W  H  A  T  S  U  I  T  S  H  I  M
a multimedia project • launched 1 january 2016


A collection of WSH's best essays + podcasts.

Lórenzo J’s Mid-Aughts Music Review, Week 1

During those after-school drives home with my big cousin Terrell, I’d get tastes of what we then believed to be JAY-Z’s curtain call, an achievement I think  at least  belongs in the discussion for greatest rap album ever. I’ve been hooked on hip-hop ever since.

During those after-school drives home with my big cousin Terrell, I’d get tastes of what we then believed to be JAY-Z’s curtain call, an achievement I think at least belongs in the discussion for greatest rap album ever. I’ve been hooked on hip-hop ever since.

When did you fall in love with hip-hop?

When I was a young, peanut-headed child, I loved getting one-on-one time with my older cousin Terrell. We all have the cousin who doesn’t treat you outright like a kid nuisance and actually seems enthused about hanging out when the family comes together; Terrell would indulge whatever basketball hot takes I’d throw his way and respond thoughtfully and then play actual basketball with me. (For the record, I don’t think I ever won, and he retired once I probably could.)

Terrell’s son — my cousin Kaleb — started kindergarten at my school while I was a sixth grader, no longer new to the place and sort-of trying to not be so much of a nerd anymore. On days my mom worked late, she’d asked either Terrell or his now-wife Brinn to pick me up when getting Kaleb, and on those drives home with Terrell, I’d get tastes of what we then believed to be JAY-Z’s curtain call, an achievement I think at least belongs in the discussion for greatest rap album ever. I’ve been hooked ever since.

I think I’ve prided myself on being fairly transparent since starting this project, so here’s another blunt truth: writing is hard. (Insightful, I know.) Trying to write semi-long form essays on even a biweekly basis can be a tough road, littered with ideas not quite good enough and bouts of procrastination and whatever in-between. So, to push myself, I’m challenging myself to write 500 words every Friday for a little while on my favorite period of music I’ve lived through: the R&B and rap music of the mid-2000s.

My own parameters:

  • I’m only going to write about music from January 11, 2005 — the release date of the OG iPod Shuffle (which my dad got me as a belated Christmas gift that year; R.I.P. to a real one) — until June 11, 2010, my eighteenth birthday and, coincidentally, the day I graduated from high school.

  • 500 words. (Okay, probably more like 750. I do want to keep these sort-of brief.)

I think that first Shuffle might’ve held 100 songs max, but I cannot describe the joy I derived from rearranging those 100 songs every night before bed. My relationship with hip-hop has always been deeply tied to my handheld players, but 2005 — the year I turned 13 — was my real introduction to the access and user-friendliness of the internet, a realization that probably directly influenced a decade of gratuitous music downloading. Related: My 8-year-old MacBook Pro recently tapped out at just under 20,000 songs collected. I am a professional music hoarder. This oughta be a breeze.

However, I am open to suggestions; if there’s a song or album or era of an artist’s career that you’d want me to write on, holla at ya guala and I’ll see if I can make it shake. I am also going to take this personal writing challenge and project it onto you and a few select writing buddies. Don’t feel constricted by my rules: if you want to change the years up or focus on one specific artist or adjust the word count, go crazy. Make it authentically yours, please. Oh, and share it with me if you find this challenge worth your time.

The relief that accompanies publishing a post cannot be overstated, until you remember you have to do it all over again very soon. This music series gives me a topic with plenty of material to choose from — and I’m committed to making this as weird as I can. That means I will write about Lil Bow Wow no less than three times. I might even bend the rules, just for him. Can't call it quite yet, but it'll be fun regardless.

Hope y’all enjoy today’s. Hope to have another something for you by the end of this weekend. Hope you’ll come back for next Friday’s edition. Go watch Brown Sugar once you’re done here.

"6 Minutes (feat. Lil Wayne + Fabolous)" • Cassidy

If you’re reading this and know how to get this to Derrick Hutson, please do that favor for me, like ASAP.

