Kids And Today’s Music: Is There Anything Wrong With Malia And Sasha Obama Listening To Frank Ocean?

February 27, 2013  |  

From Pitchfork:

Last night, “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” welcomed First Lady Michelle Obama, who talked about the listening habits of the First Family. Obviously, they’re all into Beyoncé, but she also noted that Sasha and Malia are Frank Ocean fans (via Consequence of Sound).

And First Lady Michelle Obama is okay with that?

Okay, so what’s the big deal about Sasha and Malia listening to Frank Ocean? Nothing actually. Despite thinking he was hyped for the wrong reasons, I like Frank Ocean, and I particularly appreciate the way in which he maneuvers in and out of traditional R&B to create a somewhat different sound than what’s out today. However, Ocean is not what I typically think of as a young adult-friendly artist, and especially not safe for the daughters of the first black president. While Ocean has a way with words, his words do mostly revolve around excess, sex, wholehearted love, and drugs. For instance, “Pilot Jones” may be cleverly prosed, but it also speaks rather bluntly about being in a relationship with a strung-out woman. Another example is “Pyramids,” which starts out painting a beautiful picture of Queen Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, but after about three minutes, morphs into a slow whine about a much different Cleopatra, who it seems works at an actual club called the Pyramids. So yeah, while there are some musical differences between Frank Ocean and the rest of his R&B contemporaries, clearly, in some ways they are the same.

So don’t nobody go think I’m saying that Ocean is setting a bad example to the youth of our generation. To the contrary, I think children can learn from his use of metaphors and imagery. However, can someone explain to me how did Frank Ocean get passed White House clearance to be deemed safe enough to mention in a national interview? I’m thinking that some of his themes alone would be enough fodder for some crazed Republican to claim that the Obamas were secretly trying to corrupt the mind of the nation’s children. Also, I just can’t imagine the Obama girls jamming to the following: “Novacane Baby, Baby/Novacane baby I want you/F**k me good, f**k me long, f**k me numb/Love me now when I’m gone love me none/Love me none, love me none/Numb numb, numb numb…”

That song, if you quite haven’t figured it out yet, is called “Novacane” and it is about falling in love (OR, not being able to) with an Adult Video star, who also wants to be a dentist. Although I like the song, I’m sure that there is some metaphorical deeper meaning that I have not fully understood. But the song is pretty graphic in content. And since the late ’80s, similar themed songs, particularly those coming from the hip-hop and R&B community, have faced scrutiny for graphic content and themes, many of which are similar to this Ocean track. Most particularly, both genres of music have been blamed for some pretty damning stuff in the black community – from the over-sexualization of our young black girls to even the mass incarceration of young black men. So I wonder how does the First Family reconcile with the girls’ taste in music and the sexual themes and messages, which might exist in a song?

Well, according to an article in Glamour, President Obama once stated the following about Malia:

“You know, we actually don’t constrain what she listens to. We expect her to show some good judgment. She listens to my iPod and has gotten hip to stuff that was made well before she was born like Motown, jazz, classic rock. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that she’s picking up on. We actually share tastes in hip-hop and rap music but we don’t listen to it together, because some of the language in there would embarrass me—at least while I’m listening to it with her. Folks like Jay-Z, Nas, we both like them, but when it comes on and I’m sitting with her and Sasha, then I fast-forward because it would make me blush…. It’s interesting, both Malia and Sasha, they’re very much up on pop culture, but what I’m pleased to see is that they’re interested in making culture too. They both play the piano, and Sasha’s dancing, and Malia’s interested in filmmaking.”

I don’t think that President Obama, the First Lady, and more specifically Sasha and Malia’s open adulation of Frank Ocean – or any other Hip-Hop or R&B musician- sends the wrong messages. Heck, I’m not sure it sends out any message other than stating that the kids have pretty decent taste in music. And clearly we are talking about the Obama girls and there is no doubt that they are getting the best education and guidance that being the children of a president and first lady of the United States can afford them. However, if rap music and sexually explicit R&B does not mean that one is destined to be anti-social and basically a degenerate to society, as in the case of the Obama girls, perhaps we might be overstating its importance or relevance in addressing the problems in our community?

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