May 23, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Scott Esposito's book The Surrender collects three linked essays that explore themes of genre and identity with honesty and clarity.
Juliet Jacques wrote of the book:
"Smart and sensitive, written with great lucidity, these essays combine acute art criticism with fearless self-examination, suggesting new ways to consider our relationships with culture."
For a long, long time now I've derived huge amounts of inspiration and catharsis from hip hop. In its best moments it can be one of the truest, most authentic art forms I know of—I don't mean the hip hop you hear up in the club, where everybody's talking about cars they don't own and money they don't have. I mean the music that people who really love hip hop love to listen to.
Both as I was living the events that later became The Surrender and as I was writing the book itself, there were a lot of great tracks that helped me find my way. Here are a few that stand out in my mind, along with a few words about what each has meant to me.
Going through Changes -- Eminem
Eminem has had one of the bigger roller coaster rides of any musician in our era. He came up from nothing, where he was bullied in school and dismissed as an MC, and he eventually became the rapper who had more success than anyone. Then he lost his shit over what happened in his life and almost died of a drug overdose. This track comes from the album made after he got off drugs and alcohol for good, aptly called "Recovery." Here he's recounting everything he's gone through, and the song just has that feel of hitting rock bottom and struggling to find your way out. In 2010 and 2011, as I was finally beginning to get right with who I was, I was hearing this one a lot.
Civil War -- Immortal Technique, ft. Killer Mike, Brother Ali & Chuck D
Summer 2011. The day after I watched Close-Up by Abbas Kiarostami, I remember biking around and listening to this track. Immortal Technique is just a crazy, hyper-political guy rapping all the time about post-colonial theory, conspiracies, revolution, etc, etc. This track really spoke to me on that day just because all three MCs here are speaking truth about who they are and how they just want everyone in their communities to be alright with everyone.
Pineal Gland -- Ab-Soul
Now we're in Spring 2012, when things in my life were starting to get a little crazy. The thing I love about Ab-Soul is he's just his own dude. He's grown up with all sorts of adversity, and he knows he's an outcast, a weird guy, and he just makes his music his way. This song epitomizes what he's on. The first time I heard this track, I didn't know what the fuck I was listening to. I loved it, it was amazing, it was just what I was waiting for, just what I wanted at that moment.
Tougher Colder Killer -- El-P ft. Killer Mike and Despot
Pound for pound, I don't think there's a single El-P track that's ever gotten me more hyped. This is basically what the summer of 2012 was for me.
The Book of Soul -- Ab-Soul
"I guess the Mayans wasn't lying / 2012 my world ended." Yeah, this track is deep, and that basically sums up 2012 for me. That year had crazy ups and downs, things I couldn't always talk about frankly in The Surrender but that I just had to get in there. What this one tells me is, sometimes you gotta go to those dark places to see the light and the meaning, just to get through it. Even today, this track can break me down.
Otherside -- Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
Unfortunately Macklemore makes a lot of shitty music that seems to play well on the charts, but he can make some really honest, great stuff when he puts his mind to it. This is probably the realest song he ever did. The first half of 2013 was about putting things back together and finding my way, and I had this song on a lot.
Numbers on the Board -- Pusha T
The fall of 2013 Pusha T released My Name Is My Name and this was my jam. The beat here is just so damn cool, and Pusha kills it. This was the fall I started painting my nails, making myself known to the world in small ways bit by bit, and I was getting a lot of adrenaline and confidence from listening to this one. This track sums up that season for me in my mind.
Control -- Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Electronica
Same story here as Numbers on the Board. This was just inspiration right when I needed it. The sound of that sped-up voice screaming on the track, and those descending piano keys . . . still gives me chills. In truth, I downloaded the version with just Lamar's verse, because I didn't really care about the other two (although, in fairness, Big Sean gets off too here). I remember listening to this track at night, after being out all day pushing all sorts of boundaries, kind of impressed, kind of amazed with myself, one moment feeling very cool, the next feeling like a complete moron.
Offshore -- Slaughterhouse
Now we're in the summer of 2014. I remember warm summer nights sitting on the floor in front of my MacBook Pro writing "The Last Redoubt" and listening to this to get inspired. I didn't even know if I had the guts to publish the essay at that point, I just wanted to write it. Listening to these guys, they were giving me courage. I just love how they come across in this song—that honesty, that realness, the way they do it. I wanted that essay to hit those same notes.
Lie, Cheat, Steal -- Run the Jewels
Halloween 2014, the first time I was ever going to appear in public as a woman and interact with people, only the second time I was going to leave the house. I had crazy butterflies in my stomach, lungs, pancreas, everywhere. Run the Jewels has just released their second album, which was just one gigantic adrenaline shot, and I had this track on repeat.
Wishin' -- PRhyme ft. Common
PRhyme is Royce 5'9" and DJ Premier. I've been listening to Royce for a long, long time—he's the kind of MC who puts his life on wax, so I've seen him go through a lot. He's been an alcoholic, he's gone to jail, he's gotten sober, he's found his way. This has been his life, and he's been honest about it with his fans every step of the way. So it's been immensely pleasing to watch him grow with each release, to just watch his tenacity and his development, and this is the album where I knew he'd finally gotten to where he needed to be. It came out in December 2014, more or less at the same time I knew I'd finally climbed my own mountain. So this song here was victory for me.
Scott Esposito and The Surrender links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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