If I Was Smart, I’d Be a Rapper

First things first, I love hip-hop. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I was in college in the early 2000s and now in my late 30s, I’m still listening to A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and The Roots before anything else. So, the title isn’t an affront to any lyricist past, present, or future. And let’s be honest. I’d get destroyed in a cypher.

What I’m getting at is the idea that somehow creative writing gets overlooked when it comes to familial support. I suppose you can lump friends in there as well. We all make fun of our cousin’s “fire ass” mixtape, but I’m sure most of our networks would be more likely to click that SoundCloud link before buying our chapbooks. That’s not to say your granny thinks you’re a terrible writer or your uncle thinks your cousin is the next Black Thought. It just means that hip-hop, or rap if you’re nasty, is much more accessible for some of our family and friends.

It wasn’t until recently that I allowed my mother and father to read my essays. They’d, of course, read some of my poetry, but I’m not sure they picked up on all of the MFA tricks I’d thrown in there. Before I went to Callaloo in Oxford this past summer, I let them read my submission packet. Two of the essays were pretty basic childhood good times tales. The last one, which is still looking for a home, was about how I never felt quite black enough even in a close knit community in a small town. How I always felt left out despite being a middle class, only child with popular parents. My father called me after he read it. He, and my mother, told me they never knew I felt that way. They’d assumed I always felt like I belonged. That was miles from the truth.

The next time I let them read something was risky. This was an essay about my attempts to kill myself after surviving an emotionally abusive breakup and divorce. My father called me on the verge of tears. He said he’d known I’d been tired (that was they only way I could describe it to him at the time), but he never knew how close I came to ending my life. In that sharing, we bonded in ways we’d never done so before.

Now, in my writing that includes my parents, I ask them questions and weave them into what I am doing. It is now that I feel as if I have their support. It’s a far cry from when I told my mother I’d gotten into graduate school and she proclaimed, “That’s nice! When are you going to get a real job?” Now, that I’ve made my work accessible and they feel as if they can ask questions, I know they will at least try to read what I am writing. That’s not to say that they’ll like everything or even understand it. There are even things I am currently writing that I am afraid to let them read. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Each day on Facebook, my timeline is full of performance videos, links to songs, and flyers for events. And along with that comes likes and comments and re-posts/blogs. On Facebook, which like Twitter I’m not a fan of, I follow both creative writers and rappers. It seems more often than not the writers are struggling to be heard. And I wonder if it’s a matter of accessibility. Like listening to WuTang vs. listening to Drake. Both genres are valid. One is just a lot smoother going down.

I’m not saying that writers need to dumb down what we are writing. And I’m not saying all mixtape, Facebook rappers are simplistic. I’m just saying, as a writer who has been through an MFA program, we can be a bit much. We can fall in love with our own words and voices to the extent we say more than is necessary to get the point across. I’m not sure if that means doing something as simple as including a line about welcoming questions or engaging with people in the comments to get them to expand on their “That’s nice!” posts. Or maybe taking a step back and thinking maybe they see you as such a great writer that they are intimidated. Sometimes all it takes is an open door to open both your world and theirs.


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