What Kind of Music Do You Listen To?

I would ask guys that question throughout my teens and into my twenties. It was my way of sorting them out. If a guy told me he liked hardcore gabber, I knew he was a candy flipper and too cheesy for me. If he told me he liked ICP, then most likely he was a lush, liked drinking Faygo, and listened to Kid Rock, Hesham, and Too Short too. If a guy told me he was into the Grateful Dead and Phish, I knew he probably carried a hacky sack in his pocket, was out of a job or working at a bagel joint, and that I could swing with him for a wee bit only because I knew that he would always have weed on him. Stereotypes were fueled by music only because people allowed themselves to be labeled that way. Crossovers were too far and in-between.

I like a little bit of everything so I never fit ito just one class like those who like to label themselves by their dress style and music. Some people listen to things only because friends within their group listen to the same stuff. So I could quickly pull out the cats that didn't have an opinion about anything. At the same time, when a guy threw at me a diverse list of bands and singers, DJs and MCs, listing the best in jazz, the best producers in deep house all around the world, knew the good in dance music inside out, his record labels, the best in hip-hop, punk rock, lounge, eclectic shit, reggae, ska, UK groups that kicked it in the 80s to early 90s, and everything in-between, that guy got my attention fast because those kind of guys were rare. His selection told me he was open-minded, had an ear for good music, was well-rounded and so must be his personality and outlook on life.

Same with girls. If I met a girl who told me she was into Ani Defranco, Sarah McLaughlin, Portishead, AND Siouxie and the Banshees, then I knew right away that the girl would be hitting me up with relationship issues -- or hitting on me. Either she had a sexual identity crisis or was insecure. I was always right. If a guy told me he liked Tori Amos, McLaughlin and Ani Defranco, and shit, throw in some Celine, I knew he was gay. Sorry, but it's true. If a straight guy liked those acts, then it’s probably because he had a girlfriend who dug that music, had him leashed in a push me-pull me relationship, suffered bad times in love, or experienced a severe loss. Pick one or two.

You also knew who the real hip-hop heads were because they not only listed Wu-Tang, but also could name Ali Shaheed Muhammed, GZA, and Pioneer as the best producers, and they knew their MCs in the game too. AND, they’d throw at you the fundamental musicians from the 60s and 70s, blues and jazz legends that prompted their initial interest in music in general and the whole hip-hop movement. Those same cats are still listening to the same good music today even if the groups have dissolved and new sounds and voices in hip-hop have emerged. That’s what old school is about. Hip-hop of yesterday is nothing compared to what it is today.

Then things changed. When I lived in DC in my early 20s for a short stint, I discovered a cultural shift from the aural perspective. I was at a house party at a friend’s and this little scrawny kid, who looked no older than 12, with nerdy glasses and a striped polo shirt rolled in the door with a crate full of records. I did not expect this fella to drop the illest shit. He was dropping hip-hop, broken beats, mixed with funk and house. He did it all with long tricky fingers. I would have never given that kid a second of my time back then, until I heard the music he slammed. Then I noticed that the house kids in DC listened to the cheesiest house on the planet, unlike the kids in the Midwest, and that I preferred hanging out with the punks because they knew what was seriously good in the land of Fugazi. Every city had a specialty when it came to music. Every city had a specific music scene that dominated over the others. In DC, I realized that as we moved on to the mid-90s, classification by music was suddenly becoming a blurry assumption. While before, it was clear as glass.

It wasn’t until my mid to late 20’s that I finally stopped asking people what they listened to. And instead, I’d ask, “What’s good in the player these days?” I had gone across continents by then and trying to find the cool cats in every city was starting to get harder and harder. Something was changing in the air. Scenes were dying and new ones that defied genres were starting to emerge. People were also crossing dress styles and embracing all kinds of stuff, unlike before, where everything was more genre specific and based on stereotypes.

Anything you like, I can list the good songs, without saying I necessarily like the whole band. Not everything a band kicks on their label is intended to be gold, as they do have contracts to fulfill and those albums all need songs to meet deadlines. So even today, I don’t like someone naming a band, I’d rather they kick me a song. Commerici-Cana (Commercialized America) has killed most scenes when they went popular, and with popularity comes a slew of acts that jump in whether they are good or just fillers. Wherever there is hype, there are always trendy followers. The distortion kills it for the true heads that once enjoyed the exclusivity, so they move on to other stuff. That's how house music died as well as many other music crazes. You can’t say you like one branch of music anymore. Music is evolving. The internet had a lot to do with it because it gave people a means of discovering and exploring different music. Now it’s hard for me to tell what the fuck, when a 16-year old tells me she listens to The Germs, Lil’ Wayne and Deathcab for Cutie. The lines are all distorted.

Before you cast judgment, know that music fits certain moods for a listener, appeals to a thought or feeling indescribable in their own words, or matches a stage in their life. And that sometimes, some music is devoted to appeal to a specific lifestyle only because it was created by a scenester who was known in a specific scene from which his/her music now thrives. Instead of punk rockers, we have punk rockers who like hip-hop and new wave. And instead of just alterna-queens, they also like new wave and sappy songs thrown over tight beats. The world has gone eclectic so get with the new times. Don’t judge someone by their music, ever. I’ve found that the guys that like classical stuff mixed with a super buffet of assorted junk, are actually pretty interesting, sensitive, and very intelligent. You simply can’t really judge nowadays. If you do, you’ll miss out.

-Suzy Kassem