This month's contributor for "How Sound Affects" is Panama Jackson. He is a co-founder and currently the Senior Editor of VSB (Very Smart Brothas). He graduated with a degree in Economics from Morehouse College and a Master's in Public Policy from the University of Maryland-College Park. He has written for The Washington Post, Ebony.com, The Root, Huffington Post, Allhip-hop.com, as well as other outlets. From 2012-2013, Panama was a host on TheBlaqout Show, an internet radio show broadcast via www.blis.fm and has been a special guest on several radio shows, both terrestrial and internet. He has been a featured panelist and guest speaker at various universities including: Princeton University, Howard University, Florida A&M University and Delaware State University.
Panama also promotes events and parties in the Washington, DC, area, to include a monthly VSB curated, 90s themed party called Reminisce. In 2011, Panama was a special guest on "The Ed Gordon Show" on BET and has helped create and moderate various panel discussions through and arrangement with the Washington Post regarding African-Americans in mass media, relationships and politics.
Like most kids who fell in love with hip-hop but grew up overseas (military), I learned about hip-hop through a very tried and true method: I stole my older sister’s tapes. I’d sneak in, dub them, then put them back and have all of the newest hotness from across the Atlantic at my disposal. I didn’t know who the artists were, but I had my fix. My older sister used to date or was friends with some guy who went back to the States frequently and would come back with what might be the world’s first mixtapes. He was from the South so a lot of those tapes featured artists from Houston, Louisiana, and a lot of West Coast emcees. Once those ran out, I remember meeting this guy in my middle school who always had new hip-hop so we became fast friends as well. Point is, I always had a supplier of music even if I had no idea who I was listening to; I just knew that I liked it.
Sure I knew, or had at least heard about NWA, but I didn’t really know their songs that well or even know if I’d heard them. It didn’t even matter. One of those tapes had a bunch of songs from what I’d later find out was Dr. Dre’s The Chronic album after I bought it in the store and was like, hey, I’ve heard this before as I rapped along the words on the bus to some field trip. That had the unintentional side effect of making people feel like I was rain man for hearing a song once and knowing all of the words. Little did they know that I had those songs well in advance.
To this day, The Chronic is still in my top 5 favorite albums of all time. So yes, this was the early 90s. It’s for that very reason that I don’t remember really liking too many East Coast artists. I was all South and West Coastin’. That is except for one particular group; a group with one song that would change my life and the way I listened to hip-hop.
Another way that I got into hip-hop was via the video tapes of music videos sent to us by our relatives back in the States. In school, we used to trade video tapes with TV shows on them all the time. If you had a tape with new Martin shows or In Living Color you might as well have been selling crack. Everybody wanted in. You have to understand, in Germany, we only had one American channel and even MTV was still only really playing rock ‘n roll, so VHS tapes with Video Soul and Rap City on them made you the man in those streets.
I’d get home and go in my room and throw in one of the tapes and just let the rhythm hit ‘em. I’d clean my room or do homework while watching but mostly listening. Then the song came on.
The horns; those now famous horns. I heard them before I saw what it was because they made me stop what I was doing. I looked up to see some dark-skinned dude in a bandanna bobbing his head on screen and he kept saying, “I reminisce I reminisce…” Obviously, the song was Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.).” Before I heard it I was interested in hip-hop, but that song made me care. I didn’t know anything about rapping. I didn’t know anything about anything really. But I absolutely HAD to have that song on repeat. My dad took me to the store to buy that CD, one of the first that I ever purchased along with TLC’s Oooh…On The TLC Tip and Cypress Hill’s eponymously titled first album.
I wore that particular album out. I knew all of the words by heart, but I would always just listen to “T.R.O.Y.” That song made Pete Rock one of my favorite producers of all time – and he still is to this day. It also made me love the Tom Scott song he sampled (“Today”…also a remake of the Jefferson Airplane song of the same name). Because of how much I loved “T.R.O.Y.” I remember the first time I heard “Today” with one of my boys in college who was an aspiring hip-hop producer. We came across some albums and while listening to them it came on and we both had a moment of…whoa. It got me into beat digging and sample hunting. “T.R.O.Y.” turned me into an urban art anthropologist.
Like I said, before hand, I was just listening to rap because that’s what everybody else was listening to in the early 90s but I can’t say I was invested. After “T.R.O.Y.” I was invested. I paid attention. I got heavy into production and producers. Even now, production is what moves me moreso that lyrics. A hot beat gets me every time, no matter who made it or where they come from. But back then, in 1992, that song changed me. I needed to know more. I needed to hear more people like them. And I did. Funny enough, by the time I’d moved back to the States in 1993, I quickly established myself as the music and hip-hop guy at my high school. Just a year before that, I was a just listening like everybody else.
I will always love that song, and those horns will always make me reminisce.