When we were studying music a while back we spent a day studying Leonard Bernstein. Leonard Bernstein believed that there was no such thing as good or bad music, just different kinds of music. He was especially fun to study because, while I didn’t care too much for his compositions, I LOVED how he had the heart of a teacher. During the 50’s and 60’s he produced a television show called Young People’s Concerts. Over the course of these concerts he tried to teach children about the beauty of music. We watched a little bit of one of these concerts on YouTube and it just so happened that Bernstein was speaking to the children about “classical music”. He said:
” You’ve all heard people say “I just love good music” – meaning that they love Handel instead of Spike Jones. Well, you know what they mean, but after all, isn’t there such a thing as good jazz, or a good popular song? You can’t use the word good to describe the difference. There’s good Handel, and good Spike Jones; and we’ll just have to forget that word….”
Bernstein was specifically talking about how people describe classical music, but I mentioned to my kids how this same concept can be applied to ANY type of music. You cannot write off a form of music just because you don’t like it, because everyone has their own taste, and it’s okay. De gustibus non est disputandum… of tastes there can be no disputing. After watching a little bit of that episode Lucy asked, “Mom, is there a kind of music that you don’t like?” I told her that most of the time whether I like a song or not is based on the content and not the genre (just like literature), but in general I’m not a huge fan of rap. I have a handful of rap songs in my playlist (Hammer Time anyone?) but if I like a rap song it’s mostly because it was in a movie that I liked – and most of the time I’m embarrassed to be listening to it if I happen to listen to the lyrics.
I honestly had no idea what to expect when I was asked to review The Primary Program by Maurice Dew. While I was certainly willing to give it a chance, given my preconceived notions against rap I fully expected to “not love it”. When I actually sat down and listened to it I found it unlike any music album I have ever listened to… and I really enjoyed it!
The Primary Program is the result of a desperate plea from Maurice Dew’s brother-in-law. He, like most parents, wanted family friendly music that wouldn’t make his ears bleed (I can certainly relate to that.) What followed was a very long journey ultimately culminating in a self-produced album.
I’d like to think that anyone reading this is old enough to remember “The Mormon Rap“. If this is your only reference point for LDS Rap music then I would have to describe The Primary Program as… nothing like that… at. all. The Primary Program is like real life, radio quality, gritty, deep, and poetic rap. Comparing Maurice Dew’s music to The Mormon Rap is like comparing anyone current to Vanilla Ice (ok confession: yes, I have both The Mormon Rap AND Ice Ice Baby in my playlist… I think that fact shows my age more than anything else.)
Back to the subject at hand, rappers in general have been claiming this for years, but now I get it… Rap is music. Rap is art… or at least it can be. More than anything else I felt like The Primary Program was poetry set to music. 13 beautiful and ironic poems set to familiar primary songs in beat, chorus, and subject matter.
Have you ever read a book (or listened to a song) and heard a phrase that stops you in your tracks and you think, “Wow, that’s really profound. I like it!” I had at least one of those moments with pretty much every song.
In Called to Serve we are reminded about the actual point of missionary work. Jesus Said Love Everyone is a song filled with brutal honesty about human struggles with some basic commandments like “love one another”. Saturday is a Special Day is another brutally honest song of the difficulties that come with raising young children. Praise to the Man is a beautiful tribute to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Dearest Names reminds us of the divine calling of parents. When I Go To Church is almost uncomfortable in it’s truthfulness; while we listen to children singing in the background we are reminded of our own parental hypocrisy by playing with our phones or falling asleep at church while at the same time we tell our children to be reverent and listen to the speakers.
One of my favorites stanzas is from The Oxcart (a song I had always thought dull):
See life is difficult, there’s never been an easier route
And then you second-guess yourself and that just leads you to doubt
We need to stop with the attitude of ‘Oh, pity me!’
See, there’s a billion other stories out there of misery
And that’s the problem now, everybody wants to be a rock-star
But no one wants to take the time to load up the oxcart
You volunteered for this mission, so stop your complainin’
Life’s supposed to teach you lessons not provide entertainment
So whatever your metaphorical trek, be superb
And think like the pioneers when you sing these words…
Instead of skipping a song with questionable lyrics when my children wander in to the room, I pause it, call them in and say, “Ok, girls listen to this… now what do you think that means?”
I am under no illusions to think that everyone will like this album, it’s very raw and sometimes people have a hard time with it. But I would like to think that the meaningful content can help a rap novice appreciate the genre. It wasn’t written for the children, it was written for us… it just so happens that your kids (and teenagers) will like it too.