Memory Lane can be a scary place, unless you’re a sociopath or an idiot. Walking down it can confront you with all your shitty choices and all the people you’ve hurt or been hurt by along the way. Luckily, thanks to the fact that I spent the better part of my adolescence loaded, my recollection of my late teens and early 20s is a bit hazy. When my college or high school friends tell me about something or someone I did back in the day, it’s not unusual for me to have no idea of what the hell they are talking about. At the end of the yarn, I just find myself wondering how in the world the story ended with me falling out of the back of a moving pickup truck or running down the street screaming at the top of my lungs like a maniac. But honestly, I’m cool with not remembering all of that stuff, considering I’d probably be too embarrassed to face the day if I did.
When it is time to take it back, if I have to do it, I like to go way back to simpler times—back to the era of the Space Jam Jordan XIs and Ren bludgeoning Stimpy with a wooden log. I like to go back to Pogs and FUBU and C Bear and Jamal and the day they first dropped Reese’s Puffs cereal at my local supermarket… I’m talking about the early and mid 90s.
Nothing gets my mind jumping to those salad days like music and food. To this day, if I take a sip of my mother’s famous, diabetes-inducing sweet tea or smash on one of her heart-exploding Polish boy sandwiches (bitch, I’m from Cleveland) smothered in her homemade chocolate-based barbecue sauce, I can traverse time like I’m fucking Billy Pilgrim. The memories are so ill and vivid, I immediately feel like I’m sitting cross-legged in front of the TV watching something like The Maxx on MTV while I fiddle around with fully-articulated action figures and stuff my face until I’m pregnant.
To this day, if I take a sip of my mother’s famous, diabetes-inducing sweet tea or smash on one of her heart-exploding Polish boy sandwiches smothered in her homemade chocolate-based barbecue sauce, I can traverse time like I’m fucking Billy Pilgrim.
When it comes to music, however, there is one key genre to my childhood, and that’s gangster rap. My father introduced me to the extremely explicit and angry raps of guys like Ice-T, Too Short, and NWA way before I probably should have heard them. I knew all the words to songs like “Colors” and “Straight Outta Compton” well before the Rugrats movie came out. Needless to say, my dad was pretty unorthodox. He was a cop for the City of Cleveland who hated cops. The irony of playing “Fuck the Police” while wearing his blue uniform as he dropped me off at school has still yet to dawn on him. But that’s the way it was. Every morning, after I ate like four bowls of sugary cereal, he’d give me a crash course on hardcore hip-hop. This practice of appreciating and sharing music together became a crucial part of our bond, one that exposed me to everything from punk rock to jazz before most kids had even gone through their new metal phase. The memories of those days are so entrenched in my mind that whenever I hear some gangster shit on the radio or at a club, my brain immediately shifts back to the mornings I rode in the car with my crazy dad and we rapped seriously misogynistic and violent lyrics together.
I had one of these music flashbacks recently, when I was prepping for an interview with Southern rap legend and founding Geto Boys member Scarface, for Munchies’ new VICE Eats series. When I was little, I loved We Can’t Be Stopped so much that I used to take the cassette case out of my dad’s car into school with me, just so I could stare at the nightmarish cover during recess. In second or third grade, I even tried to enter my school’s talent show with a dance routine to “My Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” I had rewound the cassette a little too far back, so when the teachers pressed Play, it started at the end of the Geto Boys’ “Chuckie” track, which crescendos with the screams of people being mutilated and tortured. Needless to say, my teachers were not enthused, and I didn’t get to perform in the talent show.
Considering how inextricable the Geto Boys and Scarface are to my idea of my youth, I came into the interview with Face at this awesomely weird Mexican restaurant called Mission Cantina planning to talk a lot about the past. But what I was realized quickly was that the past didn’t mean the same things to him as it did to me. In the days of the Geto Boys and his early solo career, Scarface was out of shape, eating bad food, and treating his body poorly. Recently, he’s lost a ton of weight and is feeling lighter and happier than he has in years. Back in the day, he used to helm the Def Jam South label; he even dropped their best release, The Fix. At the interview, however, he seemed more refreshed than remiss to be the captain of his own ship as an independent artist. And even though he’s made records as great as The Untouchable and The Diary, he didn’t want to reminisce; he wanted to focus on his stellar new release, Deeply Rooted.
After trying and failing to take Scarface down Memory Lane with me, I quickly realized that one person’s salad days could be another person’s hard times. Since I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that my mother was going crazy cooking me and my dad all that food while still managing her own career as a Cleveland police officer. Just because she was a woman, she basically had two full time jobs—being mom and cop. And my dad wasn’t a loaf, by any means. When he was on the force, he worked the night shift and also did countless hours of part-time security. When he was driving me to school, he was often completely exhausted, so he’d put on the most abrasive, angry music he could, just to try to stay awake and not crash the whip.
After trying and failing to take Scarface down Memory Lane with me, I quickly realized that one person’s salad days could be another person’s hard times.
My parents were in a really tight spot in the mid 90s, because they were both basically victims of lending discrimination. They had moved from the inner city to the suburbs to make sure I got a good education. But to get the house in that very white and very exclusive school system, they had to borrow at an obscenely high rate, even though they had good credit. They worked like slaves for years until they could refinance. All the while, I had every single thing I ever wanted—sneakers, toys, junk food. It wasn’t until I got older that I found out they had basically been living in hell for years just to give me a good life.
Knowing about what my parents were going through during my pretty awesome childhood gives me a whole new outlook on that time and fills me with an unending love and appreciation for the sacrifices they made for me. Just like meeting Scarface, the man behind the great music of that era, gave me a reverence for not only the work of his past but the great music he’s making right now.
At the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with taking a stroll down Memory Lane—just know that your salad days may differ from the folks around you. At the end of the day, it’s actually more fulfilling and fruitful to know the real story of the past than to look at it through rose-colored glasses.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to eat a bowl of Reese’s Puffs while I read a Spawn comic and listen to “Life in the Fast Lane.”