17 for ‘17

the soundtrack & liner notes of my 2017

Listen: Full Playlist on Tidal

Listen: Playlist on Spotify

1. American Dream (Jeezy ft. J.Cole & Kendrick Lamar)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIn_xDpKdjM

Welcome to America, baby. Home of the brave?” — Jeezy

The first sounds heard on this track by your favorite trapper’s favorite trapper featuring K.Dot and Cole are “cryin’…cryin’…cryin’ ,” which perfectly encapsulates the emotional state of being with which I entered 2017. Still reeling from the realities of the presidential 2016 election results, my melancholy was exacerbated by career uncertainty, challenges related to growing a startup, and self-flaggelation for feeling that — in my 32 years of life — I hadn’t yet impacted my family, community and world in the ways I thought I should’ve. I hadn’t yet achieved my American Dream.

Favorite Lyrics of the Song: (Part A) “Ten toes ain’t for fallin’ / I hear the world callin’ / Tell me if you’re all in.” — Kendrick Lamar

Because these lyrics describe my life’s motto.

Favorite Lyrics of the Song: (Part B) J.Cole’s whole verse.

Because Jermaine blacked out, pun intended, in his exploration of the glorified american dream known to far too many. Verse of the year contender!

2. 20 Something (SZA)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Azqv46WFxZE

3. dothatshit! (Playboi Carti)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geqZRB2-XlI

I’d rather not talk about it just do that shit” — Playboi Carti

As I worked myself out of the funk in which I found myself in 2017’s beginning, I desired to reflect on recent, more simple times. Reflecting on my own 20 somethings helped me realize that while I seldom thought I had CTRL of it all while doing so, I would always just dothatshit! — whatever thatshit! was.

“Hopin’ my 20 somethings won’t end
Hopin’ to keep the rest of my friends
Prayin’ the 20 somethings don’t kill me, kill me” 
— SZA

In my own 20 somethings, thatshit! was making life-long friends, encountering the unmitigated disaster that was Hurricane Katrina, teaching high school youth, working in three different sectors, living on three different coasts, earning three degrees, visiting new countries in three different continents, meeting my wife, and creating two lives, et al. And, in the midst of each thatshit! there were profound challenges: near-death experiences of loved ones, financial struggle, an arrest (#SeeWhatHadHappenedWas), disappointment, imposter syndrome, survivor’s guilt, selfishness, self-sabotage, and failure.

The trials of my 20 somethings didn’t kill me, they made me stronger — they made me dothatshit!.

Favorite Lyrics of the Song: And if it’s an illusion, I don’t want to wake up. I’m gonna hang on to it. Because the alternative is an abyss, is just a hole, a darkness, a nothingness. Who wants that? You know? So that’s what I think about CTRL, and that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it” — SZA’s mom

Because that, exactly, defines ‘CTRL’ — a choice we can make.

4. Bodak Yellow (Cardi B)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEGccV-NOm8

5. Bank Account (21 Savage)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sV2t3tW_JTQ

“Say lil b*tch, you couldn’t f*ck with me if you wanted to.” — Cardi B

Taking CTRL of my life led to positive life momentum that eventually had me feeling myself again. No longer searching for the deified simpler times, I got back to enjoying the simple things in life, like how excited my boys get whenever Bodak Yellow or Bank Account comes on the radio. There’s a non-insignificant chance that our youngest child might grow up believing “M’s in my bank account” is actually the number nine due to the number of times he’s heard:

“I got 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, Ms in my bank account (on God)” — 21 Savage

Favorite Lyrics of the Song: “If I see you and I don’t speak that means I don’t f*ck with you.” — Cardi B

Because facts, my guy.

6. Out Yo Way (Migos)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D13fo6UXPBM

“I wanna say, you always going out yo way” — Quavo

Less than a month after Mother’s Day, I was planning a Nashville trip for 12 of my college fraternity brothers. A few days before getting to Nashville, me and Zach gave my aunt a call to let her know we’d come visit her as we’d be only 50 mins away from Columbia, TN where she lived. Though excited, she told us “don’t go out yo’ way to come see me if y’all get too busy.”

While driving — tired and hung over — to go see her on the Sunday of our weekend trip, I distinctly remember thinking about all the women in my life, including her, who have gone out of their way. Like the time she “helped” me make my middle school crush a storified candy bar Valentine’s Day card; or the daily pickups from school, gifts, and food my grandmother spoiled us with; or the countless prayers and sage advice my mother has offered her sons; or the abundant love and support my wife has given me and the boys; or my sister’s strength and dedication to her family; or my aunt’s support of a troubled family member, or my nanny’s award winning work with special education students, or my mother-in-law’s moving across the country to be closer to our children. I am thankful that the women in my life have and continue to go out of their ways.

Favorite Lyrics of the Song: “You probably got your hands full, whatever goal you pursue/ All this pain, we can live through it, it’s called success”

Because it reminds me of Jenn and the tremendous sacrifices she has made to help me pursue my own dreams and the fortitude she’s had to show in pursuing her own dreams.

7. Untouchable (NBA Youngboy)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipM9SkIkwCY

8. Crew (Goldlink ft. Brent Faiyaz, Shy Glizzy)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhNqbe6QENY

9. Good Drank (2Chainz ft. Gucci Mane & Quavo)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXs1fWCgOW4

Untouchable, truly, is how I feel whenever I’m with the IZ Crew. In 2017, I’ve hosted Duke Nupes in New Orleans and visited bros in Atlanta, Oakland, Alabama (Lanett), Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Detroit, NYC, and Nashville — each trip has been filled with good memories, good vibes, Good Drank, and good times.

Favorite lyrics of the song: All of Quavo’s harmonizing and adlibs on Good Drank.

