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Charity Starts At Home

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New Tigalllo, new Tigallo, new Tigallo…

I room and a microphone. And a family I ain’t seen in months/ And I played this record a million times just hoping that you’d play it once/” Phonte Coleman

Phonte was one third of the North Carolina rap group Little Brother.  To those that were super hip-hop heads, Little Brother was a fixture in your CD changer or discman.  Between 2003-2009, Phonte, Rapper Big Pooh and producer 9th Wonder (for the first two albums) crafted a nearly flawless catalog.  Phonte was always the standout emcee.  While promoting their major-label debut The Minstrel Show, Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh stopped by Morehouse’s campus and had an autograph signing.  They attended North Carolina Central University, and that was Devin and my other roommate Walter’s alma mater for undergrad.  We asked him a few months prior had he ever heard of them and he said no.  I was taking an African American studies class that was all about the history of hip-hop at the time.  Some of my classmates went to the signing and asked Little Brother if they would come by our class and speak for a minute.  Devin called me and told me that he ran into Walter on campus and with a signed poster and once again asked if he’d ever seen this trio.  He said that he looked at the picture and said “That’s Thomas!  My roommate!”  He was referring to Rapper Big Pooh.  Little Brother had shown up to our class as promised.  Walter walked into the room and both Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh stopped mid-sentence.  Big Pooh said “That was my roommate my freshman year in college!”  They stopped and hugged for a quick moment and went back to speaking about the music business.

At the end of their lecture, one of the students asked if they would do an impromptu freestyle cypher with some of us.  They did and two of us jumped at the chance to rap for Phonte and Big Pooh.  I was knee deep in my being a rapper phase and spit a verse for them.  As they were about to leave, they told me that my verse was dope and that I was nice.  If I ever decided to quit rapping, that was my validation someone who was considered a rapper’s rapper told me I was nice.

I saw the clouds today and thought that it was time to say goodbye-Phonte Coleman

Phonte’s solo album Charity Starts At Home was released September 27, 2011.  It was a stellar album in which he rapped about every day stuff: taking care of his family, work, trying to stay faithful as well as some excellent rappity rap along the way.  I related to this album, because that was my life.  The title in itself was everything to me.  I was working for a company facilitating and negotiating short sales on homes with distressed mortgages ten hours a day, just to drive home to my fiance who was fighting for her life and taking care of our infant daughter.  They were my everything and if I were still rapping for real at the time, my album would have sounded very similar to his in topic.

Just about every day between late September to the end of October when I left Buffalo to live in Virginia I listened to that album on the way home.  My favorite song was the last song called “Who Loves You More.”  I that chorus spoke to me. “I saw the clouds and thought that it was time to say goodbye.”  It always made me think about my girl that I was going home to.  Timile was beginning to get sicker and sicker.  She was eighty-eight pounds and spent a lot of time in bed at that time.  She would doubt that I was still attracted to her since she felt like she was no longer the youthful girl that I spent a good portion of our relationship side-eyeing all of the men who wanted what I had.  One grayish day outside as I drove home, I looked up and thought to myself “Maybe it will be time to say goodbye soon.”  I hated that I thought that, but I was being realistic with myself.  Things weren’t looking great and I believed in miracles, but I had to prepare my mind, heart, spirit, and little girl for the possibility that Timile may not be with us much longer or one day.  Even if her cancer did go into remission, she could have shaven many years off of her life just due to the aggressive treatments she underwent at twenty-five.

Praying that the ends justify the means. Cause most of my heroes had fucked up lives/ Coked up kids and three or four wives
Hoes in every city, enough side bitches for three or four tribes/From Marvin to Basquiat, it comes with a cavat. And that’s the gospel like three or four choirs/-Phonte Coleman

That’s incredibly true.  Growing up, my hero was my father.  He still is.  He’s the man to me.  My father is a musician by trade.  He’s played all over the world and worked with some of everyone over the last thirty years.  One of these days, I will delve more into detail about him and our relationship.  As a musician on the road, he lived the life that many do.  It took a toll on our family dynamic in many ways.  My father is hard on me because he saw me going down the road that he did.  I think sometimes there’s an inner conflict with him, because he wants me to do what he didn’t in the sense of being a musician as well as to learn from his mistakes.  I know he lives with quite a few regrets about how things have panned out in his life and as his son, I am his chance to do the things that he didn’t.  I wouldn’t say that his life is fucked up, but he may feel that way himself.  I can see it in our late conversations via text message and in his eyes depending on the subject matter.

