Wednesday, May 20, 2009
It's been a minute since my last entry. The ongoing series of " My Top 20 Albums" is one that's going to take a while to complete, but there's much more to me than just music. I revel in the many aspects of life. Whether light or dark, the various subjects, stories, and characters (real and imaginary alike) within this world are always a delight to witness. Recently, my exploits and interactions have revealed details not only of those directly involved but of myself as well.
It's sublimely strange how certain things reveal themselves to you repeatedly. Perhaps, it's a means by which to ensure the message gets across, but I find that frequently, one can become affected while living life without ever causing an effect. It's almost as if we're on auto-pilot, watching the days go by. I may be far more guilty of this than most, and perhaps that was the reason why my mind keyed in on this reoccurring subject recently. Though it may not be as universal as the question of "What is the meaning of life," the "who are we" question is one that we all are plagued with at one time or another.
Are we simply what others perceive us to be, or is self-discovery something that begins and ends with us? I'm one to believe in the latter. Though, our relationships (or lack thereof) can shed a lot of light into the subject, who knows you better than yourself, right? Then again, ignorance IS bliss, even when it deals with your identity. Take for instance the classic scene from the existential comedy, "I Heart Huckabees" where Jude Law's character queries, "How am I not myself," and finds it not only difficult to find an answer but a ridiculous question in of itself. Perhaps Cee-lo sung it best with the Gnarls Barkley song, "Who Cares" as the third verse explores this very subject of self-actualization in the lyrics,
"You see, everybody is somebody.
But nobody wants to be themselves,
and If I ever wanted to understand me,
I'll have to talk to someone else... cause every little bit helps."
Others may help you get "there," but you have to make the journey on you own.
A friend of mine struggling with the failed, sometimes abusive, relationships of her past recently found herself sour from the "end" of another one. In making myself available for her to vent, I found her asking herself repeatedly, "is there something wrong with me, or do I just have bad choices in men?" Jokingly, I replied, "if it's the latter, then there must be something wrong with me!" Though we dated in the past, we're on good terms in the present, but my joke fell flat and she continued with the relentless self-depreciation that stemmed from all the negative she had heard throughout many of her past relationships. Once it began to get reproachful I calmly told her, "If you allow others to define you, you'll never really know who you are." I wasn't sure if I fully believed it when I said it, but it felt like it needed to be said.
My experience in the days that followed began to prove my claim. It began with an entry this week in the Yahoo! music blog, "Hip-Hop Media Training" written by Billy Johnson Jr. about soul star Maxwell's drastic change in appearance during an eight year absence from the spotlight. The article went into depth about how during his break, Maxwell abandoned his signature curly-locked fro as a means to assist in his anonymity and mark the start of a new chapter in his life and career. I rock a similar do and can empathize with him, though I don't have his notoriety as of yet. The strange thing was that while chilling with some friends over the weekend discussing a new band that I haven't heard of, my friend described the lead singer as having an, "awesome fro, but not as awesome as yours," to which I replied, "I'm banking on it." I can't deny that my hair helps in making an impression. I can meet someone briefly or perform with my band, and I know that once I'm gone people may forget my name or the song I sung, but they'll remember or recognize the brother with the crazy fro.
There are also times that people expect a certain type of personality from my appearance. I've been expected to be or viewed as a revolutionary, bohemian, rasta, hipster, and much more (all of which I'm not) from just wearing my hair natural. Truth be told, I never began to let my hair grow out due to an ideal that I wanted to translate thru my appearance. I moved from Houston and the barber I used for nearly 10 years to Fort Worth and barbers that I didn't like or could afford. It was cheaper & easier to let my hair do it's own thing. That was my motive...simple and plain, & though it may be a great ice-breaker (especially with drunk girls that just want to "touch it") my hair doesn't define me.
Self-esteem and awareness of self was presented again with a great documentary called "Heckler." I remember when it was on the AFI Dallas lineup last year. Though I was unable to catch a screening, thanks to DirecTV and the Showtime Network, it was recently made available for me to view. I recommend all that have the network to be on the look-out for it. The film follows Jamie Kennedy (Jennifer-Love Hewitt? Really? You lucky bastard) as he copes with the total flop of one of his movies. In actuality, it is basically a study in criticism; what motivates one to slander or sabotage another's creative work, and how it affects the artist. Containing great interviews with Bill Mahr, Arsenio Hall, Jewel, and many more, "Heckler" delves into not only why hecklers, critics, and bloggers alike feel the need to dish negativity but also how our current media environment fosters this behaviour.
