"Songs announce who we are to the world, and they’re a big part of how like-minded people find one another."
I was born in 1981. The first music purchase I remember was a Simpsons cassette that I got when I was 10 or 11 years old, maybe 12. Music wasn't particularly important to me back then, and I was way more interested in what kinds of reptiles and amphibians I could find in the Everglades around my parents’ home. Michael Jackson and Neverending Story was pretty much the extent of my knowledge of pop culture.
As I grew up my world changed. Skateboarding became my singular focus, and through skateboarding I became part of a culture for the first time. At least, it was the first culture that I made a choice to be a part of. It defined me, and music’s importance in skateboarding became music’s importance to me.
This was well before the Internet. 1994/95/96. I was in Broward County, utterly removed from the very real social networks that defined culture in those times. Those networks were concentrated in major media cities like New York, and Los Angeles, but they spread throughout the country. In those times South Florida was actually making major contributions (2 Live Crew, real life cocaine cowboys which was the premise for Miami Vice, and the Miami Hurricanes) to culture at large in the USA. But as a young person in Broward County I had no way to tap into the nation’s networks of culture--not as a producer, and not as a consumer. Music and culture were a mystery to me, albums and movies might as well have come from god in heaven. I had never met anyone that was in a movie, or worked on a movie. And I never met anyone that made a living from music, or worked in the music industry. It was truly another world.
"As a young person in Broward County I had no way to tap into the nation’s networks of culture"
Skateboarding was my first exposure to a culture that had its own unique social network that I could become a part of. And it was the first time that people who I saw in magazines and on my TV, stood before me and shook my hand. I went to every contest and demo I could, and always made a point to say hello to the pros and amateurs and let them know I appreciated something that they’d done. Almost all of my money went towards skateboard videos and magazines, and I was consumed by the culture. I bought every video that was available in all the shops by my house, and I bought a subscription to every skateboard magazine I could find. I called and got catalogs from every shop I could find in the magazines. These videos, magazines, and catalogs exposed me to the culture of skateboarding: here are the clothes we wear, here is the music we listen to, and this is the stuff that we do. My young mind fixated on every detail, and I internalized everything I could from this incredible mix of art, sport, and music.
At that time skateboarding was still countercultural, and also obscure. The only people who wore skate brands were skateboarders because you had to go to a skate shop, or order from a skate catalog in order to get those clothes. It was a coded secret society, and seeing someone else in a skateboard shirt not only let you know they were a skateboarder, it also told you a lot about that person if you could read the deeper cues. Every skate brand had a team, and that team skated in a particular way. The styles of skating each had unique music that went with them. People who listened to heavy metal and thrashing aggro punk rock were skating pools in dickies and sk8 his. People who listened to hip hop were skating ledges in baggie jeans and Sal 23s.
"If you showed up at a skate spot in 1997 and saw someone in a Menace shirt, you knew they had a copy of Life After Death in their car, and if they didn’t have weed they knew where to get it."
Each skate brand’s team essentially reflected a different demographic, and their logos equated to little flags that let other skaters know how you skate, what kind of music you listen to, and what you do when you’re not skating. That doesn’t mean that hessian skaters weren’t listening to rap, and vice-a-versa. Skateboarding was a culture of inclusiveness where all sorts of people mix together, but everyone had 1 primary identity that they brought to skateboarding. And everyone communicated that primary identity by associating themselves with particular skate brands whose riders shared that identity as well. The riders were mascots, cultural beacons that attracted like-minded individuals in a community. If you showed up at a skate spot in 1997 and saw someone in a Menace shirt, you knew they had a copy of Life After Death in their car, and if they didn’t have weed they knew where to get it.
It’s tough to say if the lifestyle precedes the music, or if the music precedes the lifestyle. But either way, skateboarding is a culture wherein the correlation between lifestyle and music become liquid, and in that liquidity brand allegiance becomes a central element of self actualization. The music that skateboarders were listening to in LA, SF, and NYC became the soundtracks to the videos being filmed in those cities and disseminated throughout the rest of the country. But unlike their clothes and skateboards, they did not distribute any music to skate shops.
