I’ve loved radio and podcasting for a long time. But I was always irked that stories reflecting my upbringing and culture were scarce.
Every week I’d devour episodes of This American Life, Freakonomics or NPR’s Planet Money. These shows, their hosts and the characters they paraded across the airwaves fascinated me. But it was rare for me to hear a story and go, “Wow, that hits close to home.”
I grew up black in Brampton in the 1980s. My parents emigrated to Canada from Jamaica. They started from the bottom and made it here —> working class. My brother and I went to Catholic school, where we were the minority among Portuguese, Italians and Irish and learned to blend in. We had family in New York (The Bronx and Brooklyn) too. So we got the African-American experience and the African-Canadian experience. Even if we were not quite black enough according to some standards. And that’s what was missing when I’d slide on my headphones and visit podcast/radio land. Voices and stories from people who sounded like me or at least close enough for me to recognize.
Did I look hard enough for those stories? I doubt it. But sometimes you shouldn’t have to look that hard. And that’s why it’s nice to see that there’s more diversity in podcasting today. Podcasting’s mainstream arrival — thanks Serial — led to a renaissance in shows about race and black culture in all its many shades.
My current favourite is The Nod from Gimlet Media. It’s hosted by Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings. In it, the pair “gleefully explore all the beautiful, complicated dimensions of Black life.”
Their latest episode is “An Oral History of Knuck if You Buck.” It checks out the rise and plunge of Atlanta rap group Crime Mob and their hit single.
I don’t love crunk — that down-south dirty rap style that Crime Mob did. But hip-hop has been a thread in my life since I learned the Kid N Play kick-step. My experience differed from the members of Crime Mob. But the shades of their story are familiar. I used to rap and once took second place in a freestyle battle … at the University of Western Ontario. I daydreamed about chasing a record deal so I can relate to Crime Mob’s members doing the same. Two of Crime Mob’s founding members said their mom raised them Christian. She freaked when she heard their music. My mom found my Wu-Tang Clan shirt in the wash and made me return it because it was vulgar. She was right, but I lied to the store when I returned the “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuttin to Fuck wit” and said I’d never worn it.
It’s important to see and hear yourself in the culture you consume. Otherwise, it can feel like there’s no place for you in the culture. The Nod and others are changing the game and getting respect for it.
It’s long overdue and I’m proud to support the cause when the content is good. Sometimes it won’t be good and I can tune out if I want. But it’s nice to have the choice.
Here are a few other podcasts you might want to check out: