December 4, 2014

PATTEN | Yeezy Taught Me

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By CALVIN PATTEN

When I was 13, I got really into Nirvana. Like many people, something about Cobain’s lyrics, sound and story captured my adolescent attention. I downloaded all of the songs I could find and bought a Nirvana shirt at JC Penny’s and for the first time in my life was truly a fan of an artist. Somehow, these grunge dudes from 15 years prior had made music that captured my frustration and angst and general discomfort with the world.

For the next few years, I used YouTube to find new music. I listened to some really regrettable music, but I also started to find things that I liked but had not really been exposed to previously. Among them was Kanye West, whose hits I would occasionally listen to. Somehow I learned about GOOD Fridays and, always one to take advantage of easy to find free music, downloaded the tracks. I immediately found some of the most beautiful, enticing music I had ever heard. That Christmas, I received My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and my life was changed.

From then until I left home for Cornell, Fantasy was always on in my car. I knew (and still know) every word to every song. Subsequently, Kanye quickly imprinted himself on my brain. I can listen to “Runaway” and almost cry with him about self-hatred or “Monster” and erupt in accordance with Nicki’s uncontainable aggression or “Gorgeous” and consider the ramifications of existing racism. For a middle class white kid growing up on his family farm in the middle of nowhere, this was not just music, it was a gasp of fresh air. To listen to someone just pour himself out over some of the most beautiful tracks ever composed was a transcendent experience that changed many of my preconceived notions of art.

Fantasy only briefly tempered my interest in other music — as I familiarized myself with it, I was left burrowing deeper into music, especially hip-hop. My initial forays were largely limited to commercially recognizable artists, but I gradually expanded my horizons. Around that time, I discovered DatPiff and started downloading the hyped mixtapes of the day. Instead of merely passively consuming music that was placed in front of me via the radio or television, I gradually started to search out new acts and projects. Mixtapes by Meek Mill, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Freddie Gibbs and many others quickly found their way onto my IPod. And as I walked around Cornell as a freshman, scared and confused by the size of the school and the various new demands, at least I had all these exciting artists and mixtapes tucked into my pocket. I will not claim to be the first onto the scene for any artist, but it still left me feeling like I had a secret and a friend.

The last three years have seen me grow as both a music consumer and as a person. While hip-hop is still my most listened to genre, I have found myself enamored with artists from a vast swath of musical styles. It has been incredibly exciting to find new bands or acts, and I try and spend a lot of time listening to new projects. This is what led me to The Sun — I started reading all the music reviews it published, searching for good albums. Finally, fall of my junior year I made up my mind that I could do a passing job writing about music and sent in an email. What I quickly found was that, for me, writing for The Sun was not actually about being published, but instead was a weekly challenge to experience a piece of art and articulate my feelings about it. Finding time in between all the problem sets and studying and pressure of impending reality to really listen and consider a project in a critical lens helped me balance myself and find a voice; it kept me sane.

As you possibly inferred, this is my final column. I graduate this month, headed off to new and different things. It is an event that incurs both handwringing and celebration. But through whatever passes, I know that I have music and a critical opinion and Kanye West’s Fantasy. Is it enough to get me a job? Almost certainly not. I recognize my limitations. But it is enough to accompany, challenge and encourage me. One of the most upsetting things I have personally experienced in my time at Cornell is a general flight of enthusiasm. For people, for my studies, for my potential — a couple years here and you are left questioning what it is you ever saw. Music has been the most significant thing that has defied that trend: Every great new band and album continues to be a legitimate source of inspiration and joy.

And for this, I really have to thank Kanye. Maybe I would have found out the beauty that lay beneath the top 40 veneered surface anyways, but between GOOD Fridays and Fantasy he genuinely changed what I believed music could do to a person spiritually. And from him to Kendrick to Danny Brown to Radiohead to Majical Cloudz to War on Drugs, I have spent the last few years on an accelerating free fall of musical discovery. Ultimately, what can I say? Yeezy taught me.

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