"I don't remember you being that big into music," my father uttered casually.
The words echoed in my head.
I closed Questlove's memoirs, set down my frozen rum drink, and looked at my dad sitting one beach chair over. I wanted to come back with a specific moment, an album, something, anything that proved he was wrong, but I couldn't. He had been there for all 26 years, so he would know better than anyone.
"You know," I capitulated. "You're right."
The rest of the day, instead of enjoying my vacation, instead of thinking about nothing but the bikini line on the one girl under 70—and over 18—on the whole beach, I tried to pinpoint the moment I fell in love with music. For years, like the waves on the beach, music grazed against my feet—be it the recorder (see me in "Hot Cross Buns"), a failed attempt at the guitar, or my friend' s band—but it wasn't until later in life when those waves pulled me out to the uncharted water where I am treading today.
Whether it be an interview, a drummer's memoirs, or a mic in a sonogram, the arc of a successful musician—or creative—seems to start early. There's always a parent who was a musician, a life spent surrounded by Curtis Mayfield records or videos of church performances. Even for us writers, there is a level of fondness and nostalgia to thinking of when music touched our respective souls. For me, though, my love of music comes from a place I never want to go again.
As I crossed the quad I tried to figure out what had just happened. My first college girlfriend, hell, my first real girlfriend, had just broken things off. I could feel the tears welling as the blustery Central Pennsylvania wind slapped my face. As I approached my dorm I tried to figure out how to get past my roommates without them seeing me; I've always been a crier, but it wasn't until recently I've learned to accept and embrace it. I rushed in and swiftly closed the door. I managed to get past them, but now I was all alone with nothing more than my thoughts, one of her headbands and a Wi-Fi connection.
I used the internet as a distraction and ended up watching live performances of past VMAs. It was my first ever YouTube vortex (but as Tommy Cash would tell you, it wouldn't be my last). I didn't need YouTube for long, though. A few days later, Kanye dropped 808's and Heartbreak. Plenty of people hate that album, but I've always had a soft spot for it. Breakups are isolating, but knowing Kanye was out there going through the same thing effectively got me thought that break up. Kanye managed to wrap up all the emotions—pain, sorrow, vitriol, passive-aggressive angst—and I connected with all of it. I had never connected with an album under such adverse conditions, but it wouldn't be the last time. It was the "Coldest Winter" of my life but it lasted three and a half more years.
The pain of the breakup subsided, but it was replaced with a different, more dulling sense of anguish. I hated college. Hated it. Not so much the idea, in general, but my specific place of study. If it weren't for a few friends and an incredible restaurant with unequivocally the best Chicken Parm sub in the world, I would have dropped out or transferred. Looking back, I probably should have but that's a whole other wormhole. It was a long, slow, decline after that breakup, but by senior year, I was done. Done with friends, done with class, done with seeing the same shitty people while eating the same shitty food day after day. Done with the weather. Shit, by the end, I was even done with drinking. I didn't even want to go to graduation. I was so ready to get out of there I would have sooner worked on my thesis on a Friday night than hit up a bar because it was all that stood in my way, plus the inevitable music discoveries that come from procrastinating a paper were all I needed to make a weekend jumpoff.
Besides, even if I wanted to go to the bar, it's not like I had a giant group to join me. Most of my friends were on the basketball team, so I hung out with DJBooth, KevinNottingham, and 2Dopeboyz instead. While most looked forward to parties and pong, I couldn't wait to drive around the winding roads alone, with a bowl and the new J. Cole tape. I was so much cooler than all of my classmates because the music they listened to had already fallen out of my rotation.
Seeing the same people day after day was torture but I would plop in my earbuds and bounce right by them to the beat of a Wu-Tang song; "Gravel Pit" could turn the frat-filled student union into the 36 Chambers. The only time I didn't have music playing was in class and even then I was looking up samples and reading about jazz; Wi-Fi availability in classrooms was the worst decision ever. The classes I did manage to make—and pay attention in—were the ones where I could write papers about Lil Wayne. I skipped, slept through, and even failed one or two in my day, but for those Weezy-driven classes, I was front and center.
Music was my shot, my chaser, my advisor, my syllabus, my food run, my late night booty call. I wasn't alone when I had a new tape or album. With hip-hop, I was a No Limit army of one. A lone killer bee swarm. I didn't need a frat, I pledged to Broke Phi Broke. My roommates would bemoan the cross-campus walk we often had to take. Me? I loved it because it was another chance to get my fix. I didn't talk to people on campus, instead, I listened to my rapper friends. The more I hated school, the more I fell in love with music.
I hated college, but do I regret my decision to attend? Hell no. To this day, I wonder what would have happened if I had dropped out or transferred, but any thoughts of that are quickly replaced with my next feature idea or a DJ Dahi beat and I am reminded that without the shit I dealt with, I wouldn't be writing this article. As out of place as I felt for three and a half years, music makes me feel that much more at home every single day. For a lot of people music is an outlet, a way to escape an otherwise unbearable reality, but after three and a half years, the escape became my life; student loans can't put a price on that.
I didn't always love music, but I do now, and I always will.