08 November 2008

Step into a World (Rapture's Delight)

In my mind, when I first heard hip hop, I loved it. That's how I tell the story anyway. Like I heard Tribe, instantly gravitated towards it, and become a fan of the entire genre. Then again, upon really thinking about it, that's not the story at all. If I really want to date when I got into hip hop, it was probably college. I mean, my musical life started at Meatloaf, wound around 10,000 Maniacs and Yanni, and firmly planted itself with Alanis and Jewel. No rap anywhere to be seen.

But rap was around me even if I wasn't paying attention. I can recall in middle school, the only two girls of color (one was black, the other Middle Eastern/mixed?) would go around reciting "You never know she could be earnin' her man / And learnin' her man, and at the same time burnin' her man" all day long. I had no idea what they were quoting until years later, when I finally pieced together how early they had caught onto Dr. Dre and Snoop. Or how late I had.

And then at this Chinese family retreat in '94, a younger kid from L.A. would bring his boombox into the ping pong room and put Warren G's "Regulate...G Funk Era" on repeat. Even then it didn't strike me that this was something I had to have in my life. It was just background music.

The thing I did know was that I loved Rakim. I loved the way he looked, the way he talked, and the way hearing the bass on "Don't Sweat the Technique" made me feel. I guess it made me want to dance, even if I didn't know how. It helped that the song was paired to a basketball video (NBA Jam Session, 1993) I watched religiously. Due to this video, I sought out Rakim and Eric B. albums but didn't get any further into rap -- aside for a bit of Heavy D.

In a way, everything else I encountered didn't have quite the same appeal. Near the tail end of high school I met friends who did have some rap experience but they were into Tupac or Wu-Tang, artists who were not my preferred rap taste, even though I hadn't really consciously developed my palate yet. According to Pandora, I was looking for "tremendous bass, swingin' beats and boastin' lyrics," which I didn't find again until I heard Tribe and Gangstarr in college.

After that, it was love at third (or fourth or fifth) sight/hear. And then a subsequent rap explosion. And it was probably all due to a girl -- a definitive crush at first sight. Once, while hanging out in the getting to know each other stage, she asked what type of music I liked. I said, "hip hop." Totally duplicitous in retrospect but I rolled with it, especially after both she and her friend commended me for my fine answer. I made a hasty exit before we could get in-depth about exactly who I liked. "Um, Rakim?"

Over the next few days, I completely raided the school library, checking out everything in the rap section and proceeded to crash course my way through Hip Hop 101. By then I realized that the posters on her dorm room door meant something. This was her (rap) cheat sheet. I took extra care in listening to The Roots and KRS-One. If I liked what she liked, maybe she would like me! There was also a Master P poster on her door but I couldn't get through any of his CDs. Even puppy love has its limits. Ugh. Na-nah, na-nah.

I'm cringing telling this story, because it represents a moment in time when I explicitly went out of my way to study a girl's tastes and then emulate them, in an attempt to get them to like me. I suppose lots of people do this but it's still wholly embarassing nonetheless. I hope I haven't been this blatant since. Actually, there's a whole host of embarassing stories surrounding this girl, and there was no happy ending to compensate. Not even close. Well, except for the hip hop I guess.