All images by Yoh
I’m staring at my grandmother, who’s transfixed on a game of solitaire. There’s no high-score, no second player option, no Mortal Kombat fatalities, yet she plays with the attentiveness of a cat pouncing on prey. She could sit here for hours, content and enthralled. I have music coming from a fragile pair of overhead headphones, a round silhouette sits secure in my Lot29 jeans, energized by batteries stolen from the living room remote, the CD borrowed from a gray case sitting in the corner of my older brother’s room. I spent most of my year sneaking in there, passing by his Jordan collection, ignoring the oversize LRG, and discovering artists hidden between mesh folds. Not sounds from my parent’s past, but new voices that spoke a language I could claim. How else was I to survive the halls and hells of 9th grade?
He asks for a size 17 with a huge cheesy grin, I take his size 9 Jordan in exchange for a pair of roller skates. The grin widens once he sees the monstrous pair, I bet he's got a movie stub for Roll Bounce in his right pocket. He’ll be back in 20 minutes, hopefully not in a stretcher. The smell of feet is overwhelming, it gets like this when we’re busy. This room is tiny, the lack of ventilation and the accumulation of other people’s shoes doesn’t make for a flowery aroma. Wednesday attracts a crowd because it's dollar night, and Roll Bounce has inspired a new level of skating fever. I could care less for Lil Bow Wow, but Megan Good is in the film, my soulmate since her role as Nina in Cousin Skeeter. The DJ is jamming the oldies, Afrika Bambaataa’s "Planet Rock," Kool and The Gang’s "Hollywood Swinging," and the favorite, Vaughan Mason’s "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll." I spend most of my time here with my brothers and the dull brown colored rental skates. I’m convinced my parents only had children so they didn’t have to hire employees for their skate rink. No complaints, this is where I hear the best music. He’s going to play all the bangers soon, Game’s "Hate It Or Love It," YoungBloodZ’s "Presidential," Cassidy’s "I’m A Hustla," T.I’s "Bring Em Out," Snoop’s "Drop It Like Its Hot" and 50’s "Candy Shop." This job beats flipping burgers by a mile.
A list of songs is tucked behind the math assignment, it's from pretty Jasmine, who smells like soap and sunshine. It's mostly R&B, Mario’s "Let Me Love You," Bobby Valentino’s "Slow Down," Alicia Key’s "Unbreakable" and Bow Wow’s horrendous "Like You." Near the bottom is Lyfe Jennings' "Must Be Nice" remix with Nas, one of my personal favorites. I’ll commend her taste in homeroom, most girls were stuck on Pretty Ricky. I was happy to hear anything that didn't include "Your Body," "Grind With Me" or "Juicy."
The bell rings, the hallways are cleared, students flood into classrooms. Derek’s combination of capri shorts and Timberlands catch my eye as he enters, he’s from New York, where they have real winters. December is sunny, highs are still in the 60s, there’s no chance of having a white Christmas. Atlanta rarely got snow, but we had a Snowman. Young Jeezy was everywhere. Thug Motivation 101 could be heard exploding out the speakers of old-school Chevys and brand new Porsches. The radio had each song in rotation, from "Soul Survivor" to "Last Of A Dying Breed." The streets love Jeezy, but the school-system isn’t embracing his influence. Someone must’ve informed them it wasn’t yams being kept at his aunty house, they placed a strict prohibition on his signature t-shirt. The design was simple, a frowning snowman, a replica of the chain that hung from Jeezy’s neck. They related “cocaine” to the angry Frosty, sending home anyone bold enough to wear it. We didn’t have uniforms, but fashion wasn’t very diverse: baggy Girbuads, black or white Air Force Ones, and a tall tee from Champs. They sold five for $20, so closets were either all-white, all-black, or a rainbow of colors. They may have banned Jeezy from our attire, but he was in the classrooms, the lunch rooms, and the gymnasiums, his ad-libs echoing down the noisy hallways. It was impossible to ban the Snowman.
The blaring fire truck siren distracts me from the stupid math equation, it’s the third time today that I’ve heard them. B.E.T and homework has never been the best combination, background noise is one thing, but Lil Wayne’s "Fireman" has too much personality to be upstaged by geometry. I look up to see my favorite rapper, mouth full of gold, long dreads, and flames erupting from the ground. Carter II sits in between the jaws of my CD player, where it’s been for months. The video ends, and I attempt to conquer fractions for the second time. I hear a familiar tune, look up to see a blood red Bape hoodie, back to back Wayne, huh. 106 & Park is on point today.
