Harness on Our Back

I failed eleventh grade English. I was thinking about this recently because I'm working on an education piece for the magazine. I failed because literature was, in my time, all about technique and not much about beauty. We had to memorize all of these fucking words, "foreshadowing," "irony," "hamartia," blahblahblah. Now obviously all of that is important, but I just didn't much care about it because I couldn't relate it to anything. Yeah, I know Shakespeare is doing that in this passage, but why is it important? Why should I care?

I was summarily booted out of school after that year, and my mother was certain I'd failed eleventh grade. She was almost gleeful for it, I think. (You must understand I had failed four classes, got suspended for a "physical altercation" with a teacher, and got into a fight in the cafeteria. This after years of utter lazy-assness in school.) Anyway, as it turned out because I was getting kicked out of a magnet school and sent to a regular one, I was actually pretty much on time to graduate. I just had to take English again.

At my new school the curriculum was a lot less rigorous. I had to take English 11 and English 12 in order to graduate, but--as crazy as this sounds--because they weren't trying to cram my head with a bunch of facts, I actually could take the time to appreciate the literature as literature.  I'll never forget being at home and reading this from Macbeth:

Second Murderer 
I am one, my liege, 
Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world
Have so incensed that I am reckless what 
I do to spite the world. 

First Murderer
And I another
So weary with disasters, tugg'd with fortune, 
That I would set my life on any chance,
To mend it, or be rid on't.
I saw that, and I heard "Money and The Power." I heard "Love's Gonna Getcha." I heard people I knew, and more than that I just thought the lyrical arrangment was just beautiful--So weary with disaster, tugg'd with fortune\That I would set my life on any chance,\To mend it, or be rid on't. That, to me, was the kind of fatalistic slave narrative that hip-hop was in the process of minting and really reached its apex, for me with "Everyday Struggle," "Shook Ones" and "New York State Of Mind." That's what our generation was talking about, our reaction to "the vile blows and buffets of the world."

At last I'm literally lounging, black
Sitting back counting double-digit thousand stacks
Had to re-up see what's up with my peeps 
Toyota Deal-A-Thon had it cheap on the jeeps 
See who got smoked, what rumors was spread 
Last I heard I was dead with six to the head 
Then I got the phone call It couldn't hit me harder 
We got infiltrated Like Nino at the Carter...

So now I'm jetting to the building lobby,
And it was filled with little children, 
probably couldn't see as I high as I be.
It's like the game ain't the same
Got younger niggers, pulling triggers
bringing fame to their name, and claim some corners
Crews without guns is goners,
In broad daylight, stick-up kids, they run up on us....

I hated Macbeth in eleventh grade, because someone tried to teach it to me like a rule-book. I loved it in twelfth grade because it wasn't really taught to me at all. Someone basically handed it to me for class, and said let's talk about. There was no pressure to understand "technique," but after I got the beauty of the thing, I was all about technique. I got an A in English that semester that they tried to bump me up to AP. I looked at them like they were crazy. I'm a wierd cat. I don't like audio-tours through museums. Let me wander. If I've got a question, I'll ask...