When I was trying to be in the music business, I let it all go for Timile.  I looked at how I was raised as a product of it.  While I loved it and wouldn’t change a thing, it wasn’t the life that she wanted.  Making a living or having a life, I had to choose.  No matter what I wanted, she came first.  I didn’t have any regrets on whether or not I could make it or if I was any good.  Hell, Phonte and Big Pooh’s compliment told me otherwise.  I’m not upset about it to this day.  Knowing how things would play out, I made the right decision.  With that said, The last two bars of “Who Loves You More” and the album sum everything up:

And always take care of home. Because home is where charity starts-Phonte Coleman

2Pac

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I didn’t think about this post until late Friday evening.  However, I felt that it was something I should share.  For my generation, Tupac Amaru Shakur was our John Lennon.  There isn’t really anyone else to compare him to as far as influence, iconic status, and death,  

I was first introduced to 2Pac by my mother.  She had the cassette single of “I Get Around” and would play it on Saturday afternoons when we would be cleaning up our two bedroom apartment in Queens.  Being a good parent, she wouldn’t play it repeatedly because the subject matter wasn’t what children should be listening to; but she liked the song and so did my sister and me.  Eventually I knew all of the words and would be quick to rap “All respect to those who keep their hoes in check” and such when my mother wasn’t in earshot.  My other introduction to 2Pac was me hating on him around 1993 when he was playing Lucky in Poetic Justice.  I didn’t like him because he was Janet Jackson’s love interest and at the time I had a thing for Ms. Jackson who was in her prime back then.

I liked 2Pac like any other kid at the time.  He wasn’t a fixture on the radio in New York back then because he was more or less considered a west coast artist and 98.7 Kiss FM and eventually Hot 97 were more inclined to play The Notorious B.I.G. and Method Man back then. 

I was starting sixth grade; almost eleven years old when 2Pac died.  My good friend from church Philliph and his mom was taking a group of us  to go rock climbing at Chelsea Piers for his birthday on Septbember 13, 1996.  I was sitting at the bottom of my steps on Francis Lewis Boulevard waiting for Ms. Cheryl and her son to come and pick me up.  I wasn’t necessarily thinking about 2Pac at the time.  We all knew that he had been shot in Las Vegas a few days earlier,, but we all just knew he was gonna pull through like he did previously.

We had a good time at Chelsea Piers.  On the ride back to Queens, we were listening to Hot 97 and we noticed that they were playing lots of sad music.  All of us in the car were wondering why they were playing songs like Boyz II Men Please Don’t Go.  After the song went off, Angie Martinez made the announcement that 2Pac died at 7:03 PM from his gunshot wounds.  There was a silence in the van amongst the handful of boys.  We were all sad.  I think we all were taking in the moment and etching it into our minds that we would never forget the moment that we found this news out.  The whole ride back, that was all we talked about.  We just all knew he was going to make it out of this; but he didn’t.

2Pac’s estate would eventually release a slew of albums and there would be questions and jokes if he really died.  2Pac was big when he was alive, but he became an icon after death.  Like I said, he became John Lennon.  For someone who died when I was in my tweens, his music old and new became the soundtrack to my generation’s lives well into our twenties.  I stopped keeping track of the new Pac albums after a while because they felt watered down.

His words inspired many of us to write.  I know a couple of people who started rapping, becoming poets, and even professional writers and journalists because of him.  When I applied to Morehouse College, there was an essay portion that needed to be fulfilled.  The topic was to write about a black man influenced us.  As opposed to writing about Martin Luther King which I assumed most people wrote about being that he is Morehouse’s most distinguished alum; I decided to write about 2Pac.  I wrote about him to set myself a part thinking that whoever reads this will be somewhat entertained because it would be the first time someone wrote about Pac to get into college.  It was mostly creative writing.  However, the more I wrote, the more the truth came out.  2Pac’s death had helped me find direction in life.  I wanted to use my life and words to mean something to others and I did not want to die young.  I wanted to steer clear of the streets or whatever.  Coming from where I did, I have quite a few friends and acquaintances that have taken to the streets because it was there and many times seems as a means as well as a way to prove you were a man.

One other quick 2Pac story.  When I first got to Morehouse, my roommate and I were cool, but we didn’t always see eye to eye.  I think it was more or less that people who are alike tend to butt heads.  A lot of my closest friends and I start off this way, and he was no different.  In defiance to each other, we would both play our music loudly while doing work, studying, or whatever we were doing.  One September afternoon, we were both at our desks studying and listening to our separate music loudly.  I decided to play 2Pac’s When I Get Free p. 2.  Almost in sync, so did he.  When I noticed it, I looked at him and asked “Did you start playing this because I did?”  He looked up and realized we were both playing the same song, laughed, and said “Nah, I didn’t hear you playing it.”  That was the moment that we clicked and we never blasted our music simutaneously again.  We became really good friends and we still are.

