An Iowa kid’s salvation in angry rap music

Let me tell you a little story about how the world’s most dangerous groups helped a kid from Iowa keep his sanity …

NWA

When I was a kid, I was short. Scrawny. Maybe a bit too impressionable. Forcefully extroverted and overly demonstrative, often to the point of showing off. Maybe I still am a little bit. But I’ve never been in a fight in my entire life … well, unless you count with my older brother, which I don’t, because said “brawls” (mostly pushing and shoving from both of us, maybe an occasional punch in the arm, and I think I spit on him once) always consisted of the same move – him grabbing me by my shirt, shoving me into a wall, and then pulling me off the wall and throwing me about three feet to the ground. I’m seriously still stunned he never followed it with a bound off the ropes and a flying leg drop. It was very pro wrestling. But that’s really about it.

But yeah, because I was that guy, I got picked on. A lot. But never physically. I would never say I got bullied. That’s a word that gets thrown around far too easily these days, but I got scapegoated. Often made to feel inferior. And most of the time, it was by my own friends. Sometimes I brought it on myself. Many times, I didn’t. You see, kids can be mean. And one day, you (and they) grow out of it. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t still scars. You just can’t see them.

But back then, what was I going to do? I couldn’t fight unless I was OK with getting my ass kicked every single time I tried. So inside, I burned. All the time. I was full of helplessness and rage. Blind rage. With no outlet. And if you bottle that up for too long, you might explode. Hurt yourself or somebody else. There has to be a release. Some people cry. For some reason, I never really did. I just put on a dopey grin and pushed through it the best I could.

I finally found an outlet in angry music. At first, it was heavy metal. I can remember multiple times, lying in my bed, pounding my fists on the mattress and punching the hell out of a pillow, banging my head until my neck hurt to Reign in Blood. Or Master of Puppets. Or Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? Or Among the Living. Just releasing mental anguish.

(There’s a tremendous scene in the brilliant VH1 documentary series Metal Evolution that explains this phenomenon much better than I ever could (skip to the 5:55 to 7:55 mark). But rest assured when watching this, I was this kid.)

But eventually, I branched out. I never thought I would. I remember thinking, at age 14 and 15, that the only CDs I would ever buy would be metal of the extreme variety. I can still, off the top of my head, tell you the first 10 to 15 CDs I ever bought … Anthrax, Maiden, Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies, Slayer, Forbidden, King Diamond, Sepultura, S.O.D., Kreator, Exodus, and on down the line.

Eventually, I broke that streak with Led Zeppelin IV. Then, for some reason, it was the Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker.

FOABP But then I got It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy, followed quickly by Fear of a Black Planet.

And then it was Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A.

Why did these prophets of rage enthrall me so much? It certainly wasn’t because of what they were saying.

No, it was just … how they said it.

SOCLet’s be honest here: I didn’t necessarily identify with what these guys were preaching about. I was a mid-to-lower middle-class white kid. From Iowa. What the hell did I know about gang violence and turf wars, oppressive police violating my civil rights, selling crack to survive, or gentrification in the ’hood?

I’ll tell you – nothing.

And although I always considered myself to be a sensitive and intelligent human being with an open mind, it didn’t change the fact that I didn’t come from the most diverse community growing up (I can still probably count the amount of black kids I went to school with from K through 12 on two hands).

Truth be told, it didn’t matter how many think pieces I read in Rolling Stone or how many times I watched Boyz N The Hood growing up in an attempt to “educate” myself – it didn’t change three very distinctive facts about myself: I’m straight. I’m white. I’m male.

Because of the way those three things work together in unison, I was probably going to have more opportunities than most people, and there would probably be people who didn’t even know me who resented or hated me for these “privileges” alone. In a very general, stereotypical way, I was probably part of the very problem these guys were railing against.

But I didn’t care. And I still don’t care. The rage spoke to me. So while I can’t say I personally identified with the vast majority of the content in the rhymes they were spitting, I still respected it. Chuck D. Ice Cube. MC Ren. Standing at a pulpit, pointing their fingers at me and everyone like me, declaring, “You may not know me. You may not be like me. But you will respect me, motherfucker!” And I did.

