My Life in 100 Songs: Excursions by A Tribe Called Quest

For all intents and purposes my nephew is my second child. His father isn’t shit and he lives with my mother, Cydney, and me. He turned nine today.

He’s my lil’ dude. He’s right in the middle of that age I can’t stand; but he’s a good kid. When I was working from home I walked and picked him up from school, play basketball, and video games with him. I spoil him and all that. Cydney calls him her brother and although she knows he isn’t, that’s how she sees him.

I’m kind of tough on him. I try to find this balance between being father figure all while still having nuances of being the uncle you get to do things your parents wouldn’t allow. When I’m driving around with him I’ll play uncensored versions of rap songs and he knows not to repeat any lyrics. I’d like to think I’m doing something right, because the songs he tends to like aren’t explicit (with the recent exception of “King Kunta” by Kendrick Lamar).

“Excursions” by A Tribe Called Quest is his favorite. While driving he asks to play it all of the time. I think the dynamic that Q-Tip describes between his father and he fits us accurately. Tip and his father are going back and forth about the similarities and differences between the music of their times. “I said daddy, don’t you know that things go in cycles. The way Bobby Brown is ampin like Michael [Jackson].” My nephew and I are different in our own ways; but he reminds me a lot of myself at his age. I guess that in itself makes him a pretty cool kid.

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My Life in 100 Songs: Inshallah by Goodie Mob

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“How can I promise you forever when I can’t even promise the rest of today?  All I know is we started this journey together; hopefully we can make it the rest of the way, Insha’Allah.”

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were conversing on the phone.  She was telling me about her plans for a business she had been slowly developing plans for.  She talked passionately about it and after what I would call as a Christian “speaking things into existence,” she ended her sentence with “Insha’Allah.”

She explained that in the Muslim faith, Insha’Allah means “God willing” that one says when making or speaking about future plans.  The belief is that everything is maktub-or written-meaning that things will only happen if God allows it.  Essentially, it is a practice of submission.

Infinitely curious and putting two-and-two together, I thought about a song on Goodie Mob’s second album entitled “Inshallah.”  The song began to make a lot of sense.  Rapper-turned-singer Cee-Lo sings the chorus three different times.  The first time it is sung softly, the second a little louder, and the last one is belted.  It was as if as the song progressed the singing represented this idea of submission to God’s will.  It was always a favorite of mine off of Still Standing; but this made it the frontrunner.

The next day I found myself listening to the song repeatedly.  I like deep conversation in which I can learn things from others and pontificate about my own place in the grand scheme of things. Whenever I pray on things I go to Him with whatever is on my heart and say “have your way.” I seldom pray for things twice because once I’ve said that I’m putting it in His hands. As my favorite biblical scripture says, I don’t worry about tomorrow, for it will worry about itself (Matthew 6:33).

This is a constant battle. I’m a planner. After gathering as much information I gauge what are the possibilities and based on the variables what will happen based on probability knowing who and what is involved. I am a true believer in Rudyard Kipling’s second to last line in Invictus: I am the captain of my own fate. I don’t think there’s anything I can make happen unless there is divine intervention to circumvent it. For once in my life, I’m trying to just live for a season. I guess I’m leaning a little more towards just doing my part and letting the rest happen. So far, doing all of the above has worked for me. In fact, meeting my friend who introduced insha’Allah to me was me taking fate into my hands and making it happen with keeping in mind God will make things happen and things will fall into place.

Because of this belief I have always had, I take the idea of living for today seriously. For most people my age, “tomorrow isn’t promised” is an abstract concept. My peers and I are young, so the laws of average suggest that there will be a tomorrow. It is not an ideal for me; but practice and applied knowledge because of the journey God has ordained for me. I don’t make promises because my word is everything. If I feel a way about someone today I will let then know. If I love you I consider you a priority that I want to bask in that light. For all I know, I could be gone tomorrow. It is also the reason I don’t hold a grudge. For what?

That’s all for now…tomorrow there will be another song and post, insha’Allah.

My Life in 100 Songs: I Do by Jeezy f/ Jay Z and Andre 3000

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I first heard Andre 3000’s verse a year and a half before the song’s official release. The sentiment generating a relationship out if thin air and actually wanting to spend the rest of one’s life with someone was a new concept for our peers and us. My friends and I were in our mid-twenties so it was the beginning period of our lives where everyone we knew were starting to get married. Of course, Timile was the person I wanted to marry.

When Timile came home to our suburban Atlanta apartment I immediately played the song for her. I always knew we were having a daughter. Three Stacks couldn’t have summed up the way I felt about Timile and our baby-to-be who we had already decided her name would be London.