How does this tie into this blog?  Not sure.  I guess its part of my childhood.  It was one of those defining moments that made me who I am today.  I rapped for years.  Listening to how 2Pac expressed himself unapologetically made it cool to be a thug and still sensitive.  People respected that kind of honesty.  While contradictory, it was incredibly human to want to tell women to Keep Your Head Up and then say “Time to make the bed rock, baby look how it rise.”  No matter how it may look to some of the readers, I share my thoughts on this blog in the same manner.  I write loving posts about my daughter and her mother while listening to songs like Swishers and Doja by UGK.  A reader would be on the page looking at The Weekend in Pictures seeing picture of me in full on dad mode and to the right see a tweet that is pretty reckless and not at all something one would think someone with a fatherhood blog should say.  However, that’s part of my spiel: I’m twenty-seven years old and giving multiple sides of my thoughts at this age are all part of letting people know who I am.  It makes my words much more than words on a page.  That’s what we liked and still like about 2Pac.

In Due Time: Coasting

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As I have previously stated I am an OutKast fanatic. There is a song on the Soul Food Soundtrack called “In Due Time” featuring a rapper who was taking one of his first dips into singing named Cee-Lo on the song who drops an incredible verse. For those who do not know who Cee-Lo is, he’s a rapper from Atlanta who is part of socially conscious rap quartet called Goodie Mob (Good Die Mostly Over Bullshit). They put out a couple of incredible albums in the nineties and he eventually left the group. Eventually he put a couple of solo albums (Cee-Lo Green Presents the Soul Machine > The Love Below), wrote and performed some hits, was on a couple of tv shows or something; but eff all that: Get back to rapping.

Anywho… On In Due Time, Cee-Lo rap/sings one of the most poignant verses I’ve ever heard:

Struggle is just a part of my day
Many obstacles have been placed in my way
I know the only reason that I make it throughIs because I never stop believing in you
Some people wonder why we’re here in the 1st place
They can’t believe because they ain’t never seen your face
But even when you pray, the next day you gotta try
Can’t wait for nobody to come down out the sky
You’ve got to realize that the world’s a test
You can only do your best and let him do the rest
You’ve got your life, you’ve got your healthSo quit procrastinating and push it yourself
You’ve got to realize that the world’s a test
You can only do your best and let him do the rest
You’ve got your life, you’ve got your health
So quit procrastinating

Part of me being restless is that I welcome change. Routine is great and all, but I don’t like to do the same things day in and day out all the time. The saying is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and getting the same results or something like that. Whatever. Insanity is when you do things differently and end up with the same results.

Why is that insanity? Because obviously you’re not listening. While doing your part and adhering to Thomas Callaway’s words of trying after paying, coming up short means having to wait. About a year ago, I spoke to my big brother Barry about my circumstances. Just venting to him about all that I was going through, being ready to move on from all that had happened since Timile’s passing, getting custody of Cydney, and being wanting better employment. He said to me “You just prayed and fought hard to get your daughter back. It’s your season to coast. God gives seasons to just coast and enjoy what He’s given you. When you’re up and moving around again, you’ll miss this season.” He also lamented to not get too comfortable in this season because laziness can creep in and you miss your moment.

I’ve taken this into consideration. However, the thing about being human is constantly coming up short. Sometimes we need to coast to be thankful for what we have, to be humbled, to rest before the next test is given, or even to lean on others to recognize who we have in our lives because we wouldn’t otherwise. Finding that balance is how to stay sane in the midst of what seems like unbearable periods of monotony, and incredibly loud silence.

Enjoy coasting. If you’re doing what you’re supposed to do then know it’ll be alright and you’ll be where you need to be… In Due Time

You just keep your faith in me
Don’t act impatiently
You’ll get where you need to be
In due time
Even when things are slow
Hold on and don’t let go
I’ll give you what I owe
In due time

T.R.O.Y.

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I’ve always loved this song.  It makes me think of being about seven when it came out and when 98.7 Kiss FM was the rap radio station in New York.  When I was in my high school band, I played this every morning as part of my warm-up on my sax.

Tuesdays are music days, but this one just hit me out of nowhere.  There’s so much to say about Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s “They Remenice Over You.”  It was a song what was a homage to their friend and member of Heavy D and the Boyz Troy “Trouble T-Roy” Dixon who died in a freak accident in 1990.  It’s one of those songs you never forget when you hear it.  Tom Scott’s tenor sax riff that is sampled sticks out like a sore thumb whether you hear the original song or the track itself.  Pete Rock talked about how he and CL Smooth were feeling depressed thinking about their fallen friend.  CL wrote the song before the track was made and Pete Rock said he would make something for it to be recorded over and the rest is history.  I read somewhere that once it was finished, Pete Rock played it for Charlie Brown of Leaders of the New School and they broke down into tears as it played.