Public EnemyMore importantly, I identified with the conviction and the piss & vinegar they used when saying it. The anger. The authority. Listen to “Straight Outta Compton” and “Fuck Tha Police” and “Burn Hollywood Burn” and “Fight The Power” and “When Will They Shoot” (cheating there … that’s just Ice Cube) and tell me that the power with which they are presenting these “cases,” on top of those back-breaking beats, doesn’t make you want to march down the street with your middle fingers in the air. It provided another outlet for releasing my own pent-up frustrations. I just had to venture out on a different branch to do it.

Make no mistake, I’ve always been a rock guy first and foremost. Guitars, more guitars (preferably with Big Muff distortion pedals) and big-ass drums. So when I started discovering rap music, I subconsciously always equated it to the rock music I loved. Public Enemy was like CNN … well, at least CNN before MH370 (much like Metallica and Anthrax): buried within this earphoria, you felt like you learned something. But N.W.A.? It’s just pure “fuck you.” They were Slayer. Just unapologetic in the frenzy.

(Worth mentioning: It’s no surprise that once I branched out to more introspective music, coinciding with the alt-rock explosion of the ‘90s, that I discovered and gravitated toward A Tribe Called Quest.)

But time passes. Anger and resentment subsides. Even so, I still love their storytelling. Something that gets lost is that underneath their message, these guys had a sense of humor. God bless Flavor Flav. Tell me that at least once in your life, you didn’t use “you got a rip in your couch,” “your mother got gold nipples” or “wash your butt” as a snappy one-line comeback.

And Cube, my favorite, I just want you to know that if a new girl moves on my street, I’ma introduce her to my meat, know what I’m sayin’? And you best believe that if I ever get busted, I’ma go to jail in my muthafuckin’ drawers.

This past fall, my buddies and I were tailgating at Kinnick Stadium, the home of the Iowa Hawkeyes, in the heartland of Iowa. And our song of choice on this particular day was “My Summer Vacation” off of Cube’s Death Certificate. Some woman walked up to us and said there were kids nearby and could we please turn it down.

I think we said “tough shit.”


Some of this angry shit made Music or Space Shuttle’s “Undisputed Top Albums Ever” list way back in the day (2012). Read about them below:

Chris’ #8 and Todd’s #8: Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back / Dr. Dre, The Chronic

Todd’s #39: N.W.A., Niggaz4Life

Chris’ #52: N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #8

Yep, we’ve made a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

We’ve reached the really good stuff: our top 10s. We’ll roll these out one per day (Monday-Friday) over the next two weeks, reaching #1 on Friday, Dec. 14. The following week, we’ll unveil our favorite music from 2012.

Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #8: Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

(click play button below to sample this album)

nation of millions coverWhile most people know It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back as Public Enemy’s second album and the NYC group’s breakthrough collection, it should have been known as the soundtrack of the greatest basketball film never made, Five White Dudes Ranging in Age From 12 to 43 Ball It Up on a Slanted Driveway. Because me, my brother, my dad, and the Brothers Schneden used to play hoops in the Clair family driveway all the damn time in 1989-90, and P.E. is all we ever listened to while ballin’.

The teams were constant during the driveway wars: me and Younger Brother Schneden vs. my brother, Elder Brother Schneden, and my dad, whose nickname to this day is Ed Nealy. (When Michael Jordan came back to the NBA for his second stint with the Bulls, he wore Ed Nealy’s number. It had to be pure coincidence.) It seems unfair that the team with the elder statesman and the elder Brother Schneden also got a third member, but it speaks to the explosive offensive potential found on Team Chris/Younger Brother Schneden.

Elder Brother Schneden was never afraid to make the extra pass to help out his teammates, and could occasionally channel Derrick Coleman (considering the timeframe, that’s a compliment) and be the triple-threat power forward on the pavement. My brother was known to spot up on the left baseline corner and pop the side shot with assassin-like precision. His baseline shot was soon dubbed “The Perfect Shot.” He was only 12, but he was aided by the fact that our driveway sloped downward, and the hoop was situated about halfway down the driveway, so where he was shooting from, the hoop was probably about 9 feet off the ground; conversely, you never wanted to shoot from long distance near the road, because the rim was a good 11 feet off the ground at that point. Another element of The Perfect Shot: our garage had a light with a globe-like glass fixture right above where my brother would shoot The Perfect Shot. Nobody wanted to block my brother’s shot into the fixture and have it shatter, lest you want to answer to Mrs. Ed Nealy.

oil spot

Leave Nealy open here, mark two points.

