Time: Donut of the Heart This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

December 4, 2009
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I remember the first time I listened to James Yancey. At a musical stand-still following feelings of discontent with my favorite bands latest album, James Yancey, a sample based producer and MC from Detroit, couldn't have come into my life at a better time. He changed my view of musical creativity, sound innovation, and artistic originality altogether.

I love music. But it's not the same way that all teenagers "love" music--I consider it one of the most important aspects of my daily life. I didn't grow up in a family of music appreciators. I wasn't gifted with any knack for instruments or vocals. The talent I have is for painting and writing, both of which aren't directly related to music. One day I just knew: music was still going to be a part of my life.

It wasn't until December of 2008 that I fully understood my affection towards sound. I had always taken a liking to southern guitar and modern blues, keeping my taste fairly restricted to the genre of "alternative rock." But then that December, I found hip-hop.

The sounds created were so foreign to me: the rhythmic tapping of the cymbal and bass combined with the distorted vocals of Motown and soul classics like Jackson 5, Dionne Warwick and Jerry Butler--the combination he created was simply infectious. After obtaining his first solo album, the 31 track masterpiece Donuts, my view of music changed completely. All I ever knew before was a formulaic approach to songwriting: verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus. The longest track on Donuts is just shy of two minutes. His ability to express such heart-achingly powerful emotions by combining the work of soul artists with new beats in under two minutes is what impresses me the most about James Yancey (better known by his stage name J Dilla). A one and a half minute song titled "Bye" was enough to make me cry. Sitting in my room on a school night in December, crying.

It's almost like I had been waiting for that moment since I started listening to music. And it was everything I would have hoped it would be. That was when everything changed for me. From then on, music came first. I spent the next year tracing the lines of one of the most intricate and connected music genre's in history. I revisited classic hip-hop albums--Illmatic, Black Star, Train of Thought, Black On Both Sides, People's Instinctive--the albums that shaped J Dilla's work, the albums that ultimately shaped me. It was this entirely new world that I didn't even knew existed. These albums were the seamless blend of social/political commentary and art. I got lost in them, and it was beautiful.

As a visual artist, I aim to gain a reaction from viewers, to open discussion on a social and political level through a painting. Hearing these albums was the physicality of my goals as an artist. They did what I wanted to do. J Dilla's music was so powerful that I wept. Then I knew that music and art went hand in hand for me. I wanted people to feel what I felt when I first heard J Dilla when they looked at my paintings. Nothing compares to how it feels to be awestruck by the creative genius of a complete stranger. Taking an art form and using it to comment on the social racial inequalities, religious hypocrisy and human struggle is what hip-hop is all about, and that's what I want to do with my art and writing. I want to affect a stranger the way J Dilla affected me. I want someone to be so overwhelmed with emotion when they see my art or read my writing that they cry. To be on the other end of the impact.

Hip-hop hasn't just changed my view of music and creativity. It hasn't just shown me my artistic goals achieved. It's given me a perspective I don't think I would have realized otherwise. I have a view of the powerful history of social inequality that I never fully understood until I started listening because of hip-hop. I never understood what emotional intricacy existed as a result of social turmoil, and I loved being able to understand. Hip-hop music has effected my view of art, music, politics, religion and personal relationships. It's shaped who I am today, and will continue to as I explore the vast library of work that continues to expand.

I fell in love for the first time that December, and from then on I've known that any love I feel for another person will always be second place. My first love is music, and though my source of inspiration, James Yancey, passed away, his music lives on through his work and the people he inspired. People who want to make a difference the same way that he did. People like me.





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xXzainabXx said...
Feb. 20, 2016 at 3:38 am
Amazing article!!
 
beautifulspirit This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 16, 2012 at 6:35 am
What a great article! I agree completely. Reading this was like I don't know, reading what's in my thoughts. Though not particularly for hip-hop, I too have encountered songs that have affected me not only in heart and mind, but physically also. I truly love music--I couldn't imagine my life without it. Unfortunately, I don't play an instrument or sing, but I am an artist. And like you said it your piece, art and music go hand in hand--such beautiful forms of expression and creativity, hold diff... (more »)
 
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