Most of us have an awkward phase. I feel like the people that never go through one turn out to be jerks later in life, so in retrospect, I’m glad mine was probably a little rougher than the average. In middle school I was a lanky 5 feet six inches with size 13 feet so big they often showed up places before I did. I had braces with gold brackets on my teeth (because I wanted to be the only West Coast member of Cash Money). Additionally, I had one of those nerdy-ass rolling backpacks and loved Harry Potter to the point I thought I actually was a wizard. I loved reading more than anything on earth and probably cared more about my grades than my health–because mom dukes would certainly threaten the latter if the former wasn’t on point.
The problem with all of this, was that none of it was allowed in Inglewood, California. Like Ro said in the film named after my city, 1999’s The Wood, either you “gangbang or play ball.” And like Forest Whitaker narrated in last year’s film Dope (also set in Inglewood), you got beat up for “white shit” like “skateboards, Manga Comics, Donald Glover, Trash Talk, TV on the Radio, getting good grades, and applying to college.” I was into all that late nineties “white shit,” so naturally, I caught lumps on the regular from my teenaged peers.
The one thing it seemed everyone in my city, and I mean everyone, seemed to agree on was that Dr. Dre’s 2001 was an instant classic. Dre had always held it down for the West Coast since the N.W.A days, but my friends and I were a little too far removed from the group’s prime to appreciate them as “the world’s most dangerous group.” The D-R-E was ruling the radio once again though with Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP already, but Em was from Detroit, and though it was Dre’s aesthetic, it wasn’t ours. 2001 was. The whole West Coast claimed ownership, and California repped it the hardest, but with Compton 10-15 minutes away, it felt like it was ours. When it wasn’t spinning in my off-brand Discman, II heard the entire album through bits and pieces pumped out of car windows, bumped at neighbor’s house parties, and on the radio. We felt like we had to rep it the hardest. We knew every word.
The particular song from that album that we would spit the loudest was “The Next Episode.” Tupac had shouted out Inglewood at the end of “California Love,” and it was hard to not write about that song, but he gave to much diplomatic love to the entire state. When Dre said, “Clip in the strap dippin’ through hoods (what hoods?)/ Compton, Long Beach, IngleWOOOOD” we felt like the whole world had eyes on us every time. We would pause, say no other city’s name, and scream Inglewood at the top of our lungs. I still do that to this day.
I live in New York now, and I rarely hear old school West Coast stuff (haters). But when a DJ spins “The Next Epsiode”–and not as part of a quick West Coast medley–four fingers automatically creep up in front of my face as the middle two twist, and I clear space because I will deafen someone. That city made me who I am, and I wouldn’t trade a thing about my upbringing. This song shouts my city out like no other song before or any since. So when I’m old and possibly arthritic, I hope my fingers lock in a W and I have the lung capacity to always deafeningly rep my city when it plays on the oldies station.
This is one of more than 50 posts that make up our musical map of the United States, published by region—the West, Midwest, South, and Northeast—by writers who have strongly associated a song with a state.