Blast that!: Music these days

Music and I have a very interesting relationship. When I was growing up, I just listened to whatever my parents listened to, which meant a lot of Eagles, Beatles, 70s music, and my dad told me he invented Buddy Holly. I was never really interested in exploring music for myself. I was interested in school, and swimming, and winning, and being Good. I guess these priorities just pushed music somewhere down the list around food and math. But like food, music eventually became more important to me. (Math never did.)

As I got older, I realized the only thing I required from music was that it was danceable. Besides that, I cared more about the people making the music, than the music. This is when I was about 14. So, you know, the Backstreet Boys were sooooo cute. And the Spice Girls were made of awesome (still true). After that, I was about 17, so obviously all the music I listened to had to be depressing and express the true darkness of my soul. I discovered The Cure and was pretty much set until I was 21.

At this time, I’m downloading all my music from Napster. I don’t buy a single CD for a decade. I refused to pay for music. At the time, I thought this was completely reasonable, and also I was a broke university student, so sue me. (No, don’t. Ah! Were you ever scared of that? That the government would find your massive ILLEGAL music collection and come after you? I was, so I always tried to hide it. Ha!) I had a large collection of music because I would download discographies (especially after Napster died and torrents rose up) and then never really listened to any of it, or forget about music I’d downloaded. The music I had was eclectic in terms of genre. I would listen to anything, didn’t really matter.

For a very long time, I never listened to any music. Like, I drove in silence. Thinking back on it, it’s really weird. But for about two years I didn’t listen to music. When Matt was in the car we listened to his favourite music (Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen). I was fine with that. When I was working, or editing photos, I put music on but never really registered it and if it stopped, I didn’t notice for a sometimes frighteningly long time.

Now, in this musical odyssey, I am what? 25? And I meet people who know a lot about music and I want to impress them, so I start listening to music. Music starts being to me what it has always been for so many other people; a personal soundtrack that links events and feelings of my life. I imbue songs with my own personal feelings and when I listen to certain songs now, it’s nostalgia times a billion. I listen to everything, downloading GBs of mixtapes in order to find stuff I like. Between Matt and I, we have no space left on our computer. We have to buy external hard drives for our music collections. I eventually throw out all my old CDs. And somewhere along the line, I start buying music. Once iTunes makes buying music easier than trying to find it with a google search, I start buying music. (Also after reading this open letter to Emily White at NPR about the music industry from David Lowery.) I like buying music, it makes me feel all righteous like ha! Look at me being all “for the artists” or some shit. I don’t know, I think I’m just lazy and now have a disposable income; where spending $9.99 on an album that syncs to all my devices automatically seems like a pretty fucking good deal, also–The Future!

The only problem I have is that now I buy music to see if I like it. I go through iTunes and just click on random things, in any genre. I listen to the excerpt iTunes posts and if it grabs me, I buy it. I might want to work on that.

I still like music that is danceable, and listen to music that suits my mood. And right now, my mood is hot and sweaty. How does that sound? Like this:

  1. Big Mouth – Santigold
  2. Zig Zag – M.I.A.
  3. Liquorice – Azealia Banks
  4. Move to the Ocean (Baauer Remix) – Brick + Mortar
  5. Barely Standing (ft. Datsik & Sabi) – Diplo
  6. You Know You Like It – AlunaGeorge
  7. 1 Thing (siik remix) – Amerie
  8. Thinkin Bout You – Frank Ocean

Blast that!: A selection of hip hop tracks for summer

Image by Ryan Powell for designer Bella Ajoi

  1. Fitta Happier by Quakers (Guilty Simpson and M.E.D.)
  2. Hay by BJ the Chicago Kid
  3. Topsidin’ by Trackademicks
  4. Grown Up by Danny Brown
  5. Blast that by Nottz ft. Black Milk and Royce da 5’9″
  6. Conditioning by Cadence Weapon
  7. Oops (Tweet cover) by Theophilus London
  8. Radio Song by Danny Brown
  9. Angelina’s Beamer by Pheo ft. Cashius Green

I really love hip hop. In fact, it’s probably the main genre of music I listen to. There’s all different types of hip hop though, right? The mainstream stuff that they play on the radio that is mainly crap. And then there’s everything else.

