"Ayo, man, you like music?"
I look over at the young man with his bulging backpack, strolling up to me nonchalantly in the hot parking lot of an Atlanta summer as I'm heading up towards the grocery store. The black asphalt is slick with dropped food, discarded fast food wrappers, poured out drinks, and young men just trying to make a buck.
"Yes", I say, knowing how the conversation will go.
"What kind of music you like?" he says, opening the backpack and bobbing his dreads.
"Jazz", I say, peering into the backpack.
The young man startles. His world has literally stopped.
"Yes, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong.... Jazz."
He tries again.
"You like rap?"
"Nope", I say honestly. Because he has a backpack full of this. And I know it.
His world stops again.
"You don't like rap?" It's not a challenge. He genuinely cannot fathom a universe in which those four words could be put together in that order, and be meant seriously. Everyone he knows likes rap. Even his mom. Even Big Momma.
"You don't like rap????" His face is a look of complete confusion. There's no guile here. He's trying to actually see if I'm messing with him, if I'll be like "nah, I just don't want to buy any" or something. But he realizes at this point that I'm serious, and he's now dropped his sales pitch, he's simply floored.
"How come though?"
"First of all I like real instruments, second of all because I love people of color too much to watch them characterized as thugs, whores, drug abusing lowlives whose short lives will end with a bullet. If I want to listen to music that speaks to the black experience in America, not that I'd ever fully understand it, you know, on account.... (stares at own pale skin) but I'll listen to gospel, about the hope of a better tomorrow after all this is gone. Blues, where a woman sings soulfully about that man who done her wrong."
Now he starts to nod. We're on familiar ground here. He gets what I'm saying, and you can see it's the first time he's really thought this sort of thing through.
But there is the fact that he's awkwardly holding a half-open backpack full of shirtless tattooed men and their mixtapes.
"You like any other kind music?" he says, digging around hopefullly.
I hate to crush his hopes.