It’s become an anthem not only of an era of hip hop that is no more, but one for all of those who have lost someone.  In 2003, they did a remake with Mr. Cheeks of the Lost Boyz where CL raps once again about Trouble T-Roy as well as others from the song who have passed on.  While I like that version a whole lot, nothing compares to the heart of the original.

Yesterday I was on the phone with Timile’s godmother, Sydney (Who Cydney is named after).  I was talking to her about life in general and seeing her next week for her son’s wedding.  I was telling her about the article that was written about Cydney and I, getting laid off a couple days ago, and just trying to make it.  We were talking about a few years ago when I was let go because it was due to cutbacks just like the other day and how much Timile and I struggled through that time.  We conversed about how life throws adversity your way and you have to just go with it.  She said to me “You were just chasing the prettiest girl on campus.  You didn’t sign up for this!” Man was she right, and her saying that over the phone has been ringing in my head ever since.

Since the article in TheRoot has posted, a lot of people have reached out to me; many of them from college.  Some saying they still think about Timile and that others have not forgotten about her.  A few months ago when I was with Sydney’s son Brian, I just mentioned her name while we were at a party in reference to something.  He said give him a moment.  He walked off for a minute or two, and came back wiping his eyes saying that he’s still not over his little cousin being gone.  I’ve had that response happen a couple of times.  I met someone a couple of months ago while I had Cydney with me who we went to college with and once I mentioned Timile’s name she put two and two together realizing the child that I had with me, walked off for a moment and cried as well.  I realize that while I’ve somewhat had peace about her passing others haven’t just yet or moreso since it is not a part of their everyday lives when she is brought up it is fresh in their minds as if December 9th was yesterday.

With Timile and what Sydney said heavy on my mind, I found myself listening to Tom Scott’s “Today” this morning randomly.  When I played the song, I wasn’t actually thinking about Timile consciously, but it just works out that way sometimes.  At 1:39 when that riff pops up out of nowhere, it all came back.  Of course I found myself playing Pete Rock and CL Smooth right after.  No thoughts of sadness, just a quick moment of reminiscing… My God.

Ice Cube’s Double Consciousness

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The term “double consciousness” was coined by W.E.B. DuBois to describe the internal challenge with one’s identity that blacks have to reconcile to fit into a society. Usually, this being raised in African American culture in a European/Western education and corporate setting where one usually conflicts with the other.  However, I am using it as a play on words to describe the dichotomy of O’Shea Jackson aka Ice Cube’s career.

A week or two ago, while being fed up with watching Nick Jr I started flipping through channels.  Lottery Ticket was on BET so I thought I would watch it because there was nothing else on.  My nephew saw Ice Cube in character as an old man and said “That’s the guy from Are We There Yet?”  I looked at him and said “Yeah.  Ice Cube.”  Internally, the hip-hop head/slowly turning into an old man lost it and said “Shake em up, shake em up, shake em up, shake em!”.  Immediately I thought of this clip from the Boondocks:

http://youtu.be/Qq8JiVQWtLE?t=18m7s

When I saw this clip, I laughed.  I laughed out loud.  I found it to be the funniest part of the episode because that was how I felt about Snoop [Doggy] Dogg.  I had that same dream about him.  I was eight years old.  I dreamed that Snoop was performing at an awards show.  He had on his blue plaid a flannel shirt and Shirley Temple curls, and him and the Dogg Pound were onstage riding around on lowrider bikes rapping “Gin n Juice” with a dog house behind them.  My mother didn’t approve  and when they were backstage kicked the bikes over.  Snoop saw this, got mad, and shot my mom!  Anywho, I’m assuming Gangstalicious is about three years older than me because he was when Ice Cube was “That nigga you love to hate,” I was like six.  Ice Cube was so gangsta though.  I used to try to play “You Know How We Do It” on my recorder in third or fourth grade.

Ice Cube’s transition from a good day being him not having to use his AK to running barbershops in Chicago makes perfect sense.  Being more family friendly in content was incredibly lucrative and has opened up so many doors.  Yes, they’re mostly buddy movies with Ice Cube playing himself, getting the girl, and a comedian sidekick but it works and we’re entertained.  To older hip hop heads, we don’t hold it against him because as often as he flashes that grin in a movie he still grimaces like he’s kicking it with Trey or on the cover of Amerikkka’s Most Wanted even if we only see it mostly in Coors Light commercials.  His music is still gangsta rap; its just evolved as he’s gotten older and has more of a consciousness to it.

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Just because I think this picture is hilarious.

