Shuffled Part One

So I originally wrote this up for Boston Progress Radio‘s Shuffled column a while back, but since they’ve yet to post it, I figured I’d throw it up on here. Who knows? Maybe I’ll turn it into a running feature to generate some content on this thing.

Basically, I put my iPod on “shuffle” and wrote about the first five songs that popped up. This was the case on March 9:

“Travelin’ Man”
DJ Honda f. Mos Def
This has got to be my all-time favorite track from the Mighty Mos Def. I think the song has a lot more resonance for me now that I travel a lot more than I used to—which is especially tough when you have a baby girl at home that you can’t stand to be away from (everybody: “awwww”). The version I have is slightly different from the one most people know about. The chorus on mine goes “I’m leavin’ on a jet plane/I don’t know when I’ll be back again/Kiss me and smile for me/tell me that you’ll wait for me/Hold me like you know I’ll never go/even though you know I will…” I’m not sure why mine’s different. I guess I’m special like that.

“Respiration”
Black Star f. Common
I guess my iPod is taking me to task for claiming “Travelin’ Man” as my favorite Mos Def track. I remember one of my boys back in college lending me the Black Star CD. While I dug what I was listening to; as soon as it got to “Respiration,” that was it. I was hooked. I love everything about this song. From the opening dialog and intro in Spanish to Kweli’s breathless delivery, everything just works. It’s an introspective ode to city life that doesn’t dumb it down or glamorize it. And Hi-Tek’s beat is just absolutely grimy. But my favorite aspect of the song is how beautiful the wordplay is. I even used to teach it in my Creative Writing classes—which probably explains why I don’t teach high school anymore. “Heard the bass ride out like an ancient mating call/I can’t take it y’all, I can feel the city breathin’/Chest heavin’, against the flesh of the evening/Sigh before we die like the last train leaving.” I’m telling you, playing that isht in an English classroom will blow a 15-year-old’s mind, and hopefully turn them on to some real hip-hop in the process.

“Turntable Mathematics”
The Mountain BrothersIt seems that I don’t listen to any music post- 1999. And now that I think about it, that’s probably true. Anyway, I headed up an Asian American Student group when I was an undergrad, and one of our crowning achievements was getting the MBs and DJ Roli Rho of 5th Platoon to headline at ODU. It was a dope show, too. We had a bunch of local hip hop groups, turntablists, and dance crews do their business. Afterwards, we took them all out to an IHOP till 3 in the morning. Good times. It’s interesting that this is the MB song that popped up on my iPod, considering it’s essentially a Chops solo cut. Even though he’s best known as a producer, I always liked him as an emcee. Apparently, he’s also the only MB still making music, too. I read on Wikipedia that Peril-L and Styles are doctors now. Hurm…

“I’m Not a Hero”
Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard

It figures that the first non-1990s hip hop track to show up would come from the original score to The Dark Knight. Considering that my iPod is overloaded with nerd movie film scores, I’m surprised it took that long to get to this one. (Warning: the following is going to get super geeky, so feel free to skip down to the next write-up.) So yeah, people gave a lot of crap to Christopher Nolan and company when they decided to eschew the familiar Danny Elfman theme for 2005’s Batman Begins. I was not one of them. While Zimmer & Howard’s score doesn’t have anything as instantly iconic as Danny Elfman’s, it makes up for it in unadulterated atmosphere. And just like The Dark Knight took Batman Begins to a whole ‘nother level, the sequel’s score punches you in the neck from the jump and doesn’t stop. “I’m Not a Hero” is actually a combination of two different cues from the movie. The first half covers the introduction of nocturnal Gotham, from Gordon by the Bat-Signal to Batman busting up a drug deal in a parking garage. The second half is the music from the scenes in Hong Kong. And when the percussion really kicks in? Goddamn. It makes me want to dive off a skyscraper. But in a good way.

“Birthday” 
The Sugarcubes
People bitch about MTV, but honestly, without it, my musical tastes in middle school would have been way shittier. I mean, I lived in a small-ass town in the middle of Virginia. The closest record store was in a mall 45 minutes away. But thank god we had cable. If it weren’t for shows like 120 Minutes or Yo! MTV Raps, I’d probably still be listening to Poison or Def Leppard right now. (I don’t care what none of y’all say, the album Hysteria is awesome sauce.) So I remember one late Sunday night, I caught the video for this song on MTV, and I was instantly intrigued by the cute-in-a-weird-and-crazy-way singer. At the time, I assumed Björk was Asian and was surprised MTV had any Asian-y people on the network. A couple years later, I was perusing a used record store and found an old cassette of Life’s Too Good, remembered the video and bought it on the spot. It’s still a great album, full of really unique and chaotic energy. That said, I never truly understood the late 80s trend of having a weird dude talk/speak throughout a song. Dude’s like the Flavor Flav to Björk’s Chuck D. Who knew the Sugarcubes needed a hype man?

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