I had another song I was going to write about today. But I hadn’t gotten to it and on my way home from work, “I Do” popped up on my playlist. The first thing that I thought about was the scene depicted above. The second was me thinking about questions I have been asked repeatedly: 1) Would you want more children? 2) Would you get married again? And 3) What would make doing it all again different?

Of course, I’d do lots of things differently. I would love to have more children as well.

What would be different? Whoever I marry. Due to circumstances, there are parts of the process I have yet to experience. While I had a ring picked out, I couldn’t afford it, so I have never got down on one knee and ask someone to marry me.

I’m a Sagittarius; so I am committed to not being committed. I love to roam and heavy my freedom to do whatever I please. In theory, I’m ready to settle down. However, I’m not quite there, yet.

It’s funny how five years ago this song made me feel very differently. Before, it conjured thoughts of matrimony and all that this particular song is about. These days it makes me think of all menial and ceremonial aspects of commitment. I have lived all the vows one responds to with “I do,” and doing so again would require being nothing short of an amazing. Not because said woman would have big shoes to fill; I’m just different.

Have I felt this way about someone since December 2011? Yes. But neither of us was ready. One day someone will make me an offer I can’t refuse and I’ll be ready to live these vows again.

Until then, I have my own “Love .22” to raise. Who will love books, and cook, just like whomever I marry all while she looks just like her mother. And maybe in 2030 our baby will be nerdy, and maybe the whole club swoon.

My Life In 100 Songs: Good Good by Ashanti

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I joke around and say that the day I arrive to heaven the first thing Timile Brown is going to do when she sees me is punch me. Why? Because of how I raised Cydney. I think she would be very tickled by our daughter’s personality. However, her personality suggests that she is a little girl version of me. So as entertained as Timile would be, Cydney had acquired all of the traits her mother couldn’t stand about me.

While Cydney is my mini-me, I think that she and her mother are kindred spirits. I mostly see these glimpses of this essence when I play songs for Cydney that Timile loved. We had very different tastes in music, so the songs I tend to play are ones palatable to my ears.

In 2008 or 2009 Timile flew from Atlanta to Buffalo to attend a cousin’s wedding. When she came back home she said that we had to stop by Best Buy to pick up Ashanti’s latest album, The Declaration because her cousin Mashia had been playing it all weekend so she wanted to play it repeatedly and annoy my ears with that girly crap.

The one song she’d play over and over again was “Good Good.” It was a catchy tune that consisted of an E Major 7 and G Major 9 chords. It was simple, bright, and bouncy…it was a good spring song that embodied the early June when she’d run the song through the ground. While I’d be driving, Timile would bounce, and sing along while looking at me inferring that what she has is so good I’m not going anywhere.

About a month ago I was driving Cydney to soccer. It was one of the first nice days of the spring and the song had popped into my head out if nowhere. Probably because fee weather outside felt like a day that Timile would have played “Good Good.” So I pulled it up in Spotify and was curious what Cydney would think.

I know when Cydney is into a song. Within first listen she tries to mumble and sing along. There’s a delayed mentioning of whatever the last word the artists sing that Cydney does as well. Within the second or third listen her timing is perfect and before you know it she knows the chorus by heart. I could hear Cydney utter “Good good. Good good.” Then she’d ask me to play it again. By the fourth go round, my four year old with perfect tone and inflection sang “When my man ain’t home I know he’s coming back. I got that good good. I got that good good!”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Cydney had no idea what she was singing but she performed as if she did. I smiled a little to myself because I knew that moment was all Timile. And then I really laughed because I knew Timile would punch me for playing this for our daughter.

My Life in 100 Songs: The Blame Game

Kanye West’s albums have all coincided with the period of my life when they were released. College Dropout was released my freshman year, Late Registration my junior year, Graduation dropped in the fall of 2007 when I completed my tenure at Morehouse College, 808’s and Heartbreak was when Timile and I had broken up and she left Atlanta to move back home to Virginia and try things out with her “what if” guy.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy arrived in stores November 22, 2010 which was my twenty-fifth birthday. I followed along with the “G.O.O.D. Friday”  releases; but listening to the project as a complete body of work was a different experience. Timile was five months pregnant and her relationship with my family has me torn. Nonetheless, it was the two of us against the world while we took care of the heartbeat she was carrying. I was giving it a first spin while raking leaves and thinking to myself I couldn’t listen to this because it was so dark. I didn’t feel as if I was in the same place as this album because I’m anticipating the birth of my daughter. Less than six months from turning thirty I’m realizing that this album was exactly what twenty-five years old was…the beginning of my own beautiful dark twisted fantasy.

