Bridging the Gap

Last night the Atlanta school board voted unanimously to ban students from wearing baggy pants. This has been goin' on all over the South lately, in Louisana and other parts of Georgia. It's been on the radar in New Jersey, Oklahoma and even Yonkers, New York. They also talked about outlawing baggy pants in Baltimore, until they had the good sense to drop it. It's some of the dumbest shit I have ever heard and now it's in my backyard. It's time for me to speak up.

This is basically all about the older generation hating on hip hop. They can't ban it, so instead they're gonna try and turn kids into criminals just for being themselves. Kids have been wearing this look for more than two decades. Since before I first discovered Kris Kross, and they wore their oversized pants backwards, kids have been dressing this way, and all of a sudden local governments and school boards all over America are deciding it's "indecent". So why now?

Well, I have a theory.

Have you ever noticed how if a teenager tries to have a conversation with a grandparent or someone much older than they are, the conversation seems to go left or get misconstrued? The reason why this happens is because the bridge between the older generation and the younger generation - i.e., our parents - was broken.

What do I mean? When I was growing up in the 70s, right at the time of the birth of rap music, my mother and father were there with me to see hip hop come into my life as something positive and not a negative. They saw it touch me like the new wave that it was, which sparked the baggy jeans, the sneakers with no shoestrings, and all the trends that exist today.

When I came home from touring on the New York City Fresh Fest I was wearing Lee jeans with permanent creases and shell toes with no strings. I got sent home for not having shoe strings in my shoes. When the principal called my mom and told her, she couldn't believe it. In my defense she cussed him out and explained to him that what I was doing was no different from his era of high water jeans or, as you may know them, flood pants.

She reminded him that all kids throughout history experiment with their look and challenge convention. Ya'll heard the expression, "everything you kids wear today is the same thing we wore back when I was your age"? That's what my mother told me. Thanks to her intervention, I continued to work my look and never heard another word about it again.

But I was lucky to come up when I did, and to have parents who could relate to my world. By the mid 80s, the biggest epidemic hit the black communities ever...CRACK! And for some reason this older generation that came before the crack era - our parent's parents --seems to not realize how hard it hit our community. These people, the gatekeepers and lawmakers who are in positions of power now, are the parents of my mother's generation, and they just don't seem to get it.

You could say there's some racism in this whole movement to outlaw baggy pants. In people's minds that look is typical of young black kids. There's been a wave lately of nooses, burned crosses and swastikas, popping up all over the country. Bill O'Reilly and Don Imus can get away with being the biggest ass bigots in the universe and still have careers because people don't bat an eye.

But that's not even all of it. In my mind this problem goes beyond race, because it's not just old white people who hate our culture, and it's not just young black kids who wear baggy pants. To me what's going on here is all about the generations. Older black people, folks our grandparents' age, are the ones criticizing us the most. Me and the Bill Cosbys of the world need to sit down and have a conversation.

It's not all their fault. They haven't been educated. But I don't see them asking people like myself to be a part of these boards, councils and committees that are making all the rules. They need to talk to young, hip-hop minded people who understand both worlds. Guys like me need to fill them in, because this last generation hasn't done its job and been the bridge between their kids, and the generation that came before them. They haven't been there, acting as that buffer in the middle. So what we're left with is one of the worst generation gaps in decades, with understanding on both sides getting less and less.

That bridge generation disappeared in the 80's and early 90's, when so many families were destroyed by the crack epidemic. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying all black parents were on crack. But plenty of families got messed up, especially in poor black neighborhoods. A lot of 'em are STILL messed up! The R&B singer Mario and his mom are another perfect example of this. Mario's 19, and his mother's addicted to heroine. He did a show on MTV, where he talks about this, and how he's trying to get her off the stuff and save her life.

Probably the majority of kids in the projects were and are being raised by grandmas and older aunties 'cause their parents were either strung out, in jail, or dead. It's kinda like this generation of black kids now in their teens and early 20's got left on the doorstep, with no one to teach them, and no one to speak for them.

Think about it. In every era of music and culture, your parents taught you what came before. My generation, babies born in the 70's, is like the last generation to have had that benefit. My mother used to tell me about the shit she used to do when she was growing up -- sneaking out to parties and listening to rock music and Motown - and how her mother didn't approve. My mom would lay down the law and keep me out of trouble. But she also explained me, and what I was doing, to my grandma. And when she related what I was doing to her own time of rebellion, and reminded my grandma of some of the stuff she was into when she was younger, it smoothed the way.

Hip hop's no different from any other movement. When kids grew their hair long in the 60's parents got upset. When Elvis sang black music and shook his hips, the older generation hated it.

But unlike rock, hip hop has been taking the place of the missing parents. The only thing kids are paying attention to these days is rap culture, and hip hop is getting blamed for this. People are putting it on us to be better role models because kids listen to our music. But that's not really our position. Music is music. It's not supposed to be this deep.

Banning baggy jeans ain't gonna solve anything either. Kids will just get mad, rebel even more and go and wear them somewhere else. The ones already at risk will turn away from school and get into something else.

I think the Atlanta school board needs to revisit this issue. I think somebody from the city needs to get on the phone and talk to me. We need to fix the bridge. Creating a law like this is only gonna add more miles to the generation gap, and that won't help our kids.

Jermaine Dupri, who was named the most successful R&B producer of all time by the Guinness World Records 2007, is a Grammy-award winning music producer, president of Island Urban Records and author of Young, Rich and Dangerous: The Making of a Music Mogul (Atria, October 2007). For more information about this blogger log onto