A girl's provocative voice was asking rapper Nelly to show her his "grill." It didn't sound good, whatever it was. Probably another pseudonym for a body part, I thought.
Once again, I wished I could ban the radio station that the kids at school loved. We listened to it at home only when we were together, and usually listened very carefully. We had to, because the teachers played the station's music over the speakers in gym and during homeroom, so a home ban wouldn't be enough to keep these songs from affecting my son's soul. He needed home-grown filters inside his soul.
I mustered some energy to travel into the world of hip-hop with my son ... again. "What is a GRILL?" I asked.
He shrugged. "I don't know."
"Why don't you ask the kids at school?"
"Yeah, right. 'Pardon me, guys, but what's a grill'?" He rolled his eyes.
I powered up my laptop, and my son groaned. "Not again, Mom," he said, but he leaned over my shoulder.
Turns out both of us are out of it. Grills have been around for over a decade, sported at first by hustlers and pimps. Then, as with most things in hip-hop culture, the trend spread into high schools everywhere. Madonna and Johnny Depp both wore them to the Academy Awards. While grills have mostly been worn by guys, a new trend is for girls to wear them to their proms.
My son and I were amazed as we surfed and studied images of this hot new (at least to us) jewelry item. The entire meaning of the song changed once we knew Nelly wasn't talking about body parts but about bling for his teeth. When we looked up the lyrics, I saw that while the rapper was still commanding his listeners to rob jewelry stores and using innuendo, the song wasn't 1/10th as sexually charged as I'd feared.
Another fifteen-minute episode in my life as the parent of a teenager, but a vital one. I learned — again — not to judge something in pop culture without taking the time to understand it. We talked together through the lyrics of a questionable song. And my son learned something, too, I hope — that a middle-aged Mom can still be a place to come for relevant information when a kid feels out of it.