You kids these days

I listen to podcasts while I work out. I am far past the stage, both in life and in working out, where I need to get pumped up to get pumped up. So, instead, I’ll listen to The Moth, This American Life, RadioLab, WTF with Marc Maron, or Sound Opinions. The other day, I listened to the Sound Opinions broadcast about SXSW, and they discussed a band called Kids These Days. I was interested, and I went to look them up on the interwebz.

Here’s what I found first:

That opening voice is vibrant. It’s somewhat shocking to hear it emanating from the young white kid in the frame of the video. What is he, like 17? (He’s 18 Kinda sad I came up on these guys after NYT.) He sounds a bit like the singer from Hootie and the Blowfish, maybe a bit like that bald dude from American Idol (Am I up on my pop culture or what?); soulful, strong voice, and bluesy/rock timbre.

Then the rap comes in; it sounds a bit Hieroglyphics-crew or Pharcyde to me. Playful, quick, clever. I smiled at lines like “My mom’d be on my back, but I got straight shoulders.” The rhymes are inventive, not predictable. Recently, I was bemoaning the state of hip hop rhymes.Of course, it’s the pop/commercial/crass hip hop that comes into my sphere nowadays; I read these lazy repetitive lines on Jay Bilas’s tweets. “I did the impossible, I made it out. Got dealt a bad hand but I played it out.” Yawn. I got worked up the other day about Mos Def’s latest thing with a jazz pianist. Good idea, but when was the last time Mos approached anything from Black Star level for smart, interesting, and intelligent lyrics? (Compare this with this, for example.)But this kid gets some nimble work done in “Darling” and elsewhere.

And the horns. Nice, nice, nice. Memphis, well echoed. Or Kingston! Or two tone/ska.

So the band sounds on paper a lot like The Roots: live musicians creating phat sounds from various sources while a clever and smart guy raps over them. But you’ve also got the lead singer with his soulish rock stylings. And there’s the young woman, too. She adds a whole new dimension, similar to when Jill Scott joined in on “You Got Me” for The Roots on Things Fall Apart. It’s not at all clear from just looking at Macie Stewart Maybe she’s white, maybe she’s got something else in the mix. But she’s certainly got a soulful voice, especially for such a young person.

But watching the videos got me thinking. This is a fascinating band in a number of ways. They are young but awfully talented. They are from Chicago, but they’ve got some Southern soul going on. They are hip hop, soul, R ‘n B, blues, and rock. They are white, black, male, female. We toss words around recently like post-racial, and I like the idea, sorta. But with Trayvon Martin’s death, I think it’s mostly a fiction we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel good. We like to believe it. I know I find my students like to believe it and think they are beyond discrimination. I also know they ask the few black kids in class clueless questions like, “Why do black people say ‘axe’?” So, I’m skeptical.

But this band makes me feel good and I like ’em.

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