As I downloaded ANTI this morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, with the first sounds of it, I was blown away. And I was blown away again and again with each following sound. And now, after three listens to the album, I’m able to come to the conclusion: Hip Hop (I’m including R&B in this definition of Hip Hop, which might make purists angry, but it makes sense to me) is probably the greatest genre of music.
It’s a bold claim, but I will stand sure-footedly by it. That’s not to say I haven’t had a rocky relationship with Hip Hop (genre puns ha). Talk to me a year ago, and “Umbrella” would have been the only Rihanna song I could name. But I’ve been through a lot to be able to get to make this claim. And, more importantly, I’ve finally collected enough personal anecdotes to write you a story about why I think this is the truth:
It all started somewhere in elementary school. I know what you’re thinking, “Damn, he’s going way back.” But bear with me. My dad was a basketball and P.E. coach at the time, and he liked to listen to upbeat music in the weight room and gym while training his teams. As fate would have it, I was around for a lot of those sessions. I remember very clearly when he bought the album “And Then There Was X.” Not only would he play that CD in the gym, but also in the car. He would always ask my brother and me, “What do y’all want to listen to?” and we would always yell, “Y’all gon’ make me lose my mind!” To this day, I don’t think I’ve listened to a single song more than “Party Up.”
Flash forward to middle school. A guy on my basketball team knew how to burn CDs, which was all I needed. So naive me would pay him five dollars for the latest stuff that my parents didn’t know I was listening to. (Parents, here’s an amazing guide to what you should and shouldn’t let your kids listen to in regards to Hip Hop.) I distinctly remember listening to two CDs more than anything else. One was “Tha Carter,” mainly because my brother’s name is DJ and I thought he was really cool – so I thought the song “Go DJ” was also cool. I still know every word to “Go DJ.”
The other was “Urban Legend.” I mean, “Motivation” followed by “U Don’t Know Me” followed by “ASAP” might be one of the greatest one-two-three rap combos of all time. I remember being in the locker room with my dad’s varsity basketball team, watching them rap and dance along to “U Don’t Know Me” – and then going into my middle school basketball team’s locker room and emulating them. I like to think that made me pretty cool. (I still do this whenever I hear the song.) Also, “Bring Em Out” was on that CD. One of my favorite memories in life was when, my senior year of high school, before playing our biggest rival, my basketball team ran out of our locker room with “Bring Em Out” blasting alongside enormous applause. After hitting my fourth three pointer that night, not only was my shot on fire, but I was at the prime of my trash-talking game. When I hit that three, the other coach immediately called a time out and screamed at his team, “COMMUNICATE!!! YELL WHEN YOUR MAN IS SETTING A SCREEN FOR THE SHOOTER!” I looked at him and said, “Coach, it’s hard to yell when the barr-ells in ya mouth.” I said that to the other team’s coach.
Well, since I’m already talking about high school, here it is. By the time high school came around, all I listened to was Lil Wayne. And there was so much to listen to. I remember listening to “Lil Weezyana,” “Weezyaveli,” all the “Dedication” mixtapes and all the “Da Drought” mixtapes. I can probably recite everything he made in between “Tha Carter II” and “Tha Carter III.” In my mind, he was clearly the best rapper alive. I probably thought that because he always called himself that, but also because he was all I listened to. I’m not even sure why I listened to so much Lil Wayne. Maybe because he had new music come out so often that I didn’t have time to listen to anything else, or maybe because he’s all that was played in the locker room. Either way, I was content and having fun with it.
But then “Lollipop” came out. You know what I’m talking about. You remember. “Lolololololollipop,” that one. This one:
And then I became depressed. This song is so bad it depressed me. I had been waiting on “Tha Carter III” since “Tha Carter II,” and he gives us this? I was flustered. I was confused. But more than anything, I was depressed. I listened to Linkin Park’s first album way too many times, and I’m not proud of that. But it was because of Weezy. Lil Wayne let me down, and I spiraled way, way down.
I stopped listening to Hip Hop all together. I started listening to my parents’ music. It was a dark time filled with a lot of Pink Floyd and other bands you see on angsty kids’ t-shirts. I even wore some of those t-shirts. I went to a concert where the lead singer from The Who was performing – which actually is pretty awesome – but all he did was talk a whole bunch about how you shouldn’t do drugs. I just sat there and thought, “That’s not why I listen to your music?”
I think for a while I even listened to a lot of country. I’m so sorry to anyone who lived with me and had to put up with constant Eric Church for like a year. My musical high point during that time was when my roommate’s girlfriend told me I hit the high note perfectly in the song “Carolina.” That’s way less cool than quoting “Bring Em Out” to another team’s head coach after lighting them up. So help me God, right.
That stage lasted well into college, but finally, after a couple years, I was able to escape it. I guess I stopped listening to country because I got super into indie. Arctic Monkeys’ “AM” and Chvrches “The Bones of What You Believe” both slapped me in the face and woke me up. I will forever be indebted to those albums. I then started reading a lot of music websites and reviews to try and broaden my tastes.
This method got me out of that funk, after all I listen to a lot of stuff now. But at that point I was still disillusioned with Hip Hop because of what Lil Wayne turned into during/after “Tha Carter III.” I couldn’t bring myself to return to the genre after being betrayed. But, last year, something important happened. Killer Mike and El-P started getting rave reviews. I knew it was rap, but I gave it a listen, and it was electric. At that moment, I saw the door to the world of Hip Hop open once again.
The door to the world of Hip Hop opened for me, and I had a lot of catching up to do. I mean I had to rediscover Kanye and Drake. “Who is this Vince Stapes guy? Holy crap Frank Ocean is good!” I was overwhelmed with what was the most entertaining, dynamic, biting and aware music I had ever listened to. I still kept my broad tastes, but I consumed a lot of Hip Hop.
Just this week I listened to Kanye’s discography all the way through. I also listened to The Clipse’s second album “Hell Hath No Fury” and then Pusha T’s “Darkest Before Dawn.” I’m pretty sure half of the plays on “Real Friends” are from me, and at least one of the plays on the Erykah Badu remix.
And all that has led me to here and now. I’m listening to “Yamborghini High” just because I’ve already listened to “ANTI” four times today. And the culmination of it all moves me. I mean, my musical identity has changed an incredible amount. But also, it has come full circle. I’m enjoying more than ever the same kind of music upon which my youth was built. It’s the kind of music to which I’ve partied and built friendships. It has presented me with important social commentary. It has excited me, woken me up in the morning, inspired me to get things done and also inspired me to be creative. And maybe it won’t be my favorite kind of music forever, it probably won’t. But right now it gives me more than I can ever give it.
What I’m saying is, I’m glad I know what I think is the best. For me, its Hip Hop. What about you?