Music in 2017: it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times.
Never in the history of recorded music has there been more content to pour over, and yet at the same time fully digesting that never-ending torrent of musical offerings has never seemed so overwhelming.
As a hip-hop nerd and general over-thinker, I’m constantly inundated with the anxiety of knowing that I’ll never get to hear all of the music that gets released by artists I already love and respect, let alone the multitude of present and future unknowns that will inevitably go on to produce masterful works that will never grace my ears.
"I got my mind on the prize, wheels on the roll / Eyes to the skies, bless my soul" - Ab Soul
This anxiety is a musical manifestation of the human nature that is existential FOMO, and it’s a pang that’s revived every time I pick up a new album. It haunts my every expectation and satisfaction—the unquenchable restlessness of wanting to experience the vast unknown.
In everyday life, I’ve developed skills to combat the eternal nagging of that which I’ll never know or experience. Deep breathing, grounding techniques, focus-shifting and most importantly, music—these are my tools against a daily onslaught of what-ifs and could-bes. But when the fractal nature of my own existential freakout actually reaches the music—the thing that I love the most—I've found a simple and incredibly effective vehicle to allow myself the enjoyment of experiencing a new—or, for that matter, old—album without distractions from the totality of possibility: My actual, literal vehicle.
Yeah, my car.
Listening to music in my car is absolutely my favorite way to digest music, period (word to Wrekonize). The moment a new album arrives, I can feel that drive coming.
I wait for it. Anxiously.
I might hop in the car that night, or I might wait a week; I wait until the vibe is right. I go so far as to come up with a vague outline of what route I might take before loading up the music and hitting the pavement.
Currently, I live on the outskirts of Kansas City, which means it's never difficult to find a stretch of road with no streetlights and few other cars.
I always go out at night when I really want to dig into an album, as I find daytime allows for the distraction of my surroundings; nighttime shifts my senses exclusively into auditory mode. I feel like Daredevil, able to hone in on every soundwave, while I let the road markings steer me subconsciously. I swear, I still pay attention to the road.
Hip-hop, specifically, has always had the “drive test” embedded in its blood. Countless emcees have made anthems to and for their cars, tailor-made for cruising around with a blunt and a box of tapes/CD booklet/auxiliary cord, and letting what feels like the whole world hear your soundtrack to the moment.
"Leanin' to the side but you can't speed through / Two miles an hour so everybody sees you" - The Fresh Prince
I know the acoustics in my car are subpar at best, and I know how ridiculous I probably look as a white guy in a Smurf-blue, beat up Kia Rio damn near blowing my stock speakers out to the sonic vibrations of Ab-Soul. But in that moment, that driver's seat may as well be a sofa in the studio, and my shitty stock speakers may as well be high-priced JBL monitors.
This is my ode to the “drive test”: my zen state; my musical hyperbolic time chamber. My absolute favorite way to hear an album.
By Brent Bradley. Honk if you see him jamming, follow him on Twitter.