With the end of the year approaching, the Hot One Hundo is featuring the #1 hits of 2017 in a weekly feature.
My mind is wired to listen to music. I don’t know why I’m wired that way. Listening to music opens my mind up and makes me ask bigger questions about myself and who I am. Music is the spark that keeps me going. Not everyone has the same sort of musically driven mind as I do. Others may find they’re most comfortable reading a book, or painting, or doing something else that inspires them creatively. When I meet someone who’s as inspired or as taken by music as I am – regardless of their taste or personal preferences, I find myself inspired as well. I bounce thoughts off of them, often trying to find common ground for the sake of propelling the conversation, but I’m mainly fascinated as to how their mind connects with music similarly or differently from my own.
For a while now, I’ve thought of listening to new music as an evolution of the mind. You hear new combinations of sounds and, in essence, you hear a new way of thinking. If it’s lyrical you hear new combinations of lyrics – maybe some simple poetry, or a call to something larger, and you perceive all of it and interpret it in your own way. Your tastes in music grow and evolve the more you listen to and the more you hone in on the sorts of things you enjoy in music. When you hear a song you’ve known for years, it fills your mind with memories of when you’ve heard that song before, becoming pure unadulterated nostalgia that fills the coloring book of your mind with colors, shapes, and content.
That’s why it’s frustrating to do this “2017: Year in Review” series, because in essence, I’m an old man, closer to 30 than to 20, and when I listen to some popular new music that obviously connects with the majority of the youth out there – like “Bad and Boujee” by Migos and Lil Uzi Vert – I just can’t stand it. I listen to songs like these and I don’t feel inspired, I don’t feel a shiver down my spine; I feel repulsed, and baffled as to how this –this – could be the sort of thing that connects like the other music I enjoy so much did with me. I do get some visuals in my mind while the song plays – smoke bombs, youths running the streets mimicking the sound of machine guns and saying “skrt” at the end of every sentence, but it is not something that inspires me or makes me feel like I’m evolving. It feels like a waste of time, and that makes me feel old.
Sixty years ago, when bands were doing things revolving around what was just humanly possible in the recording studio regarding sound or musical texture, older generations at the time didn’t understand. They didn’t understand “rock” music – they thought it was too loud, not worthwhile – a waste of time – and stuck to their old jazz and big band records. In the end, devil-worshiping rock won out because it inspired the younger generations of time, creating a backdrop for the events that shaped the decades to follow. While rap and rock aren’t perfect matches, I look at songs like “Bad and Boujee” (#1 for 3 non-consecutive weeks in January/February 2017), “Black Beatles,” “Bodak Yellow” or countless other rap/trap songs that somehow evolved from the downbeat, heavy TR-808 style that Kanye created on 808s and Heartbreaks and at least partially feel how the big band worshiping grandmas felt: How could this music inspire anyone? How does this music help me evolve as a listener and as a person?
It’s not that I think all rap is this way. I’ll be perfectly honest, I’m not a resident rap buff, but I feel like I have a good grasp on what I feel is “good” and what is “bad” in rap music. When I listen to Nas, Kanye, Eminem, Kendrick, Biggie, or groups like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, my mind explodes. They’re all lyrical mavens who talk about actual issues while keeping one ear keen to their overall aesthetic and sound, not just using their throne to posture or feed the masses (at least not all the time). When it comes to rap, and especially this sub-genre of trap, everyone else just sounds like one large step below. That’s my personal take on it, at least, I’ve been known to be wrong before.
I get it – there’s always going to be disposable, party songs that you don’t need to pay a lot of attention to while you’re working out, or drinking, smoking or talking, and those are going to be the ones that get the most play on the radio and on Spotify. Despite my reservations about the genre as a whole, the trap songs that are popular right now may inspire some completely new genre of music in the near future, and most likely, at this very moment, there’s someone at their computer, melting sounds together and adding their own unique take on what they’re hearing. That fact gives me hope that this genre could evolve into not only something better, but more substantial and emotional. But, as it stands right now, I’m only going to get older, and the music that’s popular with the kids (for the most part) is only going get stranger to me.