Winter mornings in Detroit can be a slog — two consecutive days of sunlight during a Michigan winter can be considered a small miracle — and my energy levels have always been affected by that dreariness. It’s still difficult convincing myself to leave my cozy bed on early mornings to bundle up and sit stationary in a machine that needs time to warm itself; 13-year-old me was most unconcerned with ever leaving my bed during schooldays, or at least until my grandmother threatened me with a belt. Most days held the promise of an after-school basketball practice or two, but the getting to 3:30 every afternoon took some ingenuity. In hindsight, it’s amazing how much actual time I spent with my classmates — and somehow, despite seeing each other everyday for hours on end, we never really soured on one another. I nearly fought one of my best friends over a basketball game during our sixth period gym class, and after being awkward about it for way too long, we were best friends again by the beginning of second hour the next day. We were definitely fickle, as all pre-teens are and will be until the end of time, but we also learned and grasped at precocious ages the importance of our friend group. If nothing else, we for sure knew how to keep one another entertained.

In our first hour, Derrick and I (and our brother Kem and a number of rotating characters) would routinely play out Cassidy’s “The Problem vs. The Hustla,” the first track from his second album, I’m a Hustla. As background, I’d enjoyed Cass’s singles when the videos would make 106 & Park’s countdown (this was nearly a “Get No Better” article, just saying), but the impact of I’m a Hustla’s release was buoyed on a personal level by a title track sampling my favorite rapper ever and my increased usage of various file-sharing platforms. Cassidy was also battling a perception he’d gone soft, the radio singles of his first album used to challenge his Philly bonafides. “The Problem vs. The Hustla” ends with The Hustla — Cassidy’s gangster persona — defeating The Problem in a freestyle rap competition (which is debatable, but I’m on a strict word count), a not-so-subtle middle finger to those insinuating he’d changed. I doubt we knew much about what Cassidy was referencing in his verses, but we found the concept cool, and it was a new-ish way to engage two people while an audience watched, so why not? Majority of the time, I’d even volunteer to be The Problem. Technically he loses at the end, but we all agreed his verses were better.

Also making Cassidy’s second album: “6 Minutes of Death,” featuring a new-and-improved Lil Wayne and the always entertaining Fabolous during a period when each legitimately believed himself the best rapper alive. You think Derrick and I showed out during our fake freestyle battles? Ha! Not like we did performing this.

I adore way too many Wayne verses to name from this specific period, but this particular "6 Minutes" verse always impresses. This beat is intentionally aggressive, and you can actually hear Wayne taking on the challenge of taming it. Hitting lead-off, that instrumental could've easily swallowed Wayne whole, but you can tell he's eager to prove his technical skill, a proposition I'm sure many rap pundits never considered when Wayne was a true neophyte. Released in the interim between Tha Carters I & II, I hadn't paid much attention to the album series' first installation and therefore had no idea Wayne was even intelligible now — let alone elite. I’d always fight Derrick to rap Wayne's verse; sometimes I’d relent and play Fabolous, but neither of us wanted a thing to do with Cassidy’s part. And Cassidy wasn’t even that bad! It’s just tough having the B+ verse when the guys before you definitely scored much higher than that. I mean, it’s truly a matter of preference: I’ve recently seen folks say they prefer JAY-Z’s “Renegade” verses to Eminem’s. That is an extremely contrarian stance to take, but I’d understand if a rap fan were able to find beauty in how Cass delivers his bars on "6 Minutes." But make no mistake, this is Wayne’s song. You want to see the exact moment Lil Wayne becomes a supernova? Here it is, right here.

But yeah, we’d pull that faux-performance out everywhere: classrooms, after basketball practice, car rides en route to the Star Fairlane. Derrick, if you’re reading this, we owe the people one more rendition, and soon. You can even be Wayne, bro. No beef.