Thanks to Hurricane Matthew, my parents return flight from their Boston vacation was cancelled at the last minute, leaving their only option to be landing in Columbia instead of Charleston. Being the golden example of a son that I am, I left the hurricane party early and traveled up I26 to scoop them when they landed around midnight.
There’s something oddly entertaining about driving on the wrong side of the highway. Governor Haley opened up both sides for the overflow of evacuees that were fleeing Charleston and the surrounding area, but by the time I started my trek, there were practically no cars on either side. Save for the state troopers who were posted at literally every exit.
Driving my parents around in my car is something that’s never really happened, except for maybe a quick loop up to a store or something else close by. But a two hour drive in the rain, in the middle of the night was a whole different story. It’s funny because when you’re a kid, they do all of your transporting: school, sports, maybe even dates for those less fortunate. The reversal feels strange, verging on completely awkward. Nonetheless they squeezed themselves and their luggage into my Nissan hatchback, promising to give me gas money for my journey.
They immediately started quibbling about needing a phone charger to find directions home. Neither of them have yet processed that it only takes one phone to do any given task, swearing that they both need to use their phones to do whatever that task is. I told them I would just use mine, since I wanted to play music anyway.
“No rap!” was my dad’s reply, to which I just said nothing and quietly scoffed.
Before they got in the car, I had already started playing blond, so I just continued to let it play through. The album isn’t exactly explicit, but it does have a few instances of “fuck” or “pussy” or something of the sort. I remember a time not too long ago when my insides would erupt with anxiety whenever a song would curse in front of my parents. That feeling is gone now. I feel, to myself at least, that in their eyes I’m now enough of a “man” that I can get away with listening to music with curse words.
After telling me a little about their trip, my dad asked me about the latest Kardashian scandal: Kim’s robbing in Paris.
“Did Kanye’s boys get the guys that robbed Kim yet?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Did him and his boys go catch the robbers?”
Now my dad and I have had a few concise and snippy arguments about Kanye West and hip-hop in general. With no need of an explanation here, he’s not a fan. Though he’s not an ardent hater, he adheres to the typical white, Baby Boomer stance that rappers are mostly bad news. Knowing that this was his view, it made a bit heated that he’d assume “Kanye and his boys” would go after the men who robbed Kim on their own.
“I think that’s kinda racist,” I finally responded.
“How? I’d say the same thing if it was Tom Brady‘s wife who got robbed! Me and my boys would go after whoever decided to steal from your mother!”
I realized what he was saying was true, and I brushed off my accusation.
Later on, after blond had played through, I put it on channel orange shuffle. Through out most of the car ride, I had kept the volume right at the point where it was audible over the rain and engine, but not to the point where every word was discernible by someone who had never heard the music. When “Sweet Life” came on, I turned it up the slightest bit.
“Is that Stevie Wonder?” my dad asked.
“No, it’s Frank Ocean.”
Now, anybody who knows me knows that I have strong knowledge and opinions on just about every figure in music at any given time and I will spout off the randomest of random tidbits when asked about an artist. So it came as no surprise to my parents that I launched into a discourse about how Frank Ocean is one of the generation’s brightest artistic minds, how he vanishes for amounts of time with no definite return date, and how the world stopped turning when he dropped blond.
After my mini rant, my dad seemed impressed. “So he’s not always in your face on social media like everyone else is! I like that. He sounds like Stevie Wonder. I’ll have to check him out!”
And just like that, I had converted my father. The man who hasn’t really bought any new music since 1985 said he was going to check out Frank Ocean. It’s then that I realized something.
Music has always been a way to bring enjoyment and unity to groups of people, likeminded or not. Yet there are always going to be generational gaps. We as young adults may look back and love and adore the music of our parents, but that doesn’t mean the street runs both ways. Sometimes it can be more one way, like the interstate I took to get them.
I’m sure there will come a time when I will hear the music of a younger generation and turn up my nose. Even now I’m starting to realize that some artists are catering to those that are younger than me, and I’m barely 22! I’m clearly not the only one, as the rift that’s currently splitting hip-hop becomes more vocalized everyday. But I can at least recognize that some of it simply isn’t made for me, and in that, I won’t, at least not yet, demonize the new crop for the way they’re doing things.
Despite the gaps that continue to grow between our own musical tastes and those of our parents, there will always be artists that lessen the gap, resonating with both sides of the aisle. It’s through these artists that we can bond with our parents and the older generation, striking up a conversation about what it really means to be classic or timeless. When asking about Kanye and Kim, or asking about Frank, my dad wasn’t just looking for things to talk about; he was showing interest in the art that I am truly passionate about. He was trying to connect with me and the younger generation I’m a part of. And I’m glad he’s at least trying.
Listening to blond on a dark, cold, wet highway with my jet-lagged, tired parents, I hadn’t felt that culturally close to my father since our days of listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival in his truck when I was a child. On the way to school, sports, or maybe even dates. Whatever it was. And I have Frank Ocean to think for that.