By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Back when I was in junior high, a kid from my school held his headphones out to me, pressed play on his Walkman and said, "You gotta listen to this." The song was "We Want Some P***" from 2 Live Crew's debut album.
The guitar was kinda cool, but my favorite acts back then were Genesis and Weird Al Yankovic, so I didn't really get into the poorly engineered and sampled rap song. Plus, the lyrics were nasty. Not just bad, but nasty. I just wasn't in the proper seventh-grade-boy state of mind to appreciate the lyrical vulgarity.
And there was no way I was going to tell my parents what I heard. I might get in trouble. I remembered that when Duncan, my 12-year-old stepson, played a song for me last week.
"Joe, listen to this," he said as he fired up "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore.
What, you haven't heard that song yet? Head to the Internet right now. It's a great song, but depending on your personality, you may want to listen to the clean version.
That probably raises a question: "Wait, what is a 12-year-old doing recommending a song with so much profanity there needs to be a clean version?"
For the record, he played me the clean version. The song was so awesome that I had to look up the unedited version later that night.
My fashion sense is not exactly fashionable. I refuse to buy anything that advertises a brand that I don't support. In other words, I'll pay $30 for an awesome New Orleans Saints T-shirt, but I wouldn't pay $10 for a shirt that had nothing but the name of the fashion company. Heck, they should be paying me to wear that shirt.
"Thrift Shop" is my new anthem. It features lyrics that make fun of brand-obsessed people who pay big bucks for high-fashion clothes.
Macklemore raps about how he has no problem picking his wardrobe from the thrift shop and the joy of finding all kinds of stuff to buy with only $20. If getting ladies is as easy as copping your grandpa's style, anyone who would pay $50 for a T-shirt is an idiot.
The lyrics are clever, the flow is tight and the beat laid down by Ryan Lewis is infectious. "Thrift Shop" is easily the next great earworm; its YouTube video has more than 112 million views, and the song was released just last September.
With lyrics like this, it's easy to see why my inner cheapskate loves this song:
"Draped in a leopard mink, girl standing next to me / Probably should have washed this, it smells like R. Kelly's sheets / But s***, it was 99 cents!"
The song could stop with that line and it would still be the best song ever. But it keeps going:
"Limited edition, let's do some simple addition / Fifty dollars for a T-shirt, that's just some ignorant b**** s*** / I call that getting swindled and pimped / I call that getting tricked by a business."
If I wasn't such a cheapskate, I'd totally buy this album.
There are some better lines, but they would involve using many more asterisks. Profanity is a pretty big part of "Thrift Shop." While it doesn't reach the sheer quantity of, say, Gwen Stefani's love of the S-word in "Hollaback Girl," the chorus in "Thrift Shop" relies on the F-word:
"I'm gonna pop some tags, only got twenty dollars in my pocket / I'm I'm I'm huntin', lookin' for a come-up / This is f****** awesome."
As it turns out, Macklemore has made materialism a target in his raps. A more serious song, "Wing$," talks about the Air Jordan craze from his youth and how kids would be affected by marketing to get shoes, and by bullies who would steal those shoes. He also has written songs in support of gay rights and trashes other rappers who fill their lyrics with homophobia.
Macklemore's awesome song has caused somewhat of a parenting conundrum for me.
I love the song's message of watching money and not getting fooled by brand names. But I don't want to explain to Duncan why that R. Kelly line is so stinkin' funny.
I hope Duncan grows up with a strong sense of self confidence that he could rock "the built-in onesie with the socks on the m*****f*****" at the next big party. But I hope he doesn't think it's cool to say "m*****f*****" as often as Macklemore does.
As a parent who enjoys teasing my friends and family, I look forward to the next time we head to Hollister, just so I can sing select lines about "simple addition" and how we should go to Goodwill instead. But I also know The Lovely Paula and I have tortured him with way too many visits to flea markets, so he's earned some Hollister karma.
Still, that's a lot of profanity in one song. The clean version is filled with quiet moments. The video has plenty of moments where mouths are blocked out to prevent lip reading. It was uncomfortable for me to watch Duncan watch it.
But he's a good kid. He trusted me with a song he likes and has chosen to self-censor by listening to the clean version.
Back to my youth: While I didn't ever enjoy 2 Live Crew, I loved comedy albums by George Carlin, Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy, which were intelligent, clever, hilarious and riddled with bad words. Yet my mom and I listened to them and laughed our heads off together. And I turned out to be pretty awesome.
So maybe my issue with the song's profanity is more a reluctance to watch a kid grow up. I know Duncan is going to be an amazing adult. But he's an amazing kid right now, and I'm not ready for that to disappear yet.