February 10, 2005

Birthday blues and booze
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

"Your 21st birthday is a night your friends will never let you remember," wailed Jose Ramos, lead singer of the blues band playing on Monday at Wally's, a small 50-person capacity jazz and blues bar in the South End.

After about 12:45 a.m. Ramos was right: I can't remember a thing, except for the music. I remember perfecting the rhythms coming from the slick, quiet bassist, the grinning, hyperactive drummer, the showboating guitarist, and the funky alto sax, pumping away in a packed bar where the members of the band flirted with the customers' girlfriends, drank like they didn't have to work in the morning, and played like they were throwing a party in their own living room.
Not even tequila can erase the memory of listening to live music, sitting so close to the drummer that you can feel the snare rattle your ribs.


Nas "Half-time"
At 21, I can't help but reflect on what I've achieved in the last year. For me, 20 was not as productive as it could have been. Certainly not as productive as Nasir Jones, who at only 20 years of age released his classic debut Illmatic. Nas dropped out of school in the eighth grade, eventually making a show-stealing appearance on Main Source's "Live at the Barbeque" when he was only 18. Then, instead of wasting his time in college like me, Nas spent the next two years working on his debut.
Lil' Romeo "My Baby"

But Nas certainly wasn't the youngest rapper, because 11-year-old Lil' Romeo made history when this No Limit mini-soldier became the youngest recording artist to top the Billboard singles chart, breaking Michael Jackson's record. Jackson's first No. 1 hit came when he was 14 with "Ben," a touching ballad sung by a young boy - and I'm not making this up - to his pet rat named Ben.


Fabolous "I Can't Deny It" [ft. Nate Dogg]
But Lil' Romeo didn't have to earn it like medium-sized Fabolous did, because spelling-extraordinaire "ef ay be oh el oh you es" isn't the lucky son of No Limit CEO Master P. Instead he was the lucky friend of DJ Clue, who decided to build his Desert Storm franchise around a lazy-tongued Brooklynite. A catchy summer lead single with Nate Dogg led the 20-year-old Fabolous into his ill-timed debut Street Dreams, released on Sept. 11, 2001.

Dr. Dre "Nutin' but a G-Thang" [ft. Snoop Dogg]
When he was rapping on Dr. Dre's The Chronic, Snoop Doggy Dogg still couldn't legally enjoy gin with his juice. At only 20 years old, Snoop was already performing at the MTV Music Awards. Unfortunately he was also arrested that same night for suspected murder. His 21st birthday, only one month later, must have been somber, despite his Doggystyle, the first debut album ever to debut at No. 1, coming out only one more month later.

Kobe Bryant "K.O.B.E." [ft Tyra Banks]

It's a lot easier to be a great athlete at 20 than to be a great poet at the same age, but Kobe nonetheless declared himself "Thug Poet" on his lead single. His album was never released because it was apparently unsalvageable. To put in perspective how bad this album must have been, remember that big brother Shaq's rhyme skills were sufficient enough to release five rap albums. Instead of trying to partner Kobe up with a talented musician to help him along, the guys at Columbia decided to let Tyra Banks sing a duet with him. Interestingly, it was at the video shoot with Banks that Kobe met his future wife Vanessa.