Stressed Out: Can’t get enough Hip Hop

I was hanging out and having a beer with an old friend who just moved back to Maine from Key West. We had on the music OnDemand old school hip hop channel and this funky little diddy came on.  It sounded very familiar but new. I love the organ flourishes and generally dig the old school production vibe. The Bulldogs did not sound familiar which is unfortunate. 

It’s been a stressful week and hip hop tunes have been helping me through it.  Last Tuesday, my 91-year-old paternal grandmother broke her leg while volunteering at an old folks home, the irony of which doesn’t escape any of us. I’m very close with my grandma and probably hyper-sensitive to most things since last Thursday was also the three-year anniversary of my father passing away which my brother mentioned in a post on that day. Seems like things happen in waves because just a few days later, one of my students ended up in a mental facility for some reasons I’m not going to share here and although she is physically ok, I’m not sure when she will be joining us again. Things are high stress right now and one thing that has been helping me is continuing my quest for new hip hop songs.

I think the big reason hip hop is a welcome distraction is I haven’t listened to it a lot again until recently and it’s like a three and half to four-minute respite from the current difficulties of life. I feel calm while listening to sick beats and I try to not think about any of the problems going on while it’s playing. This rarely works, but I get at least one minute of mental peace per roughly four minutes of music. 

Of course, some people have much bigger problems like extreme poverty, disease and violence. This fact doesn’t make me feel better.  My Grandma is already in a rehab center, I can’t do anything about my dad passing away except mourn him and continue trying to live well and I will support my student when/if she returns in every way I can. Of course, I can say these things until I’m blue in the face but it won’t erase the pain I feel or the regret from being able to take more action. So, I’ve been taking short mental vacations via hip hop and I try to just focus on the rhymes and beats, analyzing why one song works when another doesn’t. A pleasant surprise has been how much I’ve enjoyed listening to Kanye West, especially this epic jam.

I know he’s egotist and I know he’s a shameless self promoter, but I think I like him. His music is good and I suspect his whole act is a perfomance art type of thing not unlike Lady Gaga or any of these other pop stars doing weird shit to gain attention. The difference is that I like listening to Kanye’s music. I also kind of want to “run away” from some of these issues and I also think some people in my life who could help out more with stuff are douche bags. But of course, you can’t control anyone but your self and the best thing to do is lead by example. You can’t control what anyone does but yourself.

There are positive notes. My band was asked to do a benefit for four kids in high school whose father and his girlfriend just died in a car accident. I feel lucky to be able to help someone by organizing a show and playing bass.  I got my principal, a far more seasoned musician than myself, to come open for us and share in some jams. The whole community came out to support the cause, including many of our fellow teachers. The total money raised that day was something along the lines of $22,000 to help cover everyday bills for the kids and to do some repairs they needed on the house they just inherited. Like the irony of my Grandmother hurting herself while helping people younger than she is, I don’t lose the message that three years after my parent died traumatically, I got a chance to really help kids half my age deal with the abrupt loss of their parent.

Hopsin has some ill jams and I keep finding new ones I can vibe to. I do need help and I’m getting it to some extent, but hip hop helps me beau coup right now and I’m happy I’m able to find little things like listening to these jams that assist me when I am stressed

My grandmother has spent her life helping others around here, creating a center of calm in a sea of chaos. I have encountered no one else yet in my life who can be so solid in their help of others with no desire or expectation of anything back. It tears a fucking hole in me to see her in this position of weakness because she has been one constant, perhaps one of two consistent ones, in my life. When my brother was away or my parents were unable, she was there to tell me how to be a good person and how to solve whatever problems came my way.  I sat with her and the dietician yesterday and we gently hassled her for not eating much at all and how she can’t heal up right if she doesn’t eat. I assume she will come out of this as she has survived multiple wars, two dead husbands, a dead son and a dead step daughter. She’s the toughest person I know and I’ve been to a lot of dive bars.

Believe it or not, Granna has seen the band several times. She gets a standing ovation whenever I announce my 91 year old grandmother is in the crowd and the one song she always requests is this jam by Dick Curless. Even though she grew up in the mid-west, she loves this song about the woods up in Maine and all the truckers who perished on the wintry roads.

It is possible that Granna doesn’t want to eat and probably not even the hand of God will change that if that is the case. My brother brought this point up to me last night, much to my chagrin, but he is a voice of reason as usual. As tough as the woman is, if she’s done fighting, then that is how it is and no amount of my tears or fears will change that. I will be there for her regardless, just as I was there for my Dad, there for my student who is in the hospital and the way my band was there for those kids in need. Maybe I take too much on but when my time is up, I want to feel like I did everything I could to be a good person and attempted to leave the world a better place than I found it.

This is my favorite song ever, at least in the instrumental format. I think I wrote on it a little on my post on guitar solos because Duane Allman is probably my favorite guitarist ever. No this isn’t hip hop, but it is very soothing to me and definitely what I want at my funeral if I ever have one.

Hopsin and New Hip Hop

Last year it was Lil Weezy, this year it’s this Hopsin dude that these kids love. He seems to be a semi-good role model since the meaning of this song supposedly communicates the evils of drug and alcohol abuse. The contacts are weird and I’m assuming it’s for effect, but he sure looks like he’s on drugs. Regardless, I really dig his rhymes, the Dr. Dre style G Funk production and the positive message. Also, I like the statement about Obama, well thought-out Mr. Hopsin.