Because it inspired the recording of an adlib track for a never-to-be-released lead single from a never-to-be-released album recorded in a Nashville studio.

10. Play With Yo B*tch (Young Dolph)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuKAyI_qPtY

11. Live Up To My Name (Baka Not Nice)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CG42XV0LOE

To break from overthinking in 2017, I liked my rap in its post-lyrical and unbridled ignorance varieties. These two songs, oozing with both Memphis and West Indian juice, respectively, just hit my turn-up soul and I incessantly played each for that reason.

Favorite Lyrics of the Song: “AKA its not nice and I live up to my name” — Baka Not Nice

Because Toussaint, our little rebel, is certainly living up to his name — he runs our house with mini-rebellions each day!

12. While We’re Young (Jhene Aiko)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjvwRSKVQNs

This song just reminds me of our 2nd Anniversary trip to Cancun in October.

Favorite Lyrics of the Song: “Cause its been another perfect day with ya” — Jhene Aiko

Because those were some perfect days.

13. Don’t Know Why (CyHi the Prince feat. Jagged Edge)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHJ1sMY0Je0

14. We Ball (Meek Mill ft. Young Thug)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6DBaBe6LEs

“They killed my potna’ & left ’em dead by the expressway/ and don’t nobody know why” — CyHi the Prince

The multiple entendre and witty wordplay laden lyrics of CyHi’s song, Don’t Know Why, couldn’t have rang more true as my youngest brother’s dear friend was recently murdered outside a club on a major New Orleans thoroughfare. In fact, I finish this list having just returned home from an incredibly hectic day that began with his funeral visitation. Death always bring a measure of contemplativeness, but when it happenes to someone I know and had their whole life ahead of them I experience an even more pronounced sadness and anxiety. Selfishly, lost potential is one of my greatest fears.

“Fuck it, we ball/ For all the soldiers we lost” — Young Thug

My second stop today was to my 7/8 year old basketball team’s practice — a slightly different ‘ball’ than Meek Mill and Young Thug discussed in We Ball. Given how busy it has been with the 3 boys, 2.5 jobs, board obligations, med school, etc. our family has on deck, I was reticent to coach basketball again this year. Ultimately, I decided that being there just for my own sons isn’t enough. Maybe my presence can supplement the ongoing tutelage happening inside these kids’ homes and provide counter narrative to some of the negative images and stereotypes of black men they digest — hopefully, it’ll be something that contributes to them not being a perished young soul, on either side of the gun.

Favorite Lyrics of the Song: CyHi has quite a few bars in Don’t Know Why that are rewind-able, i.e. “Hit rock bottom, swear you can’t take this shit for granted (granite)”, but my favorite line is actually “young brothers still dying in the streets”.

Because after having repeated “young niggas still dying in these streets” throughout the entire song, the song ends by changing to ‘brothers’. Though subtle, this personalization makes the victims of the violent senselessness even more real — they are my former classmates, former students, someone’s friends, someone’s son, our brothers.

RIP Randy “Bubbie” Irons, Jr. & Jay Wells —my loved ones’ dear friends who were killed in 2017.

15. Land of the Free (Joey Bada$$)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeQW-9Cg8qs

“Full house on my hands the cards I was dealt/ Three K’s, Two A’s in AmeriKKKa” — Joey Bada$$

The lyrics above echoed in my mind earlier this month as I sat through a training designed to provide historical context and conduct a system-level analysis of the racial inequities in America. Imagine an interactive, data filled, two-day long Ta-Nehisi Coates article.

Near the conclusion of the training, the moderators posed the following question to each person: what do you love about being (insert race)? Though there were a myriad of responses, a common refrain amongst the black participants was our strength. For over twenty score years, black people have had to exert unimaginable strength in order to overcome both overt and clandestine terror in the forms of physical, psychological, systematic, and economic oppression. A full house on our hands we have most definitely had.

Favorite Lyrics of the Song: Sometimes I speak and I feel like it ain’t my words
Like I’m just a vessel channeling inside this universe
I feel my ancestors unrested inside of me
It’s like they want me to shoot my chance in changing society
But how do I go about it? Tell me where I start?
My destiny rerouted when I chose to follow heart
You told to follow suit, but tell me what it do for you?
Except weigh you down, now you trapped inside the cubicle
They built for us”

Because its like he narrated my internal dialouge.

16. Biking (Frank Ocean)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKY8-c5CRgU

17. Smile (Jay-Z)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSumXG5_rs8

“God gave you what you could handle
Gave you what you could handle
I got the grip like the handle
And I’m bikin’”
 — Frank Ocean

“A loss ain’t a loss its lesson/ appreciate the pain its a blessing” — Jay-Z

As the year ended, I came full circle on the existential questions that befuddled me in 2017’s beginning. Whether in regards to personal struggles or the collective struggle of African Americans and disenfranchised groups, I came to accept that we won’t receive more than we can bear.

Though there are uphill courses, individually and collectively, we must appreciate that such a heavy a load was thrust upon us in the first place — because we can handle it.

“Smile.” — Gloria Carter

So, in 2018, I promise to better enjoy the ride — the chaos, the peaks, and the valleys — because the summation of these is the beauty of life itself. I vow to Smile and create more smiles for others.

Favorite Lyrics of the Song: “This was meant to be a haiku/huh,
but my story’s too wide to fit inside the line or two”
 — Jay-Z

Because I set out to do a quick recap of my year through the lens of my favorite songs and ended up with 2000 words. I hope this highlights two of the unifying links of the human experience: we are all incredibly complex and art is the universal language.

Bonus Track: Black Thought’s 10min Hot97 Freestyle

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prmQgSpV3fA

Because this freestyle, alone, could be the entire next season of Dissect & Black Thought is top 5 lyricist ever. Don’t @ me.