“. . . Back in the days when I was young; I’m not a kid anymore but some days I sit and wish I was a kid again” –Ahmad, “Back in the Day.”
I was just a shorty, when I first heard this verse. It crept through the muffled speakers of my mother’s old hatchback, in the summer of 1994.
At that point, Hip-Hop had been newly labeled the grittiest, most volatile phenomenon on planet Earth. So, when my “God-fearing” mother let the music play, without grimacing at its content, I knew to pay close attention. As I watched her sway back and forth, confusion filled my head.
“The impossible is happening,” I thought to myself. And I think she felt the same way. Ironically, just minutes beforehand, she had lectured me on the perils of Hip-Hop. I suppose she had her reasons. Still, none of them were strong enough for me to listen to.
I can hear her now: “Cory, that stuff isn’t for your ears.”
I’d roll my eyes in protest, but something in me knew her words were true. That day, she went on and on about some kid who had recently died at a nearby park. Word had it that he and a few others got into it over a game of “Pogs,” an ultra popular game back then.
“It’s that rap that has you boys ready to kill,” she fumed, her finger raised in the air.
I tried to respond. But she interrupted, and urged me to “hush and listen.” I didn’t. So for the next five minutes, she preached to a choir that was not listening. I was only 6-years-old and wouldn’t harm a fly, so the talk of violence went right over my head.
“. . . Here’s a new one for you,” the DJ announced, while the old-school melody began to play. Moments later, “the verse” took hold of my soul, and I’ve kept it there ever since. It didn’t occur to me then, but we cruised home to an anthem that day. And for the summer at least, listeners were reminded of innocent childhood memories, rather than of the constant vulgarity spewing from the local airwaves.
This ode to 1980s babies put a stamp on Ahmad’s West Coast career. The song eventually reached number 26 on The Billboard Hot 100 chart, number 19 on Billboard’s R & B chart and number three on the magazine’s Rap chart, mainly on the strength of its melody–a sample of “Love TKO” by the late Teddy Pendergrass.
Now that I’m “grown,” at least numerically anyway, the hook to “Back in the Day” sounds even clearer than it did … well, back in the day.
Sometimes, I let the song play–over and over again on my IPod, just like my mother did 16 years ago. The words never get old–only louder and more distinct in my mind, especially when I sit and reminisce with childhood buddies.
For me, these meetings are genuinely spiritual. They open an escape from the relentless pressures of adulthood into the sacred realm of otter-pops, hot-wheels, Nickelodeon and irresponsibility, among other things.
Like old-timers do, we trade yarns about how things used to be–the games we used to play, the junk we loved to eat, the fashions we used to wear, the songs we often sang, and the slang we used. We laugh, joke, hoot and holler for hours–until day turns into night.
Once our ride down memory lane is done, a kind of stillness fills the room. A few seconds pass, then a minute, then another, before one of us blurts: “Damn, I sure do miss the ’90s.”
A collective sigh of regret almost always follows. It’s then, when we are reminded of the following: Overalls, Daisy-Dukes, ducktails, Starter jackets and baggy jeans aren’t coming back in style anytime soon. The soles of LA Gears will never flash again. Tupac and Biggie–despite what you’ve heard–are dead and gone. The original “Power Rangers” disbanded in 1995, and are now approaching their late-thirties. ABC’s show TGIF is a distant memory. “Homeboys in Outer Space” just plain sucked. Ring-pops, like Trix (cereal), are for kids. Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo are about as outdated as Atari. In Disney’s “The Lion King,” Mufasa is trampled by a stampede; and Ricki Lake has completely vanished from television.
And then there was the Y2K scare–90 percent of America was in frenzy. In 1999, rumors of technology’s apocalypse were raging, and by mid-December, all bets were off. Folks ran to alter, stocked their pantries, and awaited the future’s decision.
But the skeptic in me knew better than to fret, so I didn’t bother to include “survival” on my Christmas list. Once news got out that the rumors were false, I proceeded to tease all believers. Eventually, everyone I knew got an earful–but thinking back, the joke was actually on me. Unlike my victims, I harbored concerns that still sit with me today. The decade was a thing of the past, and I knew it was only a matter of time before everything in that period would fade into the annals of American pop culture.