I grew up on rap music.
I spent my formative years in something of a golden era in hip hop. We'd just missed Biggie and Pac, but "Hypnotize" and "California Love" still saw heavy play. Jay-Z put out Hard Knock Life, Puffy had No Way Out, and Detroit's own Marshall Mathers was terrorizing our teachers with The Slim Shady LP.
I love rap music. As a writer, I love the storytelling. Tracks like "Shakey Dog" by Ghostface Killah, or "Somebody Got To Die" by the Notorious B.I.G. stand up to any piece of short crime fiction you can name.
The descriptions, the language, the rising tension and the sudden, visceral, action--even the bleak humour and shocking, gut-punch twist endings. These people can write, and they damn sure capture my imagination.
I realize this whole thing is problematic; we were a collection of largely well-off, largely white kids, and the gentrification of hip hop tropes and styles by and for people like us has continued a long tradition of appropriation and exploitation that pushes talented and deserving Black artists and entrepreneurs to the margins while other people get rich from their hard work.
I don't even want to talk about how long it took me to recognize that while the artists in the songs were using the N-word, it was wholly inappropriate for me to do the same while I rapped along in my car.
I don't want to talk about it, but I will, if you want to hear it.
This blog isn't about that, though. It's about another element of rap music that messed my little brain up for a long time.
I'm talking about misogyny.
I learned about what to buy from listening to rap music, from Gulfstream jets and Range Rovers to Breitling watches and Mitchell & Ness throwbacks. I also learned how to treat women. And that's a scary thing to contemplate.
I'm not putting the blame entirely on hip hop. But it's no secret there's a problem with misogyny in the genre.
Women were objects to be collected and used, just like throwback jerseys or iced-out watches. Your worth as a man depended explicitly on how many women you accumulated, and what they were willing to do to you and for you.
You watch a rap video and you're getting those values thrown in your face in high definition. Cars. Jewelry. Money. And half-naked women either draped over the furniture or performing lascivious acts for The Man.
I guess, looking back, what scares me is how insidiously those images wormed their way inside my fourteen-year-old boy head, and how they must have been, at least subconsciously, doing the same to the teenage girls I knew who were listening, too.
Talk about a fucked-up message for a young woman to have to process.
For me, I sure as hell internalized that shit. I bought a nice watch as soon as I could afford one. Once I had a steady job, I bought a BMW and later a Porsche. Falling in love was for suckers and tricks, so I avoided that shit.
And heck, even my choice of career was influenced, partially, by this internalized misogyny.
I wanted to be famous.
Rap star famous.
I wanted to be so famous that I could go into a club, flash a diamond-encrusted watch and have hordes of women clamouring to come home with me without them even knowing my last name.
Talking to girls is difficult. I hate rejection. So my perverted, fucked-up goal was to make as much money and get as famous as I could so that I wouldn't have to actually put in any effort to bed women; my status would do that for me.
That's messed up on so many levels.
For one thing, it ridiculously overestimates the amount of fame a writer's going to achieve.
More importantly, it betrays a seriously misguided view of relationships and sexuality. I suppose there are people out there who will sleep with other people because of their material possessions, but I've never met any.
And anyway why would I want to sleep with a bunch of women who didn't know me from Adam? Who wanted to be with me because I had a nice car or a movie deal?
What would possibly be satisfying about that?
What's scary is that it's not a long leap from seeing women as objects to be collected and used to seeing sex as an entitlement.
I did research for my 2017 novel THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS into the kind of toxic masculinity that is literally killing women.
I read a 150-page manifesto by the guy who murdered a bunch of young women in Santa Barbara because he couldn't get a date, even though he drove a BMW and wore nice clothes and ticked all of the right boxes.
It apparently never occurred to him to talk to these women he was interested in, extend himself on a human-to-human level. He thought that his BMW and his gaudy watch entitled him to sexual partners, and when that didn't happen, he lashed out.
I never felt, necessarily, entitled to sexual partners.
But I did focus so much of my energy on those external factors that I thought would make it so that I didn't have to actually work to get laid.
The Porsche. The nice watch. The quasi-famous job.
I expended all of this mental calculus on useless shit just so I wouldn't have to actually talk to a woman and make a real human connection.
I didn't want a human connection.
I wanted a stable of women like I wanted a garage full of Ferraris or a closet full of expensive watches.
I wanted to live life like a rap video.
I wanted to be treated like a king and I didn't want to have to lift a damn finger to make it happen.
I trace that back, partly, to my love of rap music.
And every year it gets harder to harder to reconcile my love for the genre with the way it treats women.
With the way it can set teenage boys like me down a path that leads to some pretty scary places.
I used to scoff at the idea that aggressive cultural influences could make much of an impact on young minds like mine.
But now I'm not so sure.