Review: Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

In the last 24 hours, I have listened to Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, SOUR, no less than seven times. Last night, I was enthralled with it, wiping tears from my eyes at some of the lyricism, and even boldly considered it album of the year. But having sat with SOUR, the more I have wondered what connected me so intensely with an artist half my age. Rodrigo bounds from genre to genre in a way that feels natural and familiar. In fact, it sounds too familiar at times. My experience with SOUR is one of pure joy at seeing a young artist find her voice from the opposite side of the music I tend to listen to, and I still believe it will be in contention for album of the year for me in a few months time. However, SOUR is the first album I have listened to that made me wonder where the line is between paying homage to other artists and just rewriting the songs by them that you love.

You can buy or stream SOUR on Apple Music.

My first exposure to Olivia Rodrigo was her SNL performance one week ago (I somehow utterly missed the release of “drivers license”), when I heard “good 4 u” playing in the background and literally dropped what I was doing to go see who was singing. That led to a week of anxiously awaiting the release of SOUR.  

Rodrigo manages to take the listener through a tour de force through genre in ways where it’s easy to see who her influences most likely are. There are bits of the grunge of Hole (“brutal”), the quirky pop of Regina Spektor (“traitor”), the pop punk of Paramore (“good 4 u”), the percussive experimentation of Death Cab For Cutie (“deja vu”) and the pop elements of Taylor Swift (“1 step forward, 3 steps back”). I don’t say that to try to take anything away from her, I mean parts of the album instantly feel familiar—”1 step forward, 3 steps back” list Taylor and Jack Antonoff with a writing credit due to its inspiration from Swift’s song “New Year’s Day”.

Where Rodrigo stands tall is in the songs that don’t sound like an homage, such as “happier”, with a doo-wop melody, or the folk acoustic guitars of “enough for you”. Although the crunching guitars of “good 4 u” are a welcome surprise, it’s hard not to instantly think of Paramore.

The absolute highlight of SOUR though, is in the incredible lyricism and vocals Rodrigo delivers throughout. Each song is a swirling tempest of heartbreak and carries an emotional weight that cuts straight to the bone.

Rodrigo as a singer is utterly inspirational. Ranging from whispers (“1 step forward, 3 step back”) to bouncing explorations of higher notes (“enough for you”), her vocals are tested song after song. She even manages to emphasize single words at the emotional apex in a song to make the lyric utterly deadly, such as in “traitor” (“Don’t you dare forget about the way / you betrayed me”). 

It would be easy to write Rodrigo off as just another artist singing about heartache—there are a lot of songs about it on SOUR. But that would be a disservice to her lyricism. SOUR explores the transition from adolescence to adulthood through the viewpoint of a young woman, heartbreak and all. Lead single “drivers license” explores the utter devastation of young love—finally having the freedom to drive anywhere, but finding yourself trapped by the orbit of one person (“And I just can’t imagine how you could be so okay now that I’m gone. / Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me / Cause you said ‘forever’ now I drive alone past your street”).

By the end, it’s easy to see the growth as she worries about close friends and the poor influence of past generations, such as “hope ur ok” (“Well, I hope you know how proud I am you were created / With the courage to unlearn all of their hatred / But, God, I hope that you’re happier today, ‘cause I love you / And I hope that you’re okay”).

Meanwhile, the insecurity of growing up seeing “perfect” idols is explored in “jealousy, jealousy” over a simple bass riff (“I kinda wanna throw my phone across the room / cause all I see are girls too good to be true”).

SOUR somehow flawlessly encompasses a pure venom of heartbreak with maturity that sees beyond the base level. Meanwhile, the lyrical content transcends age to form a bridge between generations. Her lyrics are biting, simple and heartfelt. Olivia Rodrigo might not be the most unique artist to exist, but she is such a sponge to influence that it sounds new and enthralling. But that is also its biggest setback

SOUR is a masterful debut album from a young artist, but it spends too much time feeling like a “best of” to the music that inspired her. It makes for a captivating listen, but its difficult to find Rodrigo in her own space. It’s easy to make comparisons to Taylor Swift and Paramore for good reason, but that doesn’t make the music any less than its whole. It’s just that in reflection, it feels like a trick to grab your immediate attention before a song that sounds like its own beast takes hold.