What I want most from hip hop is for it to surprise me. I don’t want to hear some basic beats, with some basic rhymes about you beating the pussy up (that is the worst hook in the history of ever)–I want something different. I want that first song, Fitta Happier by Quakers. Did you listen to that? That is a brass band with a snare drum just rolling in swag. Danny Brown is surprising on his own without music–born in Detroit with a weirdly eccentric sense of style and missing front teeth. Cadence Weapon is from Edmonton, of all places, and his new album is something new; drawing on old-old school rap and putting heavy rock outbursts in the middle of his tracks. That Trackademicks song is basically about Sperrys, which is hilarious. This is the sort of thing I like in hip hop.

I’ll tell you a not-so-secret secret, my favourite hip hop group of all time is Wu-Tang Clan and the reason why is because they were (still are?) full of surprises. It was their lyrics mainly that blew my mind (with references to Socrates, Egyptian gods, and scientific discoveries listening to a Wu-Tang track can be like reading an academic poet), but even just their concept was unique and refreshing. A bunch of dudes from Staten Island getting together and thinking, “Hey, I got a great idea! Let’s make a rap group based on old kung fu movies and let’s maintain that theme throughout five studio albums and maybe anything else we do too.” Who does that? It’s why Wu-Tang is forever. And as if that wasn’t surprising enough for me, GZA goes and makes an album with Neil Degrasse Tyson. About space. Obviously.

But sometimes I just look for hip hop that I want to like. For instance, recently I’m on a whole Detroit hip hop ride. (Hence the Guilty Simpson, Danny Brown, Black Milk, and Royce da 5’9″ business in this mix.) I love Detroit and I know it’s always had a healthy music scene so I’ve been looking into it. I like that all these dudes are coming up out of Detroit and continually reminding people that that’s where they’re from. But it’s also a strange mentality because in their music they’re rapping about how shitty Detroit is. I don’t blame them; it may be my favourite city but it’s well shitty. I was watching a Danny Brown documentary today and the first thing he’s asked as he sits between his parents on a couch in their Linwood home, “what are the positive aspects of the neighbourhood that keep you here?” and all three of them sit there in silence until they start laughing uncontrollably. Detroit just isn’t a place many people want to be. But people identify with where they’re from and where their family is from–that’s something no one can take from you and something you can always fall back on. Detroit isn’t easy, but it’s a place you stay because it’s a place that’s yours. The rappers coming out of the city exemplify the hustling attitude of the place–you have to work at something continually if you ever want it to work. Who knew rappers could be so inspiring?

Why more people haven’t promoted rappers as role models more often isn’t that confusing to me; I guess the explicit language and mature themes aren’t the best things to give to kids? But like, they’re not rapping about guns and drugs and poverty because they sit around watching Downton Abbey and drinking white wine. Even that is something that is worth looking at, though. Rappers and their work ethic and never-ending hustling astounds me, and I know a bunch of kids who could definitely benefit from learning some of the characteristics that cities like Detroit breed in people. This might sound racist? Does it sound racist? And a bit classist? Kinda. “Oh, if only all you privileged white kids could get some of the work ethic of your underserviced friends of colour!” That brings up a whole other issue I have with listening to hip hop though. These songs are not for me, and I can’t relate to any of them. So where does my enjoyment come from? A more accurate question may be where does my entitlement to enjoyment come from? School me on this, please.

I like the music. I like the attitude of hip hop. I like the cockiness of so much of it. I like the talent. Have you ever tried to rap? I have and it’s really hard and I’m absolutely terrible at it. I’m not a rap scholar or anything and haven’t looked into it any more than just enjoying it, but I’m sure the research is out there that looks at the reflective nature of hip hop for generations of people growing up with no other voice available to them. But I often am like, ugh…why do so many rappers have to have a hate-on for women? Where are all the feminist rappers at? Why can’t a rapper be critical AND have swag? Do you know of any rappers who can do this? Are they currently making music? Is it surprising? Let me know!

EDIT: Thanks to reader Nobby, I was pointed in the direction of El Guante, and I think this video says a lot about how I feel (and strangely, or not, echoes a lot of what I say when people tell me that because I’m a skinny, white, cisgendered woman there doesn’t need to be more pictures of me naked on the internet.)