Somehow it works.  My nephew and I can both enjoy Cube in our own ways.  He can find him funny in movies and I can listen to “Steady Mobbin’.”  I wouldn’t want to ruin what my nephew thinks of Ice Cube by mentioning his rap career.  I may mention that he’s a rapper first or something, but that’s about it.  I think his career is very much like parenting.  As an adult, we know that life can be pretty messed up and people suck.  We know that eventually, our children will find that out, so we want them to be kids as long as possible.  Believe in Santa Claus, believe that people have good intentions, think that you can be anything you want to be.  Eventually they will find out on their own or ask a bunch of questions and you’re kinda forced to burst that bubble.

I’m close to thirty, and while there are days that I wish my life was carefree as my nephew’s, I’d rather be an adult.  While being an adult is tiring and stressful, the knowledge makes up for being paid in good grades.  I’ve spoken to both of my grandmothers and asked them would they rather be young and inexperienced or be old and have knowledge.  They both answered they’d rather be slower and knowledgeable than young and dumb.  It is very comparable to while Are We There Yetis cool, Friday is much better.

No matter what, to me Ice Cube will always be Jheri-Curled… Yeah-Yeeaigh!!

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Stevie Wonder-As

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As today I know I’m living but tomorrow 
Could make me the past but that I mustn’t fear 
For I’ll know deep in my mind 
The love of me I’ve left behind Cause I’ll be loving you always

My favorite Stevie Wonder song (other than Uptight-the ULTIMATE happy song) of all time. There’s something about songs written in the key of B major that I’m a sucker for.  I realized that sentence started similar to the name of the album, but nonetheless the collection of songs that make up Songs In the Key of Life is appropriately titled as well.  There are so many gems on that album that sum up what life, and love are about.  However, none of them if any at all sum up how unconditional love is like “As.”

I hadn’t listened to the song in a while.  It’s one of those songs I forget about in the midst of all of my rap music I listen to.  I think that works out because when it comes up on the radio or pops into my head to listen to it, its always a pleasant surprise.  I heard the song on the radio Saturday afternoon after a long day of Children’s Day fun at church.  All I could think about was the last time I’d heard the song before that.  It was a few weeks after Timile had passed away.  When I listened to it that day, I found myself playing it for about a good hour.  I switched back and forth between Stevie’s version and when George Michael and Mary J Blige covered it about ten years ago.  As it played and  I listened to it with all of my new life experiences, I began to well up.  No tears fell, but that was the only time I’d come close to actually shedding a tear about Timile’s passing.  As often as the other other day I’m asked have I every cried over Timile dying.  My answer is no and I’m usually asked how did I grieve.  Not until this morning did it hit mean that listening to this song at that moment was my moment.  There was no funeral, or grand moment in which it all hit me because I saw something of hers or anything; it was listening to a song that summed up exactly how I felt about her.

Until the day is night and night becomes the day—ALWAYS 
Until the trees and seas just up and fly away—ALWAYS 
Until the day that 8x8x8 is 4—ALWAYS 
Until the day that is the day that are no more

Listening to it right now to right this post doesn’t conjure up any feelings of sadness.  Even when I listened to it any other time do the same.  Its actually a feeling of peace.  No matter what happens in my life, I’ll love her the same way forever.  That doesn’t mean that whoever comes along next will get anything less.  Timile the person is a part of my past that has shaped who I am today and the only part of her that is an active part of my every day life is Cydney.  Even that is ever changing as Cydney becomes more and more her own person.  If anything she’s the little love letter I received from my partner who is only with us in spirit.  I will probably get married and have other children someday, but how I feel about Timile will not change.  It’s for always.

We all know sometimes life’s hates and troubles 
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space 
But you can bet you life times that and twice its double 
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed 

so make sure when you say you’re in it but not of it 

You’re not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell

For a long time I had no idea what Stevie Wonder was saying here.  When he gets all gruff, I have always had a hard time trying to understand Mr. Wonder.  I looked up the words and it gave the song context.  Our place in life, interactions, and even mistakes are not happenstance.  They aren’t coincidental at all.  Your moments of adversity are the experiences that shape us for whoever is next.  It’s always for someone else.  I look at my adult life and how hard a lot of it has been, but those times built character.  Sometimes, I wish I had an easier life but that wasn’t why God made me.  I’m pretty sure that if Timile could do her life over again, she wouldn’t change anything; not even dying young.  She always knew that her time here was short.  She knew she had a hard life.  But, her circumstances didn’t own her.  What she went through was her playing her role in God’s plan and is happy to have done so.  I think because of how she felt about me, that her life has given me purpose and shaped me into being a vessel somehow someway.  That in itself is a reason to be loving her always…

New York City

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Last night, I was reading a writer friend of mine’s thesis that they wrote for graduate school a couple of years ago. A random conversation we were having about a drawing lead to me reading what I thought to be an interesting title. I read the preface and was sucked in and intrigued to keep reading (hint). I was intrigued because as a person whose whole life revolved around music, I related. The first chapter-let was about how and where they grew up. The last part of that was (and I may be misquoting this) “_______ is my home. It’s all I know.”

