In the past three months, I have written more on this site than I have in three years: sixteen posts in 2017, one in 2018, nine in 2019, and twice in 2020 before I started my ode to self-care. I may not have shared much; however, I have written a solid 200,000 words in my hiatus.
One of my works was a short novel, #Summer98. In November 2018, I challenged myself to give NaNoWriMo-National Novel Writing Month-a shot. Within 30 days, one must write a 40,000-word book about whatever one wants. I connected the soundtrack to my adolescence from 1998 and connected them to stories 2018. By the end of 1998, I picked up a marble composition book and began to pen my way to who I am right now. There was a whole timeline in which one is supposed to plan and structure their work; but I signed up on October 31 and got started.
I wrote 44,839 words; but never finished the project. I will return to this body of work at another time. For now, I will share the first essay, the reason “Definition” was selected by Spotify on My Summer Rewind playlist…
Juxtapose: to place different objects side to side for contrasting effect. This is the perfect word to describe the music scene in the summer of 1998.
Positioned adjacent to the glitzy, glossy, jigginess of 1997, the next summer had a different sound. It was as if we partied through the pain after 2Pac and B.I.G. were killed. In the next year, the casual audience were introduced to the underground; and it was a breath of fresh air. The patrons of the music pulled a Spotify and told its new hip hop listeners “If you like Puffy, take a listen to this new group, BlackStar…you’ll love it!”
1998 was one of the last times all facets of hip hop seemed to coexist without division or the stigma of classification. In fact, this new interest was its own homeostatic ecosystem of culture. The popularized polished sound ushered in a new crop of emcees with a much grittier sound. By “taking it back to the streets,” the raw went pop.
While they began to go their separate ways, indies, mainstream, underground, and the different regions needed each other. Ma$e needed 8Ball and MJG for “The Playa Way,” DMX needed Faith Evans; r&b acts such as SWV needed JAY-Z, etc. fed off each other. As a result, the masses in their corners of the globe heard sounds, flows, and worldviews through this music they wouldn’t give a chance. In a nutshell, the summer of 1998 is genesis of the blurred and mixed sound created 20 years later.
This was also the genesis of hip hop’s relationship the internet. Canibus was before his time with his “brain consists of twin Pentium chips.” We were not quite sure what he meant; we knew the futuristic computer shit would become a norm. There were hundreds of chat rooms and message boards which created communities responsible for many of our favorite acts today. If you liked a certain artist, there were several others online and were more than happy to convene with others as well as new music. If you didn’t have a computer, you went to the library to print out the lyrics of your favorite songs off of the Original Hip Hop Lyrics Archive aka ohhla.com..
At this time, I was a tall, lanky, awkward middle schooler who would much rather skip piano lessons for baseball games and basketball tournaments. Eighth grade was around the corner. No longer the kids with the transitional, elementary school essence of sixth grade, or testing out one’s freedom in seventh grade; my friends and I were at the top of the proverbial totem pole at IS 227Q.
I had not quite figured out who I was; but I knew where I wanted to go. I ditched my aspirations of the NBA. Perhaps I’d still play in and for a college; however, it was no longer the dream which drove me. I wanted to go to school, major in business management, and then become the CEO of my own record label. This was not a common aspiration in 1998 and I didn’t share that for the sake of fitting in (my best friend Gabe was probably the only one who knew this).
Outside of a simple chord progression, I did not know how to create the music; but I knew it and the entrepreneurial spirit was in me. At the very least, it was what I was born to be I felt.
Life had begun to change this was the origin of a new normal. By the end of September 1998, our family moved out of our two bedroom apartment in Queens and into a house in Nassau County. It was only 10 miles away but a completely different world from the busy streets of New York City’s five boroughs.