I grew up wiggling my arms to “Sucker MCs” and standing on my tiptoes while my mother let me pretend I was a DJ and scratch up her LL Cool J records on a dusty thrift-store turntable. And as with many things you grow up with (aside from genuinely fascinating “golden era” rappers like Rakim or Kool G. Rap), rap started to feel rote to me; it felt like “my parents’ music,” an odd feeling to have in the late-’80s, where hip hop had just entered the mainstream as America’s New Rebel Culture. Imagine a kid who had never paid attention to guitar music flipping the channel to MTV and hearing the beginning of Nirvana’s breakthrough single—those four sloppy, imprecise chords that always, especially upon first listen, sounded like they were leading to something gloriously cacophonous. The cacophony was not a fake-out. The chorus explodes and Cobain sounds like he was about to shred his throat completely. Here we are now, entertain us. There’s a guitar solo, which is really just essentially the guitar bellowing Cobain’s sentiments. A denial. A denial. A denial. Nirvana was my gateway to a completely different world than the one I had known, and there was no way for me to turn back.
At the end of 2008, after some attempts at a hip-hop career, he wrote and recorded a couple of soul tracks, with the intention of sampling them for a hip-hop project. “I really love rap music…I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s with, , LL Cool J. I’m a hip-hop encyclopedia. But I got kind of frustrated with the chauvinistic side of rap music, the one that makes it hard to write songs about love and relationships. I think all those songs were just building up over time, and I couldn’t get ’em out making hip-hop music.” After Hawthorne recorded those two tracks, his record company’s president sent over a contract for…an entire soul album. Hawthorne said he thought it must have been a mistake. Not because he was a white middle-class Jewish guy—Hawthorne’s real name is Andrew Mayer Cohen, Drew to his friends — and felt he didn’t know the music, but because he knew the music too well. He grew up outside Detroit and was spoon-fed Motown by a musician father who went to a mostly black high school in the ’60s.
“… there’s so many musical genres and fields of music, why not utilize every aspect of the music to make a monsterpiece?”
—Big Boi, on Outkast, from VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time (Hour 1)
disclosure/self-pub: I’m in this episode, talking about LL Cool J, George Michael, Curtis Mayfield, Steely Dan.