Rodrigo is a confluence of sound. Her influences on her sleeve, it’s wonderful to see her paying respect to the bands she loves, but its heartbreaking not to hear more of her in them. SOUR will rightly be adored and is justifiably going to be played on repeat constantly throughout the summer. If it’s anything to judge her by, SOUR is the perfect springboard toward finding an incredibly inspired artist leaning slightly less on her idols on her next album.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

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Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and killed a spider with such vigor that he broke his broom in half. He’s pretty strong. Tell your friends.

Podcast: Mike Herrera Talks Livestream Performances and (Almost) 30 Years of MxPx

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Thought we were done talking MxPx? Think again! Mike Herrera stopped by the podcast to talk with Kiel Hauck about the band’s current livestream series, Between This World and the Next, and how the band has stayed innovative when it comes to connecting with their fans. Mike also reflects on the upcoming 30th anniversary of MxPx and shares about the experience of exploring the band’s deep catalogue across their recent livestream setlists. Finally, he discusses the ebbs and flows of fan response to the band’s music over the years and the prospect of a new MxPx album. Take a listen!

You can grab tickets to the band’s next livestream performance on their website.

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Photo Credit: Jered Scott

Podcast: The Best of MxPx with Jason Tate

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This one has been a long time coming, folks. We welcome Jason Tate, founder of Chorus.fm, to the podcast to talk all things MxPx. Jason and Kiel Hauck break down the band’s history and legacy before diving into an extensive ranking of the band’s 10 studio albums. They also discuss the biggest “What if?” in the band’s career, their favorite MxPx concert memories, and why the band is still so vital and relevant almost three decades into their career.

It’s safe to say that It’s All Dead and this podcast wouldn’t exist without MxPx and the impact they’ve made on the scene. We had an absolute blast diving into the band’s legacy and discography and we hope you enjoy this (rather long!) episode. Long Live Left Coast Punk Rawk.

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Photo Credit: Jered Scott

Stand Atlantic Release “Deathwish” featuring Nothing,Nowhere

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It’s been just over eight months since Sydney pop punk act Stand Atlantic dropped their sophomore album, Pink Elephant. Not having the opportunity to properly tour their breakout release, the band haven’t twiddled their thumbs. Friday, they released a new track titled “deathwish” featuring rapper Nothing,Nowhere.

The track picks up where Pink Elephant left off, blending the dark, synthy sound of “Silk & Satin” with the aggressive feel of tracks like “Shh!” and “Wavelength”. Needless to say, the track goes hard as hell and sounds so catchy that you have to hit repeat.

With the temperatures reaching the 70s and the sun beginning to shine consistently, I threw on Pink Elephant this weekend and was transported back to last summer, when Stand Atlantic kept me sane amidst isolation. The days of Warped Tour may be behind us, but if you had to encapsulate the experience in a vibe, Stand Atlantic would be it. It’s crazy that this band just keeps getting better, but they sound firmly ferocious on “deathwish”, with Bonnie Fraser becoming more and more of a force with each new release.

There’s no telling whether this new track is a one-off single or part of something larger. Fraser recently told Rocksound that the track was recorded during quarantine and that “It’s probably our favorite song we’ve ever done.” It’s hard not to hope that there’s more where this came from, but even if not, I’m happy to have “deathwish” carry me into summer.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: Lil Nas X, “WAP” and Music Outrage with Evan Sawdey

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People are mad about music again. And we kinda love it! Kiel Hauck is joined by Evan Sawdey of PopMatters to discuss the cultural outrage associated with Lil Nas X‘s new single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s Grammy performance of “WAP”, along with a general movement back toward backlash. They discuss why outrage about music seemed diminished in recent years, why it appears to have returned, and what kind of conversation should ensue. They also reflect on a previous generation of music backlash, the evolving nature of protest music, and why it’s so vital to elevate music and artists that have something important to say. Listen in!

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Demi Lovato’s Comeback and Taylor Swift’s “Fearless”

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Demi Lovato has returned with a reformative new album, Dancing with the Devil…the Art of Starting Over. Kiel Hauck and Nadia Alves examine Demi’s return to the scene from battles with addiction and abuse and what this new album has to say about her journey and the power structures present in the music scene. They then dive into Taylor Swift‘s re-released version of Fearless and discuss what her current re-recording project means for not only her legacy, but the current state of the music industry. Finally, they chat about Julien Baker’s new album Little Oblivions and their thoughts on the return of live music later this year. Take a listen!

