What Music Makes Us?

Music is more important to our development than we realized. I didn't know how important 50 Cent's "In da Club" was until recently.

I want to take you back to a simpler time: a time where you had no responsibilities, no things to take care of, no classes to study for. It’s sunny, maybe. Or it could be cloudy, that’s not really important right now. Let’s just say it was a rather nice day. You were just going about your day as a child, consuming anything, soaking up any auditory and visual information you can. It’s the only thing you can do, building flashbulb memories that will no doubt have a distinct impact on the person that you will become.

Your parents most likely played music around you when during this time, unless they were unfeeling psychopaths or something. They pop on Soul for Real’s “Candy Rain,” because they had ears in the 90s and understood that the song went hard as hell. Because you’re a young child, you hear the beat and it automatically resonates with you. It’s a great four and a half minutes, you dance a little and you laugh a little. You look up and see your parents grooving together, having the time of their lives’ in that little moment. It’s fun, but then it ends, and another seemingly insignificant song plays next. That’s the end of that.

Or is it? It’s quite possible that the song had a greater effect on you than you could have realized. There’s no way you could have comprehended that at age 3, it was just a song you liked. But growing up, you could have developed an affliction for crooning 90s R&B, centered around that one long lost memory of “Candy Rain.” You never realize the effect until you randomly hear the song one day, and everything comes rushing back to you.

That’s what this article is for. Every once in a while, I rediscover a song that was hidden deep in my subconscious. And I mean DEEP. A song that is significant because it is an integral part to who you are as a person. My parents probably played it in the car on the way to a Baltimore Orioles game, family reunion, or on the way to church, the exact location isn’t important. What matters is that the combination of the situation and the song are significant enough to create a formative, core memory. This type of song is important to the formation of your personality, your likes, dislikes. These songs also were critical in shaping your music taste into the beauty that it is today. In this article, I delved into the songs that held extreme importance to me as a child, whether I knew it at the time or not.

McFadden & Whitehead, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”

This might be one of the most important songs in my life. It was my first exposure to the sounds of disco and 70s R&B, and is quite possibly the most influential aspect of my music taste. I used to believe that I just had an affliction for positive and soulful old music that just developed out of thin air. But once I rediscovered this masterpiece a couple of years ago, it all made sense.

There are zero flaws to this song. Zero. It is 7 minutes of perfect disco fever. It is a blast of positivity that now rings as my mantra every day when I wake up. McFadden & Whitehead floated over the production, which can only be likened to an angelic fanfare of drums, synthesizers, and bass line. On it, they delivered a sermon based on picking yourself up, never giving up on your goals, and continuing to move forward. This song laid the groundwork for my love of 70s and 80s R&B and created my life motto. “Ain’t no stopping’s us now,” indeed.

50 Cent, “In da Club”

5 year old would have given my life for 50 Cent. From a pretty early age, I was able to rap the ENTIRE song, without faltering (the clean version of course). There was something about it that captivated me. I could never place it: was it the pounding, simple beat, strengthened by the pounding bass combined with the repetitive claps? Or was it 50 Cent’s ridiculously smooth sounding voice, which, when paired with his crystal clear flow, hypnotized me as I bounced along with him? Or was it simply the iconic bars that came from “In da Club,” like the opening intro lines, “Go shorty, it’s your birthday, we gonna party like it’s your birthday,” and “if niggas hate, then let them hate, and watch the money pile up?” I couldn’t tell you. I just know that my life was never the same after my ears were blessed with this song.

LL Cool J, “Mama Said Knock you Out”

I have two distinct memories involving this song. One involves my dad, the other involves the animated movie Kangaroo Jack: G’day USA. I’m going to share the one of my dad first.

My first experience with this song came courtesy of riding around with my dad in the back of his Dodge Stratus Coupe. I was in a car seat in the backseat (bars), minding my own business, going who knows where, enjoying life. The music is playing, but I definitely wasn’t paying it any sort of special attention. My dad was riding around, listening absently, worrying about dad things and whatnot. Suddenly, the words “Come on man,” burst through the speakers. I didn’t know why or what it meant, but there was an immediate change in the atmosphere inside that Dodge Stratus Coupe. My dad got hype. When I say hype, I don’t mean excited. I mean as if he was the Kool-Aid man and he just saw a brick wall that just needed to be burst through. The way that he rapped this song made it feel like he was going bar for bar with LL Cool J himself. I was transfixed, watching him channel an energy that I had not seen before. It was unlike anything my primitive little mind had witnessed before. The excitement that LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock you Out” caused my father was burned into my memory bank, locked in there for eternity. It became a mandatory addition to the pregame pump-up playlist, as I looked to carry the attitude of beating the opponent down with a relentlessness like my mother told me to. The track never fails to get me riled up now, like a concentrated shot of 5 Red Bull cans.

In Kangaroo Jack: G’day USA (a modern animated masterpiece), there is a scene where Kangaroo Jack dominates the heavyweight champion boxer all while doing a choreography to the song “Mama Said Knock you Out.” It’s fantastic. It is the pinnacle of animation. There is nothing that tops it. Debate your mother.

Michael Jackson, “Human Nature”

Michael Jackson is the most important artist of my childhood. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. No singular artist had as much as an impact on my music taste growing up, as I gravitated toward anything even closely resembling his music style. That sequin gloved genius holds a very special place in my heart.

Now, “Human Nature” is not the first MJ song that I ever listened to. That title belongs to “Wanna be Startin’ Somethin’,” only because it was the first song off of Thriller. But it is the one off of the album that I will always listen to first. The smooth voice of Jackson almost always lulls me sleep: this particular song shows up 4 times on my “Night Time” playlist on Apple Music. It established the peaceful strain of pop/R&B that permeates throughout all of my streaming sites. The most non-sensical part of “Human Nature” is the best part of the song. During the last minute of the song, Jackson full on gives up on singing the words, and beautifully scats over the angelic tune. It’s as if God created a perfect language that no one understands, but everyone realizes that it is the true language of God. It is perfectly sung, much like every other MJ song. Nothing else matches up to it.

N.E.R.D., “Rock Star”

This song holds a special place in my heart as it was my first foray into the sounds of Pharrell Williams. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would blossom into this love for all things Pharrell, whether it be music, clothes, or shoes.

*Quick aside: there is a rollercoaster at Universal Studios Orlando called Rip, Ride, Rockit. On the ride, you can choose a song to be played through speakers in your head rest during the ride. “Rock Star” is one of the options. In a 4-span, I rode this particular rollercoaster 24 times. I listened to “Rock Star” 22 times. The two times I listened to “Stronger” by Kanye West and “Pump It” by the Black Eyed Peas.

The first time that I heard this song, it appeared on the compilation album, Stadium Anthems Vol. 2. I never was able to find the first installment of Stadium Anthems, but that’s not important. The first time listening to the song was jarring. The song itself is chaotic, a full-on conglomeration of rap, punk, and rock at the same time. In a manner unlike any that I had heard before, N.E.R.D. achieved musical balance with genres that have no business existing together. It’s an absolutely riotous jam that never ceases to cause me to, well, riot. I believe that the beginning of the chorus truly captures the energy and persona that I want to one day become. On the chorus, Pharrell raps:

“You can’t be me, I’m a rock star — I’m rhyming on the top of a cop car — I’m a rebel and my four four (.44) pops far so — It’s almost over now, almost over now.”

Whether or not I become the full-on badass that is described by Pharrell is yet to be seen. I just know that because of “Rock Star,” there will never be a day where I feel like I can’t achieve this higher plane of living.

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