Schoolwork, internet connectivity issues that prolong the time it takes to do said schoolwork, a keyboard meltdown, and other things I can use as weak excuses for my inactivity… none of which could keep me from procrastinating and listening to hip hop. Hip hop has been essentially the only part of my personality that I think is appealing in any way at all. However, believe it or not, there was once a time when I wasn’t into the genre, and hardly knew anything about it at all. Can you believe it?! Well, unluckily for you, this half-assed intro leading into a very long piece about me and hip hop is almost done. It’s story time!
Before I really got into hip hop music, I had heard a few songs, but for the most part it was more of what my parents wanted to listen to. So it was classic rock when my dad was driving and pop when my mom was driving. The only hip hop song that I really properly remember is “Gold Digger” by Kanye. I had heard it when it was on the radio once, so it must have been in mid-to-late-2005. None else really stick out in my head, but I do know I had heard some. Those that I did hear, I didn’t really think anything of. They were alright, but I didn’t like them any more than the songs that my dad would play (my mom’s taste in music is garbage). I didn’t really connect with the genre until the summer of 2006.
A friend of mine in the neighborhood who obviously later became a massive fuck-up showed me the song “When I’m Gone” by Eminem. I remember when I heard it, I thought to myself “I’ve never heard a song like this before, what the fuck is this?” It was like a movie in my head, which is something that I had never really experienced when listening to a song at that point in my life. I had never really been so drawn to the lyrics of a song before then. Of course, now, I don’t like the song very much, but back then it was something totally new.
All my life, I’ve been a loser who lives under a rock, so I didn’t know who Eminem was back then. Over the course of the next week or two (or more, who actually remembers details like that?), I was on YouTube looking for more of Em’s music. I think I had found songs like “Without Me”, “Mockingbird”, and “Lose Yourself”. I do also remember hearing “You Don’t Know”, but according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, that came out in November of 2006, so I guess my memory is hazy on the timeline regarding that. Also, fun fact, I didn’t know he was white until after almost 2 months of listening to loose tracks, after seeing one of his music videos.
Anyways, I was pretty enraptured by the guy’s music. No artist had ever really made music that stuck with me the way his did. Later that summer, I went on vacation to see some family. When I was visiting my mom’s side of the family, I was playing Super Mario Bros. with my uncle and I started telling him about how I liked Eminem. Sometime during that week I was there, he gave me his copy of The Eminem Show, which was the only Em album he felt comfortable showing me at that age, although he still did it with a “don’t tell your mom.” I stuck it in his CD player and started listening to it. I enjoyed the holy hell out of that CD. I must have listened to it 3 times straight while my parents, grandparents, and aunts thought I was playing video games with my uncle and brother.
When listening to it, I noticed that there were other people on the songs. Using the booklet with the lyrics, I matched the voices to the names (I don’t recall the back cover having the features listed so I didn’t know that the songs would have other people on them). I liked them, but the ones who really stood out to me were D-12. I think the only reason I was able to do what many other Eminem fans can’t and actually recognize each member is because I spent so much time staring at the lyrics in the booklet. At first, I didn’t really understand why it said “featuring D-12” but then had the verses preceded with the members’ names…I guess I didn’t put together the fact that they’re a group. Anyways, I told my uncle “wow these D-12 guys are awesome, do they have music out?” Of course, he had the Devil’s Night CD. That one was one that he really wasn’t sure he wanted to let me have. I’m sure a decade later, he regrets it. Too bad.
That CD flipped everything that I thought I knew about the world on its head, then face fucked it.
That is the CD that shaped nearly everything about my attitude in the years to come, and totally warped my sense of humor.
It was that CD.
When I listened to Devil’s Night, it was the first time I had ever heard anything that even approached something that vulgar. I was a kid who was an idealist and thought everything in the world was great. Listening to that album shattered that. I was entranced by how this group of 6 guys was just spewing venom at everything they didn’t like, and at some stuff that they did like. Some people lose their innocence when a loved one dies, some lose it when they accidentally walk in on their parents having sex…I think I lost mine when I listened to this CD. With Bizarre being a member, I don’t think I could have avoided it.
So after that I listened to the rest of Em’s discography, I listened to the other D-12 album, then started looking into Shady Records. I really, really enjoyed Obie Trice once I started listening to him. Cheers is still to this day one of my favorite albums and probably the 2nd best non-Em album to be released by Shady, in my opinion (the first being Devil’s Night). I started looking into Proof’s discography too, and listened to Searching For Jerry Garcia. After hearing a couple of verses by Royce da 5’9” on Em’s music, I started looking into his music. For about a year, I was listening mainly to that little circle of 8 Detroit artists.
Obviously, when you listen to early Shady Records albums, you’re bound to hear more and more of Dr. Dre. That led me to checking out his albums. From there, I started listening to more west coast hip hop artists. I don’t really remember who I was listening to though, because I don’t really listen to many of them anymore, but I do remember that I listened to some Snoop Dogg music. That’s where I really started enjoying the G-funk style present on Doggystyle, which I actually quite recently gained a new appreciation for as being possibly the only style of hip hop from the 90s that still sounds like it could have been produced today. I hold the entirely non-unique and pretty basic, pumpkin spice latte/Ugg boot level opinion that Doggystyle is the best-produced hip hop album of all time. Dre and Daz are geniuses for that.