I was in Manhattan reading this. As I took the Long Island Railroad home, I looked out of the window gazing at the place I grew up: New York City. As soon as you leave the tunnel crossing the East River, you get a good look at the bright lights buildings that make my stomping grounds the most famous city. You keep going east and you pass the place I grew up in St. Albans, Queens, and I end at the stop where I spent my high school years in Long Island only thirty minutes away.

I went to college in the south, and most of my adult friends I’ve made come from very different places. Lots of them come from small places and even if they grew up somewhere like the Southwest they all had similar stories about growing up. My friend’s thesis stated how where they grew up is majestic. Its delicacies and the quiet and serene atmosphere makes one imagine that such scenery as mountains at sunset is in quite something beautiful.

With all of this in my active memory, I thought about the first minute of Big Punisher’s video for ” You Came Up.” It starts off with the phrase “Somewhere in the Tropics” and he his surrounded by luxurious women in what looks like he is somewhere with palm trees and such. It zooms out and you see he is in fact in New York (the shot suggests its New Jersey but you’d only know that being from here). That right there always summed up how I felt about New York.

While it may not have the weather of Los Angeles, the scenery of mountains as the desert, or the clear blue ocean as the tropics, I find the manmade metropolis to be paradise. Summers here consisted of visiting museums and places my friends have seen in movies, playing in streets that became unsafe by dusk, and music video shoots from famous rappers who grew up in that same area (Where I grew up, check Tribe’s Check The Rhyme; LL Cool J’s Hey Lover, Loungin’ and cover of Bad; Nas’ Hate Me Now; and the movie Belly).

With all of that said, I never wanted to come back to New York to live. I loved Atlanta and as a country girl, Timile hated the idea of living here. Atlanta was the perfect marriage of what we wanted because it was city enough for me and country enough for her. At this point, I couldn’t see me moving back to Atlanta because that was supposed to be our home we’d go back to after Cydney was born and continue our lives. I like the idea of letting Atlanta be that dream deferred. It makes going back there all the more special when I visit.

Even now knowing how quickly we grow up in New York being exposed to so much so young makes me cringe in raising my daughter her whole young life here. There is an upside to such an upbringing. Being in such a fast-paced lifestyle you learn to think on your toes, adapt quickly, and read people incredibly fast. Once you realize that life everywhere else is much slower and keeping that “New York State of Mind” is why you can make it anywhere.

Well, I don’t know if New York is forever. I hope not. But my career and some aspects of my personal life suggest otherwise. So in the meantime, it looks like I will be spending a little more time in paradise.

This Is The Life/Highs and Lows

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*Music contains explicit content*

All of 2011 was a difficult year.  With Cydney’s birth, Timile’s diagnosis and eventual passing from cancer as well as my mother’s diagnosis; I had been going through a lot.  Being that all of my time was taken up between the three most important girls in my life.  My outlet was the music I was listening to.  It has always been my sanctum and my therapy.  During that spring, I became a big fan of up and coming emcees Curren$y and Big K.R.I.T.  I didn’t always relate to their lyrics, but the music matched how I felt.  Pilot Talk 1 and 2 became my soundtracks to my drives along Lake Eerie when I wasn’t working and I had those two hours to myself.  On my way back to Buffalo from New York, I gave Big K.R.I.T.’s Returnof4Eva a spin.  I got to track nine, which had a slowed down sample in which Krizzle sang “Life ain’t nothin’ but an EQ of highs and lows.” Man, did I relate to that.  That was my life.

In Buffalo, Timile and I were going through some problems with her grandmother.  Her grandmother wanted Timile and Cydney to herself and it caused some major friction that  one time turned into her putting her hands on me and one of her cousins calling the cops on me in which I had done nothing to any of them.  

Our car broke down and when I started working, I was taking the bus to work.  It was a two hour commute and I worked a 3-11 PM shift.  Usually I would luck out and find a ride home.  One night, I didn’t and had to take the bus home.  When this would happen, I would have to wait an hour for my next bus.  The first night while I was waiting for the bus on the corner of Walden and Bailey Avenue in Cheektowaga (a not so safe place to be at 12 AM), I was listening to Pandora on my phone and the first chords to Curren$y’s #Jetsgo came on.  It really caught me by surprise.  You normally don’t hear rap music have such chord progressions like that track had.  It was life changing and became my theme song just because I loved the beat.  Curren$y rapped his ass off on the song, too; but I couldn’t relate but so much to “Twistin’ them Ferngully trees.” 

