A meditative memoir by a first-generation Colombian-American who forged personal identity through music, faith, and fatherhood.
In his debut, NPR cultural critic Vidal synthesizes cultural critique and personal history, attempting to understand how his generation of African-American and Latinx men have transcended expectations and stereotypes to establish family and community structures as the titular “rap dads.” His initial intent, he writes, “was to chronicle my journey to manhood and fatherhood and what it has meant to me as an artist.” He vividly recalls his own rambunctious South Florida childhood, which included an absent father with a criminal reputation and his own dabbling in delinquency, culminating in a disciplinary year exiled to his relatives in Colombia. This fueled an interest in spirituality, which led to a stint with a youthful, Christian hip-hop collective; while his group toured and recorded, they found it hard to break through. “By the time I hit twenty-two,” he writes, “I already felt ancient.” Despite thwarted ambitions, he pursued music even as he married and had the first of three children, admitting, “doubt crept into my gut. I carried it around the way my wife clung to joyful anticipation.” Eventually, he transitioned from performing music to writing about it, necessity and enthusiasm fueling a career as an editor and freelancer. Vidal captures the serenity and enthusiasm fatherhood engendered in his peers: “Now we shot hoops and curbed our language, our kids orbiting us like small planets.” He varies this narrative with cogent discussions of (and sometimes with) key rap figures like Nas, Chuck D, and Jay-Z, noting, “it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that hip-hop helped raise me.” Vidal’s writing on diverse topics is thoughtful and sometimes funny, but his focus on personal experiences can be repetitive, with narrative aspects that can peter out or seem generalized.
A complex take on the often simplified topic of contemporary manhood, with relevance to current cultural controversies regarding immigration and identity.