The year was 2006. The Roc was breaking up. I was lost in the world. All I had was Dipset mixtapes, Red Cafe club bangers, Akon, Smack DVDs, and Cocaine City (shouts to French—it was beautiful watching his come up). Labels were putting more bank than ever into catchy tunes, signing rappers who dropped one hit that could be flipped into sellable ringtones. White tees, Miskeen, Cezar button-ups, and shirts with deceased rappers were all the rage—at least in the bubble I lived in. Needless to say, I was tired of rap.
My Golden Era was over, and I found myself in need of an awakening. I fucked with local underground acts like the A-Team and ByrdGang. Lil Wayne was running the mainstream at the time. He was coming off his Carter II wave, and getting right into his Dedication series. But I’ve always thought he was a bit overrated during his "Mixtape Weezy" run—deep in terms of output, shallow in terms of content.
My experience with the Jersey Shore skaters taught me to expand my palate, to not box in my musical tastes.
I had just done a couple years at a community college and decided to take my talents of not knowing what the fuck to do with my life to a four-year. That’s where I met these two skaters from the suburbs of South Jersey: a Jamaican kid named Shane, and Greg who was white. Shane and I had the same Friday night communications class taught by a militant black professor—I forget his name. We had debates about current events and shit like that. I watched the 9/11 truther documentary Loose Change in that class. We used to walk in there stoned out of our damn minds with one goal: get the white students upset. We would blame Ronald Reagan for the crack epidemic and giggle hysterically. Before class, a group of us would get together off campus by Shane’s crib to blaze something, a.k.a. get our minds right for a three-hour Friday night class.
During those smoke sessions they would consistently play rap I'd never heard before, and most of it was reminiscent to the '90s rap I preferred. At a time when Yung Joc's "It's Goin' Down," D4L's "Laffy Taffy," and Bubba Sparxxx's "Ms. New Booty" were among the top rap songs, these kids were instead listening to DOOM, Madlib, J Dilla instrumentals, Little Brother’s The Minstrel Show, Non Phixion’s The Future Is Now, Ill Bill’s What’s Wrong With Bill?, Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus, Dilated Peoples, and Immortal Technique's Revolutionary Vol. 2. This was a whole new world of underground rap I had no clue existed, and many of these projects were several years old. I was up on Madlib because of the Alkaholiks and Dilla because of Badu, Common, and Tribe, but was admittedly ignorant to their extensive output.
Getting put on to this world of hip-hop I wasn’t familiar with was exhilarating. The Internet was changing the music industry, and neither major labels nor print magazines were safe. Cocaine Blunts and Nah Right were beginning the shift of rap consumption into the digital realm. Mass Appeal had just folded, and Scratch was on its way, while XXL and The Source were increasingly slow to cover the artists who were really making moves. Limewire and Napster were responsible for dwindling record sales across every genre. The game was changing right before our very eyes.
I learned that the skate and hip-hop communities were very similar. They were both into keeping shit authentic, despised poseurs, and, regardless of their race, nation, or creed, were the outcasts of their community. Plus, I was always a fan of skate vids and the X Games. The mid-2000s was a beautiful time for underground culture. Indie clothing brands were popping up left and right, there was a graffiti-writing resurgence documented in films like Infamy and Bomb the System, but somehow I slept on the underground rap scene. All this "real" rap threw me into an "angry rap head" phase. I didn't want to listen to anything else. I raised my nose at friends who listened to nothing but Jim Jones and Max B as if I was better than them because I was up on DOOM and the like: “You kids are listening to nothing but that ATL snap garbage, and Lil Wayne, Dipset gangbangin’ nonsense, Jeezy sucks blah, blah, blah.” That's the bullshit I was on and looking back, it was corny of me.
Jaylib's Champion Sound, Dilla's The Shining and Donuts, MF DOOM's MM...Food, and Madvillainy were the ones that changed my life, and put me on the path I'm currently on. If it weren't for those projects, I doubt I would be keeping my lights on the legal way. I had an epiphany while listening to "The Mission (Stringed Out Mix)." The stutter in the beginning is mesmerizing, the loop, the L.J. Reynolds sample, Dilla's bars. Madlib is God, I think, is what I said to myself. "Maybe you could write an article about how Jay play wit them whips."
That song right there put the battery in my back to make something of myself. It was time to leave the fast money alone. I got an internship at The Source, and the rest is history. As the saying goes: J Dilla saved my life. I've evolved from an "angry rap head" to just a "rap head." No one forces you to listen to shit you don't want to listen to these days. I barely listen to the radio. My experience with the Jersey Shore skaters taught me to expand my palate, to not box in my musical tastes. I was still on my bullshit when I began working at Complex. That's when I quickly realized it would behoove me to expand my horizons, especially after I really started exploring what NYC nightlife had to offer. Can't be listening to rappity rap rap all the fucking time. Chicks don't dig that and I'm not finna be at sausage fests disguised as live shows all the time.
I'm able to listen to Rich Gang, Rae Sremmurd, Travis $cott, Curren$y, A$AP Rocky, Jaylib, early El-P, and Illmatic in the same day. (I'm still warming up to Drake. I'm not quite there yet.) It's fucking mind-blowing, right? Why can't I want to play Curren$y during a smoke session, and then turn around enjoy Rae Sremmurd at a party? Cats act like you have to break dance and wear a backpack 24 hours a day. That life is boring as hell, but to each is own. Ignorance isn't always bliss.
Angel Diaz is a staff writer for Complex Media. Follow him @ADiaz456.