I never thought I’d be a hip-hop guy. I first became musically-conscious in my early teens and pledged allegiance to “rock” early on which, in my mind, meant swearing off everything that I perceived as mainstream. The classic rock that was so revelatory in middle school expanded my horizons and led me to grunge, metal, and stoner rock phases throughout my late teens. By the time I entered college I’d never genuinely been a fan of a single hip-hop artist apart from the now-defunct comedic hip-hop duo Das Racist… I suppose I did like Eminem, but being a white suburban teen, that was more out of obligation than undying fandom. I was still aware enough to realize I was missing out on something, but the juvenile punk rock mentality I had developed kept me from “giving in” to what I perceived as a lesser form of music.
It wasn’t until I saw a reddit thread announcing the premature release of Kanye West’s Yeezus that I realized I was missing out on something. The excitement was palpable, and the title (“So uh… Yeezus leaked.”) was intriguing enough to lead me to search the album out. I was so out of the hip-hop loop that I didn’t even realize this was a Kanye West album until I Googled it. I figured what did I have to lose? I downloaded the album, listened to it twice and didn’t get it. I knew Kanye was one of the biggest artists in the game (especially after his monumental 2010 album), but Yeezus on its own didn’t reveal to me to see what others saw in him.
Ironically, that same summer I had also gone down the rabbit hole that is Ween and discovered the beautiful insanity that is John Frusciante. Perhaps through those two artists I’d built up a tolerance to “dissonant” music because I ended up revisiting Yeezus during a vacation later that summer and fell in love with the record. The song “Bound 2” specifically hooked me early on and ended up being replayed constantly over the course of the trip. Everything from the sample, to the delivery, to the punchlines, to the way that Kanye twisted his words over the beat was amazing to me… and it was something that only that song did. Everything else on my iPod was rock, Yeezus was the only album within those 120 gigs that sounded anything like that. That same trip I heard “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and took it as a cosmic sign I needed to give Kanye a chance and check out the rest of his discography. I downloaded the rest of Kanye’s studio albums and figured that would be that. He was the only good hip-hop.
A year and a half later at the beginning of 2015 I found myself balls-deep in college, chipping away at a handful of remaining courses as I entered one of my last years of school. While I’d enjoyed my trip through Kanye’s discography, that journey didn’t lead me any deeper down the rabbit hole of hip-hop, instead I’d thrown myself deeper into rock and the genre was beginning to lose its luster as I found myself listening to more and more podcasts. Ironically, inspired by two separate reddit posts: one for Lil Wayne’s mixtape Sorry 4 the Wait 2, and a second (now deleted thread) for Drake’s surprise album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late both inspired me to give those releases a listen. Once again the excitement and experiences of complete strangers led me to albums I never thought I’d be listening to. Both Lil Wayne and Drake were artists which I had previously written off as musical fast food, yet they were both single-handedly inspiring hype and excitement the likes of which I had rarely seen online.
Between the epic history of Wayne’s Tha Carter V and the thinly-veiled shots both he and Drake seemingly took at Birdman on these releases, I realized I was missing out on something. That’s not to mention all the excitement, hype, and inside jokes that comes with the territory of hip-hop. These two releases opened the floodgates.
Based on how pumped Sorry 4 the Wait 2 got me in the gym, I was led to Young Thug, one of many rappers heavily-inspired by Lil Wayne. I’ll never be able to articulate why I love Young Thug as well as some of the articles written by professionals and music journalists, but things like this Instagram and this website speak for themselves. Young Thug is a creative force who has dismantled the previous boundaries established by the genre of hip-hop and created a sound rooted in upending the listener’s expectations. He’s a gangster who wears dresses. He’s a cold-blooded killer who calls his best friends “bae.” He’s a man who has written absurd lyrics like “I'mma ride in that pussy like a stroller” and made it sound so fucking natural.
If Lil Wayne and Drake opened my personal floodgates to hip-hop, then Young Thug removed the hinges and turned me into the type of hip-hop head that there is no coming back from. A month later, Kendrick Lamar dropped To Pimp a Butterfly, an album widely-considered one of the best since Kanye’s MBDTF. On the opposite end of the hip-hop spectrum Travis Scott released Rodeo which quickly became one of my favorite “less lyrically substantive” releases of the year. Both of these releases showed me that hip-hop can’t be placed in a single box, it’s more than drugs and women (though they are still discussed often). That summer Vince Staples released Summertime ‘06 and Future released DS2. These releases ended up serving as a perfect “sample platter” of what the genre could do. These albums along with the infamous Drake/Meek Mill Beef made me feel like I was a part of something not only bigger than myself, but more exciting than any other genre I’d ever been a fan of.
2015 represented a sea change in my musical perspective. Hip-hop is now my primary genre and I visit boards like /r/hiphopheads every day. It’s a scene that’s ever-changing in the most exciting ways. I’m just glad my eyes were opened when they were and that I’m now no longer missing out on an entire world I didn’t even know existed. It was childish to withhold an entire genre of music from myself, and I’ll never make that mistake again. As much as I wanted to pretend that I was musically-diverse, you’re still only as adventurous as you want to be, and if a lack of adventurousness means missing out, then you’re doing music wrong. Music should be fun, enjoy what you enjoy, but don’t ever close yourself off to something, because it just might be your next obsession. That’s a lesson I’ll carry forward for the rest of my life, and I owe that all to a guy who compared his teeth to toilet paper. Sometimes brilliance can come from the most unexpected places.