That moment I found myself unintentionally listening to explicit songs on the radio with my kid while driving to school in the morning

OPINION: Is it me or are “clean” versions of songs really not that clean, anymore? Maybe I’m just getting old. 

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Being a parent is a trip, yo. I don’t know how else to start this, so I’ll just come in hot with it. There is nothing more awkward than sitting in a car with your teenager listening to the radio and a song you can’t turn off quick enough — because of its content — comes on that just makes the entire space uncomfortable. 

Such was my life on a recent morning. But first, let’s take a brief step back. When my daughter (who is now the aforementioned teenager) was a little kid, I remember struggling to find appropriate music to listen to with her in the car. I didn’t want to listen to “Wheels On The Bus” a million times, so I toggled between finding kid-friendly songs that also happened to be bops and the gospel music radio station here in Washington, D.C. I really enjoy gospel and praise & worship jams so that often worked. As my daughter has gotten older, I typically would play songs that I wanted her to learn about from artists I loved. And of course, she’s developed her own musical tastes during that time. 

On occasion, I let her control the music during the car rides so I can get an idea what she’s listening to. It’s quite interesting to see what your kids gravitate towards; she has tended to lean into some kind of emo-rock type stuff. All good. I also think it’s important to see what they’re listening to because, in a world of iPhones, headphones and streaming services, it’s entirely possible to never have a single solitary clue what they’re into, whereas my parents usually had to buy my CDs for me. Of course, I had a Walkman but the sheer breadth of music available to kids now far supersedes what I had at my disposal. 

Let’s move this convo up to the present day. When I take my daughter to school in the morning, I typically run the gospel station (still), Praise 104.1 or Black contemporary radio stations in D.C. like WHUR or Majic 102.3, which used to be the old-folks stations but now just sound like what I want to hear; funny how that happens. Anywho, recently, I decided to turn that FM dial on over to the most popular pop station in the area, Hot 99.5. I stopped listening to the morning show years ago for various reasons, but I was compelled on this particular day. I went to the dial and I was reminded why I stopped listening to pop stations; the SAME FOUR songs played on constant rotation. I suppose it’s like that on most popular stations, but whew chile, it was a lot. Now, it was interesting, though, to see that my daughter knew all these songs and artists. Like, I had no idea she was up on SZA but she was singing along to “Kill Bill,” and I had never heard of Taylor Swift’s supremely popular song “Anti-Hero” and my daughter knows that song as well. All of them … she knows them all. Interesting. 

Well, most recently, on the way to school, as I zoned out staring at the window and wondering why traffic traffics so hard when out of the corner of my ear, I hear what sounds like M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This,” but then I hear Nicki Minaj’s voice. Now, forgive me for being so late — I’m old apparently — but I had no idea Nicki Minaj had made a song called “Super Freaky Girl,” and that it sampled the same Rick James song as “U Can’t Touch This”— “Super Freak.” I also didn’t know the name of the song or else upon seeing it, I probably would have changed it. While I enjoy Nicki Minaj, I just can’t say that I see myself sitting down and listening to her with my daughter. Well, that’s exactly what happened when the song came on and the “clean” version of the song came on and the lyrics almost took me out. 

A sampling: 

I can lick it, I can ride it while you slippin’ and slidin’

I can do all them little tricks and keep the *BLANK* up inside it

You can smack it, you can grip it, you can go down and kiss it

And every time he leave me ‘lone, he always tell me he miss it

This is the clean version of said song. Look, I have no idea if my daughter knows this song; she probably does. Kids be knowing things. By the time I was 14, I knew the lyrics to Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” ALBUM backwards and forwards. But there was a respect for my parents that I didn’t let them know that I knew that they knew that I was up on game. There was a separation of church and state; we didn’t listen to Ice Cube together but Ice Cube also wasn’t on the radio. I vividly remember listening to songs like Blackstreet’s “Joy” on the radio. It was a much simpler time. 

Meanwhile, in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty-three, not only are pretty explicit songs on the radio, the “clean” versions of those songs leave nothing to the imagination. To say I couldn’t change the station fast enough is the understatement of the year. My daughter, to her credit, didn’t flinch or make even the slightest of movements. It was just awkward. There are just some things you don’t assume you’ll be doing with your kids and listening to explicit music is one of those things. And it immediately reminded me why I listen to gospel in the mornings on the way to school. Clearly, my kid listens to all these songs or is aware of them, but that doesn’t mean we need to listen to them together. I never even thought about how uncomfortable that could be. I haven’t quite processed what that means if anything, but lesson learned. 

Back to Praise 104.1 it is!

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.