Love And Hip-Hop: On A Self-Esteem Boost From Unlikely Places

Rap music saved my life. Or, to save on the dramatics, I should be more specific and say that it kept me from sinking into deep depression and hurdled me back into the love game. My overly generic Irish “white girl” name may make the reader raise their eyebrows as to just who I think I am talking about rap. I’m not the only one.

I grew up as a kid in the South, where the radio options were hip hop or rock classics, and the beats took over my listening palate even at a young age. I was impressionable enough to automatically connect to the hard beats that shot through the speakers in our family car that fueled my 10 year-old anger at some 10 year-old argument I may have been having with my mother. The Notorious BIG was huge back then, pun intended, but even now I can vividly picture sitting in the front seat of our 1977 Turbo Diesel Mercedes Benz feeling like the biggest pimp in the dirty South. That’s right — I referenced myself as a prepubescent pimp.

But this is how rap works for me. Every time I put my headphones on and I bring up Safari on my iPhone and I pull up the Grooveshark queue I’ve been putting together over the past few months, I feel like the most powerful person in the world. If it’s a bad day, and I’ve been listening to rap for a good hour or so, I’m cured.

The real medicinal turn that occurred between rap music and I occurred this past winter, after I went through a very traumatic breakup with my longest long term relationship I’d experienced in my 26 years. I won’t bore the reader with the nitty-gritty, but once all the drama was over and all I had were my work, my social life, and my tormenting thoughts about how the split went down, I was very much stuck in the anger phase of grief. No matter how much I talked things out with family, friends, and my therapist, I couldn’t seem to shake the rage.

One thing that was recommend to me was physical activity, namely exercise, which was good. I had been meaning to get back to the gym after a two year hiatus from running and weight training. So, I hit the gym with my phone’s Pandora app working overtime. I have an affinity for electronic music and indie rock, which sufficed at first, but it was when I switched over to Busta Rhymes Radio that I really noticed a difference. Naturally, Busta showed up first in the queue with “Break Ya Neck” as soon as I started Pandora and stepped onto the elliptical. I turned up the volume. I picked an elliptical machine that was positioned directly in front of a window looking out onto the street, and with Busta screaming at me that “all ya need to do, is nod ya fuckin’ head,” I knew I was hooked. I ran faster. I increased the resistance. I sweat uncontrollably.

The more these rappers screamed at me, the better I began to feel over the course of several weeks. Every time I recalled a past argument and could feel the rage and resentment burn inside me, I’d turn up the volume to TuPac’s “Hail Mary” and watch the RPMs on the exercise bike increase.

It became an addiction. I began to catalogue my favorite songs on grooveshark.com and listened to them on my phone while out. Mos Def walked with me to the subway. Ludacris helped me make my morning coffee. The Wu-Tang Clan did laundry with me. Then, when the weather was good, I began walking to work and my rap sessions became entire portions of my day that I would look forward to with zeal. It took a lot for me not to stop and dance along 5th avenue in Sunset Park.

Then, as the months wore on, I noticed my love for rap evolve into a new kind of personal Energizer Bunny. I threw myself back into the dating world with a guy I met while out at a bar. He approached me as I was having a few drinks with a girl friend and offered to buy me a new one. I accepted, we had a couple laughs, and he asked for my number, which I gave. We set a day for later that week to have a proper date, and as I left the bar that night I put my earphones into my ears and switched on “Hot Boys” by Missy Elliot as soon as I got into the subway. I was already feeling confident, very high on myself, but it was Missy’s beats and lyrics that sent my self-esteem valve into boiling temperatures. I got home and searched for Missy’s “One Minute Man” video on YouTube and watched it on repeat for about 10 minutes.

All rappers I’ve sampled in the past have gotten me amped when driving in the car, or working out at the gym, but now with the prospects of new intimacy were before me I headed straight to the women of hip-hop. My first go-to is Missy Elliot, the one who consistently bends the gender norms with her outward zeal for sex without any regard to her weight, her fashion sense, or popularity with the hip-hop public as a sex symbol. To me, Missy oozes sex and will never let me forget it with every hip shake in her videos and moans on her tracks. She licks her lips and smirks at the camera in her videos, and you know she means business. Missy is a woman on top, no question.

Where Missy Elliot is the best rapper with which to begin the getting-ready-for-a-date regimen, Lil Kim takes me to where I need to go with having the fullest energy and confidence. I first heard Lil Kim’s “How Many Licks” as a kid, riding in the same old Mercedes, and it was the first song I downloaded upon receiving my iPod shuffle as a high school graduation gift. As much as I do enjoy a good Nicki Minaj track, I’m team Kim. Lil Kim is the original, the Queen Bee, the baddest bitch on the market and she makes me feel like I can conquer any insecurity or hang up about men and dating them. Her deep voice peppered with her thick Brooklyn accent is like the devil on my shoulder, whispering to me to be a bad girl with no regrets. “How Many Licks”, with its graphic imagery of Lil Kim’s past sexual exploits and a sample of her own orgasmic shrieks, is the ultimate fantasy that every woman would benefit from indulging while putting on her makeup before meeting that guy she’s about to see. Even the indulgent massive pelvic thrusting in the “Licks” video has the power to elevate your mood. I listened to this song, plus two favorites from her first solo album, “Drugs” and “Queen B@#$h,” while getting dressed for the date with bar guy and I felt like I’d taken some sort of sexual shot of 5-Hour-Energy. It was as if she were coaching me to be the best, the ultimate fantasy, the zenith of female sexual energy. Sure, on the outside I was still myself, nothing had changed, but on the inside I was more than ready to conquer. Needless to say, the date went well.

Forget for a minute all the womanizing and objectifying that is so often heard in hip-hop music. One has to do this to achieve the underlying goal in rap music: to win. When I listen to rap, I leave all that at the door and let the ladies lead me to the Xanadu of female empowerment. I embraced my favorite female rappers and kept their rhymes near; Missy Elliot and Lil Kim followed everywhere with me that summer. After the end of a date with that guy, I’d head home in a cab feeling very satisfied with myself for playing the night exactly how I’d wanted. It was as if these two rap goddesses were appearing there in the taxi beside me saying, “I told you so.”

After these dates would end and I’d take rap with me to other places, they eventually found their way into my home life. Sitting in our Brooklyn backyard on sweltering evenings, I invented “Rap Night,” a little home even with all the roommates where, you guessed it, we’d lounge and listen to rap. I converted the skeptical; I widened the canon of the paltry. One roommate made a clever observation about me one night: “You know, you’re all about the blind rage.” I considered this for a moment, and then quickly realized he was right. Rap is all about being you deep to the core and not apologizing for it. What was once a rage in me directed at a painful past had been transformed to a healthy female aggression for love.

Gentlemen, you have hip-hop to thank. TC mark

featured image – Lil Kim / YouTube

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