What makes an artist create such an outstanding piece of work? Pain and letting one’s agony become their muse and be their outlet. I guess that is what writing has become for me: my innermost thoughts being placed outward in which reading the words were me literally staring my angst face to face and sharing it with the world.

I think I feared the album because I unconsciously I didn’t want to accept that this was me or what was about to come. Twenty-five was a defining period in my life. I became a father and shortly after was forced to deal with things the laws of average suggest most don’t until they’re at least forty years older.

The song that always stood out to me was “The Blame Game.” Nearly three and a half years after Timile passed away I have had a few relationships. This song reminds me a lot of my dynamic with one person. People often refer to the laws of attraction in the manner that magnets work: opposites attract. The north pole is positive and is pulled by the negative south pole of another. If opposites attract then like poles push each other further back. That was us.

We really clicked. We had a lot in common. We were both the rare combination that was equally creative and logistical. It really was as if looking in the mirror at myself. The core of the reflection was the same but when I would lift my right hand up what I saw looking back was the left hand doing the same back at me.

Our disagreements often were the same thing over and over again. When it was all said and done we ultimately blamed each other for the problems we had with each other and nine out of ten times it was the accuser’s fault. I would say I didn’t like something and it would be taken to level ten when on that proverbial scale almost everything I say and do is at a three. No matter how many times I would try go circumvent this by saying “If you’re not sure what I mean then ask,” or whatever the first thing she’d do is defend herself-right-or-wrong-before trying to hear me out and see I’d be trying to articulate how I felt about something. She would go the passive aggressive route and not say anything until she is furious.

Yet whenever we’d go our separate ways we would be miserable. She would never admit this but I know it’s true. I know her. Nonetheless we’re in a different season, now. So just being friends some of the same problems would arise as if we were dating.

When it’s all said and done it was a love-hate relationship. Kanye’s first verse summed things up perfectly.

“On a bathroom wall I wrote
“I’d rather argue with you than to be with someone else” (else, else, else)
I took a piss and dismiss it like fuck it and went and found somebody else
Fuck arguing harvesting the feelings, I’d rather be by my fucking self
Till about 2 A.M. and I call back and I hang up and start to blame myself
Somebody help”

It was both of our faults…

Day1…100 Days of Music: Intro by The Lost Boyz

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“They say what kinda music you got? I got music the way I am, my man. How you see me is how my music is. Some say I’m ill, some say I be buggin’, some say I’m just chill…that’s how it is.”

Music and writing are a substantial part of what makes me who I am. So much that there is a treble clef that morphs into a pen in hand tattooed on my left arm. I have ten that cover most of the surface area of my shoulders, triceps, inner, and outer biceps. But the unfinished music one is the largest. That’s who I am.

I have been this way all of my life. My earliest memories in life are attached to songs. I’m that guy who can quote a lyric for any conversation that would make sense contextually. I’m always creating something and for the last seventeen years not a day has gone by in which I haven’t written at least two bars of rap lyric in my head. It’s always been my haven and the way I expressed myself the best.

I love to write and always have in some capacity. When I started this blog three years ago I had no idea where it would take me. I just wanted to share Cydney growing up with friends and family wherever they were. In that time the written word with no musical accompaniment has almost become an equal passion.

So that leads me here. A friend on Instagram suggested that I give the 100 Days of Music Challenge a go. I thought about it for a while and in search for a different direction to take this blog I figured not only will I post a song a day but I will write about it as well. It’ll be a random song. I also want to take requests and suggestions to keep things interesting. It’ll be good exercise to think outside of the box by juxtaposing songs that mostly have nothing to do in subject matter to my adventures of a single dad. The process of taking requests and turning them into well thought out posts could make for an pretty cool experience.

No better way than to start off with my favorite album introduction of all time from one of my favorite rap groups: The Lost Boyz. The intro was just them letting the world know who they were over Kool and the Gang’s ever-building “Summer Madness.” By the time the synthesizer crescendos they start clapping for themselves and building anticipation for everything they just said that made them the Lost Boyz. The result was an incredible album with five singles (Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless, Music Makes Me High and the remix; Jeeps, Lex Coupes, Bimmas, and Benzes; Renee, and Get Up). The album had five videos and outside of my hometown of Queens, NY they’re virtually an anecdote and Mr. Cheeks’ “Lights, Camera, Action” which was released seven years later.

“This here is something that has never been done before…So it shall be done.”-John “Mr. Cheeks” Kelly