As a Communication Applications (Speech for the layperson) teacher, I am a natural observer of the communication habits of others. I am always looking for examples of articulate celebrities or athletes that can relate to the student clientele that I am charged with reaching, which is not an easy task. It is no coincidence nor is it a surprise that the reason our young black people speak the way they do is because of the pop culture icons they look up to. They do not see the importance of grammar, expanded vocabulary, or diction just to name a few. And the ones that do see the importance of and utilize it, are seen as “talking white” (which is another issue). This trend troubles me because the capacity of your communication (verbal and non-verbal) is directly correlated to your employability and success rate. And if our young black kids don’t grasp the importance of this concept, they will forever find themselves in a position of inferiority as far as I am concerned. However, I did find a glimmer of hope in this situation.
As I was discussing the relevance of music with my Sunday School class, my sister suggested I go to YouTube and listen to an interview with the rapper, Plies. Now, I’ve heard some of Plies music and I would venture to say he’s not the most thought-provoking or socially conscious rapper I’ve ever heard. Consequently, my first thought wasn’t of him being an articulate speaker. However, my limited thinking (in this matter) proved me wrong. What I heard was a young man whose intellectual & mental capacity could rival many politicians and corporate giants. The natural unbalance, in my mind, however was the polarization of his speech versus his music. Now, while I found this in somewhat of a positive light, I realized others saw it as a negative. I saw Plies as an example of a rapper my students look up to who can express his thoughts in a clear and articulate manner. However, from my observations of the various interviews and posted comments, many saw him as the prototypical “fake thug”. And to further substantiate their claims, they point to evidence that he was the valedictorian of his high school class and homecoming king. Admittedly, Plies did dance around the valedictorian question so we don’t know whether this is true or not. But my question for his critics, who question his street credibility is….”So What?”
If he is the “goon” he claims he is, why is it a big deal that he actually has an expanded vocabulary. Is “thugism” synonymous with ignorance? Is it impossible for so-called goons to have an education, let alone be first in their class. I realize this is not a common occurrence, but we should not automatically nullify the hardness of a person based on their educational accomplishments. Now, I don’t glorify the thug lifestyle because of the harm that it has caused, particularly in our black communities. But if we gave respect to those who claim that lifestyle while proudly displaying their intellectual prowess, maybe many of the young people that look up to these “role-models” would not be so apt to suppress their academic capabilities.
My issue is not whether Plies is a real thug or not. I really couldn’t care less, because I believe many rappers aren’t what they claim in their songs. I actually believe that a real thug can’t continue to be a thug and be a successful rapper by commercial standards (i.e. Shyne, Beanie Sigel). I still won’t listen to Plies music (just because it’s not my cup of tea), but I do applaud the fact that he realizes the business he’s in and utilizes the art of code-switching. In order to be successful at what you do, one must have the ability to adapt to the environment they’re around (code-switch) while maintaining who they really are. Just because a person from the hood uses the word “superfluous” in the right context should not negate his street credibility. We should celebrate the fact that this dude actually can express clear thoughts in complete sentences and rather than disparage him, develop other young black kids to do the same. I’ll be sure to let my students know that I don’t condone what Plies represents, but at least he represents it with clarity.
What are your thoughts? Can intellectual and thug go together?
by Jarad Davis of Church Boy Chronicles
Follow him @jaraddavis02