Despite the ongoing pandemic, I have experienced some semblance of normalcy with the return of in-person classes, sporting events and the thing I missed the most: attending concerts. This past Monday, I got to see J. Cole for the “Off-Season” Tour in Detroit with my good homie Devin, who invited me to join him for his birthday. As the show started, the lights began flashing, the speakers thundered with J. Cole’s voice and everyone in Little Caesars Arena was screaming and shouting. When J. Cole ran on stage, the energy in the arena erupted and it reminded me why I became friends with Devin and why I love rap.
Devin and I have been going to rap concerts since senior year of high school and we have spent countless hours discussing our passion for music. Whether it be obsessing over IGOR or why the first half of DONDA is better than the second half, we always have something to address. Very recently, we’ve geeked over Baby Keem’s new album The Melodic Blue and why we love songs “range brothers” and “family ties” so much. On “family ties,” Baby Keem raps, “I’m OD in Paris, I’m OD in France / I thought that I told you I need the advance.” Every time I hear this line it energizes me and tells me to keep having fun while also getting paid in the process. “family ties” has it all. From Kendrick Lamar’s lyricism to the beats, to the switch and flows, it’s definitely one of my favorite songs of the year.
Before Devin and I grew close and started frequenting rap shows together, we’d only see each other around in our high school classes. I bumped into Devin at Brockhampton’s “Love Your Parents” Tour in Grand Rapids senior year, but it wasn’t until September of that year that we began talking more and ended up buying tickets to see Ski Mask the Slump God. Devin and I talk about navigating life and the things we’ve been up to, but music has always been the core tenet of our friendship. The last concert we attended before the pandemic hit was the IGOR Tour in Detroit with Tyler, the Creator back in September 2019. The IGOR show was my favorite because I saw Tyler perform “Who Dat Boy” with so much energy that I couldn’t stop jumping up and down. I wish I could go back and relive the beat drop on that song one more time, but I’ll have to wait until February when Devin and I will go back to Detroit to see Tyler for his Call Me If You Get Lost Tour.
Witnessing J. Cole’s awe-inspiring artistry and storytelling ability live with Devin in a packed Little Caesars Arena reminded me why I fell in love with rap and hip-hop in the first place. My first memories and love for rap began when I would listen to “Brass Monkey” by the Beastie Boys and Kanye West’s “Heartless” on the radio when I was younger. I was instantly hooked when I first listened to the Beastie Boys bounce rhymes back and forth over a classic 80s beat produced by Rick Rubin. The song’s heavy 808s and scattering high hats are infectious and when you listen to it; it just energizes you. As for Kanye, he was on a run from 2007-2009. Albums like Graduation and 808s & Heartbreak had hits like “Stronger” and “Heartless” that played on every radio station. When we were kids, my siblings and I would burn these songs onto CDs and our iPods because we couldn’t get enough of Kanye’s use of auto-tune when singing and rapping. At an early age, rap was so new and different from anything I had listened to that I found myself picking apart the songs, trying to understand how flows, rhyme schemes, samples and beats meshed together. I began exploring the genre and falling in love with artists like RUN-DMC, Nas, Dr. Dre, A Tribe Called Quest and Ice Cube.
As I got older, I really began to understand why I loved listening to rap so much; when my favorite artist, Kendrick Lamar, dropped his 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly, everything just clicked. Kendrick raps over funky, jazz-infused trap beats throughout the album with every song leaving the listener appreciating his artistry and constantly discovering something new with every listen. From rapping about police brutality on “Alright” to the importance of coming home and giving back to your community on “Momma,” Lamar showed the world how poetic, powerful and influential the genre of rap is. On “Momma,” Lamar raps: “I know if I’m generous at heart I don’t need recognition / The way I’m rewarded — well, that’s God’s decision.” I say this line every time I get to this part of the song and when I say it, it feels like I just took the biggest deep breath. I love this line: it reminds me that I shouldn’t be seeking validation or attention for my generous actions because if I did, it would defeat the whole purpose of being generous. I need to keep making decisions that come from the heart and that are not motivated by my ego. To Pimp A Butterfly blew 15-year-old Pablo’s mind. I give thanks to the Kendricks and Coles of the world because they have influenced my creative thinking and have helped me understand the importance of storytelling within art and music. Whether I’m writing raps, painting, sketching, journaling, skateboarding, taking pictures or messing around with piano chords, rap music has taught me how to tap into my creative side. It has helped me learn how to tell the story of my family’s journey from Mexico to California to Michigan.
Rap is more than just lyrics and beats; it’s always been the topic Devin and I can pick apart. Artists like Kendrick, Baby Keem and J. Cole create songs and stories that we can relate to and share with each other. When Devin and I were talking about The Melodic Blue over the phone the other day, Devin kept telling me how much he loved Keem’s verse on “scars,” and yelling on our call, “He’s talking to meeee!!!” We then proceeded to talk on the phone about this lyric for the next hour. My friendship with Devin began with talking about rap and now it’s grown to the point where we can literally talk about anything and everything. It’s great that we can use our passion for rap as an outlet to express ourselves.
Listening to rap and hip-hop is something that I’ll never get tired of because of artists like Kendrick Lamar, Baby Keem and J. Cole. The stories they tell propel Devin, myself and others to become huge fans that will end up going to their shows for years to come. I have to thank Devin for inviting me to the J. Cole concert because experiencing live music is something I’ve missed so much. In the middle of a stressful semester, I was able to wild out with my best friend Devin and witness one of the greatest rappers perform in Detroit, Mich. The moment has gone, but I’m looking forward to the next time we wild out.
MiC Columnist Juan Pablo Angel Marcos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.