Music Nerd: an individual who regularly enjoys creating or listening to music in-depth, analyzing the formation and execution of the art as a part of daily functioning.
Okay, so I came up with that with that definition myself, but that’s what I think it means and that what I think I am. I suppose you can blame my nerd status on my parents, who both can sing and my father is a working musician. I was inundated with Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, The Temptations, The Jacksons, Mariah Carey, Earth, Wind & Fire and James Brown as a little person. Speaking of James Brown, I thought every time he said ‘funk,’ he was using an expletive and was appalled at how much my mother loved “Sex Machine,” because I was taught ‘sex’ was a bad word. Funny, my mom forbade me to listen to Prince (my father loves him) and watch MTV because of sexual content, but she openly jammed to “Sex Machine.” Hmph. Anyhow, I dived head first into the genius of Prince straight out high school and watched MTV anyway-Daisy Fuentes was my favorite VJ. A 9-year old really shouldn’t have been watching MTV, but oh well, my mom and pop shouldn’t have let me have my own TV; especially in the days before parental TV blocks. The more family-friendly ways I got my music fix involved Nickelodeon’s “Roundhouse” (which no one remembers but me for some reason-shout out to Crystal Lewis, who now sings Christian contemporary!) and its hipper, updated twin “All That” (shout out to all my 90’s kids! I say all the time the 90’s should have never ended). Most parents take their children’s toys away for punishment. Mine had to take my music posters or my boom-box to get to me. I fell asleep to music and couldn’t drag myself out of the bed without music.
Everyone knows my favorite diva is Beyonce`, but before her was a long list of obsessions. My favorite group when I was little was Salt-N-Pepa (to my mother’s discomfort, I’m sure). I loved their “don’t let the pretty face fool you” outspoken nature and their pro-female messages. I swear I came out of the womb a feminist. I liked the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child for the same reason. GIRL POWER! I distinctly remember singing one of Salt-N-Pepa’s songs out loud and my mom yelling “I wish you knew more church songs!”
I have a love-hate relationship with hip-hop. I hate the abrasive vulgarities, use of the word ‘bitch’ and ‘nigga’ to describe men and women and it’s arguable glamorization of criminal behavior, violence, materialism, egotism, sexism and misogyny. I also see the unfair double-standards and bias bared by women in the genre. What I do respect about hip-hop is how it’s a voice for a culture and community grossly underrepresented, misunderstood and stereotyped. Those against rap complain that’s it’s too intense, angry and brash, but rap isn’t supposed to be digestible. It’s there to challenge, push and be politically incorrect, unfiltered and raw. That considered, it’s probably the most honest genre out there, for better or worse. Furthermore, it takes true talent to become a legend in hip-hop. Anyone can carry a tune or hone their vocal skills, but you can’t teach flow. You either have it or you don’t. Any singer can be successful without penning a song, but you can’t be the greatest MC alive if you don’t write your own lyrics. Not to mention, well-written rap has more metaphors, symbolism and double entendres than any other music category. Great hip-hop makes use of all those literary tenets you learn about in high school. And yet, some say rap isn’t ‘real music.’ It has more in common with other genres than people realize, but I’ll get to that.
I don’t listen to much gospel on my own time, but I grew up around gospel and acapella singing. The thing about gospel is that everyone is a great singer and most have emotional affect. It’s hard to make it in gospel without both. In any other singing genre, you can get away with having mediocre skills and no affect, but not in gospel. Also, it’s the only style of music categorized primarily by its lyrical content and is DESIGNED to uplift the soul. Not all music is purposely created to do mankind a service. It should, but it isn’t.
Everyone views Whitney as regal princess, but I saw her both as regal AND edgy. My first vivid memory of her was the “I’m Your Baby Tonight” video; her ripped jeans, leather jacket and single cross-earring era. I still want a cross earring. While everyone drooled over “I Will Always Love You” and the other ballads from “The Bodyguard” film, I was all about “Queen of the Night.” My favorite line was ‘Well, I ain’t nobody’s angel; what can I say? Well, I’m just that way.’ I knew somehow that the line was controversial coming out of my young mouth; I sung that song religiously. My obsession with Whitney lead to getting in trouble in class: I wrote her name all over my textbook. Mariah’s “MTV Unplugged” album, the greatest live pop album ever, was on repeat at my house, along with the “Always Be My Baby” single (between myself and my parents, we own ALL of Mariah’s albums). I tried to imitate her grunt in that song, and after listening to a lot of Wynonna, I thought a singer didn’t mean it if they didn’t do so. Real singers grunted, growled and roared. Wynonna is underrated. She long performed in a duo with her mother as “The Judds.” They were country, but they had soul. Bluesy undertones are all through their music. The mother, Naomi, was bossy and flashy and Wynonna was a pure bad butt. I discovered them during my mom’s country phase.
Like hip-hop, country is a genre that represents a specific culture; in this case the southern and rural community. Some core values in the music are family, religion and simplistic living. Because of its affiliation with a certain community, many turn a deaf ear to it, but there’s a lot to appreciate about country. Out of all the main genres, I feel it’s the strongest lyrically. They’ve mastered the art of storytelling. The videos and lyrics always take you somewhere and give an intimate, inside look into someone’s life. Substance-less party songs are sporadic. Some may argue that the rare use of metaphors and symbolism make country writing weak, but I say it makes the literal, but illustrative lyrics accessible.
