I realized this year that a large part of the joy I’ve felt from listening to music was getting my hands on it. Scarcity was good. It made you imagine what a song sounded like when The Source namedropped it in its Fat Tape section. It made it thrilling when you stumbled across a white label at record store from a group you really only knew about word of mouth (and I do mean “word of mouth”, like people talking to you about it with their mouths). Debating on dropping $18 for some shitty soundtrack because it had an ill one-off track from Mobb Deep or Wu-Tang that you couldn’t hear otherwise (see: Hoodlum, 200 Cigarettes, Tales From the Hood, SLAM, and the Shaq movie where he was junkyard Superman). Memorizing release dates. Going to record stores in packs to buy the BIG RELEASES, then debating their merits the next day with all of your friends.
Steve Jobs made my life easier, but it turns out with music, I’m like Pac: I don’t want it if its that easy.
Connections to music are important.No one says “The first time I heard suchandsuch on SPOTIFY!!! SON!!! OH SHIT!!!” Having to work to get a hold of an album or single — that built value in me as a listener. That chase, that pursuit, that lucky break, well… it’s all gone. Everything is always available. Instantly. And my joy for music has dampened.
Everyone likes a chase. Dogs fall asleep looking at rocks; they go insane charging after a squirrel. You don’t always get the squirrel, and that’s ok. We’re not meant to see and hear every single song/band/artist we’re supposed to be up on. But now we dabble and taste and snack and appetize a little bit of everything. We feel full, but we don’t enjoy the meal. We are being stimulated, but we yearn to re-experience it less and less.
I’ll probably never love the music again the way I did in 1997 or even in 2004. I’m older. I’ve heard all the tricks. I have less disposable income. I create music, and that takes up more time. I have a full life outside of music.
So when I hear something that gives me that buzz, that electric blitzkrieg, that tingle…it doesn’t matter how old I am, what device I’m holding, how much money is in my savings, if I stole the song or bought it, what the first week numbers are, how many reblogs on Tumblr there are, if my girl is making meatloaf, what my next song will be about, etc. I’m stuck. I’m frozen. I’m 16 years old at Record Town in the Gallery. I’m 24 years old thumbing through CDs on payday, grabbing every goddamn thing I want. I’m 10 years old with 3 cassette singles for $5 in the basement at Tower Records. I’m 22 loading up weird art house shit on my first iPod. I’m 28 looking over the mountains, earbuds soundtracking my flight to Phoenix.
I’m back to where I want to be: loving music.
Here’s the songs in 2011 that gave me that feeling again:
Nas – “Nasty”
The best rap song of 2011 for all the right reasons: knocking beat, great rhyming, unorthodox rhyme scheme, and tons of shit you will not understand through the first 7 listens.
Raekwon – “Snake Pond”
Going in 2011, Raekwon was the best rapper alive. On Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, Raekwon mastered slang and wordplay and made the most Wu-Tang sounding Wu-Tang album since The W. “Snake Pond” is a manhunt record. Locations changing. Shaking down associates for info. Piecing together past incidents to predict the next move. It’s like playing chess with supreme patience: just wait for the other guy to slip, to expose himself. Red dot him, you got him.
Statik Selektah & Action Bronson – “White Silk”
I hated on dude at first. I’m an asshole
Blu feat Planet Asia & Killa Ben “Doo Whop”
Welcome to the Terror Dome, gold herringbone flow. Planet Asia is the West Coast Raekwon. I’m happy about that. More people need to just rap on soul loops. Fuck drums.
Cappadonna – “Cuban Link Kings”
The YouTube version cuts out the intro skit, which is a minute and a half. It’s the best skit since “Who Would You Fuck” on Supreme Clientele. In 2011, Cappadonna realized that we love NYC goofballs and that Wu can be funny while giving knowledge. Hence him comparing The Wizard of Oz to the Five Percent Nation.
Sir Michael Rocks – “Banco Populair”
I was stuck in Phillies traffic one day for almost 2 hours. I listened to this song about 10 times in a row. And then I went home and wrote “Michael Caine Glasses” for Nights & Weekends.
Danny Brown – “EWNESW”
XXX is not even close to being as good as Hybrid. I love his style but 30 minutes dedicated to eating pussy isn’t for me. So as much as I wanted to love XXX, I pretty much listen to the intro, then skip to “Pac Blood”, then skip about 8 joints until “ESNESW”. It’s good to hear Danny just talk over a simple beat sometimes. Quelle is my man. He should always produce half of Danny’s projects.
