Gregory Pardlo

Raisin Raisin

I dragged my twelve-year-old cousin to see the Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun because the hip-hop mogul and rapping bachelor, Diddy, played the starring role. An aspiring rapper gave my cousin his last name and the occasional child support so I thought the boy would geek to see a pop hero in the flesh as Walter Lee. My wife was newly pregnant, and I was rehearsing, like Diddy swapping fictions, surrendering his manicured thug persona, for a more domestic performance. My cousin mostly yawned throughout the play. Except the moment Walter Lee’s tween son stiffened on stage, as if rapt by the sound of a roulette ball. Scene: no one breathes as Walter Lee vacillates, uncertain of obsequity or rage after Lindner offers to buy the family out of the house they’ve purchased in the all-white suburb. Walter might kneel to accept, but he senses the tension in his son’s gaze. I was thinking, for real though, what would Diddy do? “Get rich or die trying,” 50 Cent tells us. But then my father sang the country lyrics, “Don’t get above your raisin’,” when as a kid I vowed to be a bigger man than him. That oppressive fruit dropped big as a medicine ball in my lap meant to check my ego, and I imagined generations wimpling in succession like the conga marching raisins that sang Marvin’s hit song. Silly, I know. Outside the theater, my cousin told me when Diddy was two, they found his hustler dad draping a steering wheel in Central Park, a bullet in his head. I shared what I knew of dreams deferred and Marvin Gaye. (When asked if he loved his son, Marvin Sr. answered, “Let’s just say I didn’t dislike him.”) Beneath the bling of many billion diodes I walked beside the boy through Times Square as if anticipating a magic curtain that would rise, where only one of us would get to take a bow.

Jul 12, 2011 / Books & the Arts / Gregory Pardlo