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Music is a Time Machine

Sometimes all it takes is one note and you're transported to another time, another place. What songs take you back?
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Abhi Dijon’s “Jon B” was recommended by a friend after a short discussion on GoldLink, Soulection, and our shared excitement for Kaytranada’s upcoming album. I sent her back Rodney Tenor’s “Sex, Club, Radio,” a groovy tune that has been an audio obsession of mine for the last few weeks. Just two music connoisseurs swapping Soundcloud links like Pokemon cards in ‘98. On first listen I found the song to be enjoyable, easy-on-the-ears R&B that’s aware of the genre’s past and brings some of that essence into the present day. A smooth voice that sinks into the beat like hot butter melting onto a warm waffle. It fit into my collections of songs that reminded me of just being young, naïve, and occasionally love drunk. Grown and sexy is great but I love the nostalgia of music that takes you back to being an awkward adolescent.

It wasn’t until days later, during a Sunday drive, that the lyric hit me:

“I just drove by your block / And it reminds me.” 

The timing was perfect, I was passing by the home of someone that seemed to be a part of a different lifetime, years had passed since she came to mind. It all started coming back, my Toyota Avalon turning into a DeLorean, going back to 2009—back to being 18 outside her house late at night, speaking into existence our plans of running away to some paradise with beaches, booze, and a cure for our teenage boredom. I could see her emerald eyes that glimmered with mischief, the slightly crooked smile, the sweet but subtle scent of her perfume, all the small details that are forgotten when someone stops being in your life came rushing back. If I was active on Facebook she would’ve received a friend request or a poke, whatever the kids do these days. Art has a way of unearthing the forgotten, taking you back to a time that was assumed drowned by alcohol and new memories. The beauty of nostalgia.

The right song and the right place is a magical combination, a specific moment in time can be revisited like opening a page in your personal history book. When I was spending my afternoons and nights working at Olive Garden, the pre-shift music was crucial for getting into the right mindset to deal with customers who were more hungry hippos than human. Kanye’s “Spaceship” is a given, the anthem that was the devil on my shoulder whispering all the right sweet nothings that could lead to me quitting. Plenty of Odd Future, I replaced Bruno Mars' name with my manager when rapping the verse to "Yonkers." 

I also got into Chance around this time, right before Acid Rap. #10Day was great company during those car rides. "Prom Night" was playing, I always loved the first verse, “We was all outcasts, only listened to Good Mob,” but it was during his second verse when describing his imaginary prom, I passed by the IHOP that we packed into after my senior prom. Now that was a night.

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Sitcoms gave this presumption that prom is supposed to be this extravagant night, where kings and queens are crowned and whisked away in limos that stretch, virginities are lost, and countless other memories that you would hold dear for an eternity would be made. Seeing that IHOP took me back to a hilariously, terrible prom. I wasn’t going to go, I didn’t participate in most of the senior activities, but I was convinced the week before. Dateless but I had a ride, a group of friends who decided to go together. The driver went to the wrong address, got lost, and couldn’t find directions so by the time we showed up there was a little more than 45 minutes left.

The DJ was in the oldies part of his set, barely anyone was dancing. The energy was sucked dry but I found a friend and we danced, nothing too crazy, but someone who wanted to go with me, who I told I wouldn’t be at prom saw and decided to tell my ride I was going back with someone else. There’s no petty like teenage petty. By the time I realized what happened I was chasing down the Mazda in a fresh pair of new Stacy Adams. We ended up at that IHOP, where we got word all three hotel parties had been shut down and our royal Prom Queen was somewhere with her head in a toilet thanks to getting a little too turnt. I spent more time at that IHOP, the after prom choice than I did at the dance. Didn’t get laid, but that short stack was just about the second best thing I could’ve ate that night.

A girl that I knew through Twitter put me on to Dom Kennedy back in 2010. Both From The Westside With Love mixtapes turned me into an avid listener but Yellow Album was the tape that made me a full-blown fan. It’s the album that you have to play from start to finish when the weather gets warm. Dom sounds best in the summer and Yellow Album embodies why. A week before it dropped, I was with Atlanta painter/tattoo artist Paper Frank documenting the day before his 4th solo exhibition. I picked him up and we drove all over Atlanta, he was more rockstar than visual artist. We stopped at City Of Ink, the tattoo shop that was holding the exhibition. It was 3 AM and he still had to finish paintings that were unfinished. Back at his place, until sunrise, I recorded him fluctuating between Xbox and adding the final touches to his work. “My Type Of Party” played most of the time, I don’t know what he loved about that song but it was the soundtrack to our long night. The exhibition was successful, my documentary came out decent, but I can’t hear the song or see the shop without going back to that night.

Raury’s “Cigarette Song.” For two hours the song played as I drove back from Savannah with a friend asleep in the passenger seat. The day before it was her birthday, she wanted to spend it on the beach, and we did. A nice trip away from gloomy Atlanta, it was a beautiful day, but we couldn’t escape our own gloom that night. She wanted a relationship, to change her Facebook status, to be this happy couple she imagined we could be. I think every artist reaches a place of unhappiness, an unshakable dread that’s brought upon tirelessly by chasing a dream and feeling like you haven’t moved an inch. I desired a solace that couldn’t be found in another person, I wanted to reach that next phase of my artistry, and even though history has taught us behind every great man is a great woman, deep down I knew love and happiness weren't going to get me there. I was unfit to be anyone's lover or friend for that matter. I wanted to make it as a writer more than anything and I refused to put anyone before that goal. So we argued and argued after having a great day, she went to bed after telling me I would end up rich, famous, and alone. I sat on the balcony with a bottle of Jack and a cup full of sorrow waiting for the sun to rise wondering if I would be okay if she was right. “But I can't love you right, I can't love you, I won't love you.”

Music is always there, the memory card that returns you to certain checkpoints. I can see teen clubs when I hear “Knuck If You Buck,” Vic Mensa’s “Down On My Luck” takes me back to downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. I can visualize trips up and down Mount Zion Blvd in an Expedition with the homies every time “No Hands” plays. Every person, place, and song carries a bit of personal history.

From the good memories to the bad. All it takes is a verse, hook, or sample and you’re right back there like you never left.


By Yoh, aka Marty McYoh , aka @Yoh31.

Photo Credit: Tumblr



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