Hanni El Khatib – “Loved One”
I read about Hanni a few times. Saw that he was down with Aesop Rock. Thought his artwork and album title was badass. I caught him live on a whim at Johnny Brenda’s on a Sunday night in the summer here in Philly. Fifteen people were in the crowd. And he fucking killed it.
Evidence feat Raekwon & Planet Asia – “The Red Carpet”
Evidence said somewhere that this is his favorite Alchemist beat ever. This joint makes me feel high and I don’t even smoke. Wish the hook was better, but getting Rae and Asia on there make up for it.
Noreaga feat Corey Gunz – “Slimefather”
This is not a gorgeous Alchemist beat. It feels like getting shanked in a British housing project on Mischief Night. Nore is spitting that Indian Style Knees Bents Hands Together Jose Luis Gotcha ’97 shit.
Shabazz Palaces – “Yeah You”
There’s no place in the world for corny people.
Hail Mary Mallon – “Smock”
Between this joint and “Garfield”, Hail Mary Mallon did no wrong. I never liked Rob Sonic before this project. As a decade-long Aesop stan, I would’ve named about 15 rappers he should have been in a duo with before Rob Sonic (Breeze Brewin, El-P, etc). But it’s like assembling a good basketball team – you need to be matched up with guys that make sense together, not just to sell tickets. This year, Aesop became a fun emcee, and Rob and Big Wiz are the perfect wingmen.
Jay-Z & Kanye West feat Mr. Hudson – “Why I Love You”
This is the most mature shit Jay has ever spit. To all of my enemies, former friends and associates, I see and hear everything you do in opposition to me. You blame me for all your woes, as people, as artists, as business entities. You casually sidestep the money I spent on you, the advice I gave you, the benefits you gladly accepted from being my friend. None of it was ever enough. I’m my own man, as you are your own man. And you have broken our friendship. I have lost respect for you. I will never get back the time and money I invested in you. My mother and my wife tell me to get over it, but I can’t. You hurt me. I’ve hurt you, except you’ve gone public with personal and private matters. You’ve become a spectacle and it hinders our past relationship. And with all of that in mind…I still love you.
Common feat Nas – “Ghetto Dreams”
Those drums! And Nas! Yo…..
Cocaine 80s – “Anywhere But Here”
R&B sucks today. Like, straight up assey. It’s devoid of actual emotion. It’s just people thinking of hackneyed ways to talk about banging each other, cutting each other off, and getting back together. There’s no real stories. This project from No ID was like a soul version of Shabazz Palaces — I know the main guy involved and that’s about it. Cocaine 80s and Frank Ocean gave me that feeling when I first heard D’Angelo in ’95. Something’s changing here…
Frank Ocean – “Songs For Women”
No fair, no fair. He cheatin’!
Tom Waits – “Kiss Me”
You never forget that first kiss with the woman you love. You didn’t love her then. She had on a black cocktail dress, not too flashy, not too prudish. You noted how many times she placed her hand on your shoulder when you made her laugh. Her necklace drew your eyes to her neck, her breasts, guessing what color bra she had on, but not staring like a creep. Other girls made you nervous; you wanted their approval. But this girl, it was just…easy. When you went in for that first kiss, time froze. It was still nerve wracking. She was a stranger then. You were a stranger too.
Dangermouse & Daniele Luppi feat Jack White – “Two Against One”
This year I fell in love with Italian music. The Rome album didn’t leave my car for 6 months. Jack White is my favorite rock artist and stuff like this makes me grateful that he stays prolific outside of his comfort zone. An incredible writer with a voice that conveys the right emotion everytime.
Serengeti – “Goddammit”
This is like an indie version of LL Cool J’s “Big Ole Butt” or a modern Slick Rick love story: a devious asshole does maniuplative, despicable things to women. You really should be repulsed by his behavior. You end up empathizing with him. “Yeah man, it is fucked up that you have two wives who are unaware of each other, one even thinking you’re 5 years younger because you’ve been plotting on her since she was seventeen years old. Christmas MUST be a bitch!” Seregenti and Yoni Wolf even made the 808s knock like an E-40 record. A great old school rap idea executed perfectly by guys who shop at thrift stores with Anticon money.
Arch Druids feat Roc Marciano & Planet Asia – “Scorched Earth Policy”
I’m going to be quoting Roc Marci lyrics when I’m 60 years old. That’s just how it’s going to be.