At Thanksgiving dinner years ago, discussion somehow turned to rap music. More wine was poured, the gravy was curdling, and no one was yet ready for dessert.
“But wasn’t it Blondie who sang the first rap song? I’m pretty sure it was, and then it was copied.”
Let the historical record show that it was not Blondie but, arguably, The Sugarhill Gang. Blondie was a popular band that came from the underground and was well aware of the sounds coming out of Brooklyn and the South Bronx (Debbie Harry supposedly encouraged Chic‘s Nile Rodgers to check out a rap party once even though he’d already been to a number of them), but Blondie was not playing and replaying funk record breakbeats for wild, impromptu block parties, and their band did not include any Jamaican immigrants who came to town with hazy dub sensibilities.
By the time “Rapture” came out, Kurtis Blow had also released an album and rap itself was entering the mainstream, Blondie or no Blondie (By the way, Ben and Jerry’s Salted Caramel Blondie flavor is delicious, despite no connection whatsoever to the band).
For a few reasons I let it go. For one, I wasn’t up for detailing the history of Hip-Hop. I teach for a living, and even though my wife may disagree with the following statement, I try not to offer overly detailed explanations unless I find it absolutely necessary. The speaker was also an elder, I generally try to be polite, and really, what did it matter? I just nodded my head; the little lie could go on living.
Every day I live in uncertainty with an accumulated mass of misinformation. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about etymology, in part because I’m a writer and in part because I was thinking a lot about a recent segment from This American Life about the phrase “toot your own horn.” I could spend another post breaking down why I think Pesca’s a little ‘off base’ with his analysis, but early this morning, when I couldn’t sleep, I reflected on the word expire.
“Isn’t it funny,” I thought, “that we use the word to describe the life of products like yogurt when it was originally used to describe exhalation?”
When I consulted the OED, however, I discovered that it was used in three different ways starting about the same time. Earliest quotations fall around 1450, and the word was used to describe breath (from the Latin), death (makes sense), contractual language, and food.
We focus our attention where we can. Everything else falls away. If others feel the need to correct us, we should receive it gratefully.