Monday, August 01, 2016

You’re Breaking My Heart: “Nate”

You’re Breaking My Heart highlights songs that make me want to cry.

My parents were alcoholics growing up. Every night, they’d polish off at least a six-pack of beer each, ending up somewhere between merely drunk and wasted. As far as parental issues to have, it isn’t even on the top 5 (sexually abusive, physically abusive, psychologically abusive, absent, drug addicted, homeless, dying being higher on the list, among others). Still it sucked. I spent a lot of my youth very aware that there was no one around to take care of me, and having to be the adult in the situation. Well, my older sister had to be the adult. I just kind of shut down/drowned my feelings out with loud music.

“As a kid all I wanted was to kill a man/Be like my daddy’s friends hopping out a minivan.”

That’s how Vince Staples starts off “Nate,” a song about his abusive, drug-addicted father. It’s a song about what happens when your father, your hero, is the villain in the story, and what that does to a kid. It’s about how the trauma kids are exposed to affects them. It’s about all the stuff that kids see that parents don’t realize they see.

Knew he was the villain never been a fan of Superman
Beaten on my momma in the kitchen screaming:
"Bitch you better listen when I speak my mind!"
Used to think he was unbreakable he did fed time
But made sure a nigga plate was full and I shined
Was walking in the first day of school new J's, and all of that
Football was cornerback, never made a game I played for Compton High
But my daddy was the man that would be suicide
Picked me up from visitation in the newest ride
Always told me that he loved me, fuck his foolish pride

There’s a sense of love and pride in Staples’ raps about his father. It’s not whining about what a terrible dad he was. At times he almost seems like he’s bragging about his father, but you get the underlying sense of sadness beneath it all.

As a kid all I wanted was a hundred grand
Uncle counting money while my daddy cut him grams
Made me promise that this shit would never touch my hands
And it never did said it'd make me be a better man
Smoking in the crib, hiding dip inside of soda cans
Black bandana on his arm, needle in his hand
Momma trying to wake him up, young so I ain't understand
Why she wouldn't let my daddy sleep, used to see him stand
Out in the alley through my window

This song, more than any other, highlights Staples’ genius as a writer. In just a few words he completes a full picture of exactly what he was seeing, little vignettes of the life of a hustler and addict.

Drinking Hen' with his homies blowing cig' smoke
Lights flashing now he running from the Winslows
Hear him screaming from my momma at the backdoor
Sometimes she wouldn't open it, sitting on the couch
Face emotionless, I don't think they ever noticed that I noticed it
As a kid all I wanted a hundred grand

“I don’t think they ever noticed that I noticed it.” I think about that sometimes as my wife and I are having a heated discussion and I can see our daughter playing nearby, acting absorbed in her Duplos or paints but clearly listening to us. I think about all the times I did the same thing while my parents were drunk or arguing or both. How I pretended not to notice, and how it still affected me.

One of the most powerful aspects of Black Lives Matter, for me, has the very vocal affirmation that these lives do matter. As a white person, I see how black murders get written off as “gang-related.” How black people killed by the police or by other black people are written off as thugs. It’s a way to dehumanize people, to say that they are not like us, do not feel pain like we do. “Nate” is a reminder of pain and sadness in communities afflicted with drugs and violence. It’s a reminder that the young thug may have seen more shit in his 17 years than you are likely to see in a lifetime. It’s a reminder that the guy you are locking up has children, had a father, has a past, has a history.

I cry pretty much every time I hear this song.

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