"Skateboarding is a culture wherein the correlation between lifestyle and music become liquid, and in that liquidity brand allegiance becomes a central element of self actualization"
In 1995 skateboarders in major cities were not following the dominant trends and listening to popular radio. Instead they were tapped into local music communities where artists were forging the earliest phases of the underground’s rise to prominence, and eventually its transformation to the music culture we now have on the internet. For me, skateboard videos became a portal to music communities far away where the sounds resonated with me in ways I had never experienced. Before I was downloading obscure songs from Napster I was hearing obscure songs from 411 Video Magazine. The music I heard in those videos really made me go wild. I would close the door to my room, blast the stereo and skateboard in my room doing flatground tricks on the carpet because I wanted to skate while the music was playing. The music wasn’t just good, it made me feel things, and those feelings drove me wild.
I was hooked. I needed this music in my life all the time, but it wasn’t that easy. I managed to find some of the punk music from the videos at local music chains, but their selection was slim. As I got more into the hip hop music in the videos it got more difficult to track down the music. At first I dubbed cassettes from the skate videos because I couldn't buy the music anywhere, and I wanted to listen to it in my car. I tried every music store that I could find within 20 miles of my parents’ house, but none of them had Saafir, Living Legends, Andre Nickatina, or Rhymesayers. Eventually I found websites and ordered things in the mail. In the Summer of 2000 I went to visit a skateboarding friend in California and set aside $200 to spend at Amoeba--which was a lot of money for me at the time. That trip allowed me to get access to music in a new way.
"It wasn’t just about the music I listened to anymore, it wasn’t just about the feelings from music, it was about what I could do with those feelings, it was about being a musician"
Soon after I returned from California I moved to Orlando for college, and discovered Park Ave CDs and a thriving local hip hop community. Filesharing was also gaining considerable steam by this point. Lots of inaccessible music was becoming accessible, and when I moved to college I had high speed internet for the first time. And at that point music’s significance in my life exploded into something I hadn’t ever conceived of. In Orlando I met people who rapped, and not just freestyling with their buddies, but people who put out albums, played shows, toured, and even knew famous people personally. I fell into a music community in Orlando in 2001, and who I am became deeply intertwined with music. It wasn’t just about the music I listened to anymore, it wasn’t just about the feelings from music, it was about what I could do with those feelings, it was about being a musician.
I never had any ambitions to be a musician, or to be any type of performer, but as soon as I stepped on a stage to freestyle for the first time, I came alive in ways I had never experienced before. The first time I ever battled I won, and I won more than once. I became a crowd favorite at Orlando’s H.U.S.H. weekly open mic and battle. I was a class clown for sure, and I got voted funniest in my senior class--as a Jew in a Catholic school I do think I had a slight advantage--but nothing up to that point had suggested I was a performer, let alone a rapper. And yet, here I am 16 years after I first found myself in front of a few hundred people cheering for me. I’m 35, I work in the music industry as a brand director, I self-release my own albums, and because of my dedication to myself and my music I have made a life that brings me great joy.
Great music is always about sharing a feeling. It speaks to you in a way that transcends words and it makes you feel, but it makes you feel in a unique way. In music we always know that we’re not alone. When a piece of music touches you it only touches you because you have something in common with the person who made that music. I think that’s a big part of our fascination with music, it’s emotional proof that we can connect with people we don’t even know. Songs, artists, and albums are beacons in culture, they draw like-minded people together. At this point there are so many people releasing albums every day I feel like I need to do something more, so I’m trying to use this playlist to tell you about me and my album.
My music doesn’t really sound like any of the music on this playlist. Even though I made “Somebody Gon Get Bit” with very direct inspiration from “Diamonds On Me Dancing”, and even though I made “In The Wild With Clothes On” with very direct inspiration from “Bread Winner Anthem”, my music takes that inspiration in a unique direction. I’m a songwriter, I’m a producer, and I’m a performer. But ultimately, I’m a person whose life is deeply intertwined with music, and I don’t just love making it, I also love listening to it. And I think there is a kind of communication that happens with playlists that you can’t get any other way. Songs announce who we are to the world, and they’re a big part of how like-minded people find one another.