#Jetsgo was the first single to Curren$y’s next album “Weekend at Burnie’s” and it had me looking forward to its release in a couple of weeks.  When it dropped and I was taking the bus to work listening to it for the first time, I heard “This is the Life.”  Once again, the chords made me pay attention.  The music and the part of the chorus where someone sang “Ohhhhh! This is the life” resonated with me.  Eventually, we got the car fixed and I found myself playing this song all the time coming home.  I got switched to a morning shift and it just always made me think about getting home to my girls.

While none of this is what I had imagined of I’m sure what my parents prayed for, this was my life.  That song made me come to peace with the hardships and enjoy my family the short time the three of us were able to be a complete unit.   While the song is celebratory, I was finding a way to do so in the midst of my circumstances.  My life was nowhere near being “Poolside on rooftops,” but I felt like my life was amazing.  “Highs and Lows” was the perfect complimentary song to it because the lows that came along with being tired leaving ten hour shifts, going to the hospital to visit Timile until 10 PM, then coming home to put Cydney to bed was what made those moments that we had together during those times some of the best in my life.

When we look back at our pasts, we remember our struggles vividly.  Those adverse times become fond because they were moments in our lives that defined us.  They bring those that we are trying to persevere through life with much closer and a bond that can never be broken.  All of those nights that it was just Cydney and I two years ago made her and I very close.  Everyone else was cool, but no one lit up her face like daddy did.  Obviously, that was the stage being set up for it being just the two of us and all that has come along with the life that we currently live.  Because of those times in the beginning, Cydney knew exactly who I was when she hadn’t seen me in months.  What we had before was still there. It is now.  And that has made my being her father and her my daughter all the more special.

And that is the life.

Growing Old

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Something’s gotta change
Sounds of laughter and happiness turns my teardrops to rain
Been bearing this burden for too many of my days
Looks like breezes of autumn done finally move my way
Like memories of yesterday…

While Southernplayalisticadillacmuzic opened up the door for southern hip-hop, Aquemini is the five-mic classic, Stankonia was the crossover, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below won all the awards, and Idlewild was a movie; ATLiens is most cohesive of Outkast albums.  It’s the one where Dre (Not Andre 3000) and Big Boi were still a collective and not celebrating themselves as individuals and the only album in which there is no skipping any songs all the way through (Yes, Aquemini is better bar-for-bar and production-wise but I have to be in the mood to listen to Synthesizer, Da Art of Storytelling pt. 2, and even SpottieOttieDopaliscious). It covered a wide range of topics to a fairly southern backdrop but on a more appealing palate for northern and western purists.

While Elevators is hands down the best song, number two is the album’s closer: 13th Floor/Growing Old.  Strategically placed as the last song because it’s the longest, is in the key of A major like the intro which gives the album a full circle feel, and the subject matter it is something that we can all relate to: growing up.  Its a reflective song by two guys who are about twenty-one years old coming to grips with yesterday while simultaneously acknowledging their transition from boys to men (Hence every album after celebrating them being individuals coming together).

Whenever I listen to the album and I get to the last song, I always wind up repeating it a few times and I find myself thinking about the people I transitioned from boys to men with: my boys from college and life after.  We just knew it was in the cards for our mixtapes to get a buzz and become stars.  After classes, we’d reconvene in my dorm room and eventually mine and my roommate’s apartment, shoot the shit with beats I made playing in the background until an idea came up for a new song all the while seeing and being around each other through some interesting situations.  We’d witnessed a lot while those beats played: breakups, expecting children, making phone calls finding out that people weren’t graduating, fights ending in tears on the phone and much more.  A part of me truly believes that out last mixtape which never came out due to my computer crashing was us being saved from ourselves.  I think had it, we all would have went down paths we weren’t supposed to.  Lord knows Timile and I wouldn’t have worked out and that was the beginning of our relationship.  

But more than anyone else in my crew, running my own record company was my dream since I was eleven (Before it was the cool thing to do.  I loved music and wanted a regular job instead of being the artist).  It took me finding something that meant more to me than that to put it aside.  Timile wasn’t fond of my choice of professional aspirations.  I was working at a record company at the time hopefully sooner than later having an office job at one, so all of my marbles weren’t just in my group.  When I realized what I had in her, I realized that she meant more than any of that.  So I let it all go.  I left my job and music became a hobby until I needed it to make money.

Much closer to thirty than twenty, almost everyone has some kind of graduate degree, is married, or has children.  I don’t think any of us except maybe one has a career that is what we went to school for.  The second half of your twenties is when that idealism that is synonymous with college begins to fade and you have to start making real life decisions.  It’s the beginning of slowing down and life being about people other than yourself.

Last week, I asked my mother how different was life thirty years later from when her and my father got married.  I was asking in a context of being young and having what seems like your life ahead of you to making compromises and quite simply God having other plans.  Without delving into personal details she said its nothing like she’d imagined.  Hell, she didn’t think she’d have twins.  While only a few years older than she was when she got married, I related.  My experiences over the last three years have taught me that this happens.  