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Welcome to Long Live the Music

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We’ve got some exciting news! It’s All Dead is joining the Area Code podcast network – and with it, we’re changing the name of our show. Welcome to Long Live the Music.

If you’ve followed us for any length of time since we launched this thing back in 2013, you’ll know that It’s All Dead is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the claims that “punk is dead,” “hip hop is dead,” or “rock is dead.” For the past 7+ years, our mission has been to show how ALIVE the music we love is and how it’s impacting our lives, hearts, and communities.

Teaming up with Area Code, we thought now was a great time to reimagine what we call this thing. Our original tagline of Long Live the Music captures the heart, energy, and passion behind what we do. We’re excited for this new chapter of our show. We hope you’ll follow along!

– Kiel, Kyle, and Nadia

Learn More about Area Code

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over the Country Club

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Lana Del Rey has had a pretty big year. Coming down from the high of 2019’s Norman F’ing Rockwell, to the release of her first book, “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass”, it’s safe to say that these are her prime years. In Chemtrails Over the Country Club, she continues to ride the wave and has given us a great new collection of stories.

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You can buy or stream Chemtrails Over the Country Club on Apple Music.

The album starts off with a song that I consider to be a little bit of a misfit. Stylistically, I know what she’s doing – reflecting on her days before fame and wondering whether all of this has been worth it, but in execution, it comes off as kind of awkward. It feels like a strange way to start an otherwise engaging body of work. Admittedly, it does fit, but I don’t know… I guess I would’ve made it the final track. I’m not Lana though, so who cares what I think.

I like the fact that this album is shorter and more fully fleshed out than Norman was. I felt like that album dragged itself out and while it was a great album, it would’ve done well as a two album project, at least according to my attention span. Chemtrails is certainly a winding road, but we end at a destination, there’s no ground left to cover here. It’s a return to the music I think she has always been wanting to make, even before becoming Lana Del Rey.

I really like this iteration of Lana. She’s secure in her choice of grassroots, homage-to-Joanie-Mitchell romanticization of the 70s. So secure in fact, that she covered one of Mitchell’s songs as the final track. And despite all of her various media controversies, we always know where her heart lies because of her songwriting. This album is a love letter to the people she loves. 

A vein that has always run through her music is the wish to return to a time before fame, to return to anonymity. But Lana can’t stay out of the spotlight. Even as I’m writing this, a day after Chemtrails released, she announced yet another album, Rock Candy Sweet with a date of June 1st. For a gal who seems obsessed with wanting a house in the middle of nowhere, she seems to like being famous an awful lot. She is stuck between wanting to stay exactly where she is, and returning to her roots and re-becoming Lizzy Grant. Listening to the B-sides and original recordings, we can see her trying to do exactly that, but when coupled with the flashy visuals like the title track’s music video, there’s a strange juxtaposition. Which side of her art is she willing to give up?

If Norman F’ing Rockwell was Lana Del Rey’s tribute to Americana, then Chemtrails Over the Country Club is where she has crossed over completely. Gone are the days of an insecure bar singer, and in her place is a woman who knows where she’s been, where she is, and where she wants to end up. All we have to do is get in the passenger seat and buckle up. For better or for worse, Lana has our attention.

4.5/5

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Eras of Influence: 2000-2004 – L.A. Symphony

This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. You can read my previous installment on Outkast, covering the years 1997-2000.

***

By the year 2000, hip hop had fully infiltrated the furthest reaches of suburban America. Even my rural hometown in Kansas, for better or for worse. With the release of The Slim Shady LP in 1999, followed by The Marshall Mathers LP a year later, Eminem had become not only one of the biggest stars on the planet, but a celebrated figure in my own high school (and probably every other high school for that matter). 

As someone who had spent the previous years immersing himself in hip hop culture, you might think I would be over the moon about this new found adoption from my classmates. Not at all. Not even a little.

There were certainly great byproducts of rap music stepping into the national limelight, not the least of which was the disruption of popular music tastes coming out of the 90s, which had been predominantly driven by white artists. Yes, Eminem dominated the airwaves, but new pockets of the country began blossoming their own sounds. The emergence of Nelly and the St. Lunatics as a voice for hip hop in the Midwest gave me particular delight, as did the arrival of a new wave of producers that begin shaping the sound of the new decade, namely the Neptunes and a new, then-unknown producer named Kanye West (more on him in a later installment).