Because I wasn’t quite old enough to own CD’s, I’d rummage through my parents CD collection. My dad hated it when I’d open his BMG Music Club 12-CDs-for-the-price of-one membership orders before he could. I discovered Sarah McLachlan, KC & Jojo and Pebbles going through his orders. The first CD I ever owned was the soundtrack to the TV series “Party of Five.” I was obsessed with that show. The second CD I ever owned was Madonna’s “Ray of Light.” I can’t believe my dad bought me a Madonna CD. The first CD I purchased with my OWN money was Beyonce’s “Dangerously in Love.” My parents were fine with the girls from Destiny’s Child because they had such a clean-cut reputation. When the song “Speechless” came on, my mother said “J, this song is about sex. This is the same girl from Destiny’s Child? I wonder how her mother feels about her singing songs like this.”
Anyhow, towards the end of the 90’s, I started to listen to more rock and alternative. Some of my favorite bands were No Doubt, Dave Matthews Band, Hootie and the Blowfish and Ben Folds Five. When I started hanging out with the goth/punk kids in 8th grade, I got into The Smashing Pumpkins, Korn and slightly edgier rock. I had always written little songs, but it was in middle school that I started writing a bevy of lyrics and poetry. Writing is definitely a 2nd love of mine, hence this blog. In a parent-teacher conference, my teacher told my parents that I could never complete assignments for all the stories, poetry and songs I was writing. I also tried to start a band in 6th grade, which is hilarious, considering I couldn’t sing. My classmate and I were determined to make the 1st rock/R&B band. Even then I believed rock/soul should be married.
Rock is rap’s brother from another mother: it’s also a rebel genre that often uses lyrical metaphors. Rock pulls the devil out of you. It tells your deepest, darkest secret. Rock is everything you’re afraid to be: an impulsive, vulnerable, emotional, lustful, carnal animal. That’s what makes it a rebel; it releases and exposes all of the feelings we’re taught to curb. It’s not so much about being politically incorrect or challenging the mind (which is its difference from hip-hop), as it is to help the listener reach and express the internal; whatever is in there.
If rock is rap’s brother from another mother, soul is gospel’s sinful sister from another mister and rock is soul’s angrier half-brother. Catch all that? Soul takes the stirring vocal power of gospel and the internal raw emotion of rock and blends it together. A great complimentary contrast to rock, soul is edgy and potent but still sweet and soothing- kinda like a sassy woman. That’s why I‘ve always said that rock/soul should marry more often. I’m surprised few artists and record labels have attempted to make it happen. Soul is the only genre defined by emotional affect and purposely designed to make the listener feel.
I had my time focusing on this and that genre, but pop was always there underneath. It’s been my musical constant. After going through my rock phase, this and this happened and I returned to pop and R&B hard. I still enjoy music from the areas, just not as heavily. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I was kind of a top 40 whore. Mom didn’t want me listening to secular music on Sunday, but that was the only day the top 40 countdown came on and I was guaranteed to catch all my favorite songs for tape recording. Before ITunes and downloading, if you wanted song, you had to record it from the radio; DJ interruptions and all. Before YouTube, you stayed on the phone voting for your favorite video on MTV’s “Total Request Live,” BET’s “106 & Park” or The Box channel hoping it would air. Anyhow, I was into it all…the blondes: Britney, Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson, the boy-bands: Backstreet Boys (for life!) and 98 Degrees, everything. My CD collection started to grow-there wasn’t a Christmas or birthday that passed without me asking for a CD- and my dad got me into reading liner notes. You knew he liked a song when he asked “Who produced that? Who wrote that?” I made his job as a musician a little bit easier because I was abreast on all the latest music and knew the lyrics to every hit song. Dad got to where he would ask to listen to my brand new CD’s before I could (I owned Destiny’s Child’s 1st album for an hour before he snagged it). I was in no position to say no since he bought them. My parents were cool with my musical tastes until it came to rap. My Missy Elliott “Under Construction” album was confiscated for all the naughty lyrics. I got another copy and got caught with that too.
Pop gets such a bad rap. ‘Pop music’ is merely short for ‘popular music,’ therefore the music is designed to cater to and be enjoyed by the masses. To have general appeal, the production, vocal and/or lyrics are sometimes simplified and stripped of any distinctive characteristics (ex. a gritty soul voice). Because of its simplifications and commercial application and intent, pop is often deemed as trash, poor quality, not ‘real music’ and all about money. Those who create it are viewed as ‘sell-outs.’ 1st, the music ISN’T ALWAYS simplified. There’s lots of innovative music that uses pop as an under-layer or base. 2nd, there isn’t anything wrong with having music that so happens to be lucrative and one isn’t a sell-out if they convert to pop music or create it. In my opinion, such is only an issue if artistic freedom or artistry is hindered or compromised for the sake of being commercial (which can happen in many ways beyond the artist’s control). 3rd, there is a plus to pop seeking out a general consensus sound. Pop is a unifier. That one song or artist that everyone, regardless of core musical taste or demographic has in common typically comes from the pop world. Case in point, Michael Jackson. The singly hailed “King of Pop,” Jackson was cross-culture, cross-generational and cross-genre. The hardest core of rappers, the edgiest of rockers and the most country of country singers claim to have loved or been inspired by Michael Jackson. Out of all the genres, pop has the most potential and flexibility to be cross-demographic. In addition, every major genre has a pop sub-type (ex. R&B-pop, rock pop). That in itself is telling.