And then you had Ed Nealy, who had three money spots on the concrete and a secret mantra to make his other shots go in. First, let’s diagram the money-shot locations:

  • The free-throw line: Nealy shot the 15-footer with success rates rivaling the best pros in the Association. If he was at the top of the key, you better get a hand in his face before he gets near the stripe.
  • “The Oil Spot”: Likely created by our piece of shit family truckster (the powder blue with faux wood panel Caprice Classic station wagon), the Oil Spot was similar in distance to the free throw, only from the left elbow of the lane. Get my dad the ball at the Oil Spot, and he’ll score like, um, a well-oiled machine.
  • “The Bermuda Triangle”: There was a triangle-shaped crack pattern a little closer to the hoop than the Oil Spot. If Ed Nealy was able to get himself to the Bermuda Triangle, forget about it, because the Bermuda Triangle “is the place where defenders disappear.” (The shit-talk on the driveway was pretty tame in terms of profanity, at least this stuff from Ed Nealy, but you hear these cute/corny lines enough times, you are driven in-fucking-sane.)

And even if you manage to defend these money spots, Ed Nealy would pull out the secret weapon:

“Hoosiers!”

When he would shoot, he would yell out “Hoosiers!” just before releasing the ball, and 98.432924% of the time it would go in, no matter where he was at on the driveway. (Yes, this vocal trick entered his arsenal after seeing the Gene Hackman movie.) It was stupid, and he cracked himself up with that stuff, which drove me and the Younger Brother Schneden crazy.

What you must realize is that the Legend of Ed Nealy knows few limits. This is a guy who made a hook shot from his truck as he backed out of the driveway on the first try. And not some layup of a hook shot, either; he was back-tires-on-the-street distance as he hit nothing but net. This is also a guy who to this day, in his mid-sixties, still goes to the local gym and plays hoops on occasion. He told me that he played hoops with my buddy Lee one time, but Lee didn’t come back after that initial visit. When I asked Lee about it, he said (jokingly?) “Your dad never let me shoot!”

So I asked Ed Nealy about this; his response was classic Ed Nealy: “Well, I let him set some screens for me.”

So how did the Younger Brother Schneden and I hang with Team Ed Nealy? Well, part of it was that Younger Brother Schneden and I were both pretty decent ballers ourselves, with quicker first steps and good outside shots, especially me from beyond the arc. And Younger Brother Schneden was pretty good at driving the lane and drawing fouls on his elder brother or Ed Nealy; he would yell out “I got one!” whenever he took it to the hoop and felt contact, extending our possessions time and again or scoring two on the continuation play.

But I think Ed Nealy’s kryptonite was Public Enemy. He’d be frowning at the language on display in “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic” and we’d take that opportunity to bury a J from downtown or drive to the hoop and lay one in. Or “Bring the Noise” would kick off with one of many of Flav’s “YEEEEAAAAAHHHH BOYYYYYEEEEEEEEE” exclamations, and we’d find our second wind (we played to 100 every time, so we’d actually get tired). And then “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” would come on, with the sax blaring and the woman repeating the title phrase, and I’d get in the zone and show Ed Nealy what I got.

It’s really nice that I have these memories attached to the greatest rap album ever made…not that the album needs the external positives. The innovative sounds created by the Bomb Squad gave this album the sonic boom to match the intensity of Chuck D’s delivery. (Side note: the Mission Creek Festival brought Chuck and the Bomb Squad to Iowa City in 2010 for a panel discussion about the techniques used on this album; it was a fascinating conversation.) Listen to Chuck bring it on tracks like “Louder Than a Bomb” or “Prophets of Rage” and feel the hair stand up on the arm. He flows effortlessly on “Bring the Noise” and “Rebel Without a Pause” and “Don’t Believe the Hype.” And then Flav…he does his thing well on “Cold Lampin’ with Flavor” and chimes in with some of the most memorable lines of his career on “She Watch Channel Zero?!”, the song that samples Slayer’s “Angel of Death” and matches the power of that riff with the beats and rhymes. Even the little interludes like the aforementioned “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” and “Mind Terrorist” and “Security of the First World” (the last providing the beat for Madonna’s “Justify My Love”) are solid.

When I was home for Thanksgiving this year, I saw that the driveway basketball hoop was gone, a nearby tree grown to the point that it pushed the hoop out of its home some years ago. But I’ll always have memories of hoops and P.E. Plus, thanks to my friend Shannon visiting our place numerous times with his leaky Mustang convertible, the Oil Spot will live forever.