With all that said, getting older your forgetting things winds up becoming an asset.  All you remember is the good things.  I remember the days with the crew fondly as boys becoming men in the same way I look back and can’t really think of anything that Timile did to get on my nerves. That’s the other side of “Trees bright and green turn yellow brown.”

My Parents and A Tribe Called Quest

Anyone who really knows me can tell you that I am a HUGE A Tribe Called Quest fan. Actually there’s a clue on the About Me page in which I am sitting with Cydney wearing a Tribe t-shirt as well as two videos posted with Cydney and their music playing in the background. If you said that you were a fan of hip-hop music and said that you didn’t like Tribe, a serious explanation would be needed and depending on the response that might be grounds for no longer being friends. The documentary Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest? I’ve watched a good thirty plus times. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi have made three classic albums and two solid other ones that do not get their just due because they were not as good as the first two. Let me stop, because I could go on and on.

*Cues Peoples Instinctive Travels & the Paths In Rhythm*

Anyways. This post is about my parents more than anything else. After watching their documentary the first few times, all I could think about was how much Q-Tip and Phife remind me of my parents for many reasons. They are both very artistic people (my mother is an art teacher and my father a musician) and they too are from St. Albans, Queens who met as teenagers taking the bus home from Jamaica High school. Supporting each other along the way, they married May 14, 1983. A little more than two years later they had yours truly and my sister. My parents raised us in the same neighborhood and we moved out to Long Island for high school after years of working together to buy a home doing the best that they could raising us to keep us out of trouble and such. What made them work was that they had chemistry. The way that The Abstract and Phife Diggy had different styles, subject matters, and had contrasting voices it blended nicely to make an incredible product.

As many childhood friends and music groups do, when you grow up you grow apart. In a nutshell, that’s what happened to my parents. Tribe’s breakup in 1998 seemed to be out of nowhere and even other members of the group don’t completely understand why it happened or why they didn’t get along. Because there’s so much history, when you don’t get along it becomes very intense. When my mother and I have disagreements, I know that extra level of aggravation comes from the fact that I do things eerily similar to my father and my pops has the same sentiments with my sister being just like my mom. They may not admit it (they have but if they didn’t), you could see it in their eyes when it goes down. However, with the way things have played out, my sister and I don’t hold any of that against them.

As much as my parents do not get along, they do get along. I would say its 50/50. They still joke around and speak frequently. Since my mother has been diagnosed with cancer I think they have made a little more of an effort to let things go and are in a pretty good space. I would say it’s like while Tribe gets together and does shows from time to time, don’t expect a new album; but when they do you remember why you loved the music they made and its classic.

The best example of my parents’ chemistry to me would be when things went terribly wrong in Virginia right before Timile passed away. I told my mother everything that was going on. She couldn’t do much because she had just started chemotherapy a couple of weeks before then. She told me to wait a few days and call my father when he got back to New York. I called him Thursday night and told him all that was going on. That night, he was booking a flight to come down to Virginia. I was in a parking lot in Newport News with them figuring out logistics. My father thought it would be best if just he went, especially with my mother’s health. Right then and there they got into it because my mother was adamant about her coming down as well. It was heated, but I knew their hearts were in the right place because my father was looking out for her and they were both looking out for me.

They got to Virginia that Saturday afternoon. We packed up most of my belongings out of the apartment, ate, and went to Timile’s parents house for them to talk things out like adults as much as Timile’s parents would possibly do. When things got heated, my parents were able to calmly speak and articulate their points and let the “in-laws” know that they couldn’t bully them. They were able to go back and forth seamlessly from different sides of the room just giving each other looks as if they were cues. When they came to do what they came to do, it was classic. No one would know they were separated or that they got into it right before their performance (they didn’t, but I’m just saying). They knew exactly what each other was thinking and it was seamless as “Back in the days on the Boulevard of Linden… Ya on point Tip? All the time, Phife.” Afterwards, while I was upset (And rightfully so. It being the last time I saw Timile at all and Cydney for months), they were able to joke about how ridiculous things got and even finishing each others’ punchlines because for all of their differences, they still have a history and a lot in common. They were able to calm me down just being themselves.

*Cues 1nce Again*

I had been planning this post in my head since the day after I started this blog. Today being thirty years seemed like a good day to actually write it out and post it. You remember the classic albums and how they changed your life. When they go on tour every couple of years it sells out. You hope every time Busta Rhymes performs “Scenario” they come from behind the stage and you feel like its 1991 again. When and if they do, you enjoy it for what it is.

Right on cue, my phone rings… Electric Relaxation is my ringtone.