Same City, New Impressions

If you listen to Drake’s second mixtape, Comeback Season, you’ll come across a track that I think is really special. The twentieth track, named “Think Good Thoughts”* provides commentary on the rampant misconceptions that broader society has about hip-hop culture. The lyric website, Genius, describes it in the following way: “the whole song goes with the idiomatic expression of not judging a book by it’s cover.”

Listen to this song in its entirety, and you’ll learn that it has a great message. It encourages its listeners to reconsider what they think they know about rappers’ lifestyles and opinions. Less explicitly, it inspires an organic and more thoughtful approach to getting to know things and people, even widely known and celebrated ones like Drake, for instance.

For a taste, check out the hook:

Uh, we know what you’re thinking love
You think we out smoking and drinking love
Pushing big whips, chains clinking love
But y’all don’t really know me like you think you know me

I find the last line of the hook particularly striking: “But y’all don’t really know me like you think you know me.” At first pass, sure, it’s nothing special and actually kind of cliché. But within the context of my time in Durham — not only so far this summer, but also since I first arrived as a freshman in mid August 2014— I find that its message about false preconceptions has been integral.

Things are never the way you expect them to be. Durham is certainly not turning out to be what I had expected. In my early naïveté, I ate up the stories about Durham being “dangerous.” I thought, though Durham looks nice and new, it must be a façade— stay close to campus. I shed that mindset about halfway into my first year and then started engaging with the city more. Note, I use “engage” loosely, because all I mean is that I started trying some restaurants and stores on W. Main Street. My sophomore year I began volunteering at Community Empowerment Fund and, for all of those months, I was convinced I had done it— I had become a local, a Durhamite. After all, I was getting involved with community affairs and interacting with people who weren’t part of the Duke network. I was confident that I had nothing else to learn from or about Durham since I was a self-proclaimed bona fide new local. That was the level of naïveté with which I began this summer in Durham.

Thankfully, it didn’t take longer than a day or so before I received my wakeup call. It struck me that I had never tried to understand Durham from its historical roots. This, the most important backdrop for the current story of Durham was missing from my understanding. I realized that, to know Durham, you really have to know and understand its people. Its neighborhoods. Its buildings and landmarks. Its powerful and uplifting movements and its repressive struggles.

Visits to places like the Durham History Hub and Duke Homestead, in addition to meaningful conversations with those who know this city well, I feel have set me on the right path. I’ve certainly learned a great deal, and I hope that I can continue embracing Durham as personally as I have been when the academic year resumes.

There’s always so much to learn. That might sound like a tired statement your helicopter parents might’ve repeatedly hollered at you during your childhood, but it’s more or less become a mantra for me this summer. I’m committed to doing my best to understand the Dirty D for what it is now, and what it used to be in the past.

* “Think Good Thoughts” was produced by Durham native, 9th Wonder, and includes a feature by Durham rapper Phonte. They’re icons. If you’re fond of hip-hop, I’d advise you to give their stuff a listen. It’s good— no Bull.

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