Thursday, December 5, 2013

Song #435 of 9999 - Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A.

Oh yeah. It's Guest Blogger time. One free night for me = one new voice for you. Tonight, it's my childhood chum Jerry Kulig, a couple of years my junior but one of my closest high school friends. Jerry reminisces about his time living on the mean streets of Philadelphia. Well, in a La Salle dorm room, but still. These days, Jerry does something with computers. Who knows, really? ("Something with computers" is how I describe the jobs of most of my friends. ;) But I do know he has one of the cutest toddlers around. Thanks Jer!

Song #435 of 9999

Title: Straight Outta Compton
Artist: N.W.A.
Year: 1988
Album: Straight Outta Compton

When Frank asked for volunteers to write an entry for his blog, I immediately thought to myself that I'm no musician or music theorist or teacher, so what could I possibly offer. Then again, most of my musical tastes were forged growing up with Frank - going to concerts, buying albums (yes, albums) and generally hanging out together. We had a lot of similarities at that time, listening to Rush, Yes, Marillion, U2 and generally anything considered “prog”. The best thing about this blog is seeing how, after years of not really being in contact, both of our musical tastes have expanded so much and we still appreciate the same types of music.

Music has always been a big part of my life. It is very cliché, but the right song can transport me to a specific place in time and trigger all sorts of vivid memories that I simply would not remember if not for the song. I chose 1988 because that was the year I graduated high school and that year represented a huge transition. Moving from a small town, where there were very little ethnic differences, to a city like Philadelphia was, at first, a bit of a culture shock.

After the first few weeks of homesickness wore off, I distinctly remember living in St. Hillary at La Salle University listening to the neighbors on 20th street blast “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A. at all hours of the day. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. Upon first listen, you know that this comes from a different place. Threats of violence, anti-police rhetoric, it just exemplifies inner-city life at the time. If you remember, the MOVE disaster happened in the late 70's, I think [Editor's Note: the shooting happened in 1978, the bombing in 1985], so Philadelphia was not yet too far removed from that fiasco and minorities in the city were still being harassed. I remember my campus visit to La Salle when I was figuring out what school to go to. I never thought to ask about the surrounding neighborhood because the inner-city experience was so foreign to me. The lyrics here slap you in the face and bring the listener into that world and that reality. The samples used in this song set a backdrop of familiarity - we've heard that beat before, we've heard that horn section before, but never juxtaposed with lyrics that are so urgent and raw.

While I didn't rush out to buy it or anything like that, "Straight Outta Compton" helped to open my eyes to the diversity of larger cities and made me think about looking at life through another lens. Hearing it again today, it transported me back to my dorm room in 1988 where I was living on my own or the first time and just beginning to experience true diversity. To me, this song was 1988.

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