I recently turned 35, and I have to admit I am feeling every bit of that age and more. With each passing year, I feel a little more disconnected from all of the things that I used to find important such as the newest music, the latest trends, and whatever is new on the interwebs. I find more and more comfort in the things I know I enjoy – old songs, familiar movies, previously read books, etc. My weekly escape involves catching up on Tonight Show episodes and watching Jimmy Fallon interview people I have never heard of who make movies and music I will probably never seek out on my own. (Side note: I have also been introduced to amazing new artists via Jimmy Fallon. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats, anyone??)
A couple of months ago, I tried to sit through an interview with a young woman named Cardi B. I didn’t know who she was and I couldn’t understand anything she was saying. Then she kicked into a high-pitched tongue roll and I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I wrote her off as another lame YouTube sensation and switched to a different episode. Cardi B came back into my life yesterday through my friend “Grace”. Some of you may remember my friend Grace. We met in jail nearly two years ago and have remained friends in spite of our extensive differences. Grace is Middle Eastern, formerly a prostitute, and currently works as an exotic dancer and escort since she has been unable to obtain more reliable employment since getting out of jail (and not for lack of trying, I promise you).
Grace and I talk on the phone or FaceTime a few times a week, but we have not been able to hang out in quite some time so I asked if I could pick her up yesterday and take her to Disney World for a few hours just to catch up and be silly. I hung out at Grace’s house for a little while, trying to convince her that underwear wouldn’t pass for clothing at the world’s most family-friendly theme park, and she made fun of me for being old and dressing like a nun. On the 45 minute drive to Magic Kingdom, Grace caught me up on all that had been happening in life. She’s had it pretty rough. She is a beautiful, intelligent, quick-witted young woman but people, men and women included, treat her like trash. Even in jogging pants, a black t-shirt, and no make up, men were staring at her backside (which is not accentuated or enhanced) as we walked through the park and women were giving her dirty looks.
I don’t think Grace noticed the stares and sneers – she was too busy showing me something on Instagram or laughing at something ridiculous – but I noticed, and it made me angry. I may have given quite a few fathers/husbands the stink eye while they leered at Grace while standing next to their own wives and children.
But this is Grace’s life. It’s all she has ever known, really. People aren’t being sleezy; they are just being people. Her bar of expectations for others is pretty low, and understandably so.
After three hours of sweating, sharing a turkey leg, walking through the mazes of people, and getting soaked on Splash Mountain, we decided it was time to call it a day, plus she had to work that night. When we got in the car, Grace grabbed my phone and started playing her favorite songs on YouTube for me. I received more mockery for not knowing what is hot right now. Grace played this song, and told me I wasn’t allowed to “get in my feelings” aka get emotional. Artist NF sings, “I wish somebody would have told me/If you want love/you gonna have to go through the pain/If you want love/You gonna have to learn how to change/If you want trust/You gonna have to give some away/If you want love”
I watched her close her eyes and sing along with a sense of ownership and pain I’ve never seen before. All my friend knows is use and abuse. All my friend wants is love.
Then she started playing this song by Cardi B. I rolled my eyes and said, “Ugh this woman gets on my NERVES!” and Grace looked at me and said, “Look, just listen to the words. This is my story.”
“Look, they gave a b*** two options: strippin’ or lose
Used to dance in a club right across from my school
I said “dance” not “f***”, don’t get it confused
Had to set the record straight ’cause b*****s love to assume
Mama couldn’t give it to me, had to get it at Sue’s
Lord only knows how I got in those shoes
I was covered in dollars, now I’m drippin’ in jewels
A b**** play with my money? Might as well spit in my food
B****s hated my guts, now they swear we was cool
Went from makin’ tuna sandwiches to makin’ the news
I started speakin’ my mind and tripled my views
Real b***, only thing fake is the boobs
It hurt to watch and listen Grace spew out each word, on beat, with so much force and ferocity that could only come from someone who has lived those words. This is her life. This is what she knows. She listens to “that crap” religiously but it’s what speaks her truth.
Grace played a few more songs for me before I dropped her off at home, and all of them had the same theme: I tried to make something of myself, I got abused or deceived or knocked down, so I made myself impenetrable and now watch me come back and win this thing called life.
The message in Grace’s music wasn’t any different than the message in the Florence + The Machine songs I listened to the rest of the way home, but Grace’s music is “offensive” because of all of the language and sex references.
If you strip down Grace’s music to the message and what is actually being said, it is the gospel according to those who suffer. It is the anthem of anyone who has been deeply hurt in this life. Whether we put Mary Kay on our faces or dollar bills and condoms on our nightstands, most of us are aching to love and be loved.
The word “gospel” means “a set or principle of beliefs”. We all have a gospel. Whether it be the Gospel of Christ, the gospel of money, the gospel of others’ approval, the gospel of success, or the gospel of beat-them-before-they-beat-you, each of us lives by some driving force. I guess, when it comes down to it, we align with the teacher or prophet who is able to connect to our own experiences. And for Grace, that teacher is a flamboyant, hard souled rapper who may look like a clown but speaks a lot of truth.