I used to get teased for listening to Kanye West.
The other day I mentioned how my first year of high school was a little rough. Well, my next three were nothing like that.
Jay Z and an older friend named Marcus taught me how to dress better (less logo tees and Nike basketball shoes, more white tees and Air Force 1s), an awful garage haircut forced me into the world of the taper and suddenly girls talked to me a lot more. As you all know by now, the more girls like you in high school, the better the high school experience, so lets just say those years were very very enjoyable.
So being teased wasn’t something I was used to. It was a strange new land for me. It didn’t bother me so much as I just plain didn’t understand. While my friends had turned to Mac Dre (who would be killed later that year and whom I had been listening to for years thanks to an uncle with an ear for regional music) and a local rapper named T-Nutty, I remained loyal to The Roc. In 2004, that meant I spent my hard earned cash on albums like M.A.D.E and Tough Luv (“$$$ Girlz” is a classic) and a gem by a producer trying to rap titled The College Dropout. Or as my friends called it, “that corny shit,” as in, “why you listening to that corny shit?”*
For reasons unknown I had grown a little tired of rap. 50 Cent was a spark the year before, but my favorite rapper, Jay Z, had retired, while the rapper whom I related to the most, Eminem, was on a bit of a hiatus and would end up putting out his worst work of his career that year. It was weird place for me musically, but an even stranger place in my life period.
I was set to become a father with fate delivering a daughter into my life. I was working two jobs to prepare for this life-altering event – one was the hell hole that is the FedEx graveyard shift and the other an equally depressing gig as busboy at a diner. It was cool though since I had my own money and a child to prepare for. But, after switching from such a carefree life at momma’s house to a newfound life of purpose and responsibility, certain music didn’t resonate the same.
Before then, only Eminem had spoke to me musically in a way similar as “Spaceship.” And ‘Ye gave us one of the very best Jay Z verses of all time on “Never Let You Down.” But one song always stood out, not above, but aside from all the others, “Jesus Walks.” Released 10 years ago today as Dropout’s third single, “Jesus” spoke perfectly to the transition I was going through in life. While the entire album would basically serve as the soundtrack to my ex’s pregnancy and my daughter’s first year or so of life, “Jesus Walks” was the sound of me growing from a goofy carefree tail-chasing teenager into a mature man with responsibility and a new daughter (and bills and work and sleepless nights and so on).
It wasn’t the religious overtones of the song that captured me. Instead, it was Kanye’s second verse where he openly questioned things I valued and wondered why they are celebrated that left me stunned.
“I ain’t here to argue about his facial features
Or here to convert atheists into believers
I’m just trying to say the way school need teachers
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that’s the way I need Jesus
So here go my single dog radio needs this
They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes
But if I talk about God my record won’t get played Huh?
Well let this take away from my spins
Which will probably take away from my ends
Then I hope this take away from my sins
And bring the day that I’m dreaming about
Next time I’m in the club everybody screaming out”
The visual of an entire club screaming out “Jesus Walks” always fascinated me and didn’t seem farfetched, as Kanye’s popularity skyrocketed after he was showered with critical acclaim with the release of his debut. The general shift of my priorities went perfectly with the refreshing subject matter ‘Ye touched on throughout his first classic. ** He was socially aware, but in a way that wasn’t boring to me. He also had the feel of a regular guy (hilarious in retrospect) that made him more relatable than the other musical options of that over-glossed, over-dressed, gaudy jewelry era.
Of course, I don’t remember the day “Jesus Walks” became an official single. The song had been in rotation since February 10th and would continue to be a mainstay for me for months and years to come. I just think it’s a little funny that my daughter would be born the next day, May 26, 2004 (Happy Birthday, Krystal).
* — This is why I don’t get so worked up about not liking the recent musical output from Kanye. It’s easy to forget how many people wrote him off in 2004 with many of the same complaints as I have about Yeezus. Who knows. Maybe in 10 years I’ll like Yeezus. Well, except for “On Sight.” That shit sucks.
** — Coincidentally, Eminem and Jay Z, the aforementioned favorite artist of mine, had ventured into more mature subject matter in the last year as well with The Black Album and The Eminem Show, viewed by many as their best work.