I have fond memories of traveling with my dad across the Tri-State area, from high school gyms to community centers to country club ballrooms. His primary job for most of my young life was a disc jockey, using his knowledge of music and charisma on the microphone to host proms and class reunions. Meanwhile, I was dancing with groups of high school girls three times my age. If social media had come about 10 years earlier, I would have been an Internet sensation. Peaked way too early...
At work, my dad was pressured to play the hits. He could have easily gotten away with throwing six NOW CDs into the disc changer and signing off. This was before press play laptop DJs but the concept was the same. I admired his ability to weave in his own personal selections. He had a request list but rarely bent to the will of the naive youngsters who only wanted to hear the latest pop-rap dance tune. Sound familiar?
My mom had her own tastes. I remember hearing Alicia Keys perform Fallin' for the first time on the Oprah Winfrey show. I was awestruck. Even watching it now gives me goosebumps. Jill Scott and India Arie also performed that same night. I saw my mother in these women: strong, intelligent, and talented. Listening to their music symbolized my affection for her.
I am grateful to both my parents for exposing me to such an eclectic array of musical influences at a young age. For every Britney Spears song, there was a Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu track to go with it. Every Eminem song came with Fu-Schnickens or the Beastie Boys.
*When Pete Rock was here for AOCFest two years ago, I told him that Big Willie Style was my intro to hip-hop. It was the third most embarrassing moment of my hip-hop life: 1. Going full B. Rabbit mom's spaghetti during a freestyle battle in US History and 2. Leaving a copy of a song I did in my mom's car only for her and her friend Michelle to find 16-year-old me rapping about "all these bitches and hoes." Clearly, rapping is not my career arc.*
The first CD I ever owned was Will Smith's Big Willie Style. For weeks, my dad and I would go to Millenium Music in Brightleaf Square. He would search for new music to put in his rotation and I would find CDs to sample in the demo stations. Each time, I found myself grabbing Big Willie Style off the shelf and hiding in the corner listening to the entire record. Eventually, I saved up enough allowance to take it off the shelf for good.*
Once I got to middle school and the combination of iTunes/Limewire (mostly Limewire) and broadband internet was at my fingertips, I started to build my own tastes. The genesis of my journey began during a game of ATV Offroad Fury 2. I didn't own the game (rented) or the PlayStation 2 I played it on (borrowed). As destiny would have it, the standout track during gameplay was What's Golden by Jurassic 5. I set the game to only play that and Shinobi vs Dragon Ninja by Lost Prophets because how could a 10-year-old avid anime fan not like a song called Shinobi vs Dragon Ninja?
One of the first successes of early music culture on the Internet was the featured-artist rabbit hole. Degrees of separation evaporated as the entire history of recorded music became more and more available online. Hearing Jurassic 5 featured on a Blackalicious song not only meant downloading the entire Blackalicious catalog but being exposed to Dilated Peoples leading to Black Thought to Mos Def to Talib Kweli to MF DOOM to Danger Mouse to Gnarls Barkley and so on, all from the connective tissue of features. The rabbit hole was never-ending.
In 2018, music discovery is run by Spotify playlists and tastemakers like The Super Empty Show (I'm allowed to self-promote on my own blog, dammit). The idea of spending hours listening to new and/or undiscovered music seems redundant when there's plenty of outlets already doing the heavy lifting. But music is still like most products; you'll take the advice of your friends and peers over random strangers on the Internet any day. Right?
WRONG! That's why these playlists have millions of followers. It's also why I'm introducing this series to my website.
Each Friday, SNDTRK will hit this site and your inbox, providing you with three songs.
The origin of the songs each week will range from music that has inspired me, invigorated me, or just songs that bump ranging from fresh cuts to old classics. In doing this series, I hope to share the connections I have to music and in turn, make a connection to you.