Nevertheless, hip hop’s transition into the popular discussion sent me on a path to discover something new. Ironically, my discovery resembled something that was driven to pay homage to its past and was staunchly dedicated to its roots. Something underground.

***

In my late high school years, those early internet communities I had stumbled into began to grow and evolve. As rap made its way into top 40 radio, I became introduced to an entire portion of the genre that had been bubbling just beneath the surface all along. It was through MSN chats and online forums that I became introduced to names like Jurassic 5, The Pharcyde, Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, and more.

You can buy or stream Composition No. 1 on Apple Music.

But the biggest revelation, and the one that sent me tumbling headlong into a new community defined by shell-toe Adidas sneakers and beat up backpacks, came in the form of L.A. Symphony, a hip hop collective born out of the burgeoning West Coast underground scene.

Sometime around 1999 or 2000 – I can’t pinpoint the specific date from my memory – a friend of mine wanted me to hear something. He was a subscriber of the long-defunct alt music mag 7ball, which came wrapped in plastic bimonthly with a mix CD of new artists. This particular installment contained the track “San Diego” from the group’s debut album, Composition No. 1. I was immediately obsessed.

Fortunately for me, it didn’t take long to find people online who felt the same. That debut sent ripples through the West Coast underground, attracting the attention of major labels who were hungry for new hip hop acts. Like many underground collectives of the era, L.A. Symphony was sizeable in number – anywhere from eight to nine members at any given time. The core of the group was composed of Flynn Adam Atkins, Joey the Jerk, The Eternals (Cookbook and Uno Mas), Halieyoos Fishermen (Sharlok Poems, JBeits, and Trendi MC), and Brainwash Projects (Pigeon John and bTwice).

It was the latter duo that performed “San Diego”, and to my luck, they had released their own album a year prior that I also purchased and began obsessing over (The Rise and Fall of Brainwash Projects). Each member or duo brought their own flavor and personality to the group, creating a long tail of interest. Over the coming years, as each released their own solo albums in addition to the group material, I would gobble them up, play them relentlessly, and display their CD jewel cases in a line across a shelf in my room.

Part of what made L.A. Symphony (and underground hip hop as a whole) so intriguing, aside from the unique sound, was its purpose. At the time, the terms “underground” and “socially conscious” were nearly interchangeable. As I began experiencing my own social and political awakening during my exit from high school into college, this music was speaking my language. As corny as it sounds, it was almost like having a whole other avenue for education in my life. And I consumed as much of it as time would allow.

Conscious hip hop at the time thematically ran the gamut from social, racial, and economic issues to more philosophical topics like faith and religion. Each artist or group would bring their own perspective to the table, creating a community that felt bonded by its desire to learn and grow together. L.A. Symphony added a unique element of humor and lightheartedness that set the group apart. They wanted you to think, but weren’t afraid to crack a joke in the next verse and make you laugh.

The music led me to want to know more about the people creating it. During these years, I would scour the web for any morsel of information I could find; mainly interviews that would shed more light on the thoughts, views, and motivations of the artists I loved. But when my own curiosity couldn’t be quelled, I found a new way to keep the conversation going.

***

During my final two years of high school, I was given the opportunity to host a show on a local radio station in my town (an hours-long weekend hip hop show that I somehow sold the owner of the station on). I also began pitching article ideas to various websites I frequented, and shockingly, was given compensation to write said articles. 

I had no formal training in broadcasting or journalism, yet somehow, I was suddenly interviewing my favorite artists, asking them for answers to questions that I couldn’t find elsewhere. And they actually told me stuff. And people actually listened and read what I was saying. It’s the kind of rush that somehow still propels me to do the same all these years later.

L.A. Symphony was at the epicenter during this time. I can’t count from memory how many interviews I did with various members of the group during those years, but it was more than was likely necessary. For a fleeting moment, the group’s ship actually did arrive in the form of a record deal with Squint Entertainment, resulting in a 19-track album titled Call it What You Want, featuring production from likes of Prince Paul and will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. Sadly, in one of the most well-worn stories of the era, Squint was acquired by Warner Music Group, which shelved the album prior to its release. Although leaks scattered across the internet, one of the most anticipated albums in underground hip hop history never saw the light of day.

