Stage 1: Tupac and My Virgin Ears
For all of my childhood I have said Tupac is my favorite rapper, because for all of my childhood he’s spoken to me, told me stories of a world I never knew, and helped me cope with anger and fall asleep. My dad was a huge fan, so I would always hear his voice around the house, but there was just something about his face, his eyes, his music and its contents that captured me. He made me curious of that world with the scary people and dangerous streets and great evils and I wanted to learn more. He made me want to get up and take some sort of action. Songs like Changes, Words 2 My First Born, and Who Do You Believe In inspired me in the best ways to want to do something with my future, to give someone, anyone, that same feeling that he gave me.
And I knew the controversy behind him. I knew the battling position he had with Biggie and the competition they had as the better rapper. Yes, Biggie was more clever with his wordplay, had that instant-hit likeability, and was revered as the greatest with good intention, but he didn’t speak to me like Tupac did. There were many before Pac and many after him who had better freestyles, better beats, who made me smile, but alas, he was my first. And no one in this hip hop culture could ever replace that.
Stage 2: Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, ATCQ, The Roots: The Pioneers
The pioneers of my parents time paved the road for the rappers we have today, but for me, these five were my pioneers, they set the bar for my standards of good music. I couldn’t understand most of their topics, but their flow and beats were so nice I knew it had to be special. And as I got older and started looking up their lyrics, I was proven right. Umi Says, The Blast, Respiration, I Used to Love H.E.R., Award Tour, What They Do, and You Got Me are embedded in my mind as classics. While watching their videos on tv I would think “Wow…hip hop is so great…” because I was lucky enough to be exposed to it. I didn’t have to download underground mixtapes or listen to college radio stations to hear good music. It was always there, always on mainstream, always playing on the radio because back then quality was in the forefront. And even today listening to the songs that escaped me when I was little, I realize it wasn’t just nostalgia that made these guys great. Their rhymes are timeless, there’s always something new, a hidden meaning I find every time. So I was damn lucky to have grown up listening to these guys.
Stage 3: Nas and the Contemplation of Lyricism
Around this time hip hop was in the stages of becoming more of a business and a genre than a culture. Every song on the radio wasn’t a gem anymore, but it was still worth listening to. This was back when BET still had Rap City to let some of the greats shine. And this is when I became a friend of Nas, not just an acquaintance.
I remember watching one episode for the hell of it, and I saw perhaps one of my favorite music videos ever. Nas’ One Mic came up and I was silenced by the emotion of it. The shaky camera pans, the dog barking in the background, the screaming people. It was pure action caught on tape. The girl in the video was me after that: lying on her bed, headphones in her ears and cd player pressed to her heart reciting his lyrics as accurately as possible. That’s just it, the lyrics. He made me want to study Lyricism. He made me want to be as clever as possible, he made me ashamed that I didn’t realize how good he was until then. I was born the year Illmatic came out, so I never got that effect of hearing it in its birth. The only song I had of his on my radar was If I Ruled The World (which is one of my favorite 90s songs). But I was a sold fan after that, after that One Mic.
Stage 4: A New Realm: Rock and Raw Emotions
This could be the result of my life crashing around me during this time. This could be the result of crappy music bleeding through my radio. This could be the result of a lot of things, but for a period of time, I was sick of it. I was sick of hip hop, I thought it died, and I wanted to lay it to rest and move on. I heard a rock song that made me angry and I ran with it. I immersed myself in it, I listened to old and new, of music I thought I’d never touch, but was suddenly relating to, which was suddenly screaming for me so I wouldn’t have to, so no one would have to hear my cries. Even the music where I had no idea what they were saying, I loved it. I searched up lyrics, translations, all of it. It was something different and I liked it. It helped me cope. It didn’t give me any hope for the future, but I didn’t care. In that moment it soothed me and quieted me down. So even though I’ve branched out since then, I could never forget it. It’s stained to me. The most random artists like Queen, Pearl Jam, The Fray, Shiina Ringo, My Chemical Romance, Utada Hikaru, Thousand Foot Krutch, and much, much more, showed me something new, and their importance will never be lessened.
Stage 5: The Resurrection: Lupe Has Silenced Me
After so long, I found it here. I finally found a light of good, beautiful hip hop. I give props to my sister for introducing this to me, because it has matured me and the way that I think. I heard Lupe Fiasco’s Kick Push on a mix cd, and I put as much emphasis on this as possible: it was a gem among coal . The beat made me want to go back in time to when I was five, sitting on my grandma’s porch and watching the city and people before me. It was just that chill. A story about skateboarding basically changed my life. I thought he was the funnest rapper I’ve heard in a long time, but when I listened to more of his stuff I realized he wasn’t just fun, he was deep. He was complex, he was on another level I couldn’t even touch. There were so many songs where I had to pause and rewind, where I had no fucking idea what he was talking about. Damn, no one has ever made me think this much.
But I loved it. I loved it so much I wanted nothing more than to listen to it all day and dream about it all night. I wanted to dream about the future, dream about what I wanted from life, dream about how I could change. He opened the door to similar artists and old ones whom I’ve forgotten. At this point, hip hop revived for me. I saw the light, I saw the hope, and when you see it too it’s going to capture your very soul.
Stage 6: Nostalgia and Old Soul
I connect this to my life, to my family. With finding peace again, with tightening once loose bonds, I found sudden interest to relive those days. Those days of dancing in your socks around the living room as Grover Washington, Jr. blew his sax through your stereo. Those days of falling asleep on long car rides to Boney James playing you a lullaby. Those days of Anita Baker filling you with fantasies of love and finding that perfect heart to match yours. Those childhood classics. Earth, Wind, & Fire, George Benson, Incognito, BeBe Winans, Stevie Wonder, Wayman Tisdale, Bill Whithers, and many others, thank you. Thank you for filling my childhood and my present with such beautiful music for the soul.
Stage 7: Renaissance and Exploration: The Movement is Coming…
Ahh, where do I even start with describing what I feel now? Inspirational? Overwhelmed? Amazed? How about all of the above and then some. This new window has opened for me, and it’s filling me with so much love, so much excitement, so much drive. I’m not sure if I can pinpoint when this even began. Maybe I started feeling it when I found out Nujabes died and I started listening to his soul-touching beats. Maybe I started feeling it when I heard the All City Chess Club remix of I’m Beaming and got introduced to six new talented artists. Maybe I started feeling it when a friend introduced me to a new way to listen to music and found a way to mix different elements to create something truly epic. Maybe it’s a merge of the three, but however it started it’s brought a change in me. It lit a creative flame inside my core and now I’m more driven than ever to fulfill my dream. I’m more driven than ever to spread my vision to everyone, anyone I can and live in a way that I can be proud.
It may be small, but I feel it. I feel the movement coming.