The Best Music Year of My Life: Cassidy's 2014 Memoir | A DJBooth Response
(This is a "DJBooth" response. Once a week, I will write a reply to one of the phenomenal pieces posted on DJBooth.net. This week, I respond to the piece "The Best Music Year of My Life: Yoh's 2005 Memoir," by the one and only @Yoh31.)
These are the Good Ol' Days of Hip-hop.
I'm sitting alone on the end of my parent's bed, a bottle of gin empty at my feet and a revolver in my hand. I stare at the cold gun, considering whether it would be worth the pain to see what waited on the other side of that unforgiving metal, and wondering whether there would be any pain at all. I am too young for these kinds of thoughts, and for the gin on my breath. Elliott Smith's timelessly painful "Roman Candle" leaks out of my dad's old sound system; I consider the fact that maybe, that night, music saved my life. Elliott's word's turning a cold moment with a cold gun into an affirmation; pain in life, pain in music, and meaning regardless of that pain.
Cut to 2014, years later. I'm alone on a Friday night, 2 in the morning, no gun this time but plenty of gin and a few other things to pass the time. And music; so much power in the music. These notes aren't here to save lives today, but to give life meaning. I am moving forward; the music is here to help. Did you know that a close connection with art can make a bi-polar music nerd like me perfectly able to ride out the night, and perfectly able to chase the sunrise with the sense of wonder that comes naturally to most people? I am moving forward, riding out the night in style, rhymes rumbling from my headphones like a legion of the damned marching to my rescue yet again. "Can't sleep...3 a.m. staring at the ceiling, murder the feeling..." Bino doing his thing, narrating my nighttime ponderings.
I'm headed to a concert with my Girlfriend on our anniversary. I'm lucky to be dating a girl with good taste in music, and we have been waiting for this show for months. ¡MursDay! has come to town, with their phenomenal Strange Music label mates Ces Cru opening the tour and ready to heat up the stage. We are running late, and I can't help but think about the V.I.P. meet and greet passes I spent a whole paycheck on, and the fact that those passes which are worth their weight in gold to me may not be worth anything at all if we can't get to the venue in the next ten minutes. And then we are there on time, get our chance to shmooze it up with some of my personal hip-hop heroes, and witness one of the most energetic performances I have ever seen. ¡Mayday! takes the stage for a solo set, and hits a home run with one of my favorite hip-hop tracks of all time, "Shortcuts and Dead Ends." I scream the words at the stage until my voice is hoarse, until that chorus is burned into the back of my throat: "I'm treading water in the deep end, I'm tryin to kill off all my demons!" I will ride the high from that show for a solid month, those lyrics ringing in my ears every time the nights get late and I feel alone.
Cole is on Letterman singing his goddamn heart out. "All we want to do is be free." I stare into the nothingness that is unfocused sight when good music plays; I feel Jermaine reaching deep, stirring anger and disgust through the power of his pain. Killer Mike watches his wife get gunned down and I want to send a letter to his imaginary son. Kendrick Lamar sees the fear in his community and reminds me to love myself like he does, reminds us all that the power of self-respect helps him face the day, shouts "I love myself!" into the void and conquers the darkness of ambivalence with the force of divine sincerity. There is hope for #BlackLives still; there is hope in this art.
My Favorite Album of 2014
Adrian sits behind the wheel, the women asleep in the back seat by now. "Want to hear something cool?" I ask. A nod and inquisitive look is all I need to turn the console to 11 and load up my favorite album of the year, and Run The Jewels NEVER disappoints. "The depth of Nas circa '93," Adrian and I laugh and drive through the desert like the sunset behind us is forever; top tag team for four summers, we live full in this moment.
I'm sitting at my desk on another sleepless night, browsing job listings on craigslist and trying to convince myself that I'd be perfectly happy serving fries or filing files for a few months at least. The Joey Bada$$ singles are on repeat, with a few dishes from Bronsalino and a handful of Flatbush's favorite Zombies shuffled in for good measure, and before long I'm doing more writing than reading. Writing about things I see, things I think, things I feel; genuinely creating again, like I used to enjoy and out of necessity forgot about completely during my marathon stint in the world of Academia. And I'm laughing, laughing and writing and thinking about the power of the Righteous Jam; that groove that hits you so hard that nothing can defeat your spirit. "Eye of The Tiger" for Rocky Balboa, "Easy Rider" for this hardly humble contender.
Ride the Harley into the sunset.
And then I'm flying, truly flying, free of all constraints and alive, the bike beneath me flexing with my legs and breathing as I breathe, Preemo's PRhyme scratches threatening to tear my eardrums apart as I turn the dial even further to the right. Krit, Rashad, the unexpectedly harmonious Gibbs and Madlib, the unabashedly brutal Mikey and Jaimey, the truly dope Easy Mac with the no longer Cheesy Raps; this is the soundtrack to my flight. Yes, there were no blockbuster major label hip-hop albums in 2014 to rally the culture around. No platinum rap albums to throw a Drake or Wayne on to the mainstream's stage. But that's how I like my hip-hop music; personal, pointed, crafted with love and generosity, the artist's gift to all of us who need this kind of art to push our wings open, hold our hands as we soar.
Music didn't save my life in 2014, but it helped me find meaning during a time when it felt easier to assume there was none. THESE are the good ol' days of hip-hop music as an art form. 2014: the best music year of my life.