Currently I’m reading a work of essays entitled ‘How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America’ by Kiese Laymon. There is an essay entitled: ‘Hip-Hop Stole My Southern Black Boy’ and while reading it resonated some feelings about my relationship with hip-hop and music in general from my youth.
I think that we all have unique experiences with music and can relate certain albums, songs and artists to certain points in our lives. Hearing certain songs can bring us right to those points in our lives and produce back the same emotions that we felt during that time.
I started thinking about my experiences with music and how they shaped how I feel about certain subjects. I wanted to share some of those experiences here today.
My parents were always behind the times when it came to electronics. Thankfully I’m not quite old enough to remember 8 track tapes but I know my parents had them for a long time. What I am old enough to remember are my parent’s record collection and their 2-speed turntable (33 1/3 and 45 RPM). They had a lot of albums, from Michael Jackson’s Thriller to Anita Baker’s Rapture album. They had a lot of contemporary and pop albums but they didn’t have anything that resembled rap. One day while I was thumbing thru their collection I came across an album with a man standing on a car leaning against a fence wearing a Kangol bucket. I thought that LL Cool J was a funny name for a singer but I decided to listen one day when my parents weren’t home.
I was so glad that I waited till my parents weren’t home that day. Bigger and Deffer was my introduction to rap music. When those opening bars hit me I was hooked. No rapper can rap can quite like I can/I’ll take a muscle bound man and put his face in the sand. I really did think I was bad. I would sneak and listen to that album whenever my parents left me alone at home. I quickly became a fan of rap music with LL Cool J being my favorite rapper (It’s a shame that he fell to such a level as to do a song like Accidental Racist). Regardless Bigger and Deffer is still in my top 5-rap album list.
My parents were still behind the times and were still using cassette tapes. By this time my sister was in high school and had a part time job so she had extra money, which she used to buy a 3-disc stereo. One day while she was at work I snuck into her room to look at her CDs. She had a CD with a picture of a guy in a baseball cap on the front. In my opinion he didn’t look like any doctor I had ever seen. Maybe it was an audio lecture. Either way I was about to find out.
I wasn’t a fan of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and by extension I wasn’t a fan of much of west coast rap (although for some reason I had an infatuation with Eazy-E. Str8 Off Tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton is also a favorite of mine). Even though I wasn’t a fan of The Chronic, I knew a lot of people in my neighborhood lauded it as the best rap album to come out in years so I played along to fit in.
One day I was playing with the white girl, Shelly, who lived across the street. I noticed that her parents had a surround sound system (well at surround as it could get for it being 1993) with a CD player. Since her parents weren’t home, I wanted to show off how cool I was so I ran across the street and grabbed my sister’s Chronic CD and brought it over. Looking back at the scene it just didn’t seem right, a black boy trying to impress a white girl by playing rap music in her parent’s home. I wonder what her parents would have thought if they came home early that day.
I was in middle school and while before I had a general understanding of what artists were saying in songs I really couldn’t internalize and dissect lyrics. It was during this summer that I really started to comprehend what it was I was listening to. This was also my first real exposure to any artist from the Midwest. It wasn’t their debut album (although I did hear bits and pieces of it on the radio and from friends) that made me a fan but their sophomore album that I still play to this day and still gets me hyped. E. 1999 Eternal by Bone Thugs N Harmony is a classic album, 5 mics or whatever descriptor you want to use for great albums.
I played that album so much that I popped my tape. Twice. The album opens up: East 1999, my niggas/Thinkin’ ’bout back in the days when the year was ’89/Little nigga on da grind, gotta get mine doing my crime/Wid two in here, steady stackin’ my ends/Puttin’ my serve down on the Claire 9-9. When I heard that no one could tell me that I wasn’t from Cleveland and at the time I doubt I could have pointed it out on a map. That Christmas my parents bought me a Sony Discman and although I already had the tape, my first two CDs I got were E. 1999 Eternal and their EP Creepin On Ah Come Up.
I remained a diehard Bone fan until they dropped that sorry Art of War. I can’t think of 5 artists who have successfully dropped a double album. It’s just too difficult to do.
I was a junior in high school and at this time in my life I thought I knew everything there was to know about rap music. The epicenter of hip-hop was in New York. If you weren’t Biggie, Pac, Nas or Jay-Z then you weren’t shit. Everyone else was an afterthought. My best friend in high school (the same one who put me up on Bone) came to me one day before basketball practice and told me that I should listen to this southern rapper named Master P.
By admission in high school I believed the stereotype that southern rappers were less intelligent and didn’t rap about anything of substance. He let me hold this album called Ghetto D and he said I should listen to this song called Make’ Em Say Ugh. After hearing that song I was apart of the tank. I listened to that song before every game that season to get my hyped.
Between my junior and senior year of high school, I bought somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 No Limit cassettes (yes I was still listening to them then) and CDs. I was in PA Palace (popular music store during the mid 90s in the DMV area) every week buying records from Master P, Mia X, Fiend, Mac, Skull Duggery, Mystikal, Kane & Abel, Mr. Magic, C-Murder and even Silkk the Shocker. My favorite artist off of the label was Mac, who was able to combine the lyrical prowess of an east coast rapper with the grittiness of a southern rapper. He could have been one of the greats if didn’t throw his life away.
I eventually burned way thru my No Limit phase because Master P put out too much product in a short period of time. No Limit did allow me to appreciate southern rap although I never was a fan of another southern rapper after them until J. Cole (and yes that includes Cash Money. While I liked certain songs they put out I don’t ever think I was a fan).
There are a number of artists whom I grew up on who influenced the feelings towards hip-hop music today but these are the ones that stood out to me the most. I discussed one album from each region of the country; New York City, West Coast, Midwest and the South. Today it’s no surprise that when I listen to music the first thing I listen for is lyrical content. I also hold production value to high regard. My favorite artists today have are still spread out across the country. From the East coast: Talib Kweli, Nas, Joe Budden, A$AP Rocky. From the South: J. Cole (although he has an east coast feel) and Phonte. From the Midwest: Royce Da 5’9, Common and Black Milk. From the West coast: Kendrick Lamar, Crooked I and the Game.