L.A. Symphony re-grouped and independently released Baloney in 2002, an incredibly unsung record that ended up producing an unexpected hit when “King Kong” was featured on a Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game. While home from college in the summer of 2003, I interviewed Pigeon John by phone in anticipation of his sophomore solo album, Pigeon John is Dating Your Sister. Near the end of the conversation, I prodded for some updates about L.A. Symphony. After a couple of ambiguous answers, he finally caved. JBeits, bTwice, and himself had all left the group. L.A. Symphony as we had all known it was no more.

It was the first big story I ever got to break. It was also deflating and the moment that marked the beginning of my next musical transition. The core remaining members of the group carried on, releasing two more full-length albums on Gotee Records. In the summer of 2004, I caught a live performance in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before being invited out to dinner after the show with the group. The high school kid that had pestered them with interviews and broken news of their semi-breakup was now dining alongside them at a TGI Fridays in the middle of Oklahoma. Maybe not quite as exciting as William Miller’s journey in “Almost Famous”, but it still somehow felt stranger than fiction. I can’t think anything that could’ve brought this period of my life more full-circle.

By now, I was halfway into my college experience, full of new friends and, of course, new sounds. Hip hop remained a passion, but for the first time in my life, I felt fully accepted into a real life community of friends that wasn’t based solely on the web. And these friends listened to some cool music. By that summer of 2004, I was sporting a checkered backpack covered in patches of my new favorite pop punk bands: MxPx, Good Charlotte, Simple Plan, The Ataris. 

I dove headfirst with my new friends down that new path of guitar-driven, angsty-lyric-filled music that had taken over Warped Tour and was about to break through on MTV. A sound that was about to literally be screamed from the rooftops by a passionate new influx of fans into “the scene.” And I was about to discover the band, my unquestionably favorite band, that would shape everything about the way I thought about and experienced music thereafter.

Second Tier: Clipse, MxPx, Deepspace5, St. Lunatics, Linkin Park

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Eras of Influence: 1997-2000 – Outkast

This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. You can read my introduction, covering the music that moved me in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.

***

Like most people, my experience of middle school was awkward. As I moved into 8th grade, just a year away from high school, I remember a growing sense of a need for individuality. To that point in my life, I had no clear idea of who I was. Any interests I had were fairly general and mostly influenced by those around me. I liked basketball and drawing. Music was a safety blanket that I retreated to and was always in rotation, but none of it was solely “mine.” 

But everything was about to change.

If you’ve read the previous installments of this series, you’re aware of the role MTV played in my life from a very early age. In the summer after my sixth grade year, I won a small television from a raffle held during June Fest in my hometown. It wasn’t really big or nice enough to replace the TV we had in our family living room, which led to a crucial opening that would have never presented itself otherwise. There was nowhere else for it to go – why not put it in my bedroom?

After weeks of sprinkling the idea on my less-than-enthused parents, it finally happened, and I still have no idea why they allowed it. The cable man came and ran a new line in my bedroom wall, and before I knew it, I could watch MTV at any time, from the privacy of my own room. So I did just that. I turned the channel to MTV from the moment I got home from school until well after I was supposed to be asleep.

These were the pre-”Total Request Live” days, and while I certainly had an interest in shows like “The Real World” and “Daria”, it was the blocks of music videos that held my attention the most. And it was here that I fell in love with hip hop.

I don’t know if I can pinpoint the exact moment, but by my 8th grade year in 1997, I was obsessed. I would place a blank VHS tape in my VCR and hit record every time a rap video came on. Early favorites included Ma$e’s “Bad Boy”, Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life”, Juvenile’s “Ha”, A Tribe Called Quest‘s “Find a Way”, and “Hate Me Now” by Nas. Unbeknownst to me at the time, hip hop was in a state of transition as it mourned the deaths of Tupak Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. I was aware of their music and influence, but didn’t understand the genre’s full history and the changing landscape from the two coasts to a suddenly evolving movement that was about to change popular music around the world.

In 1997, hip hop hadn’t fully crossed over into the mainstream. Aside from the scattered Will Smith hit, rap music was still viewed as dangerous by the vast majority of white suburban America. To this day, I still feel fortunate that my mom allowed me to explore the genre in full, something that so many of my friends and classmates weren’t allowed. I don’t think she was crazy about her middle school son purchasing CDs with the notorious “Parental Advisory” sticker, but as long as I could explain why the music interested me, it was always allowed.