Walking through the lunch line, deciding between two poisons. The cheeseburger should be an easy choice, but it’s rumored that the patty was leftover mystery meat, and once you uncover the “mystery” there’s no going back. The food fight that left our janitors in an uproar last month was amusing, but losing our vending machines was a harsh consequence. It did inspire the candy-selling venture though, my mesh book bag is full of Sour Straws, Skittles and Snickers, but I couldn’t get high off my own supply. I sit alone after making a few bucks, dealing with the struggles of being good at making money but lousy at making friends. Luckily, I packed my CD player, with Kanye’s new album, Late Registration. Even a burger from hell tastes gourmet when "Touch The Sky" is in your ears.
Tupac’s voice swirls around the silent car, he drowns out the snores of my sleeping little brother, the volume of his snores are so loud my music is muted in its presence. Our summer trips to Virginia are usually a combination of mix CDs and old Pac, dad’s favorite rapper, his go-to when the nine hour stretch starts to take its toll. Tupac is like Red Bull, our 96’ Expedition grows wings once All Eyez On Me gets to cranking. My attention is on another West Coast rapper though, The Game. His Documentary album is really good and every time I hear "Hate It Or Love It," deep-down I wish Game wasn't beefing with 50. Personally, I wouldn't beef with a guy that got shot nine times; he's obviously immune to bullets. That's like going to war with a Terminator. Pac plays in the background, I look out the window to the darkness, under the moon, I raise the volume of "Start from Scratch."
Arms fling into the air, they start punching the palm of their hands while running around in a frenzy, and it’s a stampede of chaos and rage. This is a weekly teen-night tradition, whenever the DJ drop’s "Knuck If You Buck," the reaction is pure pandemonium. Fist punching, elbow throwing, and dread swinging – it’s not just guys, girls transform from sexy to scary the moment they hear, “Yeah, we knucking and bucking and ready to fight, I betcha I'mma throw them things, so haters best to think twice.” Any minute a fight will erupt soon, probably right now, but the moment "No More Play In GA" is mixed in, someone will be kissing an ashy knuckle. I overhear a group of girls wondering when the DJ is going to play "Laffy Taffy," the hottest song in the city.
Her voice walks through the hallway, through my door, and shakes me from my slumber. It’s the tone she uses after first calling softly, the “don’t make me say it again” tone. Our morning consists of snooze buttons, yelling, Eggos, Frosted Flakes and a combination of, “you don’t need another tardy” and “have a good day.” We usually listen to “Frank & Wanda”, V-103’s morning show. In the past, I would treat these rides to school as an attempt to get some shut eye, but today is different. Every week they’ve played a new chaper in R. Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet series. It’s an audio soap-opera, he calls it hip-hopera, but I consider it the needed flair to my dull morning. It's dramatic, over-the-top, but people tune in every week.
She demanded order, pounding the chalk board with a ruler, attempting to silence the post-lunch sugar rush. Julius Caesar wasn’t on our minds, his faith was well known, but our Luda vs T.I. debate still needed resolution. This literature class was like an arena for rappers – Jay-Z vs Wayne, Cassidy vs Fabulous, and 50 Cent vs The Game. From the lunchroom to the seats in the back, the discussions would only end right before she started calling parents and handing out detention slips. T.I’s King is special, the perfect balance of sophisticated gentleman and Bankhead gangster. I chose his side in the beef with Ludacris, haven’t touched Red Light District since. His new song, Runaway Love, sounds mature, might have to check out his upcoming album, but I don’t expect that to change the fact T.I wears the crown.
I hovered my cursor over the song, praying that I won't hear Bill Clinton's voice once it plays in Windows Media Player. Limewire is notorious for falsely getting my hopes up. All I need is E-40’s "Tell Me When To Go," Chingy’s "Pulling Me Back," Nelly’s "Grillz" and Young Dro’s "Shoulder Lean" to finish this mix for second period. I press play. Limewire hasn't let me down, this time.
Nostalgia is your mind's time machine. When I think of 2005 and 2006, there’s always music. In classrooms, at home, doctor’s office appointments and road trips, a CD player was always stitched to my hip. Two albums from Jeezy, two from Game, one from T.I, one from Ludacris, Lupe’s debut, Kanye’s sophomore, Atlanta’s club music, making mix CDs with my brother, music is attached to every memory and thought. These anecdotes are just a glimpse into my favorite year in music. Spending my afternoons glued to Rap City and homework, my nights at the skating rink and Limewire indulgences.
These were the good ol days, the best music year of my life.
[By Yoh, aka Crank Dat Yoh, aka @Yoh31.]