This one's for the grandparents
There were always early mornings on Saturdays and late evenings every other day of the week where the music was bumpin’ and my grandparents were dancing. Having been raised by them, my early memories of music are a little different from some of my peers. I didn’t get many opportunities to listen to pop radio. It just wasn’t around in my house. Instead I had a healthy blend of merengue and oldies. Four Tops, Aretha and Johnny Ventura were the soundtrack to my earliest years.
Of course, there was a break in the musical bubble I was in that came in the form of what I would later get to know as hip-hop. About 6 years old, young Alex Dreamer would crawl out of bed early one Saturday morning before the cartoons were even on and would start to flip through channels. I landed on MTV. I didn’t know exactly what MTV was for, but I knew that I’d heard of it. Playing was a music video for a song whose name I wouldn’t know for a few years, but had planted into my mind. That was Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”.
Now I had heard raps before of course, but never had I listened to whole songs outside of parodies or the occasional tracks playing inside of gas stations. But the weird instrumental and almost jarring lines combined with the sea of blond guys walking around left me confused and fascinated. Being a kid though, I switched the channel to my Saturday morning cartoons shortly after that and forgot about the whole thing for years. It wasn’t until middle school really that I would find a deeper interest in hip-hop and expanding my own music taste in general.
In the meantime, I listened to Boyz II Men and Chris Brown somewhere around age 10 and sort of lived in that weird space. Everyone was listening to heavier rock hits from the 80’s and while that was fine, it wasn’t music that really sparked me the way it did other people. That changed quick in 2008. Kid I went to school with told me I had to check out this rapper named Lil Wayne. I’d honestly never even heard the name at that point, but didn’t have anything to lose. That Friday I grabbed my iPod, downloaded Tha Carter III and the rest is history. Tha Carter III stayed burning through my headphones over and over and over again for months. From there I was put on to other artists. First, T-Pain (naturally). Then, T.I. and Ludacris. Suddenly, artists that I knew of became artists I just KNEW. Songs I had only enjoyed became the hits that I could recite from my favorite rappers. I was hooked.
The following summer, I was once again blown away by hip-hop and once again, it came from Eminem and MTV (separately this time). My uncle had heard me talking about Lil Wayne and gave me his old Eminem CDs. “Screw it. If you’re listening to Wayne you can listen to Eminem.” That rabbit hole led me all the way back to that music video for “The Real Slim Shady” from all those years back.
That was also the summer where I caught just a few seconds of a VMA performance that would set the tone for not just my taste, but my writing as well. I had the fortune to listen to Lupe Fiasco performing “Superstar” on air. And even though it was just a few seconds, it was all I needed. I’d come a long way from listening to Chicago in the back of my grandfather’s truck.
I think what I most hold onto from my trip to where I am now is that there’s always more music out there. There’s always something waiting to be listened to that remains undiscovered to my ears. I like to think that I know my taste and my favorite artists and albums but the truth is that it’s fleeting and ever changing. Music has and will continue to evolve and with the whole library, I’m excited to see what that next event will be for me that brings me to a whole other chapter as a music fan.