One part of the film in particular features Dr. Drew and Bill Mahr speaking of how artists usually have to be pretty sensitive to create anything of merit, but the innate need of many to malign not only the work but the creator as well places the artist at risk mentally and emotionally. At times, I struggle with it in my own work. Aspirations to connect with the world thru my music confict with the doubt of whether or not my creations are "good enough." The only way to maintain my sanity is to be aware that it's impossible to please everyone. As long as the creative process and performance pleases me and in turn produces something that I can truly be proud of, then the rest really doesn't matter, for that alone can sustain me...not someone elses approval.
The idea of identity was also reinforced with my viewing of an awesome movie by the name of "the Wackness." A coming of age tale set in NYC during the Summer of '94, "the Wackness" tackles some weighty, dramatic subjects...identity being one.
"Men do the things they do to become the men they want to be."
Wiser words were never spoken, but that only scratches the surface. Our choices and outlook not only determine the course of our lives but our perception as well, and I honestly believe that positive energy attracts positivity. Though it may be difficult at times, there's always blessings to count & always another day to start anew. We all hold the power to make our lives what we want them to be; to be the change that we want to see in the world...and that, my friend, is absolutely beautiful.
Monday, May 4, 2009
It's been a while, but I'm back @ it again, and this time I'm heading back to the East Coast to show some love.
5) Ready to Die: IT'S THE N-O, T-O, R-I, O, U-S, YOU JUST LAY DOWN, SLOW!!! Mr. Christopher Wallace...no doubt one of the illest emcees to rock the mic. He made brothers on the big side elevate their mack status so that it wasn't just the pretty boys having all the fun with B.I.G Poppa, and growing up husky...it was so very necessary. My deep appreciation and awe didn't begin with "Poppa," but rather a song entitled "JUICY." It was basically a b-boy's dream on wax. "Birthdays were the worst days. Now we drink champagne when we're thirsty," and "Thinking back to our one room shack, now my mom pimps an Ac(ura) with minks on her back." It was what every young man from a middle income and below family fantasized about. Growing up...handling theirs...and taking care of his own, all painted so vividly through lyrics delivered as though it was a personal moment you were sharing with B.I.G. I recall hearing many folks, famous and infamous, from Brooklyn speak of how when B.I.G got put on, it was like everybody made it. I can feel that thru the song as well, and I'm from Houston, TX.
It was more than just vivid storytelling & delivery that made B.I.G so ill lyrically.
Even in simple "gangsta" talk of, "7 mack 11's, about 8 thirty-eight's, 9 nines, 10 mack 10 mack ten's the shit never ends" there's a clever rhyme scheme. What's even more striking is where the "ammunition list" was from the 95 freestyle, much of the "gangsta" content within the album carried far more deeper meanings. Much of the material within the album contained suicidal & paranoid undertones where as a listener you were torn between admiration & pity for this proposed protagonist. "Damn, niggaz wanna stick me for my paper." Ready to Die was more than an concept album...more than the debut of a vital artist...it was a movie on wax.
6) Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers): As a child, & still much to this day, I've held a reverence for the martial arts. Bruce Lee was my hero. Saturdays would be spent watching cartoons first, & martial arts movies afterwards before going outside to become a ninja turtle for the day. Yeah, I was stupid like that, so it wasn't too surprising when I first heard the 9 deep squad of ill lyricists from the slums of Shaolin it was automatic. I was hooked. The "G-Funk Era" was in full effect. Medium tempo, funky beats with smooth delivery from the likes of Snoop, Warren-G, Dr. Dre, etc. were on full blast. Then, all of a sudden, something raw came from the east. Everything from the content of the lyrics to the lo-fi sound of the boom-bap was gritty. This wasn't music to ride out to, for where the west-coast sound resembled the Cali lifestyle, the 36 Chamber painted a picture of cold, hard New York City streets. At times it was dangerous & threatening, other times it was wise & humorous. Never before had I listened to hip-hop & felt the ominous tone that was present within that of a Metallica, but the Wu brought that hype, like you wanted to just smash some shit. Songs like "Protect Ya' Neck," "Bring the Ruckus," "Clan In Da Front" were the soundtrack to many mosh pits, boxing, & wrestling matches with friends, while "Can It Be All So Simple" the CLASSIC "C.R.E.A.M" exposed the perils of life in the projects for urban youth. The WU was undeniable, & along with Nas, Notorious B.I.G, & the Fugees, the East Coast Hip-Hop Renaissance had begun, & as a young b-boy in the middle of the two regions pushing the boundaries of Hip-Hop, the early 90's couldn't get any better. That is until two brothers from the ATL set it off for all of us in the South, but that's another story...for another time.