“Inside Outside Come Around…Who’s That?”

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Pic taken @ The Sound Garden Baltimore

…BRRRROOOOWWWWNNN!!!!! –Scenario by A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) et al

Ahhhh yes, the one liners-the quips-those unforgettable verses that stay with you longer then yesterday’s social studies homework or that online training presentation you just finished. Music is the foundation of my memories and Scenario is a 10th grade throwback.

Lately I’ve been listening to other artists outside my normal classics (see image above), dabbling in a little Schoolboy Q, ASAP Rocky, some Drake and definitely a lot of Kendrick Lamar  and J. Cole. I like what I’m hearing but I always drift back to my vast 90s collection. I can’t help it. I’ve been trying to fight the whole heyyy sonny, music was so much better back in my day but it’s hard to avoid. I mean we all grow up with a soundtrack that follows our lives and sends us down memory lane as we get some years in.

The ones that really stick for me begin with when I was  old enough to go to the club, that’s where my life cracked open. I used to always imagine being old enough to go out when Madonna’s first album was out. Oh the fun times I would have had spinning on that dance floor in my lace gloves and black jelly bracelets. But alas I was to come of clubbing age in the early nineties. Now I could sweat it out on the dance floor. I used to be to chicken to dance at the club, feeling all self-conscious, but my college years changed that. I remember going to an event called Giant Step, somewhere in NYC, and watching the whole dance floor move together. While I was holding up the wall, folks were gettin’ it in. Then and there I decided I could be on the sidelines watching or get in on the fun and experience the music.

Enter hip-hop. As a high schooler I listened to a range of mostly alternative and grunge music like Depeche Mode, New Order, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I liked hip hop in the eighties but didn’t love it until the nineties when one of my college besties, Rachel, introduced me to Mobb Deep, the In My Lifetime Jay Z ,and the B-sides of Tribe Called Quest (I only knew the radio hits). I was in love.

I was living in New York when Nas released his iconic Illmatic album. To cross the Brooklyn Bridge (yeah it wasn’t Queensboro but whatevs) listening to The World is Yours is an experience I’ll never forget. I remember driving into Brooklyn listening to Mobb Deep’s Hell on Earth. To listen to music in the city where it was made, especially a city like New York, is why I still love my nineties hip hop music so much. I went to a ton of small venue shows and got to see these artists—now hip hop icons—who were young and hungry and just beginning their music careers. One random day me and my girls were uptown trying to meet up with someone at Columbia when we happened across a random performance by A Tribe Called Quest. We didn’t know that their performing days wouldn’t last much longer. We were just in the right place at the right time.

Speaking of ATCQ, Scenario was everything in high school. That joint will still fire up a party to this day. I suspect it wouldn’t just be a Gen X thing; I think that song could get some Millennials jumping. Scenario yanks me out of conversation and thrusts me on the dance floor. I’m powerless under it’s influence. Can’t you see it? You and your peeps moving as one mass,  jumping up and down screaming the words, looking like a hip hop mosh pit. Just think about the group of people who were on that song, veterans of the hip hop game now! Two of my faves are Busta Rhymes and Red Man. There’s nothing hotter than a large group of artists getting together and making some great music—especially when, as a listener, you can feel the good energy of the studio time in the music. Scenario had to be one of those prolific sessions that spilled out into the street afterward in a haze of blunt and cigarette smoke, 40s, maybe some dark liquor  (probably Hennessy) and a whole lot of laughter. Good times.

So here are some lyrics that just popped in my head. For the sake of this right here, I’m keeping it hip hop, my ultimate fave.

Sidebar: I remember being so in love with hip hop back in college that I wished I could be a professor and teach it from a sociological and/or writing perspective. I know some lyrics are so misogynistic and violent that listening can sometimes feel like fingernails on a chalkboard, but I also recognize the poetry and story-telling prowess of some artists. The irony of my wish to use hip hop as a learning tool, is that in 2016 hip hop classes are a dime a dozen.

Oh yeah, so back to why I started this thing in the first place:

Schoolboy Q:

Hell of a Night (Oxymoron):

When the sun falls
Then the moon lights
Might be a hell of a night

See how quick he sets the scene and his word choices? When, then, might=opening, guts, end. There’s no resolution but there’s not supposed to be. This song is all about the potential for a good night and with those short line bursts you’re there and you feel it.

