Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number thirteen. Putting the need for exaggeration aside, the number of my irrational fears and neuroses far exceeds thirteen. I have a lot of phobias. On a scale of bedwetter to Braveheart, I situate myself mid-spectrum as a confident “I can take Cloverfield” type. This psychological metric notwithstanding, triskaidekaphobia is not on my radar. Superstition isn’t really my jam. But if I knew what 2013 held for me in 2012, my past self may have sung a different tune.
In high school, my friends knew there were a couple things I just wouldn’t do. Besides heroin and Velvet Undergroundy sex stuff, I’d refuse to drive in a car with hip-hop on the radio without putting up some kind of pretentious fight for the rights of post-punk or indie rock. Apologies for this kind of behavior have been made. Another rule of mine: movie nights with Mack meant no scary movies. This traced back to a childhood of traumatic experiences passing by the horror section in Blockbuster. Maybe seeing Chucky’s face on Child’s Play 3 didn’t wonk you out but, if it didn’t, I’d wager you rank high on the list of “Possible Sociopaths” in most of your immediate friend groups.
In late 2012, I would’ve joked about going to record and DVD burnings for hip-hop and horror related delicacies. Not for any misguided moral reason but simply because I thought they were unnecessary forms of entertainment. But, in the last week, I listened to Yeezus for the twenty thousandth time this year and watched Hellraiser. 2013 did weird things to me. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to the new Danny Brown album and am thinking whether I should finally go to Knott’s Scary Farm this year.
This new horror and hip-hop fixation indicates a lot of things which have changed about my personality since the clock tolled midnight on January 1, 2013. For one thing, the entire year has been a sort of identity crisis. Before 2013, my greatest fears were being part of the crowd and/or being taken by surprise by the unknown. Also, loud startling noises and urban environments where I believed my cracker ass was just waiting to get a proverbial cap busted into it. I feel like I ran from Freddy Krueger and Yeezy for those reasons. But, for now, let’s talk about Yeezy.
This year, I started doing penance with Yeezus, Jay-Zeesus and Everything In Betweenzus. Penance may be the wrong word since hip-hop lyrics tend to be the Freudian id unshackled. Bad desires are discussed with a startling degree of offensiveness but I’m willing to wager that offense is derived from their familiarity to us in our most honestly self-reflective moments, not their foreignness. I find most of their lyrics to be humorous in their lack of ethicality so how do I justify listening to these misogynous, hedonistic messages? Well, honesty and the possibility of redemption.
Musically, I’ve been surprised at the amount of creativity which is possible and actual within hip-hop. Not to mention, artists like Shad and Kendrick Lamar’s work couple socially conscious self-deprecation with their more indie friendly styles. It doesn’t all have to be about sex and drugs. Even if Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy talks about those things with more arrogantly human honesty than a lot of rock records.
But what are we to make of art which, as a whole, is morally bankrupt? Whether or not you listen to hip-hop is a matter of personal preference. The messages of the music tend to be far from uplifting. Moreover, I’d really earnestly suggest for you not to imitate any of the behavior detailed on a Tyler, the Creator or Earl Sweatshirt record. But the thing that finally turned me this year, besides my younger brother’s nonstop insistence the genre was better than either of us had imagined, was a growing awareness of myself.
Self-awareness is shopped around today as a primarily positive thing. The power lies within you and all that business. But there are inevitably aspects of the human condition which become startling to the self once they are made knowable. We are capable of great good and great evil, sometimes within the same hour. What I appreciate about Kanye West is the same thing I appreciate about Thom Yorke. They both exemplify negative aspects of the human condition so you don’t have to go down the road as far as they did. Yorke gave me a vocabulary for depression and West gave me a lexicon of vice.
And though we’d like to join the blissfully ignorant, it’s more important to become aware of your darker parts as well if there’s to be any hope of redemption. Because, if redemption is possible, it is only redemption of the person you actually are which is available.
Perhaps I’m kidding myself when I read these lyrics like a modern-day, vulgar Ecclesiastes. When you listen to these men rap about their copious amounts of money, sex, drugs and occasionally violent power, it’s hard not to see them as Solomons. Before you decry their lack of wisdom standing against the great king, try to realize they’ve reached the same conclusion as he. And that they merely use a different word for “concubines.” I doubt Solomon would’ve snatched Taylor Swift’s joy away on national television or gotten mad at Jimmy Kimmel. But that’s not the point. Unlike the rest of us, they really have tried everything under the sun. And, for that matter, they’ve come from darker, more impoverished backgrounds too. They know the highs and lows of human experience better than most.
It would be folly to deny the vices represented in their lyricism. But I hazard to say they are just more honest about their ids than the rest of us and the offensiveness of their tongues is an indicator of that. Most important of all, there is a deep, conscientious sadness which seems to permeate modern hip-hop. When Kanye West raps “Runaway” or when Kendrick Lamar crafts Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, their awareness that power and pleasure have left them unsatisfied means even more than it would should a normal human being recognize it.
For me, 2013 made life even weirder, homeys. Next post, how I learned to stop worrying and love The Blob.