Like most high school dudes during the early to mid-90s, my musical taste was an eclectic mix of Rap, Rock, Metal, Industrial and Electronic. The irony is that MTV was probably the primary reason for our widespread musical acceptance. It wasn’t weird to create a mixtape that went from the Wu-Tang Clan to Beck to The Prodigy, in fact it was almost expected in certain circles. I spent a lot of time in art institutions so those populations were typically more diverse than public schools given the nature of the students but uhm, anyway on to the list.
Starting at number 10 …
10. Stone Temple Pilots – Big Empty
I was obsessed with the movie, The Crow around this time in my life. It was a combination of factors but I think it was rooted in the melancholy state of my emotions as a teenager and the gothic vibe of the film fit it like a glove. A damn glove. The album was full of fantasticness but it was the song from the trailer that really stuck with me. An epic ballad of emptiness that became the theme song for my teenage years. This would also be Weiland’s theme song for the rest of his life.
9. Beastie Boys – Sabotage
I had been a fan of the Beastie Boys since the 80s due to their anti-establishment, radical approach to hiphop. At a time when most artists wore clothes and layers of jewelry I would never be able to afford, these guys dressed how I dressed and didn’t really care what anyone else at the time was doing. Achieving a legendary status will do that. Once again, MTV was the platform for really making this song a hallway anthem. The Spike Jonze directed video was absolutely bonkers and matched the song’s high-powered energy.
8. My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult – After the Flesh
Another song off of the Crow Soundtrack, After the Flesh showed up during once of the awesomest moments in the film and it created this epic bond with my psyche. The evil synths set paired with the heavy electric guitars, driving drums and Groovie’s slinky, snarling vocals were an introduction into a band who would later pop up in my career. My first single, Rokkonorrottenhell featured TKK’s lead singer, Groovie Mann on the chorus, a match-up I had dreamed about for over a decade and it all started with this song.
7. Rage Against the Machine – Bulls on Parade
Rage represented a pairing of two musical genres that controlled my mental state on a regular basis in one flawless creation. Bulls on Parade was my introduction to Zack’s flows, Tom’s crazy guitar skills, Brad’s ill drum skills and Tim’s menacing bass lines. Outside of the theme from Shaft, this might be the only song where you can just do the wah wah part and people will end it with “Come with it now!” After all these years, this might still be my favorite Rage song. It puts you in the mood to save a Haitian village or riot in Zaire or something.
6. Cypress Hill – Insane in the Brain
This was a tough call but I think it came down to the heavy radio and video play that really put this song in constant rotation while in High School. I’m not sure why this song became such crossover success, probably because we were all high half of the time and these guys rapped about it and that was cool. Whether you were a hiphop head, a rock kid, a headbanger or a crunchy granola on a grassy hill chick, you dug this song and had it memorized. Then again, going back to the Beastie Boys, these guys dressed like how I dressed. The flannel, the t-shirts, the huge JNCO-ish pants with the chain attached to the wallet, that was me at the time. Unlike most of my peers, I had Cypress’ first album so I was already familiar with them and thought the insane level of super stardom they achieved during this era without changing their style or lyrical content was well-deserved.
5. Nine Inch Nails – March of the Pigs
After the so-so “Head like a Hole,” I wasn’t really into Trent or his safe, almost generic Industrial tunes of course that all changed with “The Downward Spiral.” While most people were playing out “Closer,” I was really into the first single that dropped, “March of the Pigs,” in fact I might still have the cassette single somewhere. I had no idea what Trent was singing about but the song was incredible. This was really the sound that would define Nine Inch Nails, the heavy drums, the synth and the noisy guitars smashed against Trent’s screaming vocals, plus it had the craziest breakdown I had ever heard in a song. After a minute and half or so of pure ridiculous energy, it abruptly ends with a piano. So random, yet so amazing. This song was created for the sole purpose of destroying things, smashing stuff, breaking bones, punching holes in walls until the piano breakdown asks us, “now doesn’t that make you feel better?” Yes. Oh and the video was insanity as well.
4. Method Man – Bring the Pain
A fan since “Protect Ya Neck” and the super dope, “Method Man,” like most fans I was anxiously waiting for the release from the biggest star of the Wu, Method Man. Dark, ominous and grimy, “Bring the Pain” represented the hiphop side of my melancholy emotional mindset as a teen since I was a sewer-dwelling, raging testosterone monster who was ready to snap at any time. Meth’s almost nonsensical lyrics combined with RZA in his prime created a dark anthem for hiphop fiends.
3. Wu-Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M
Wu-Tang again? Ah yeah, again and again! This was the song that made the Wu a household name with the dark production, complex, autobiographical lyrics from Rae and Deck and the memorable hook from Meth. We were all immediately transported into the slums of Shaolin and through their rhymes, felt the same level of pain and stress the Clan felt. This was also when we started drawing that “W” on everything and pretended like we were Wu-Affiliates, which I would interestingly enough be classified as later on in my career but I won’t dig into that. the RZA beat still sounds dope, a testament to his digging ability back in the day and the griminess he caked on top of it. Most of the Wu songs sounded like they were recorded in a dungeon or something with the 8 guys just standing on top of dead bodies while they rhymed.
2. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit / Mobb Deep – Shook Ones Part 2
Sue me, I couldn’t decide on my number 2 so I left it at a tie. Both songs carried me throughout my High School years and for different reasons, and yes, Teen Spirit was released before I was in High School but it still maintained its anthem status. Nirvana represented the teen angst, my difficulty with fitting in with crowds I was never completely a part of while Mobb Deep represented the rebellious, misdemeanor accumulating, confrontational youth I often was. I connected with the griminess of most East Coast rap at the time but also the filthiness of grunge music at the time. The artists who were on top at the time kept a low-profile, they weren’t flashy, they weren’t ego-maniacs, they were down-to-earth dudes who represented my peers and I. The music also represented the mindset most of us in a certain environment shared at the time, a sort of celebrated sense of hopelessness that was eased by the music. I think artists today have bypassed the level of dude you could see walking down the street to dude you would never see outside of a Bentley and it makes it hard to connect with the musician and ultimately, the music. Bring back the grime.
1. GZA – Liquid Swords
Anyone who walked past me in High School while I had headphones on would probably hear that iconic loop playing over and over and over and over. While the other 10 songs represented large portions of my personality, Liquid Swords somehow combined all of it into perfect song. As a I mentioned before I was a huge Wu fan so I naturally gravitated towards GZA’s Liquid Swords album but wasn’t fully-prepared for the level of awesomeness that emanates from this song to this day. GZA delivers his laid-back, intricate rhymes of my favorite RZA beat of all time while the RZA pumps up the energy with his crazy ad-libs, “ooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!!!!!!” In theory, the song should be chill but for some reason it makes me want to start a circle pit and throw elbows at people. I used to bring in my Walkman and hook up these cheap speakers that you could get from the Dollar Store or something into the headphone jack and blast Liquid Swords out of my backpack while walking down the halls. And lets not forget the artwork, as an aspiring comic book artist, the illustration for the single, taken from the CD liner art, was unlike anything I had ever seen before on a music release and combined my love for hiphop and comics in one package. It was the music I would have made if I was focused enough to create it at the time and more so than any other song of the era, this represented me.