Between the FM hits blaring through the airwaves and the underground gems I meticulously unearthed myself, the following list completely encapsulates what inspired me to create music.
License to Ill - Beastie Boys (1986)
Growing up, I was always aware of Beastie Boys from inescapable songs like Fight for Your Right and Sabotage thrashing around in the background of my youth, but I really didn't pick up this album on my own until I started driving.
My first car was a 1987 Camaro with a tape deck, and I barely had any tapes of my own. So I walked into Warehouse Music (RIP) and right there near the door was a tape display, 2 for $5. So I immediately grabbed the first thing that looked appealing to me to play in an 80s Chevy - License to Ill. For those of you who are curious, the other tape I got was Frank Sinatra's Gold, which my 18 year old self said was "for the ladies".
Beastie Boys were all about having fun and being catchy, which stayed intact after they matured over the years. That first album is full of immortal hooks, and that's probably why I'm always chasing after that perfect chorus.
Third Eye Blind - Third Eye Blind (1997)
This album permeated my tween years, and was the first album I owned on CD on purpose. I fell in love with Stephen Jenkins's lyrics, which of course were printed on the CD insert. He was a spoken word poet before he was in the band, which shows throughout the entire record, but shines on "Motorcycle Drive By" and "Narcolepsy". As I got older I always revisited that album, because I personally connected with the underlying sentiment of post-adolescent disphoria that comes as the years and failures stack up behind you, followed by the refusal to give up hope. I used to memorize the lyrics and his delivery to get it all perfect.
Plus, "Semi-Charmed Life" may very well be among the catchiest songs like, ever.
Wyclef Jean presents The Carnival (1997)
The Score was clearly the bigger album by far, but The Carnival was just more for me. I used to play it while I was in my room drawing graffiti, because it felt a little more light-hearted than The Score and made for creative background music. But after a while, I took notice of the intricacy of the production. Wyclef rapped and sang, but he also made the beats, which was very impressive at the time. I started to appreciate the movement of the drums and the drum fill samples dropped in before the chorus, how he mixed together live instruments with samples, the way the skits and songs flowed together seamlessly like I was listening to a play, and the repetition of certain phrases throughout the whole album to tie it all together. It was fun, but it had a sense of meaning too. And later on when I started DJing, "We Trying to Stay Alive" always helped pack a dance floor, so there's that.
Marshall Mathers LP - Eminem (2000)
The day Marshall Mathers LP dropped, I was sixteen years old and my mom went to the Wiz (RIP) and stood in line to get my an uncensored copy, which made me like the only person in my friend group who had it with the parental advisory label. I related more to the honest material of the Slim Shady LP, but the songs and videos for Marshall Mathers were cinematic and dramatic, and I was enamored by it all.
On top of that, Eminem could really rhyme. He pushed the envelope with internal rhyme schemes, multi-syllable rhymes, and his overall technical lyricism and dedication to the craft of emceeing. I had started writing rhymes casually a few years earlier, listening to RUN-DMC, Beastie Boys, Naughty by Nature, and even Jay-Z, but none of them truly had the intricacy or emotion behind the work that he had. This album converted me from a casual consumer of Hip-Hop, to active participant. Although after a while I kinda outgrew his albums, I cannot deny that Eminem introduced me to the craft of lyricism.
Personal Journals - Sage Francis (2003)
Sage Francis was an artist I discovered during the advent of the download era, and the first song I heard of his was "Makeshift Patriot". After a few odd songs, I went to Coconuts (RIP) and bought Personal Journals. From the first two lines, I knew my world was about to change. Sage had an unorthodox delivery, raw emotion, and the most relatable content I'd ever heard up until that point in my life. He was introspective and took risks with every song. I wasn't ready, but I listened anyway.
This album introduced me to the entire indie hip-hop movement, which I'd become a part of down the road. Listening to Sage Francis turned me onto Atmosphere, Eyedea (RIP), P.O.S, Dessa, Aesop Rock, and so many more. These artists were talking about suburban America, the America I knew, but they were dissecting and studying it. The Personal Journals album combined the social fallout from a decaying middle class with the emotional baggage of coming of age and facing one's past. I was never the same after listening, and I never skip a track. To this day, I still put that album once in a while and discover something new that I never heard before.
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