Within The Kid's peer group -- the children at the school where I teach junior high ESL -- he stands out. He is generally the same age as them, and he's generally of the same intelligence academically. However:
He's white. He's definitely that. Where he lives, most of the kids around him are Latino, so their skin falls somewhere between tan and dark brown.
And he's short. He's definitely that. The top of his head is nearly a foot closer to the ground than most of the people he stands near.
And the hair on the top of that head is a brightBrightBRIGHT orange-red. It's definitely that. It looks like if you put gel on the last few seconds of a sunset and slicked it forward. It makes noise, that's how orange-red it is. It emits heat, that's how orange-red it is. It looks like someone drew it in with markers.
But that's not why he stands out. I mean, from afar, yes, that's why he stands out. But up close, he stands out for entirely different reason. Because he's an amazing rapper.
The Kid is generally a shy person. This, I suspect, is a byproduct of his circumstance. I will spare you the unsavory details, but just know that when he sits down to eat dinner tonight, he will be around people, but precisely zero of them will be members of his family.
He has hands and he has teeth, for sure, but most wouldn't know it; his digits are almost always tucked into his pockets and his mouth almost always pinched shut. He has eyes too -- they glow a warm blue. But they rarely make the effort to find anyone else's. Mostly, they just scan the floor a few feet in front of wherever he's standing, doing most of their observing peripherally. His shoulders are always hunched slightly forward, leaned in towards each other like one is trying to ask the other a question in a movie theater. And his feet just sort of shuffle along, barely coming up off the ground. All things told, he does a very good job of being invisible.
But The Kid, despite all of his perceived insecurities, The Kid is a rapper. He is a freewheeling, confident, talented rapper.
I would not have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyeballs.
The Kid is a transplant student at the inner city school where I teach. He's in my classroom, but is taught by a separate person that I share a room with. In class one day, the teacher was playing music. As an introduction to a unit on Civil Rights, she decided to play Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror." She did so as a way to begin a natural conversation about how each person, "regardless of upbringing or status, is afforded the opportunity to make the world a better place than it was yesterday. And as humans, it is your responsibility to do so, beginning with yourself." (She's an excellent teacher, obvs.) And eventually, that was the exact conversation that took place. But she preempted that by asking The Kid, who had previously told her he was "a pretty good rapper," if he had any interest in performing a little.
The Kid, he didn't hesitate. "Yeah, sure," he squeaked.
He stood up and dragged his body to the front of the class. He took a moment to decide where to jump in. And then he jumped in. And then he jumped waaaaaaay in.
His chin, previously held close to his chest by, seemingly, a super-strong magnet, floated up and out into the dangerous open air. His eyes became laser focused. And his chest grew strong, acquiescing to the MC movements his arms demanded they make. It was oddly mesmerizing, but entirely invigorating. The corners of my mouth stretched out towards my ears quickly and proudly. Prior to that moment, I had no idea he rapped, but then it was as if I knew nothing else.
He delivered what I would guess was somewhere near 16 bars, discussing growing up in an austere neighborhood, the quality of America's education system, the lack of role models he's had, how the youth (particularly young women) are having their brains scrambled by television and music and, oddly enough, the now defunct Seattle Supersonics NBA franchise.
When he was done, everyone clapped for him and he sat down.
When I saw him in the hallway later in the week, I stopped him. ("What's up, dog," he responded. I liked him even more.) He was excited to talk about rap, but not especially excited to talk to me (students and teachers, cats and dogs, that whole thing). He cited a bunch of old rappers as guys he respected most (Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, so on), which was surprising, but listed Eminem as his favorite of all-time, which was not surprising.
"I started rapping about two and a half years ago," he said. "I heard an Eminem song and I liked the beat so I just started freestyling over it."
He said things that rap fans say -- "Man, I don't know what my favorite song it. I like too many" -- and he said things rappers say: "That thing I performed the other day? That was just a little freestyle. It came straight from my head. I didn't prepare it."
He excitedly noted he was going to paint his face like Tech N9ne one day ("White face and red hair?!") and I laughed. Then he said he had to go because the bell was going to ring and he didn't want to be late, and I laughed again.