We all have a soundtrack to our lives – songs that are eternally tied to our emotions and memories. There are also musical moments that define our affinities and create a new soul tie to an artist through their gift and energy. I’m referring to a first listen so powerful that you sit back, close your eyes and let every note, beat and melismatic inflection submerge your mind until nothing else exists:
01 Boyz II Men “Please Don’t Go” (May 1991)
I had saved up my money – about eighty bucks – to buy my first single-disc CD player. My dad drove me to Silo to pick it up – that’s when I realized I had enough to buy the player, but no CDs (I didn’t think this acquisition all the way through…heh). We swung by Hegewisch Records where my dad bought me two CDs in long-boxes: Boyz II Men‘s Cooleyhighharmony and the Boyz N Da Hood movie soundtrack. I got home, ran to the basement, plugged my new toy into my dad’s stereo system and nearly cracked my new CD trying to get it out of all its protective casing. At the time, I never attempted to sing nor did I play an instrument, but I was interested in how these four dudes – who were dark-skinned and dressed in jeans and neckties – were going to sound. I remember the light roar of the CD tray pulling the disc into the player, followed by the amber glow of the LCD display reading “01 0:00.” When “Please Don’t Go” came on and I heard Shawn Stockman’s voice for the first time, I literally forgot where I was. When the harmonies kicked in, I knew I wanted to do more than listen to music – I wanted to create it.
02 Notorious B.I.G. “Flava In Ya Ear Remix” (August 1994)
I was out with my cousin Herman, shopping for stuff to take back to college – when we made our obligatory stop at Hegewisch Records (it was a Northwest Indiana staple) to get the latest. By now I was a serious hip-hop head and heavy into remixes on 12″ vinyl and cassette singles. I bought Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear” on the strength of Rampage and LL Cool J on the track — although I didn’t recognize this Notorious B.I.G.‘s character. MANNNNNNN when Biggie spit that hot sixteen through my cousin’s Pontiac 5000 hatchback speakers, we literally had to pull over and rewind the tape. I had never heard a voice like his or a flow like his. I knew he was the future of hip-hop and I was right.
03 Faith Evans “Soon As I Get Home” (September 1995)
I’m walking through the Woodworth Complex, an all-women’s residence hall at Ball State University. My roommate, Clarence, and I were coming through to pick up his girlfriend for an enchanting evening of collegiate cuisine in the dining hall. Technically, were weren’t supposed to be walking through the halls without an escort but no one stopped us. He was walking alongside me on my right – chatting me up about some randomness – when this incredibly sultry, soprano gently pierced my left ear with an accompanying Rhodes piano. At this point, I had become a musician and playing for two gospel choirs in addition to singing at every talent show I could sign up for on campus. I was VERY in tune with music and Faith Evans voice hypnotized me to the point I followed her into a room of two unknown co-eds. Thankfully, they recognized me from singing with the choir but I literally barged into their room and stood in front of their boombox as my roommate waited at the door confused as hell. I asked the ladies if I could record the song with the blank cassette tape I had in my backpack. Ten minutes later, I had Faith in my walkman and by the end of the night I was working those Chucky Thompson-produced chords on the piano in a practice room in Emens Auditorium. Her voice still gives me chills.
04 Jill Scott “Slowly, Surely” (October 2000)
It was my birthday. I was a radio exec in Atlanta and I was leaving the station when my coworker slid me a promo copy of Jill Scott’s debut album. He was a middle-aged Caucasian guy and figured “it was more my style” than his since it had a caramel complexioned sistah with full lips on the cover. I threw it in my truck’s CD-changer and put it on random play as I started my trek to Dave & Busters for a birthday celebration with my downstairs neighbor. “Slowly Surely” came on first and the mixture of Jill’s effortless flow, conscious lyrics and boom-bap kick drum had me nodding before I turned out of the parking lot. That CD didn’t leave my changer for a year and, despite getting a free copy, I went out and bought a copy for my apartment.
05 Little Brother “Whatever You Say” (June 2003)
Deeply entrenched within the iPod Nation, I stayed on the internet looking for the next best MP3. I was also a huge fan of the new-fangled “podcasts” that was pretty much songs on demand. My favorite podcast at the time was the 1IndieNation Hip Hop show as they always showcased new joints from the underground. I was cleaning up my place for an epic cookout when I heard this ill sample followed by a flow that wasn’t over-saturated cliches falling flat over a mediocre beat. This was raw hip hop and my first introduction to Phonte, Rapper Big Pooh and 9th Wonder. It was reminiscent of the energy I enjoyed from ATCQ and De La Soul. These dudes had incredible flow. I played it at the cookout at least seven times and each time, the crowd was nodding their heads and asking me where I got it. I don’t remember anything else I played that night but when “Whatever You Say” came on I remember heads nodding and ribs swaying in the air.
06 Carlitta Durand “Sirens” (November 2007)
I was in the University of Houston rec center jogging on a treadmill. I had Little Brother’s new album, GetBack, on my iPod for a couple of months but I hadn’t moved past “Good Clothes” yet. It was mile number three on this dreaded treadmill and I was about to fall off…literally. In trying to put my jam on repeat I ended up going to “Sirens” by mistake. I was instantly into the rhyme flow, but Carlitta‘s voice almost made me loose my footing on the treadmill. It was just a hook but it felt like the ultimate melodic “tease.” because all she did was sing a hook and I was hooked. I wanted more of her voice. She had the same sensuous vibe as Faith, but it was younger and more innocent. I played “Sirens” over and over (something I tend to do when I’m really feeling a song) all the way home. I kept thinking that her voice demanded more material, which we’ve been blessed to get over the past few years and there’s more to come (Thank God).
07 Chantae Cann “Find My Way to Love” (October 2009)
I was looking for new songs to play on my podcast when I caught wind of the new Jaspects LP Polkadotted Stripes. I was sitting in my studio with the big headphones on my ears and exhausted from working on the Men Love Mary EP for two days straight with no sleep. I hadn’t heard any good jazz in a while so I figured “why not?” What caught me off guard about “Find My Way to Love” was how Chantae Cann goes right into the hook from jump. I hadn’t even reclined back into my sofa before I jumped back up. I’m a sucka for a smothered soprano and Chantae’s voice was hauntingly raspy and intense, as if she had to sing to stay alive – as if her need to breathe was replaced with her need to sing. As her tones danced with the instrumentation, her voice sounded more like an instrument than a human sound. I sat in pitch-black darkness and did what I always do when I’m mesmerized by the musical anointing of others – I put it on repeat until I eventually feel asleep. Three years later, I was blessed to hear her live and she is remarkably even better in person. Her voice is controlled, whimsical and playful while harnessing a soulful prowess that I once thought was reserved solely for angels. Then again…
I will never forget these moments. Where I was. How these talented people made me feel. It is a blessing to have the gift of creating music but being a fan is still best of all.
Until next time.