I stayed in Boston with my friend Emilie Soisson for about three weeks. Emilie was really into hip hop, but only owned two records: A Tribe Called Quest Low End Theory and The Roots Things Fall Apart. Her copy of Low End Theory was scratched beyond repair, so I pretty much just listened to The Roots. I'd wake up in the morning, long after Emilie and her housemates had gone to work, hide my bedding behind the couch, then put The Roots on. This was my first real entrance into the world of hip hop. I wonder, now that I finally own both records, what would have happened if The Roots had've been scratched and all I had to listen to was Tribe. I think I would have put it on, decided that hip hop hadn't really done much since US3 threw down some rhymes to Herbie Hancock's Cantaloupe Island, and given up altogether. This isn't to say it's a bad record - quite the contrary is true - but it certainly speaks for a very particular time and place. But Things Fall Apart, in all its Grammy-winning glory, took me by the hand and showed me that hip hop has potential. While the tone is the same all the way through (a rarity on hip hop records, including later efforts by The Roots, plagued as they tend to be by multiple producers and special guest stars), the songs are constantly shifting, hard to pin down. They - like the best country music - show a clear line between the past, the present and the future. So much about the record reminded me of the jazz I'd been obsessed with at the time, and I was hooked.
I'm still learning. Punk, having been with me since I was fourteen or fifteen, comes easily. My friends are, for the most part, other punks, and so I'm constantly being put on to this or that band or zine or website. Hip hop I've had to search out for myself, grasping at whatever straws pop culture offers, reading liner notes for shout-outs to similar bands, researching bands mentioned in offhand comments at dinner parties. It's strange to be interested in something so different, to see a strand come from a long way away and eventually be intertwined into my own history, until Ice Cube is the soundtrack to my anger and Lauryn Hill is the voice that sings me to sleep.