Kendrick Lamar:

Swimming Pools (good kid maad city):

Now I done grew up round some people livin' their life in bottles
Granddaddy had the golden flask, back stroke every day in Chicago
Some people like the way it feels, some people wanna kill their sorrows
Some people wanna fit in with the popular,

Lamar jumps right in to his story, his commentary about drinking isn’t weighed down by self-help speak rather reflection/observation. Watch Swimming Pools video

How Much a Dollar Cost (To Pimp a Butterfly):

Guilt trippin and feelin resentment
I never met a transient that demanded attention
They got me frustrated, indecisive and power trippin
Sour emotions got me lookin at the universe different
I should distance myself, I should keep it relentless
My selfishness is what got me here, who the fuck I'm kiddin?
So I'ma tell you like I told the last bum, crumbs and pennies
I need all of mines, and I recognize this type of panhandlin all the time
I got better judgment, I know when niggaz hustlin
Keep in mind, when I was strugglin, I did compromise
Now I comprehend, I smell grandpa's old medicine
reekin from your skin, moonshine and gin

Living in any urban landscape you’re met with panhandlers pretty regularly. Lamar deftly explores the feeling of being pulled into a stranger’s story and the duality of feeling guilty for wanting to say no, while feeling ompelled to say yes. Listen to How Much a Dollar Cost

Kid Cudi:

Just What I Am (Indicud) ft. King Chip:

Let me tell you bout my month y'all
Endless shopping I had a ball,
I had to ball for therapy, my shrink don't think that helps at all, whatever
This man ain't wearing these leather pants

That man ain’t wearing these leather pants. I can dig it, a different way of saying, ‘put yourself in my shoes’, just so much better! This song is deeper than that and is a reflection on being made in God’s image but that line tickles my fancy. Watch Just What I Am

Nas:

The Black Bond (Life is Good)

I pull a string on a lamp and shit darkens
I'm living in an elegant Moroccan apartment
Proletarian chicks sparkin'
Convo weak, and I don't really care for her jargon
Balcony is windy, looking at the stars and
I be on the Henny woozy in the head, wobblin'
Gucci pillow on the bed while she giving noggin
Listening and tripping off the Maxwell album

As always with Nas I’m transported. This is the opening of the song. Nas sets the scene immediately. If you go back to Illmatic—which truth be told every hip hop head will do until the end of time—you can see that his opportunities in life are far different those early Queensbridge days. What hasn’t changed is his ability to invite us into the scene. He titled this song well too, the vibe of the song is windy and dark (nighttime, not depressing). Listen to The Black Bond

J. Cole:

No Role Modelz (2014 Forest Hills Drive)

I came fast like 9-1-1 in white neighborhoods
Ain't got no shame bout it
She think I'm spoiled and I'm rich cause I can have any bitch
I got defensive and said "Nah, I was the same without it"
But then I thought back, back to a better me
Before I was a B-list celebrity
Before I started callin' bitches bitches so heavily
Back when you could get a platinum plaque without no melody

So much to explore here. So much self-implication and commentary here. Cole is giving us truth and letting the listener into his world. He also adds a dash of social commentary with that first line. Love the lyrics or not, this little segment right here is chock full of information about the artist as a person. This doesn’t feel like a cocky front. Listen to No Role Modelz

Biggie:

I Gotta Story to Tell (Life After Death)

She don't know I'm, cool as a fan
Gat in hand, I don't wanna blast her man
But I can and I will doe,

Oh Biggie, oh how I miss thee! These lyrics are best delivered in Biggie’s voice.

Me and girls used to play half-court basketball in our college’s gym or at outdoor courts nearby and listen to Life After Death on repeat. We’d rap-along as we elbowed each other and attempted lay-ups and three-pointers. One afternoon we were at the outside courts singing  Playa Haters when some guys playing ball nearby started harmonizing the hook with us. Hysterical! All of these memories just started flowing back when I listened to Biggie today.

Listen to I Gotta Story to Tell and listen to that harmonizing on Player Haters

…and finally for fun watch Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario”

What are your sonic memories?

What makes you want to hit the dance floor?

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