Music Old School Fridays

Old School Fridays – Ice Cube

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“It Was A Good Day” dominated the radio and video charts in early 1993, my last months in Detroit before moving to Pittsburgh. I most associate that song with my transition… which speaks to its omnipresence, because even though I had Ice Cube’s The Predator — on cassette, mind you — I rarely let the tape roll beyond the fourth track, “Wicked.” In my mind, the best song solo Cube ever recorded.

I had just been introduced to NWA by my little friend, Jeff, a year or so earlier. And I say “little” not to be somehow dismissive or derogatory, but because Jeff was just a short little Jewish dude, a fact I documented, with some context, in my mini-memoir about Detroit, the Detroit Tigers and whiffleball, Mickey TettletonJeff had an older brother, a slightly less-short Jewish dude, who was in high school and supplied Jeff with all kinds of classic rap all on well-spun cassettes, often without inserts. They were old to him, but brand f’ing new to us. Not only did I first learn about NWA from this apparently endless wellspring but also Johnny Clegg & Savuka. Indispensable musical education, if you ask me. I dubbed Jeff’s inherited NWA tape, Straight Outta Compton, and that dub remains the only copy of that record I ever owned… until I recently picked up a new pressing of the record on vinyl. Modern music consumption has become akin to the snake eating its own tail.

Suffice to say in the time after discovering the pure, explicit awesomeness of Straight Outta Compton, I’d become very familiar with all of the solo records released by the members of NWA and devoured them all… though I never especially understood the appeal of Eazy-E. If I remember correctly I ended up giving that one Eazy-E record to Jeff. The weekend after Ice Cube released The Predator, I encouraged my mother, as only a fourteen-year old could (somehow deluding myself that I’d managed to convince her that the outing was for her own benefit), to take me to the CD store. At this point, most music stores had ceased to carry vinyl. Cassettes and CDs shared space on the floor. CDs lived in the middle of the store while the cassettes lined the exterior walls. I rushed though the near-empty Camelot Music to beat all of people who *weren’t* mobbing the “I” tab in the rap section. “I” tab. No new Ice Cube record. I asked the clerk. I remember this conversation vividly. He said, “No more Cube, kid.” Color me extraordinarily confused. Your job is to stock the music and you’ve somehow overlooked stocking enough of the new Ice Cube record? Then the clerk suggested that I go look for the tape, waving somewhere in the general direction of the back wall.

The tape?

I was beyond purchasing full albums on cassette. WE HAVE COMPACT DISCS NOW! THE FUTURE IS NIGH!

But I wanted this album. I needed it. So I swallowed my pride. Ice Cube’s The Predator became the last record I ever purchased on cassette tape. I found that tape recently, as I cleared out some old boxes in my basement, in an old plush Denon cassette case, the ones that came with the blank tapes. It had lived, right alongside that dubbed cassette of NWA’s Straight Outta Compton for 20 years. And then there was the cassette singles for “I’m Too Sexy” and “My Name Is Prince.”

 Ice Cube’s “Wicked”

Ice Cube – Wicked (1992) from Golden Era Videos on Vimeo.

30Hz Bl-g Life @ 30Hz Music

The Mixtape Time Capsule

The Maxell XLII. My mixtape of choice.

Before I sold my Volvo I found a plush travel case filled with mixtapes in the trunk. They were labeled Stuff #1 through #7. Sonic time capsules of plastic and ribbon. I’d poured hours of energy into selecting tracks, ordering, pressing play and record at the same time, swapping CDs in the old Kenwood 6-CD stack system that jammed every time I selected the tray CD while the changer swapped discs. The gray Maxell cassettes each held a 90-min cross-section of my high school life between 1995 and 1997. Old songs mixed with new, whatever had hooked me at the time. The ink on the cardboard had faded or streaked. Most song titles had been rendered completely unintelligible. I’d been someone else then – a pimply-faced kid that thought 21 was an impossible age, that worried he’d never get laid, that had just begun discovering bands like the Allman Brothers, Velvet Underground, the Clash and the Cure. Sometimes I envy that kid. The world of music at his fingertips. As odd as it sounds I envy the time he spent compiling all those mix tapes, pouring over track lists, planning, stacking media in the order it was to be recorded.  The mixtape is an archaic concept that our kids won’t know anything about — having grown up in the era of digital music and the playlist. There’s nothing wrong with the playlist; drag and drop, compile, re-order. It’s the perfect, efficient means to an end. For the ultra lazy iTunes even creates playlists for you. Don’t get me wrong. I support the playlist because it has improved the quality mixtapes. Without the playlist I could never compile my yearly list of my top 50 songs of the year. It just wouldn’t be manageable over four cassettes, never mind the constant reordering. On the other hand, there are teenagers all over this world that are eventually going to clear out the back of their first cars in ten years, and I can tell you what they’re not going to find: they’re not going to find a box of cassettes containing seven mixtapes, a Terminator X and the Valley of the Jeep Beets (that belonged to Bill Pesce) and a Ghostbusters soundtrack. They won’t find those time capsules left by their younger selves. Playlists will be deleted, erased, left on old computers and iPods. So what did I do when I found that travel case? I threw the entire thing in the garbage because I’m pretty sure one of those mixes contained “I Swear” by All 4 One. That’s the downside to time capsules; your younger self was probably also kind of a douchebag that you’d probably rather forget.