This is an ode to Boyz II Men and the best music of the twentieth century that helped ground, center, and shape me.
My earliest childhood memory is of my father singing the Beatles, and making fun of him for not knowing all the lyrics. My brothers played mixtapes of NWA, Bell Biv Devoe and Chaka Khan. The first song I learned was ‘Pray’ by MC Hammer, and my brother made me perform the Hammer dance in front of the entire family.
I got my first Walkman when I was 9 years old. It was bright yellow and waterproof and I loved it. It didnt matter that the only tape I owned was R. Kelly’s Bump and Grind album. That yellow Walkman was like my beacon of hope, my gateway to happiness. The grace of God and the beats from that Walkman saved me. When I was laid up in intensive care for an entire month after my second heart surgery. When I was so doped up on anasthetic that I couldn’t walk on my own or speak properly. That yellow Walkman played the Lion King soundtrack tirelessly til I felt strong enough to celebrate my tenth birthday with a party. In the pictures my smile is crooked and half my face is droopy, but that yellow Walkman played ‘I Can’t Wait to be King’ and I was a queen, my loyal subjects leukemia and brain tumor kids.
At 15 I was more sure of myself than I had ever been. “There she goes”, they used to say, “the girl with the headphones”. Who cares if I was fat, black and antisocial? I knew who I was and who I wanted to be. It didn’t matter that the other kids had minidisc players and I was still carrying that clunky yellow Walkman. My mixtapes were a record of my exchanges with the Fugees, with Aaliyah, with Wu Tang and Biggie. My mixtapes spoke to me, about me, and for me. A testament to me.
At 23 I was no longer the girl with the headphones, and my world was crumbling around me. One too many muddled decisions, one too many stupid mistakes and I find that I have lost the grip on my personality. Certainty of self was in no uncertain terms a commodity, one that I did not own. The heavy thump of music became a shy tap on the inner walls of my shame-riddled sub-conscience.
At 28 I have no idea who I am. I have spent 5 years tiptoeing, filing myself down to fit into other people’s comfort zones, unable to be myself, unable to forgive myself for my mistakes, sacrificing my humility for the sake of sutra. Music is no longer a part of my life.
But all it took was one Boyz II Men track to bring me back. To revive the girl with the headphones. ‘Reunited and it feels so good!’
I’m forced to give credit to the melodious voices that awakened me – and I return their words to them:
Even though times got rough, you never turned away you were right there – and I thank you.