Actually, I Don’t Speak Jive

I saw the cult classic Airplane! when I was 10 years old in the movie theater with one of my friends. I’d like to pretend that I was super hip and got all the jokes. I didn’t and I too needed to read the subtitles to understand what these brothers were talmbout. Now notice I didn’t attribute my ignorance of their language to my age or theirs I simply just didn’t understand what they were saying. The reason that I didn’t(and truthfully even now don’t) understand what they were spittin’ is because I was not/am not experienced in “Jive”. In other words, all language is a form of communication. In order to be able to be able to communicate effectively, you must have numerous experiences with the language to understand the patterns, rules, sounds and so on.

Sadatay

Then of course there’s this guy… now I’m a little bit more well-versed in the lexicon of Pootie Tang mainly because I spent quite a bit more time listening to him. I’m sure if I had access to a VHS copy of Airplane! back in the day and I made a conscious effort to close my eyes and listen to the Jive Scenes over and over without the aid of the subtitles then perhaps too I could drop a phrase in Jive with the same ease that I interject “sine your pitty on the runny kine” in conversations.

Music Is The Universal Language

Stevie informs us of a universal truth…
Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand

I’m reminded of conversations that I have with my mom from time to time. Now my mom is in her eighties, so certainly there’s not an expectation for her to

1. Spit a hot 16
2. Quote any rap lyric ever recorded

Mumble 1944

However, my mother is certainly aware of Hip Hop and her main criticism is and has always been – “I don’t understand what they’re saying.” As I mentioned to her and as I stated prior – there is no expectation that my mom would know what Lil Uzi Vert, Migos, Yachty, and on and on are talking about because hell I don’t know either. My point is that I believe this is not an issue of age as in the Generation Gap. This is an issue of communication as in a Communication Gap. How do I know? Let my mom have a flashback and start speaking Pig Latin. She will put the mumbliest of mumble rappers to shame. Yes, my mom came of age when Pig Latin was in the popular culture the Zeitgeist if you will so what you have is the essence of youth where you are willing to experience and immerse whereas as with age what often happens is the retreat into what’s comfortable and conservative.

Stuffing Instead of Potatoes

Now granted there’s a lot that we can be critical about when it comes to music and what’s framed as culture these days. It’s always been that way. What I believe to be most insidious though is how we’re lead to believe that there are these insurmountable generation gaps. Are values different when it comes to age? I hope so, that’s called growth. But should we not be able to communicate? Actually, we communicate all the time across generations. Ever been to an extended family dinner/gathering? No matter what generations are represented everyone knows(for the most part until them red cups start getting tipped up one too many times)how to greet and interact with Big Mama, Pops, Uncle Man, Auntie, Baby Bro. and on and on and on down the line. The ability to communicate with respect and exchange ideas happens over white rice and gravy and that good ol’stuffing. What would happen if we took the same approach with music? Or better yet “May I dane on the jammies, Mama Dee?”

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.