Diamonds & Wood: The Kids Are Alright

"Diamonds & Wood" is an ongoing series in which music critic Shea Serrano breaks down the 5 hip-hop tracks you need to hear this week.

In a little less than a week, all of my students, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM, from the ones that just got to America this year, to the ones that are still operating on lower elementary-echelon reading level, to the ones that are mostly capable, but have just underachieved, will take their big, state-mandated science exam.

Now, while there is definitely a smaller segment of the population that has already accepted defeat, most of my kids seem near prepared. Some of them even bother to attend optional tutorials several times a week (I offer them before school, during electives and for three hours on Saturdays). The morning tutorial group, that one is almost always the same collection of kids (they come because their parents drop them off at school earlier anyway and so they’d rather be in a classroom than waiting in the auditorium).

Over, say, maybe the last week or so, I’ve spent the last few minutes of each tutoring session asking them questions about music. I asked them all to offer up at least one song that they like that I should listen to. I wrote them all down. They’re below:

Song:  Pesado, “Mi Promesa”

Kid: Pineda, an ultra-likeable little fellow with a voice like Fievel. I taught his brother last year. He was THE WORST. The new version is a massive upgrade. It’s like going from the original Total Recall to the new one, except the opposite.

Why: “It’s about friends. He’s making a promise. He’s looking in a mirror but someone else sees him.”

Song: Beyonce, “I Was Here”

Kid: Mo City, definitely one of the smartest girls I have this year and probably who we’ll see inaugurated as the President of the United States in 30 years. Earlier this year she wrote, starred in and directed a musical celebrating Black History Month. She’s the only black kid I had this year.

Why: “It’s about her being a humanitarian. Like, she’s saying she’s not just on the Earth, but she’s HERE on the Earth and she wants to make a difference.”

Song: Los Tucanes De Tijuana, “365 Dias”

Kid: Of The Lion, a gregarious boy with an aggressively curly mohawk. His nickname is just a translation of his last name from Spanish to English.

Why:  “I like corridos.”

Note: Gringos, corridos is basically a subgenre within Spanish music. It’s almost like an equivalent to rap music, though zero cultural compromises are made. True player shit.

Song: Notorious B.I.G., “Big Poppa”

Kid: Monta, who started off the year as a total terror, but settled in around January and eventually became one of the more promising kids in the group. Were I to guess, I’d estimate that she’ll graduate high school without too many problems. I’d also estimate that she would absolutely destroy most girls in a fistfight. She is not about the tomfoolery.

Why: [sings] “I love it when you call me Big Poppa, throw your hands in the ayer if you’re a true player.”

Song: Thanh Bui, “Gravity”

Kid: M.H., a first generation Vietnamese immigrant and just generally regarded as the greatest kid that has ever existed. No joke, he literally comes up to me after every single class and thanks me for teaching him. He came to class one day with his hand up high and said, “Mr. Serranos [he always calls me Mr. Serranos], up high.” I high-fived him. He said, “Down low,” then placed his hand down low. When I went to slap it, he moved it. I expected him to say, “Too slow.” He didn’t though. He said, “Aww, it’s okay, sir. You’ll be faster next time.” <3

Why: “It’s Vietnamese music, but it’s in English. My mom gets mad at me if I don’t practice English. If I read a book in Vietnamese, she says, [starts speaking Vietnamese]. That means to practice my English.”

Song: Deulo, “Bienvenido Al Amor”

Kid: Lex, the most charming byproduct of cerebral palsy that’s ever been. She sang a lullaby to the class one time. She said it was what her mom used to sing to her. I’ve yet to stop crying.

Why: “Duelo is my favorite norteno. Gerardo Ortiz is my favorite corridos, but Duelo is my favorite norteno.”

Note: Gringos, norteno is another subgenre of Spanish music. More often than not, it’s a softer, lovelier version.

Song: Kanye West, “All of the Lights”

Kid: Tony the Tank, the broad-shouldered running back from our football team. Not especially clever, but an All-American work horse. Good things are going to happen in his life. Example: In sixth grade, he wrote a letter to his English teacher about how it was his was dream to score a touchdown in the 8th grade homecoming game. Guess what happened in the homecoming game? A fuckin’ 40 or so yard run down the sidelines for a touchdown, is what. He ran the last ten yards holding the football straight up in the air for God to see. Nothing has ever been more beautiful.

Why: “I like the trumpets.” He likes the trumpets.

Song: Ace Hood, “Bugatti”

Kid: V., who teeters back and forth between in school suspension and expulsion.

Why: [shoulder shrug] I suspect we all feel the same way.

Shea Serrano is a writer living in Houston, TX. His work has appeared in the Houston Press, LA Weekly, Village Voice, XXL, The Source, Grantland and more. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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