A Brief Essay on the Power of Music. . .
Music. What a powerful tool. Throughout my life music has been a time-travel device. Just thinking of certain albums and songs takes me back to certain moments I’ll never forget. More than anything music has been a friend. It has brought me out of my darkest mental slumps while also accentuating the good times. When I’m alone, which is quite often, building playlists and exploring new albums makes loneliness a foreign component in my life. Particular records like To Pimp a Butterfly and Yeezus continue to supply insight and comfort on their umpteenth play through. Hip-hop isn’t simply a platform for me to talk shit. There is a burning inside of me to represent the culture in a passionate and deserving manner. I am grateful. Hip-hop and I grew together. Now it’s the number-one genre in the world. Man, what a time.
I never thought writing Facebook album reviews in the middle of the night would ever amount to anything. In many people’s eyes, they still don’t. If I miss a shift at my day job, I risk not being able to pay the rent. Things get stressful sometimes. But I write out of love. I don’t deserve a pat on the back, or even an encouraging comment, for that. I just want to give back to music what it’s given me: hope, passion and purpose. As a human, it feels good when people say they agree with my opinions. Yet I also know I’ve rubbed others the wrong way. It is what it is. If I believe I’ve made a mistake in my work I want to make it right. That’s why I give my album review scores freedom to live and breathe.
Although I don’t get my scores “right” the first time every time, I strive to find the perfect score. It’s an obsession. Due to this, my emotions have a tendency to get the best of me. Especially when it comes to my favorite artists such as Kanye West, Travis Scott and Frank Ocean. Today I will share with you a piece of me. During my 26 years of existence music has touched me on a spiritual level more times than I can count. There are feelings I can hardly describe in words. However, here I will try to shed light on some of my most vulnerable moments. Most recording artists would never consider a critique an art form. And, honestly, I see their point. But I take this very seriously. You can’t buy my opinion. I write with the intent of bridging the gap between artist and consumer.
Since I began writing at TFC my bond with music has only gotten stronger. Seeing hip-hop evolve and expand puts a smile on my face and lights a fire underneath me. Music, I am yours; and I will continue to be until my passion runs dry or a salty-ass rapper decides to clap me up for giving his album a three-point-five. So, without any further ado, below are seven songs that affected me on a visceral level. Yes, I cry. I feel fortunate to live in a time when it’s okay for a man to do so in society’s eyes. Anyway, thanks for reading. I appreciate you. Have a great day…
At first, Kanye’s Twisted Fantasy album felt too explicit. That was back in the days where I preferred clean versions of songs. Thank God I saw the light. I’ll never forget the first time I watched this music video. At the time I never saw hip-hop presented in such an artful way. The ballerina ensemble matched with Kanye’s transparent delivery changed my view on the genre. One night, though, I don’t know what happened. I was driving home from work like any other day. Yet something came over me. For the latter portion of the song, Kanye uses a vocoder on his voice. It heavily distorts his vocals to the point where it’s difficult to tell what he’s saying. But that’s not the point. While he croons, emotion takes precedence over language. Goddamn. Antics aside, this song is nothing short of fantastic.
Let me preface this by saying: I no longer check for new B.o.B. music. His post-flat Earth music hasn’t been great. However, his 2015 project Psycadelik Thoughtz had some heat on it. This particular song takes me back to when I dropped acid for the first time. I am not here to advocate the use of mind-altering drugs. Yet I don’t dismiss them either. Do you. I won’t judge. All I ask is that you don’t judge in return. An old friend of mine showed me this song while watching over my trip. I stared at a dying tree for what felt like an eternity. During that experience (stay with me here) I felt its life force dwindling. Though this didn’t make me fear death. Instead it helped me gain an appreciation for the cycle of life, to understand that death is just a new beginning.
That very same friend sent me this song when I was in a dark place. We were texting while I was in the downstairs bathroom of my old apartment. I think this song came out in 2014, but it was never on a Cudi album. Without her, I would’ve never known this song existed. Funny how the universe works like that. “Love” hit me right in the feels as soon as it graced my ears. It assures whoever is listening that the universe is on your side as long as you’re putting your best foot forward. “Don’t be so down, c’mon young homie / You’ll be okay, you’ll find real love / All of the stories the hero gets lonely / Now is the time to show what you’re made of.” She and Cudder sent me those words exactly when I needed to hear them.
This might be a perfect song. It touched me rather recently. Just a few days ago actually. My great grandmother lived to be 104 years old. She passed away peacefully on August 29th. I went to work that day feeling okay for the most part. But damn, as soon as I clocked out I was all messed up. I had my Yeezy SZN playlist on shuffle during my shift (which is fire, by the way). When I got in the car some rap played and everything was cool. Then about 10-15 minutes in, this came on. I never stood a chance. Tears were flowing, bro. It was a liberating experience, to be honest. Gram lived a wonderful life, full of wisdom, faith and fearlessness. She beat pneumonia when she was 97 years old like it was nothing. If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what else is.
The year was 2004. I was 12 and attended a small Christian K-12 school in the midwest. Seventh grade sucked for me. The main reason was a stupid miscommunication between one of my best friends and a younger kid. Me and about five or six guys in our class had a dope clique. We ran that bitch. Though one day early in the school year everything changed. At recess our group came up to a kid and my homie pretended to knee him in the balls. We all laughed, including him. He patted the kid on the shoulder and said “I’m just playin’ man, how’re you doing?” The next day we come to find out the kid told his mom what happened. The school expelled him without warning. That moment taught me racism is alive and well. I played this song while staring out the school bus window every day.
This was another semi-recent one. James Blake dropped this beautiful track earlier this year. May, I think. I recommend watching the visual associated with it. It’s not a full visual production, but rather a real-time typing of the song’s lyrics. They are powerful and delicate at the same time. Reading along to the words really puts them into perspective. We can avoid all of life’s blessings and also all of its pain. James tells us from experience not to miss the beauty that rests right before your eyes. Life is worth living, even if we have to go through storms to realize it. Transgressions make us stronger. They give us insight we would otherwise misconstrue. The chilling background vocals take me to another dimension. I am simply in love with this song. And I hope it can touch your soul like it has touched mine.
Oh, boy. I don’t know if I can even finish this segment without breaking down. Lucky for me, this song is less than three minutes. Any longer and I would need a permanent IV to replenish my fluids. “Godspeed” always makes me picture a soul floating above their funeral, watching a loved one perform special music. It doesn’t quite get to me every single time I hear it, but if I’m alone and feeling a little emo that day, it’s game on. The poignant and reflective songwriting here separates Frank from his contemporaries. Songs like these transport me to a place without judgment, without fear or self-doubt. They remind me how incredible the gift of life is, and how I need to show more gratitude and thanks for each and every day that I’m alive.
Once again, thank you for reading. And if you would like to hear these songs, click on the their song titles. Godspeed, my friends…