Juan Vidal, Rap Dad

Our colleague, Juan Vidal, possesses the rare ability to write about painful events of the past with both candor and lyrical description.

In his 2018 memoir, Rap Dad: The Story of Family and a Subculture That Shaped a Generation, Juan juxtaposes honest personal reflections with observations on 80s culture to create a memoir both about himself and a unique cohort of hip hop skaters.

A passage from Juan’s book:

In the eighties and nineties, skateboarding and hip-hop were the most natural of marriages. In their own way, each provided a kind of escape from the world we saw crumbling around us. Fathers went missing and mothers strove to keep their homes intact. Us kids, we went Casper, too, only on four wheels. We were aimless but we were free. And freedom was our faces to the wind.

My first board was the Marty Jimenex Jinx deck with the bat design and hot pink grip tape. It was damn beautiful and, for a while at least, I guarded the thing with all of my might. That is until I got lazy and thought I could leave it outside the front door overnight. Someone caught me slipping and the goods were his for the taking. Thinking back, I can respect it to a degree. As much as it angered me then, and forasmuch as I’d wanted to punish that culprit, I knew better than to slip like that. I didn’t even deserve it if it could be taken from me that easily.

Skateboarding and hip-hop are institutions that, at a point in their respective histories (they’ve since been more heavily commercialized), speak directly to the rebel soul of youth culture. They questioned systems, they asked the why of things, they rallied against popular opinion. They encouraged individuality and valued personal expression. For those who felt shunned by society or by their parents and needed an outlet, these institutions were there. Skaters were the rejected geniuses who made a playground of the earth around them. They manipulate their own needs. Groups like The Pharcyed, Freestyle Fellowship, and the Beastie Boys helped define an entire era of hip-hop. They provided the soundtrack to the streets. Concrete Jungle, a 2009 documentary by Eli Gesner, encapsulates how both art forms helped inform each other – and how each went on to influence the masses in ways no one could have imagined.

Listen to an NPR segment with Juan talking more about his book.