Welcome to a new bi-weekly feature at Heave, Big Brother. Because music is never just a one-way conversation, Michael Alexander talks back to one of the great influences of his life.
Dear Big Brother,
I don’t really know where to start, but I’ll try my best. Coconuts Music Store off Lake Street in Oak Park, near the train station, is when we first came face to face. Yes, I know I heard you in the chorus of “Dear Mama” by 2Pac, or on the cassette tape of Psychodrama that big cousin Jeremy had, but this was different. This was me saying I was ready to learn on my own about you. I was tired of people saying I should listen to this or listen to that. I was tired of burning blank cassette tapes from Walgreens and making homemade mixtapes off the radio. You know the ones I’m talking about, especially the one that opened with “Big Pimpin” by Jay-Z. I couldn’t get enough of that song. I was too young to really understand what he was saying, but the fancy boat and tropical beach setting seemed to make cute ladies smile. I remember searching high and low for that polyphonic ringtone when I owned my first cellphone.
But back to my original point. We officially crossed paths when I saved up enough money to buy that first Do or Die cassette tape. My mom’s boyfriend at the time helped me pick it out. Since it contained explicit lyrics, the store’s policy stated I couldn’t purchase it on my own. I was nervous at first. I didn’t know if you’d accept me like the other people I’d see blasting some rapper named Nas, or some heavy-set guy named Notorious B.I.G. Not to get too deep, but I really feared I wouldn’t understand you. So when my mom was asleep I popped Picture This into my mini-stereo, and plugged in my cheap headphones with hopes that it was worth the risk. Aspiring that I could form a relationship with you that was ours and ours alone. Because you know how the saying goes: First impressions are everything. To be honest, I wanted someone who would understand me when no else did. Someone who could just talk to me and I’d listen. I was always a blabbermouth who thought he knew it all. But when I finished listening to both sides of that tape, I knew I had found something special.
I was unaccustomed to hearing swear words used so many times, but I had found what I had been searching for. It was hard to understand some of the lyrics because of how fast they were rapping, especially that one guy Twista. Call me crazy, but I really liked his style, and Johnny P was brilliant on the hook of some of the songs. I distinctively enjoyed the opening track “Alpha and Omega.” For some unexplainable reason, the malice and darkness it contained frightened and captured me. And as my heart pounded uncontrollably, I wonder why the hell my mom’s boyfriend vouched for this. Didn’t he know what type of lyrics and content were on this tape? Didn’t he know I was at a very impressionable age? Or maybe he just saw a little bit of himself in me. A youngster who was searching for something.
You see, I really just wanted a friend, but found a big brother. Deep down, I’m just a shy kid who wants to say all the right things and reach for the unreachable. Words cannot describe how much I appreciate what you did for me on that night. You made me realize that from that point on, I’d always have something the both of us could enjoy. For you, someone to appreciate the essence of who you were. For me, I had finally found something that could drown out the unnecessary noise around me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom and baby sister, but they are what my elders called “long winded.” They both just love to talk! And I was sick of being the only one at school who could only recycle knowledge from the songs off WGCI or B96. I had found something I could get lost in, even if it was just for 4:36 or 5:21. That space in time seemed longer to me. I know, big bro, I’m not trying to get all mushy on you. I’m just trying to express my gratitude. I hope you get to read this one day.
From Your Little Brother,