Halfway up my home block on the way to work this morning I started hearing something disturbing behind me. It sounded like someone rapping with no music or beat. In other words, it sounded like a paranoid schizophrenic person was following me up the block and around the corner onto Lark Street. I wasn't worried at all, because I didn't think someone barking that loudly was going to creep up and mug me, and in any event I've always found my neighborhood safer than its reputation might suggest. Nevertheless, there was that uneasiness you're likely to feel if there's only you and a lunatic in the immediate vicinity. I found myself wondering whether he was rapping along to something on a headphone, reciting something he'd memorized, or improvising on the spot.
At the corner of Lark and Madison he stopped alongside me as we waited for the light. He had headphones on, so there was probably nothing original to his spiel. Someone reading this might even be able to name that tune from the few lines I remember. It sounded like the usual rodomontade of boasts and threats, always returning to the chorus: "Listen motherf***er I'm for real/You n***** aint real/You n***** better chill/Or I'll have to draw my steel ..."
Now the interesting thing about the man was the fact that he was chaperoning a little girl on a bike with training wheels, his daughter probably, all the while unselfconsciously parroting the "mature" lyrics playing in his head, but occasionally pausing calmly to warn the girl if she rode too far ahead of him.Through it all he probably didn't think twice about the language he used around the girl. If you asked about it, and if he deigned to answer, he'd probably tell you his words, too, were "for real." It's a stock phrase employed for emphasis, often abbreviated to f'real, that also seems to indicate that the speaker isn't kidding, bluffing, euphemizing, shamming, spinning or hiding the facts. But what does it mean when a rapper declares himself "for real" in a way others allegedly aren't? I can't claim to know, but I suspect that it isn't any credit to reality, and I worry that it molds reality about him in the form of the girl on the bike. There are people at the other end of the social and cultural spectrum who also believe, in their way, in "keeping it real," but wherever you find it, the attitude is reactionary. It reflects a reluctance to change when civilization demands that we all change.