"Diamonds & Wood" is an ongoing series in which music critic Shea Serrano breaks down the 5 hip-hop tracks you need to hear this week.
Maybe read Part I first.
There are all sorts of traditions and rituals that fraternities partake in, everyone seems to know that. The one I joined was no different. Some of the more cherry ones:
For the entirety of the pledging process, we were required to carry any number of items. They were to be held in very specific locations at all times. Like, you'd have to have THIS in your back right pocket or THAT on a shoelace tied around your neck or THIS in a backpack or THAT pinned to your shirt five inches away from your Adam's Apple. Mostly, it was stuff we knew to be essential (if the night came when you were to crossover from pledge status to brother status and you were missing something, you were royally fucked), but every once in and a while the guys would get auspicious and give us something ridiculous like a pumpkin or a log the size of a human torso. Have you ever hung out with a log before? That shit is weak as fuck.
During the pledging process, you were NEVER alone. This one was less a static rule and more a byproduct of other static rules. For example, there was this really ornate, cumbersome greeting that had to be recited each time you happened across one of the fraternity's active members on campus or at Target or whatever. If you were out and they saw you, but you didn't see them (say, in the courtyard on campus between classes), you were treated with a less than charitable touch at the next meeting or private gathering. As such, it just becomes easier to exist as a whole—you and your pledge brothers begin moving as a pack for safety. You're like minnows watching for tuna or meerkats looking for lions (except these particular lions like to drink cheap beer and try and sleep with fat girls).
Every few days, we pledges would be called to a location very late at night. We'd be blindfolded, packed into cars or the backs of pickups, then driven out to a remote spot in a nearby forest. When we'd arrive, they'd pull us out and dick with us for two or three hours. I suppose it was hazing technically, but it never felt too much like a bad natured version of it because they were always messing with each other all of the other days—it just seemed like a natural extension of that. (My favorite: For a brief period at school, there was this sexual deviant that was prowling around campus, running up on girls that were walking alone at night and groping them. The school newspaper did this big story on it. One of the guys grabbed a copy of the story, replaced the composite sketch that ran in it with a picture of one of the other guys in the fraternity, then copied it 500 or so times and taped copies on doors in the neighborhood around the school.)
There were a ton of things like that, all these little secrets and insider-y things that were kind of a hassle then, but are very fun to consider today. But the one that I'll always think about first, the one that'll live in my brain as equal parts excellence and terror, is the night we received our paddles.
Every member of every fraternity has a paddle, this solid wood ore that you decorate with your fraternity letters/crest/nickname/pledge class/whatever. In the movies, they're always used to swat pledges, and that shit is exactly true, and that shit exactly hurts.
Now, hitting people is a dicey prospect. If word leaks out that that's what your fraternity is doing (just about all of them do it, BTW—the tenacity of your pledge process is a point of pride among fraternityers) and if someone decides that they want to make an example out of the situation, any number of things can happen (you can get kicked out of school, the fraternity can be disbanded on campus, etc). That's where these guys were smart though.
We walked into this dark room and J., the guy that was in charge of things, was standing right in the middle. He gave a speech about the importance of the paddle (I don't remember it, so I guess that means it wasn't so, so important after all), made this whole big show of things (THERE WERE CANDLES!!), then said, "…So, gentlemen, you can either be given your paddles…or you can earn them. Which would you like?" (He was always calling us "gentlemen," but it was always in the most asshole-y way possible.)
There was no small amount of dread in the air at that moment. We were all just standing there, dicks in hands, waiting for someone to move. And then someone moved. And then it all started.
We went in order down the line. (At the beginning of the process, we were all arranged by height and given a line number. I was number four.) J. handed me a blank paddle and said, "Who do you want to give you your licks?" Most chose this guy named N., a teeny-tiny man who I'm still not certain wasn't just a taller dwarf. I looked around the room, looked at N., looked at a few of the other guys, then looked at R., a deadly former Marine sniper and boxing enthusiast and our class's most feared person.
"I pick R.," is what my mouth said. "What the fuck are you even thinking," is what my brain asked.
"Uh… are you sure?," asked J.
"Yeah, fuck it. Let's go, R."
He got up, gripped the paddle, then shook his head. I turned around, held tight to this barstool, then waited.
That first hit…maaaaaan, fuck you. It felt like an F-150 had driven into my spine (he was a little off with his aim). It was Paul Bunyan vs. a sapling. Prison inmates in North Korea have never known that pain. The next one wasn't any better. Nor was the next. Nor the next. And they just kept coming.
By six hits, I was certain my eyeballs were going to rattle right the fuck out of my skull.
By sixteen, it felt like Satan's jackals were clawing for treasure in my butt.
By 26, I was certain my intestines were about to fall out of my anus.
By 36, I was cursing God for not making me born dead from the waist down. (At the time, being in a wheelchair from birth seemed an even exchange for not having to feel the swats anymore.)
All told, there were more than 400 cumulative swats delivered among the members of my pledge class that night. I guess it shouldn't have been as funny as it was (I, along with nearly everyone else in the room, was laughing at the reactions after swats), but it was.
I guess if we were smart we would've just all agreed to be given the paddles rather than earning them. But I guess if we were smart for real we probably never would've joined a fraternity in the place. I don't know. I'm glad I did though. I'd guess most that went through similar experiences would say the same.
1. Jeezy, "Get Right"
THAAAAAAAAAT'S RIIIIIIIGHT. Jeezy remains rock steady. I'll just never understand why his career didn't hit the points it should have.
2. Iggy Azalea, "Flexin' and Finessin'," featuring Juicy J
I guess we should all stop pretending like we don't like Iggy Azalea then? Damn it. This is like the time I realized I liked watching Scrubs. It's just a little embarrassing, is all. I mean, I don't wanna like it, but the heart wants what the heart wants. This must be what it feels like to be a pedophile. Ack.
3. Wu-Tang Clan, "Six Directions of Boxing"
Helps to wash all that Azalea off your fingers.
4. Angel Haze, "Werkin' Girls"
ANGEL HAZE IS NOT DICKING AROUND WITH YOU HOES.
(BTW, if you don't think that after I watched this video I made a mask out of tin foil and then chased my sons around the house then I guess you and I don't know each other very well.)
5. Kingpin Slim, "Dead," featuring Styles P
The guitar in here is SO GOOD. Love little things like that.
Note: I received several emails asking how our football team's game went this week. I couldn't even write anything. I just responded to them all with this. That's exactly how the game went. Sucks. Season record: 1-3.
Shea Serrano is a writer living in Houston, TX. His work has appeared in the Houston Press, LA Weekly, Village Voice, XXL, The Source, Grantland and more. You can follow him on Twitter here.