Todd’s #8: Dr. Dre, The Chronic

(click play button below to sample this album)

chronicOne, two, three and to the fo’
Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the do’
Ready to make an entrance, so back on up
Cause you know we ’bout to rip shit up

That was maybe the best opening in rap history. It got you ready for that seamless back and forth between Dre and Snoop. Snoop was the perfect complement to Dre’s more straight forward style and a big reason why The Chronic crossed over with more mainstream listeners. He was just making a name for himself and had one of the most original deliveries I’d ever heard. His easy flow kind of reminded me of a slowed down version of Slick Rick.  Here’s a video of my favorite Slick Rick song if you are unfamiliar with him. See if you hear the  similarities too.

The Chronic is the only album in my top 10 that I can only play after hours. I rarely get to listen to it because most of it is just plain filthy. I actually waited until the kids went to bed to write this because I like to listen to the album I’m writing about for inspiration. I’m holed up in the basement typing and checking over my shoulder for eavesdropping kiddos. It’s like they know when I am listening to something I don’t want them to hear. My daughter can read now and that’s a whole other issue. I don’t want her looking at the screen and reading song titles like “Deeez Nuuuts”, “Fuck wit Dre”, and “Lyrical Gangbang”? Then you have to answer questions like “Daddy, what does ‘Pimpin’ ho’s and clockin’ the grip’ mean?” I also don’t want them coming in while I’m singing the lyrics from “Bitches Ain’t Shit”

I once had a bitch named Mandy May
Used to be up in them guts like everyday
The pussy was the bomb, had a n**** unsprung
I was in love like a motherfucker lickin’ the pearl tongue

Snoop Doggy Dogg was a real muthafuckin’ wordsmith back then wasn’t he? That was two name changes ago though. Now he hangs with Rastafarians, goes by Snoop Lion and makes “The Ragoo” music. I don’t blame him for going a different direction, the current state of rap is well…crap.

If you look at the rap albums in Chris and my lists, you will notice a distinct pattern. It’s either Beastie Boys, which fits in with our more alternative listening habits, or early ‘90s rap. (I don’t count the Danger Mouse record Chris listed. He had to mix it with The Beatles White Album to make that Jay-Z shit even remotely palatable) There are a few bright spots. Some of the new crop of guys is ok. I liked the solo stuff from Heems. (Look for more solo stuff because it appears as though Das Racist has broken up) What I’ve heard from that kid Earl Sweatshirt is good but he needs to release more music. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire has one of the best free style videos I’ve seen but most of today’s rap is lost on me. Check out the Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire clip below. It’s pretty cool. His entourage yells out topics and he freestyles on that until a new one is tossed out. He performs in a strip club and has two of the clubs employees booty shake along to his rhymes so probably NSFW.

But, uh, back to the lecture at hand

The Chronic was another one of those albums that everyone seemed to have. Even the dudes that didn’t really listen to rap had this one. In high school we all used to hang out at one of the local parks. At least until the police disbanded us or hauled a few people away for underage drinking. The required way to enter that park was to cruise in with the bass on your stereo turned up as loud as it would go. Apparently, you had to prove you had the woofers to hang out there. Either that or it was some odd experiment to try and create the mythical “Brown Note”; that frequency in which you get the human colon to spontaneously release its entire stockpile of excrement. For a period of time, nearly every car rolled in playing music from The Chronic. I’ll admit I did it too. My song was “Let me Ride”. A fine choice in my book. It has a one of the best beats to cruise to. Dre uses a sweet sample from the P-Funk song “Mothership Connection.”  The only problem was I was rolling in a Ford Escort and not…

Rollin in my six-fo’

Swing down, sweet chariot stop and, let me ride
hell yeah
Swing down, sweet chariot stop and, let me ride

Oh crap! I hear one of the kids coming. I better end this. Don’t want to have to explain what a “skeezer” is to my five year old.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

#9

MoSS? Madness 2012: The Round of 64

The match-ups for the round of 64 are set. Dexy’s Midnight Runners survived a late rally by Right Said Fred to earn the last #16 seed. Dexy will be going up against the Beatles in the first round. Can they pull a spectacular upset over “The Fab Four”?  It won’t be easy, but your votes could move them on. All four regions’ match-ups are ready to go. Please make your selections below.