“FU_K”: A Lesson Inspired by “No Mam; No Profanity”

My introduction to Hip-Hop:

I was teaching a composition course some years ago, and I challenged the students to provide the name of one poet whose work had influenced their understanding of poetry. They suggested Tupac Shakur. I told them that Tupac was not really a poet; he was “just” a rapper.” One young man told me that it was obvious that I didn’t know much about Hip-Hop or poetry. He also reminded me of my mantra concerning poetry’s representation of the deep soul authentic voice of the poet. “If that is one criteria,” he said, “Tupac Shakur is a poet.” That interaction with a group of students anointed my love for Hip-Hop,  Tupac Shakur, and more importantly, its (sometimes) problematic language.

Years later: I am living in a small town–Beaumont, California.  Hip-Hop came calling.

“Mam, would you like to purchase my Hip-Hop mix tape?”

I was peering up at a brown young man; he could have been one of  my nephews.  I needed to support his mix-tape project; I needed to support his dream.  And, too, one of the lines that massages by soul self comes from a “Hip Hop” centered movie– Brown Sugar.  The line:  “When did you first fall in love with Hip-hop?” 

My answer: I am often heard telling a story about my new classroom—Hip-Hop. In some ways, I feel like a student in a class called an Introduction to Hip Hop where folk like Master-P, who once sold CD’s out of the back of his car, and Tupac Shakur are my teachers.  Hip-Hop has been a game changer for me as a teacher and human being in the same way the writers of the Black Arts Movement changed my purpose for writing. So, when I heard that young man’s voice, “mam, would you like to buy my mix-tap,” I stopped, turned around, and like an old professor who believes profanity should be thrown into a deep sea and eaten by a whale, I asked,

 “Profanity on the CD?”

“No mam.”

Are you sure?

“Yes mam. No profanity. “

How much is it?

“Five dollars.”

I went back into Rite Aid to exchanged a ten dollar bill for two fives, went back outside, gave the young man a five dollar bill, walked to my car, and popped the CD in . . . well . . .An introduction by Snoop-dog, and then the music/rap began—profanity, indeed.  Maybe the young man didn’t understand the definition of the word, I chuckled, or maybe I did not understand what it means to be profane.

Profanity:  the use of the profane, i.e., to treat (something sacred) with abuse, irreverence, or contempt, to use a word offensively.

So the young man used a word identified as “profanity”; however, is the word “fu_k” without the weight lodged against it profanity. I am struggling to admit this (hence I am struggling to spell-out the word), but I don’t think so. The word “fu…k” was, indeed, included in the lyrics; the word was not used to offend; it was an expression from the heart of this young artist. Traditionally, for me the use of “curse” words like fu_k, a_s, and d_m is a “no, no.” However because of Hip-Hop, I am beginning to examine the context of the use of the word. . . I am struggling . . .. After all, one of my favorite poems by the late poet Etheridge Knight is “Feeling Fu_ked Up,” a poem written after his women left. His poetic cry:

. . . fuck   the whole muthafucking thing

all i want now is my woman back

so my soul can sing.

Although I can not place the “c” in the word Fu_k, I know this: Hip-Hop has called me to examine my beliefs about the shades of meanings attached to words in the English language deemed vulgar. Have mercy.

Thank you Hip-Hop!

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