane Wayne on A Different World. They were variations on the same ideals. I understood the frustrations and messages being rapped about, just as I aspired to go to college and earn a degree. The Black experience had different sides and different faces and I was lucky enough to live through a time where people with a voice chose to shed light on those faces.
I look back at NWA and I think about their innovative, raw music and powerful message. I also think about where Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are now and how they have become moguls in there own right. They too had different faces that came to light as they evolved as artists and as African-American men of integrity and purpose. I wonder how the footprint of this new generation of reality stars with limited vocabularies and with goals at least seemingly relegated to showing wealth and maintaining ego will compare to their predecessors. I wonder if they are aware that their material successes were built on the back of artists who actually stood for something. My parents aspired to be equal. I, along with my generation aspired to make a difference and to be great. What does this generation aspire to be, and more importantly, what does that mean for the generation to come?
“Just A Thought”
Sean L. James