The Downbeat: Music to relate to
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 12:03
Ask any stranger with headphones what he’s listening to and you’re bound to receive a thousand different answers. Ask him why he’s listening to the song currently flowing past his eardrums and you’re likely to discover repeat answers.
You’ll hear, “it’s on the radio,” “bass-,” and the inevitable “I don’t know, I just relate to it I guess.”
The last answer seems cliché enough and yet we almost always accept it. Why? Consider popular music: can we really relate? Do we play Rick Ross because we also enjoy pretending to be a drug kingpin? Does “Watch The Throne” speak to us because we, like West and Carter, have blown 50k on Jordans?
More often than not, “I can relate to it” is a lie. I’m being critical here, but not without purpose. “I can relate to it” is a perfectly reasonable response for why we watch most sitcoms, movies and read books, but radios are flooded with polluted lyrics detailing the outrageous sex lives, endless bank accounts or traumatic pasts of America’s most popular musical celebrities. Admittedly, these kinds of lyrics are entertaining, but most pop songs couldn’t have less to do with the lives of listeners.
Rarely does an album truly speak to its demographic. Once in a while, however, an artist from the underground breaks through and speaks for the people in the streets, subways and one-bedroom apartments.
Rewind to 2008: an unknown rapper from Cleveland with sub-par rhyming skills drops a mixtape. While his lyrics and hooks were raw and undeveloped, his voice painted a vivd and honest picture of a kid who just didn’t fit in, even through $10 ear buds.
“They can’t comprehend/Or even come close to understanding him / I guess if I was boring they would love me more / Guess if I was simple in the mind / Everything would be fine” a 24-year-old Kid Cudi waxed on the mid-tape cut, “Man On The Moon.” On this track and throughout the tape, Cudi discusses the joys and traumas of adolescence. He details long nights with friends and intimate moments with women complemented by fears of being perpetually unsuccessful or misunderstood. Kid Cudi’s first mixtape spoke to high school and college kids and stands today as one of the few albums that really does speak to me.
Though in a different vein, Little Brother’s debut “The Listening” is similarly down- to-earth. Phonte and Big Pooh detail the trouble with day jobs, burning the candle at both ends, and living fast in their track, “Speed.”
“I’m makin’ moves/ But this treadmill lifestyle ain’t workin’ for me/ It’s from ya crib to ya lab to ya job to make a profit/ And at the days end you still got nothing accomplished,” Phonte raps, venting his frustration with his low wage job, static musical aspirations and fading youth.
Little Brother’s track, like their entire first album, remains focused on the everyday struggles of Phonte, 9th Wonder, Pig Pooh and men and women like them: local people with steady jobs and imperfect relationships, insecurities and financial difficulties. Like Kid Cudi’s mixtape, Little Brother’s “The Listening” is an album that continues to mean something to me 10 years after its release because in the most honest way, I can relate to it.