Life is incredibly busy right now. The first days of school have turned to the second week and besides a serious case of the Mondays yesterday, things are progressing at school. The nature of our program and students is that things will ebb and flow, good days and bad days will happen all at once sometimes and that’s just the way it is. One student, notorious for various offenses at the old school of a very serious legal nature, has warmed up to me after I spent some time wondering what type of rap he likes. I shared how I love Wu Tang, Biggy, Tupac, and  am getting into A Tribe Called Quest as of late. Although he also likes songs by these “old” rappers, he’s told me about all these newer rappers so I will share my thoughts on them as well as a suggestion I got from the 8th grade GT teacher.

1. Jelly Roll, “Ridin all Alone”

I first thought of Jelly Roll Morton, the famous jazz pianist, when I saw this name and heard this song. I probably couldn’t be further from the truth. This sounds like a Bone Thugs and Harmony sample and I say that in a positive way. It sounds like the 90’s and could have some straight out of MTV Jams. I don’t love the image of this overweight white man rapping, but this song has an underlying message of the loneliness and alienation of the thug life as well as a desire to be a better father. It reminds me also of “Suicidal Thoughts” by Biggy, but not as ill. It is catchy though and I like it a lot more than most of Wiz Khalifa’s stuff.

2. Rich Homie Quan, “Type of Way”

Strange Name. It took me multiple attempts of asking my thug type of student to even be able to positively Google this guy.

I don’t love this song lyrically or even the style of rapping because it sounds like the high pitched stuff Lil Wayne does. The beats are kind of cool and certainly riffing on the popularity of clubby sounding music and the evil onslaught of dub step. I mean it’s not terrible, but this far in the list, it’s certainly my least favorite. It makes me think of a shitty Ja Rule song with a bad guest rapper doing most of the MCing.

3. Vampire Weekend, “Step”

The Elder J and The Other J have mentioned this band before and although not my favorite, I do enjoy some of their songs and think their addition of Afro style rhythms is original for Indie rock as well as sounding mad cool. 

Step remix

This song must be super rare because I could not find it in YouTube and had to include the Pitchfork.com address where I found it from a link my former classroom neighbor and 8th grade Gifted and Talented  teacher sent me last night. As cool as it is to have my own program I developed and to be in our own newly renovated spacious digs, I miss a lot of my colleagues and he is near the top of the list of people I miss. We had a lot of highly intellectual conversations that annoyed my co-teacher and some real laughs on subjects from lethargic genius level students to his idea of us quitting teaching to join a fast food chain to see who would rise up the chain fastest. We also had a game of putting pink pieces of paper in each other’s mailbox to feign being fired which never ceased to make me laugh. His love and knowledge of underground hip-hop also has been something that continually impresses me. This jam is awesome and I have got to get into some more Danny Brown.

4. Tech N9ne, “Ima Tell”

I really enjoy when people spell their music names all weird like this, it really strikes my fancy.

This is close to my favorite of the songs my student told me to listen to, mostly because I think Tech sounds like Ludacris and I loved me some Luda back in the day. They call him Tech N9ne because of his rapid fire style which is what the 9mm submachine pistol Tec-9 is  known for besides being used by the trench coat kids at Columbine. I am not sure what he means by clowns, maybe the Insane Clown Posse or like clowns as in stupid people? I know this guy likes to get high and get paid and thats ok. Lastly, you gotta respect a gangsta rapper who samples “Mambo Itailiano” for a hook. Shit, only Jay- Z could get away with that when he sampled “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from the musical Annie.

5. Struggle ft Yelawolf and Waylon Jennings, “Outlaw Shit”

Well searching for one of the other jams, I saw two rappers along side Waylon’s name and I had to check it out. Everyone knows I love honky tonk and this melding of that with hip hop would be good to me even if it wasn’t.

I typically don’t like white rappers and it’s probably some type of reverse racism. I can’t even really stomach Eminem, but I digress. I love this song and it’s my favorite of the bunch. The production is amazing, like I can’t get enough of these beats from the steel guitar to the lush orchestration. I know nothing about Struggle except that he is in fact Waylon Jennings’ grandson! That tattoo on his back is for real and I guess seven of the nine tracks on his recent album include samples of Grandpa’s music. I read some trash talking on the Net about this but I see it as an incredibly cool thing. If he only ever makes tracks with those samples, well then, God speed.

Speaking of outlaw shit, the same student who told me to check out these rappers made a very poor decision in our bathroom today and is suspended indefinitely. I had no choice but to include our administrators and eventually the police and I feel bad about it even if I did what I had to do. My biggest personal weakness in my chosen field of education is that I feel bad when I have to get kids in trouble and even more so with this kid because he’s already on probation and in the 8th grade. His reputation is generally negative, however, I’ve found him to be a basically good kid who makes poor decisions.  It’s not my fault he does this, but I still will have this negative feeling in my brain for a few days. So to end this post, I will leave you with another Struggle song and the hopes that what went down with my student will not be the “Black Curtains” for him in my class.

A sample of a Cream cover by Waylon Jennings? So sweet!

First Days of School fo Real

People think I’m crazy for teaching Middle School. They don’t know any better and I feel pretty fearless about it. Give me three weeks.

After almost half a year of planning and gradually working more and more with identified students, my co-teacher and I have moved into our own space away from the mainstream middle school. It’s as exciting as it is scary with all of our curriculum and research now needing to be turned into action. As you can imagine, I’m running at a high-speed wobble. I’m actually writing this while my students do their daily journal writing because I intend to keep my promise of writing more while my brother’s life gets a little crazier.

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