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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Would the last b-boy to leave my head please turn out the lights?

Alzheimer's runs in my family and to be honest, it does scare me a bit from time to time. I watched my Great Grandmother slowly slide into that void and it was heartbreaking. Also saw a Great Grandfather on the other side of the family go into what we're all pretty sure was undiagnosed Alzheimer's and that was pretty sad as well. As I get older, I've already noticed myself becoming more and more spacy and it's hard not to psych myself out into wondering if I'm already starting to lose it.

It's mostly just little things. Dates and names are always bad, details are sometimes fuzzy. I just tend to get a little flighty sometimes, usually with short term stuff. Nothing that has me alarmed or anything, but it does get frustrating from time to time to have something right on the tip of my tongue and not be able to spit it out.

Hell, as I went to write this, I realized I'd already forgotten my password to log in here. Heh.

There is one thing about this situation I find slightly amusing though. If, somewhere down the road, I do end up with Alzehimer's or dementia or some other brain eating disease, I think I've already discovered what the last thing out of my head will be: golden age rap lyrics. It's strange, but it's true.

When I'm out on my walk with my iPod Shuffle (truly the greatest gift to an exerciser ever) lyrics to recent music passes me by. Even albums I've played the hell out of, I could barely tell you song titles, let alone lyrics. But let any hip hop from the time of Kool Moe Dee to Doggystyle come on, not only can I recite all the lyrics, I can tell you when and where I got the album, how much I paid, what samples they used and what the video looks like, if there was one.

The other day it was Kool G. Rap's "Road to the Riches" (Camelot music at Washington Square mall, 1992, cutout bin, $3.99, Marley Marl produced, the beat is Billy Joel's "Stiletto" from 52nd Street and the video reminded me a lot of Godfather 1.) I mean it's baffling to me why all this useless info is in there, but there it is.

My only theory is, I've been a music freak all my life (how many five year olds you know had crates of vinyl? Well, you know this one. Seriously.) Up to the time I discovered hip hop, all of my music was pretty much hand me downs. Yeah, I got into the early MTV pop when I started buying music (first 7", "Cars" - Gary Numan) but the largest portion of what I was listening to was old garage sale records (courtesy of the same Great Grandmother I mentioned earlier). I pretty much grew up listening to Enoch Light and Silver Apples for no other reason than that's what Grandma found at the garage sales.

When I got a little older and could actually buy albums, somehow I got into hip hop. That's what I listened to during most of my "impressionable" teenage years, though I also became a thrifter and built up a huge library of older stuff as well (habits die hard and all.) Aside from a brief flirtation with metal, golden age hip hop was the soundtrack to my teens.

I never was a popular kid, but one thing I became known for was being in the know about music, specifically hip hop. I made mixtapes for people. I DJed parties on occasion. I carried a Walkman as a constant companion and when people tired of the novelty of me, I retreated back into the music.

How a white kid from the 'burbs got into rap at a time when you still had to search to find it, I really don't know. I'm sure the youthful rebellion factor played a part, though honestly I remember my folks having a much bigger problem with Anthrax than Public Enemy. It could be that it was a fairly exotic sound, especially compared to the classic rock and lounge stuff I was surrounded with. It could also be that as a loner, I didn't have an interest in listening to what the other kids I knew did.

Honestly though, I really think it just struck me in that unexplainable way that things do when they hit a person's pleasure zone. It's almost a rite of passage that, sometimes in a person's teens, they discover "their" music. For me, for whatever reason, my music happened to be hip hop.

As I got older, I lost touch with hip hop. It seemed to me like "The Chronic" changed things for the worse and everything started sounding like fifth rate NWA. Though I missed out on a lot of good stuff, I also got a chance to throw myself into alt-rock, jazz, punk, reggae and funk, which kind of brought me back to hip hop. Nowadays, I find myself almost full circle, as most of the new music I listen to is hip hop, and again I find myself having to dig to find the good stuff. Soft spot for Lil' Jon aside, the mainstream stuff is pretty abysmal, though there's a vibrant underground scene which reminds me of all the reasons I got into hip hop in the first place.

Oddly though, no matter how many times I listen to Lyrics Born, MF Doom or Atmosphere, it's still Rakim and Big Daddy Kane occupying the lyric storage in my head. I don't know if that's a commentary on the music or if it's just my head is so full of entire episodes of Yo! MTV Raps! that I've got room for nothing else.

Just for fun, here's an off the top of my head list of 10 golden age hip hop records you should check out. Not a top 10, mind you. Just 10 that came to mind:

- Paid in Full - Eric B. & Rakim (make sure you get a copy with the "7 Minutes of Madness" remix of the title track. What Coldcut did to that track is still influential.)
- Long Live the Kane - Big Daddy Kane
- Radio - LL Cool J
- It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back - Public Enemy
- Del La Soul is Dead - De La Soul
- To the East Blackwards - X Clan
- Wolf in Sheep's Clothing - Black Sheep
- Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde - the Pharcyde
- All for One - Brand Nubian
- Rhyme Pays - Ice-T

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