Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hip-Hop Hooray

I know that's it's generally considered lame to be say such-and-such album "changed my life," but in this case, it's true. Let me set the scene: I am thirteen. I have two younger siblings. I have my very first job. And in the process of working at my first job, I meet this crazy redhead who goes to raves and swears and is skinny as hell and just impresses my thirteen-year-old ass to death. At the end of the summer, she hands me a cassette tape and tells me to check it out.

On one side, Belle and Sebastian was wienering out, with some Elliot Smith and Elvis Costello thrown in for good measure. On the flip side, like a message from the gods, was my beloved Jurassic 5.

For those of you who are from parts of the world that hate fun, J5 is a Southern California sextet made up of four MCs and two DJs (one of whom played the science teacher in Juno!). Lots of Islam and basketball and an MC with the deepest voice I've ever heard. The album I was listening to, over and over, every day, was their debut LP, which changed my life.

Before you're all like, "But how could this raucous hip-hop have affected you, Canadian girl loser and freshman in high school?" let me remind you: two younger siblings. My brother is eight years younger than me, which means that when I was 13, he was five years old. When I was starting high school, we were still listening to Raffi and Sharon Lois and Bram. Oh, and this little number called Unplucked!, which made me want to hurl myself right out of our minivan every time it was played. Which it was. Daily.

Furthermore, we lived in a teeny tiny town, with Ottawa (read: shitty) radio stations that played Billy Joel's song "River of Dreams" every fifteen minutes. There was zero access to good music. My parents liked Leonard Cohen, who, to a twelve-year-old, sounds like a sex-obsessed brontosaurus, and my first CD was Dance Mix '95.

You can see that I'm starting from pretty rough scratch here.

In any case, J5 was the tape I played all the freaking time. I dug out my walkman and listening on my way to school. I played that thing as I was falling asleep. Strangely, at no time did I ever wonder if there were other like-minded music acts out there; not until later in high school, when my classmate Graham put together a tape for me, did I encounter Mr. Lif and Aesop Rock. When I went out and did my own research, there was a wealth of shit out there (all of which, it should be noted, drove my mother crazy). I'm not going to name-drop everyone I've ever listened to; suffice it say there was a period of time when I was fucking obsessed with it.

The Hip-Hop Years (1999-2003) were some of the most fun I've ever had as a music fan. I still listen to hip-hop. I still love dancing around in my underwear, fully knowing how strange I look, not caring. For example, the new K'naan is freaking my shit out. Seriously: go buy it. Buy it. It's incredible that I can trace a decade-long interest back to a single source. From that initial tape to a entire world of music? Pretty awesome. One might even say life changing.

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