Chapter 2.2: Musical Makeup

Remember that, “I want to be a producer” conversation from the intro? It happened around this time. I was in a rap group with my school friends called C-Unit (a play off the then popular G-Unit). We all took the names of real rappers and gave them our own unique twist. During free periods, we would go to the computer lab, download lyrics and practice how to flow. Eventually we started writing our own bars and even rapped an entire book report for English class. I was really getting into this rap stuff. And then there were the beats. Neptunes beats were invading my brain on all forms of media. Of course I had no idea Pharrell and Chad were the ones behind every single hit in the early 00s. If anything, we didn’t realize how responsible any beat was in luring us to listen to a song. At the time me and my friends were just trying to memorize every verse. But then “Grindin’” came along.

One day at lunch, Joe Jefferson, the table-banging beat-making legend, was rapping out a new beat on the lunch table. I didn’t know what it was, but it sure was addictive. Over the next week everyone started joining in at the lunch table. Each kid banging out the beat in unison. Then I started to hear it on the radio. Almost every. Single. Day. Even then, I got even more addicted to the “Grindin’” beat. There was barely no melody, all drum kit loops and ill raps on top. But the Clipse’s bars really didn’t matter. I didn’t know what they were talking about anyway. What did matter was that the beat was what made the track, not the words. Every time I caught the song on the radio I’d focus my listening on another aspect of the beat. Soon I found myself doing this with all my favorite songs. Disregarding the lyrics and tuning into one or two instruments in the background.

EKIMvick7: You ever just listen to the beat of a song?

biancaxoxo215: What do you mean?

EKIMvick7: Like just the drums. Or just the saxophone, guitar, etc.

biancaxoxo215: Hmm, I don’t think so. I usually listen to just the lyrics.

But no part specifically.

EKIMvick7: Try it. You play 2nd Flute, right? See if you can catch any

flute sounds on any songs you listen to.

biancaxoxo215: Oh snap! Big Pimpin’! That’s a flute in the background,

I never really thought of it!

 

If it wasn’t for my music background, I think I would have continued listening to songs as a whole, like my friend above. It would have took me some time to understand that what makes music great is the sum of all the little things in a piece. Which when played together, create that feeling of emotional movement within us. Maybe I didn’t actually understand it at the time, or knew of the best way to express this understanding. But I did know the importance of a producer in Hip-Hop. There would have been no Eminem without Dr. Dre (or a lot of rappers for that matter). And I loved tearing a beat apart in my mind. So it only made sense that I become a producer. Then of course that dream got shattered when I told my mom, and she brought up money. Something which I had no idea how to make. My parents of course did know how to make money (enough to support us at least), so I believed them.

Now I have no regrets, nor do I despise my parents for their rationalistic views on careers. Nor do I despise myself for not having enough willpower to defy them. I just got one thing to say to any parents reading this. Keep it real with your children. But don’t let keeping it real get in the way of encouraging your children to succeed. They might end up like me. Cooped up somewhere in the Japanese countryside plotting the most unconventional path in Life. And your children won’t be telling you a damn thing about it. Because every time the topic of “what’s next?” comes up, you always got something negative to say. Just trying to get your child to follow the path that you want them to follow. Okay, a little too personal of a message? Hmm…I’ll keep it in here anyway.

Around seventh grade, Tony Hawk’s Underground came on the scene and into my PS2 on Christmas Day. I’d like to think that Tony Hawk is partially responsible for the drastic increase in the popularity of extreme sports in the 2000s. I fell in love with skateboarding when I first saw him pull off the 900. I had a skateboard but never became good enough to pop a simple ollie. So I took my interests to the game console. How does Tony Hawk’s Underground (THUG) related to my musical journey though? Well because while I was carving up the streets of New Jersey, pulling off million-point combos at Tampa-Am, I was also being introduced to Hip-Hop (and some rock) legends. The THUG soundtrack led me to finding Illmatic, an album that came out the year I turned three. Illmatic would go on to become my favorite album in high school and influenced how I listened to Hip-Hop forever. The soundtrack also contained one song featuring MF DOOM. Of course I didn’t know who the hell he was, or what he was rhyming about (nor did I understand Nas as well but he was popular at the time because of the Rocafella feud). Little did I know DOOM would grow to become my favorite rapper ever when I rediscovered him at the end of high school.

The entire THUG soundtrack was just a masterpiece. Looking back at it now, it lived up to its name. It really introduced me to the Underground scene of Hip Hop. The Internet wasn’t the easily navigable endless void that it is today. I learned about new music from the radio. So really, I was only listening to the mainstream. For the first time, I was exposed to a whole new sound in Hip Hop. Quasimoto, Deltron, Busdriver, Cannibal Ox, Jurassic 5, People Under the Stairs, there were just so many artists that I had never heard! Many like Quas, Del, and DOOM were pushing boundaries in production and lyricism. THUG also had a lengthy collection of rock and punk songs on its soundtrack too. But I wasn’t too fond of the genres at the time. Over the next year or so though, I would be.

Around eighth grade Collision Course came out and The Gorillaz were also making waves. I was not really a fan of rock at all. To my untrained ear it sounded like a bunch of people yelling. I couldn’t vibe out to guitar riffs the same way I could to soulful beats. I was also partially blocking out the genre because I didn’t want to be associated with it. I was already known as “the white guy” at school because of my speech and perceived middle-class neighborhood. Rap was black. Rock was white. I didn’t know rock’s roots, nor did I have a keen ear to the many rock samples in rap. But Feel Good Inc. and Collision Course connected the dots for me. I never heard rap lyrics over thrashing guitars. It was literally a collision course of cognitive dissonance. I couldn’t help but accept its awesomeness. Even if that meant decreasing the melanin in my perceived appearance.

Video games continued to expand my musical palette like THUG did. But The Gorillaz and Linkin Park sort of paved the way to my acceptance of genres that weren’t dominated by African-Americans. I got into techno around this time. My journey into the realm of Electronic Music wouldn’t have have fully taken off until I came across a Scion sampler disc (I Heart Comix Vol. 21). The Kingdom Hearts series introduced me to the genre of orchestral music. Of course, this type of music is everywhere: commercials, movies, video games, etc. But I gained a much deeper appreciation of it through playing Kingdom Hearts. The pieces were just filled to the brim with emotion. As soon as the disc loaded and ‘Dearly Beloved’ played on the Start screen, I was drawn in. Years later the soundtracks fill me with nostalgia; those long summer days trying to get to Level 99. Who knows; I may have never found the classical genre interesting at all, if it wasn’t for Yoko Shimomura’s masterpiece of background music.

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