By Wallace Mack
It’s 2 a.m. and I’m sitting at that one f—king stoplight. You know that one that takes forever to turn green. My stomach is in knots and all I can imagine is hopping back through the window of my escape, my parents awake and irate on the other side. I’m 14 years old and I think I’m in love; the hormones that have found a chokehold on my skin, my testes, and now my emotions, aide me in making stupid, but passionate decisions like sneaking out of the house. I’m also unsure of where you and I stand.
“F—k man, I know my parents are up.”
“I feel like you don’t like me anymore.”
And now I’m sitting at this f—king red light and it won’t turn green. I need to relax. I change the radio source in your car:
“When love won’t let you walk away / You can’t help all your love / And you find yourself giving it all away / When you think you’re in love.”
That is how I recall a moment. Music is what gives those kinds of memories the kind of tastes that sit on the tip of your tongue, the roof of your mouth, and sometimes the back of your throat. I was 14 then, but a quick spin of “Heaven Sent” releases a fresh taste for that moment in my memory. Before I knew anything about music criticism—who has “the range” or what makes an album “classic”—I knew how music made me feel. It was 2007 and Just Like You was a direct look into the lives of me and so many of my peers.
“Falling Out” was a plea for a text back or a phone call after the notorious “wya we need to talk.” “Let It Go” was a victory anthem for my homegirls that got their hearts broken by boys at rival schools. It was a pep talk of sorts, right before you saw him posted with his new chick at the basketball game on Friday night. The lyrics were more than a MySpace profile song for my friends that were experiencing romantic heartbreak for the first times in their life, they were mantras. Sure, a lot of the lyrical content was intended for adults, but music is not always about intent. Pain is a universal concept, a paper cut hurts the same way Indonesia and in in Missouri; the way we manage expectations in our 20s as opposed to our teens may be different, but heartbreak isn’t.
As one of the countless black boys who survived growing up in America’s hoods before being a “carefree black boy” was trendy, I had Keyshia Cole. What I had in Keyshia Cole was a voice that sang pain in a language that was accessible to me, an 11-year-old who loaded her songs onto my Walmart MP3 player at night and only played her music when no one else could hear. A lot of us were scared into silence, but Keyshia Cole battled her demons out loud and in color on reality TV and in her music. I couldn’t see it at the time, but Keyshia Cole taught us a lot about being fearless. No one is allowed to silence you and no one can tell your story better than you can.
I was an 11 year-old boy living in the swamps of South Carolina in 2005 when Keyshia Cole debuted into the mainstream with The Way It Is. I was 11 years old navigating the brutal southern heat, and an even more brutal start to middle school. I was 11 years old and my body was changing, my voice was changing and my friends were changing too. Everything was changing. As I reflect on my life 10 years later, there is still one thing that has remained the same: when this song come on in the club, they gon’ be like daaaamn that’s hot.
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