Back Tracks is a weekly music column that studies the past, revisiting tunes that may be old but still resonate today.
Something I take very seriously is listening to suggestions on what music to listen to and giving others quality recommendations. I could be punched in the face or have my shoes stolen and still not be as jaded as I would be when someone tries to get me to listen to an artist I tried to push on them months prior. It is my champion pet peeve.
It sounds like a silly thing to get upset over, but it stems from my belief that one can only grow as much as others around him or her. It is an essential part in making music, as well as listening to it.
Since coming to Ohio State, I can say my choice in music has diversified tenfold, which comes with going to a school where students come from all across the country and around the world. I have met a lot more people immersed in different genres of music than I did at Ohio University, and it always makes me feel like I have so much more to learn.
If you are truly passionate about something, you will always find more to learn about it. Not knowing about artists and albums that should have been on my radar a while ago becomes a thrilling experience for me. Here are a few works that have become favorites during my last two years at OSU through pushing people to share their peculiar musical interests with me.
“Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note” by Madlib (2003)
I forget how I first met the friends who introduced me to famed producers Madlib and J Dilla, but it forever changed the direction of the type of music I was consuming at the time, which was a lot of then-current, mainstream rap. The summer going into my first semester at OSU pushed me into the world of vinyl, which the two aforementioned producers know more than anyone.
As much as I love J Dilla now, I was more of a Madlib guy back then — not that there is a right or wrong choice when deciding between the two. They both revolutionized how producers sample classic tunes, and one of Madlib’s shining examples of that, and partly my introduction to him, was his “Shades of Blue” record.
“Shades of Blue” sampled famous musicians from the esteemed jazz label Blue Note Records, such as Donald Byrd and Yesterdays New Quintet. It is not Madlib’s most dense work, but it is a smooth listen that can surely push you into the world of jazz like it did me — I went to Used Kids Records the following Monday after bingeing on Madlib to take advantage of some half-priced jazz records.
Not only did meeting new friends and asking them to push me beyond my boundaries of Top 40 rap introduce me to music with masterful production, that masterful producer introduced me to some jazz artists I would have never bothered with.
“Big Shots” by Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf (2003)
When sharing a common interest or passion for a musician who is not part of the mainstream, my immediate reaction is to find out how that person stumbled upon what is considered underground music. One of my recent conversations with a coworker led to the discovery of an album I thoroughly enjoy by a group I truly admire, and I was pleased to find out that the same documentary prompted our respective discoveries.
“Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This Is Stones Throw Records” is a music documentary I swear by, detailing the rise of many musicians under enigma Peanut Butter Wolf’s umbrella of Stones Throw Records — a well-respected independent record label. Growing up, PBW experimented in all types of music, but was most noticeably recognized for his quirky hip-hop production with his close friend Charizma, who passed away at the too-soon age of 20.
“Big Shots” is an album that both showcases Peanut Butter Wolf’s experimental disk jokeying skills and Charizma’s eccentric and light-hearted lyrics and delivery. It is hip-hop music, released 10 years after it was recorded in honor of Charizma, that captures the true gritty essence of the genre and is evidence that they are both students of the game. It is an easy listen-through, but requires multiple listens to truly capture all the elements that are at play. PBW’s production is delicately layered and Charizma hits listeners with punchlines that are both comical and scholarly.
Although both albums listed were released in 2003, I listened to them both more than 10 years after their release. I do not know when, or if, I would have discovered these albums if I did not pick others’ brains for their musical interests. But it is something I pride myself on, and it has helped sustain many enjoyable relationships.