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A buddy of mine was repeating the old line, the other day, that every generation thinks it invented sex. That's the trouble, as well as the essence, of being young -- an abiding sense of the ahistorical. OK, so not quite. 


Hip-hop is, of course, built on the past. Sampling is a monument to American pop music history -- among other things. When I was coming up, much of the music was built on the songs of our parents. And yet we had this antagonistic relationship the tradition. It was soft. It was all about love. It was dudes in shiny suits, with busted Afros or jheri curls. Run-DMC, and everything that followed, was our answer to that.

Most hated, at least in my corner of West Baltimore, was "white music" with its loud guitars and incomprehensible lyrics. We wanted music that floated up from the hot streets, music for the bumrush, and, though it sound ignorant to say, for the drive-by. Violence shaped, and scarred, us. And the older I get, the more I see a kind of hypermasculinity scarred us. 

I feel ashamed even writing this.

At any rate, R&B ballads, in particular, earned their fair share of scorn. Parrish Smith put it best--"Hardcore, no R&B singer." That was the motto. It was good then to 1.) Age, and 2.) Go off to college. Howard was the first place I think I really dealt with women on an equal playing field. In school, a shocking number of girls were either pregnant, had kids, or were hooked up with boys (and men) who were a drag. Howard was the first place I confronted a large pool of African-American women who were going to have something, and knew it. People like to say that women are civilizing force on men. I think equality is a civilizing force on us all.

A new environment meant a new sound. That was when I started doing what the makers of hip-hop (if not all of its fans) had done long ago--dig into the crates. I am not too macho to admit that I played Lisa Lisa, or watched a few Whitney Houston videos. But college was when I really took the journey back into the R&B past.

I'm glad I did. The journey brought me back to Sharon and Teddy. God, Teddy really was on another level, no?

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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