For all of the new artists I began exploring with obsession, pouring over every line and every note, feeling as though I was peering through a window into another world, none held me quite as captivated at the time as Outkast – the duo that put Atlanta on the hip hop map and proceeded to change the genre in ways that are still felt to this day.

***

You can buy or stream Aquemini on Apple Music.

While I discovered ATLiens near the end of its cycle, it was 1998’s Aquemini that changed everything for me. I would replay the video for “Rosa Parks” until I wore out my VHS tape, and I still remember the day that the CD, with its iconic cover art and spacey, atmospheric music, arrived in the mail. It must have been nearly a year straight when I listened to the album every day. For as much as I was falling in love with rap, Outkast were on another level. Their music was distinctly hip hop, but it was…weird. No one else sounded quite like them.

All these years later, the yin and yang of Andre 3000 and Big Boi has become legendary. Two completely individual artists seeming to reside on different planes of existence that still somehow combined effortlessly into something greater than their individual parts. My favorite of the two changed depending on the day or mood. My favorite tracks revolved as well, although all these years later, there’s still not a song from that time period that gets me going quite like “Skew It on the Bar-B”.

I can say with certainty that there was no one else within my limited network of acquaintances at the time that was listening to Outkast, which made them distinctly my own. Oddly, this didn’t make me any cooler. Jokes about C-rap were abundant at the time, and I became viewed as somewhat of an odd duck to be immersing myself in music that wasn’t “meant for me.” And maybe that’s a fair critique, but my love of hip hop served as the jumping off point that forever changed my view of the world and opened my eyes to experiences and culture well outside my purview – complete with all of their beauty, and sadly, the societal injustices that sought to suffocate them.

Those are big words to tie to the music I was discovering as I entered high school, but it’s a real thing that forever changed the trajectory of my life, the passions I held, and the causes I associated myself with. It was the genesis in a lifelong journey of learning and responding in kind with action and empathy.

Seeing as how I had no one with which to share the conversation, I made do in a completely new way. By the late 90s, my family had purchased a computer and connected it to a phone line via a modem. After spending two minutes listening to squeals and squalls, I could begin surfing the internet to discover more about the music I was listening to. It didn’t take long for me to find pockets of the internet dedicated to the discussion of hip hop in the form of message boards. Suddenly, I’d discovered an entirely new network of friends from around the world, including a daily pen pal in Australia who was just as obsessed with rap as me, and a group of hip hop heads with which I would go on to share a fantasy football league with for over 20 years.

Up to this time, I had made my new hip hop discoveries from MTV or the newest copy of The Source that arrived in my mailbox each month. Now I was finding new artists daily through conversations with my newfound friends who I knew almost solely by their usernames. It was through my aforementioned pen pal Rachel that I discovered influential albums like Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star and the solo Mos Def follow-up, Black on Both Sides. As archaic as this all sounds now, I can still feel the excitement in the newness of it all. I had found a community. I had found music I could call my own.

***

In the time since Aquemini entered my life, my relationship with Outkast has fluctuated greatly, for better or for worse. My junior year of high school began with the release of Stankonia, an album that immediately took full ownership over the discman I took with me to school and the stereo in my bedroom. But about mid-way through the semester, just as “Ms. Jackson” was becoming a staple on Top 40 radio and MTV, something strange happened. I vividly remember overhearing a conversation about Outkast in my art class. Wait…other people were listening to this?

It was a strange introduction to an experience that would happen throughout my life going forward. The intimate relationship I shared with an artist suddenly vanishes and the secret is out. It’s a strange feeling, similar to have something stolen from you. That moment may have been the primary reason for the next shift in my musical journey that was about to take place, as well as the reason that I largely missed out on the joy of 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Fortunately, the passing of time has given me better perspective on moments such as these. Why wouldn’t I want more people to experience the joy that I had discovered? Things would come full circle at Forecastle in 2014 when I was able to experience Outkast in person for the first – and likely last – time. That night, you could feel the energy of the crowd rise as the duo entered the Aquemini porton of their set, rattling off the singles in succession. It wasn’t just me after all back in the fall of 1998. The sound of Atlanta had spread to the plains of Kansas and very much beyond.

Second Tier: Ma$e, Nas, Juvenile, Jay-Z

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.