Of course when you listen to the west coast, you’re bound to find 2Pac’s music. I had heard and read about 2Pac, but had never really listened to. I think he was the first artist since I listened to Em who had given me the same sort of feeling as Em did. There’s nothing that I can really say about 2Pac that hasn’t been said a million times before, but he did really make music that painted incredibly vivid scenarios, and his delivery would fall on you and cave in your chest. I know that I mainly listened to All Eyez On Me and the Makaveli album, because I liked the production on those more than I did on his pre-Death Row music, probably because it was more like the production I was used to hearing. My uncle later gave me his copy of All Eyez On Me, probably sometime like 2010 when I had already been listening to the album for a while. The 7 Day Theory is actually the first CD I bought for myself…in other words, spent my parents’ money on.
It wasn’t long after that when I sort of slowed down with hip hop. I had started to hear more and more of the crunk/snap music that was dominating the game in the mid-2000s. With social media and the internet not being as popular as it is today, it was a little harder to find acts that didn’t take up all the radio play, so I can understand why the whole “hip hop is dead” thing ended up happening, when it never really died if you take a look back at some artists that were out but not being pushed the way a Lil Jon or whoever else was. I certainly felt like that. I sort of stopped looking for new artists to listen to for a good year. I thought I had tapped into everything that hip hop really had to offer. If only I could beat the living shit out of my younger self.
I forget how, but I discovered Redman, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Busta Rhymes all sometime in mid-2009. I think it was a combination of seeing Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 and Busta’s Back On My B.S. on the iTunes store, and finally looking up who Em was talking about when he mentioned “Reggie” on “TIl I Collapse.” I saw the cover of Dare Iz A Darkside and figured it looked wacky enough to listen to (fuck you, young Apu…even though that’s still a personal top 5 album).
That album is what got me into the east coast sound. It totally changed everything that I was looking for in the music that I liked. I think the fact that it was dark, which was sort of the sound I was into at the time as a rebellion to the ignorantly happy crunk era, is what made that album click instantly with me. It was almost like Devil’s Night and The Marshall Mathers LP in the sense that it had a lot of humor on it but at the same time it had pretty dark music. It managed being funky as fuck, funny, and witty, yet dark, hazy, and gritty (BARZ!), which to this day is something that really impresses me, because I don’t think there is anyone else who can marry those two sounds the way Red did on that album.
Hearing those guys from the east got me more interested in digging into east coast hip hop. I found guys like Pharoahe Monch, Nas, Biggie, and DMX. There was something about the east sound that I started to really connect with. I think it was the rougher sound, which again, was in such stark contrast to the crunk shit turning trap (which I don’t dislike by any means at all, certainly not the way I do crunk). It was different from the polished sound of the west, where even when the music gets aggressive or dark it does so with a sort of sense of style that the east generally forgoes. I told Dustin recently that it’s almost like the musical styles match the climates; the west is warmer and has more beaches and shit, and the people are wearing summer clothes year round so the music has that sort of style, whereas the east gets a shit-ton colder so people are running around in the streets of New York wearing jeans, hoodies, jackets, and Timberland boots, which is reflected in the rugged sound. That was a massive tangent that didn’t need to be made at all, but yeah.
In 2010 I started going through a horrorcore phase. I discovered Tech N9ne through the Seepage EP, which is some of his darkest material to date. From there, I discovered Brotha Lynch Hung, and I rediscovered King Gordy. Now, until I heard Gordy’s verse on “Horns”, I had thought he was a blues singer from Detroit. The only time I had heard him was on hooks for Proof and D-12, on songs like “No. T. Lose” off Searching For Jerry Garcia, and “I Am Gone” and “Mrs. Pitts” off Return of The Dozen Vol. 1. It wasn’t a too far-off conclusion to come to, as he draws quite a bit of inspiration from blues artist Howlin’ Wolf. How fucking wrong I was. I’m not really into horrorcore much anymore, but I still enjoy Gordy and Lynch a lot. Gordy is to this day one of the most unique hip hop artists I’ve ever heard.
Getting into King Gordy is what got me back into Detroit hip hop. I started listening to his group, Fat Killahz, and then guys like Elzhi and Black Milk (who later ended up getting me into Sean Price, through Random Axe). As time would go on I would become a fan of Danny Brown’s as well. I also tried listening to more southern artists because at one point I felt like I was starting to neglect them. I became a big fan of Scarface.
My taste in music stayed relatively unchanged for the next 3 or 4 years, and that leads into about now. I would start listening to other acts, like The Roots, but I didn’t really focus on expanding. But this is also around the time I started talking to Dustin, and he was constantly expanding his tastes (read: constantly becoming more and more of a hipster). But he managed to get me to start listening to Run The Jewels about a year and a half later than everyone else did. Around the same time, I also started to get familiar with Prof before becoming a massive fan of his, and because of the Rhymesayers connection and a push from Dustin, I’ve started getting into Aesop Rock. I’m still looking for other artists to listen to as well.
I’ve left out a lot of the artists that I listen to, primarily because I’m a scatterbrained fuck, but that is basically the main gist of it. Hip hop has basically shaped me into who I am now. I don’t think there’s much that I have a passion about the way I do hip hop. The more time goes on, the more I that passion grows. For the longest it was about how I connected to the music. Then I started to take into account lyricism. Lately I’ve been getting very into the production side. Not in practice, since I’m nowhere near creative enough to do that, but just listening to things as closely as I can to hear how things are put together. I think that’s why recently I’ve gained such an affinity for Just Blaze, aside from the fact that he makes killer beats. The way he pieces some of his beats together amazes me sometimes. I’ve always liked him, but the more I try to dissect in my head what he does, the most I find what he does to be so impressive.
But yeah. I’m basically pussywhipped for hip hop. I don’t see myself losing the passion I have for it any time soon. Fuck it, I’m about to go listen to some right now.
The end. Thanks for wasting your time reading this.