"Music saved my life."
It's a statement I've uttered, in a proverbial sense, a million times over throughout my existence. Yet 2021 may have been the first time the proverbial transformed to the literal. Where the collective loss, personal grief, and subsequent heartbreak smacked me so hard that I wasn't sure how I would come out of it.
Those were the moments where music reached through the darkness and forcibly shone its light, guiding me through the worst of times to the best of times. Through the lyrics, the production, the message, and the ability to put all of those components together, certain albums just DID something for me. Something intangible, yet so powerfully real.
I was going to do the typical end-of-the-year "best of" list. The kind where we writers are forced to cram the intense emotions that music can evoke into a short and sweet snippet. But there is no justice to be found in choppy sentences and 40 words or fewer recaps. Each of these albums saved my life. In their own way. In their own time. Each when I needed them most.
So instead, I present an end-of-the-year series that introduces each album on an individual level and in no particular order. A series that gives each album, artist, and producer the roses they deserve.
Don't Forget You're Welcome - The Watershed
Released on the first day of 2021, DFYW is an album that has maintained a permanent place on my rotation throughout the year. In fact, in the last twelve months, I've yet to find a song worth skipping, no matter how many times I've listened. The album pays no attention to trends. It doesn't follow any blueprint. The album's production ranges from ethereal to gritty to experimental all infused with an eclectic mixture of genre-bending samples that tie it all together. The combination creates a vibe that leaves listeners suspended between floating and flying.
Having come together during the Mario Woods uprising, Bay Area legend Equipto, Monk HTS, MC Pauze, Brycon and Professa Gabel combine their collective consciousness with introspective lyrics that speak on their individual experiences, and in doing so, created an album I found myself easily getting lost in.
The intro, title track Don't Forget You're Welcome, immediately hit my lungs as soon as I pressed play. Like that first breath of air you desperately inhale after being underwater for too long. It prepared me for the stand-alone, left-of-center sound that the rest of the album contains by traveling through a variety of samples that seem like they shouldn't go together. In fact, if you were to separate each layer of the beat out and listen to them individually, you'd wonder how the hell producer Brycon managed to put them together in the first place.
The album itself, and the group if I'm being honest, seems to mimic that same theme. You're not sure how they found each other, you're not sure what brought them together, you're not sure how each piece somehow fit the way they did. But they did, and what was created from it was magic.
With stand-out tracks Creatures and Ghost Ryder, both produced by Monk HTS, and Wants and Needs produced by Baghead, listeners get the opportunity to experience the delicate dichotomy that the group comfortably exists in. Pensive and dreamy one instant, lyrical and grimey the next, and all somehow tinged with socially conscious messages cleverly interspersed throughout. Lyrics that make you question your views and desire for justice -- all while forcing you to look deeply at yourself, and question your own healing.
It's a difficult feat to not have that combination feel manic and disjointed. Yet, Don't Forget You're Welcome manages to sidestep all of that, and through 14 songs, you're able to go with the flow and lose yourself in the myriad of musical moments that make this album a personal favorite.
And 2021 was a year where all I wanted to do was get lost in something outside of myself. My grief. My tears. DFYW was that outlet.
Press play. Go get lost for a little bit.