It was the end of my 7th grade year at Kettering Middle School and I, like everyone else, was getting my yearbook signed by my close friends before the start of the summer. The usual phrases like “Keep In Touch,” “Gonna Miss You” and other cliche sayings and paragraphs of expressions of silly early teen feelings from girls were filling up my pages. One friend signed it completely different from all the others and left me quite puzzled. He wrote his name and directly under it in what looked like a logo that I saw somewhere in passing but could not quite place— “Metallica”.
For the life of me I did not understand who, when, where, what Metallica was, I never heard of them before this point And didn’t know anyone who did. So when this friend of mine, who happened to be white attending a school in a predominately African American school in a predominately African American county, signed using Metallica in my yearbook, it stuck in my mind until that AHA! moment I experienced years later when I realized who Metallica was.
My interest for the genre actually started earlier that year in middle school. I grew up in a small suburb called Largo, MD just outside of Washington, DC. I would come home after school to catch MTV’s TRL top 10 countdown featuring J-Lo’s booty while trying to stay focused on my homework in the living room. In between J-Lo’s booty, colorful boy bands, Brittany Spears, and Eminem representing HipHop, bands like System of a Down, Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Red Hot Chilli Peppers were making it on the TRL charts and the “Hippie” within me began to bud as I gravitated toward their music.
Where I’m from Hip-hop and Go-Go music reigns supreme on the music scene. Hip-Hop, of course, was the music for all of Urban America, Go-Go is the local music of the DC metropolitan area. What I think is unique about the DC area’s HipHop scene in particular is that we listen to HipHop from all regions. I came up listening to the Tupacs and Biggies, the Jay-Zs and Scarface’s , WuTangs and Three6s, and UGKs and Mob Deeps do we had a great mix of influences in our area. Of course this is a huge contrast to the alternative rock scene that many of us categorize as “white people shit,” or what grown ups would call— “that Devil music,” for Metal, that was rarely listened to outside of MTV.
I would hear a lot of catchy alternative rock songs on various popular teen movies from time to time. Can’t Hardly Wait had some nice tracks and Cruel Intentions’ Bitter Sweet Symphony was really good with its violin and dark lyrics about life. But when I first heard Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie” and Blink 182’s “Whats My Age Again,” Linkin Park’s “Crawling, and System of a Down’s “Toxicity” on TRL, “white people shit” opened up a whole new world I thought I was the only Black person hip to.
I was surprised to find out that a few of my friends were listening to rock music too, but a lot of them still couldn’t get with the genre. It was very reassuring to know that I was not the only one who liked music outside our typical local and urban genres. This could be social suicide at a time when you want to fit in and impress girls if you attend a predominately Black high school. So between my friends and I free-styling and top 5 debates, popular Rock songs would occasionally play among our favorite Hip-Hop songs as we played PlayStation 2 while smoking weed in my friends basement—but it pretty much stayed in the basement. I can remember people coming into the basement like “WTF are yal listening to?” and we’d laugh and answer “Ni*ga you better get hip” and we’d laugh about it and smoke some more. Our budding interest in rock and roll stayed in that basement and at home among friends while freestyling on instrumentals, anime, house parties, Go-Go, Hip-Hop, and Girls became our main concerns.
College offered a very different but similar experience than high school because I went to an HBCU. People were more accepting of others’ ascetics and beliefs but there was still a common culture that we all identified with. As I began to meet and get to know people from all over the country, often times our taste in music, particularly Hip-Hop, was drastically different. Some of the most epic debates about Hip-Hop and Black culture are often happening on these campuses. This is where I came to realize how separated fans were regionally. People in the North and Mid-West focused more on punchlines, freestyle abilities, and flow while people from the South and West focused on flow, story telling, club bangers, and beats, so I felt pretty objective when it came to the debates. Rock quickly fell into obscurity as I began to embrace the culture of the HBCU experience.
At this time during college smart phones, social media, and music streaming became popular giving people easier access to sharing, downloading music, building a playlist, and listening to your music without physical tapes or discs. My playlist was still filled with my typical music selections, Hip-Hop, R&B, and Go-Go, but at this time Hip-Hop was not at its best—in my opinion, so I told my friends I was about to go on a Rock n Roll binge to distract me from the shitty music and Hip-Hop artist being released at the time. One friend offered to download The Beatles “White Album,” for me, and that once hibernating hippie woke up like a wake and bake within my soul.
Since that day listening to the “White Album,” all types of Rock & Roll has been in steady rotation on my playlist. I could never give up my roots, but even with the tremendous improvement and worldwide popularity gained within Hip-Hop culture, I found a love for a genre that can not be ignored and learned about artists and bands such as Led Zepplin, Queen, Bad Brains, Coldplay, Train, and even began listening to Metallica. I will blast a Heavy Metal or Alternative Rock Song just as much as I would some Drake, 2 Chains, or J-Cole. I had thought this person I called my friend, whom put me on to the Beatles would share all of the good Rock music he knew, but apparently I was wrong! And now almost 7-8 years since my introduction to the Beatles, I had to find out how GREAT Janis Joplin was by coincidence after believing she was only hype. Well, was I wrong or what? I decided to take a gander at her catalogue one day after her name came up in a game show for being one of the Top 7 American women singers in a survey done by 100 people. I clicked on Kozmic Bluez (it was the best title I saw), and listened. And it was a pure Brain Explosion! Her emotional vocals, the lyrics, the music, just sent me into a hippie trance and when I came back to reality, I called my friend and asked him if he ever heard of Ms. Joplin. He replied “Yea bro, you’re late.”