I didn't listen to much rap growing up -- go figure, for a white guy from St.Catharines, Ontario, right? -- but for some reason or another I always loved the song 'Ghetto Bastard' by Naughty By Nature. (It's labelled 'Everything's Going To Be Alright' on Youtube, but I'm pretty sure the original name is 'Ghetto Bastard'.)
I have no idea how I first heard it, but I used to play it in the car when it was my turn to drive me and my friends to the movies every Friday or Saturday night. (And it was every Friday or Saturday night -- usually two on Friday night alone. Whatever opened, we watched.)
I liked the rhythm of the song, and I'd shift the sound from the front speakers to the back seat to the front again. I liked the refrain of 'everything's going to be alright'. It had a hopeful vibe.
It's only now, listening to the song again after about fifteen years, that I realize what a horribly pessimistic anthem it is; the melodic 'everything's going to be alright' is used ironically.
Listening to it, you can sense a young man's desperate lament for the horrific place and times in which he grew up: "Never gamble in a game that you can't play...Say something positive? Well positive ain't where I live...Mama said I'm priceless, so why am I worthless?...How will I do it, how will I make it -- I won't, that's how..."
Everything is not going to be alright. The ghetto is one fucked-up place. "If you ain't never been to the ghetto, don't ever come to the ghetto, cuz you wouldn't understand the ghetto."
Growing up, I'd never seen poverty. Knowing the lyrics to this song was a goof to me. Movies like Boyz N The Hood hinted at another world to me, but that was all it was: a suggestion, a tease.
Fast-forward fifteen years, and after a couple of years in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and a few years in the Philippines, I've now seen a fair bit of poverty. I can almost understand what the song is trying to say. About how hopeless it is for so many people. About how stacked the deck is against most of the human race before they even begin life.
Why was I born in such a good and decent place? Why do others in the world have such a tremendously different experience of life?
Rap's gotten a bad, well, rap, lately, and I'll admit that I haven't heard barely any rap or hip-hop in the past decade. I can't judge if the tune is a classic or not.
But this song still packs a wallop for me.
I remember the teenage kid I used to be, bopping my head in beat to the music, a harmless ditty, and now, years later, the song now seems to me like a dark, angry, ultimately futile outburst against all that is unfair in the world.