“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” - Robert Nesta
Truer words have never been said. I recently lost my aunt with whom I was very close. She had been sick for months with her situation fluctuating between grim and amiable. The last time I saw her was at her house. We all talked for a few, but she wasn’t totally herself due to the pains from the treatment she had been receiving. I won’t go into details but to cut the long story short, she kinda felt fed up with the way things were going. The last thing I said to her was “good night,” hoping to see her later - she was scheduled for another round of treatments the next day. Unfortunately, I got a call from the hospital about her demise the following afternoon. As I drove to confirm the situation, the only thoughts in my head were “I hope they were wrong, I really hoped they were wrong” but what I met changed things forever.
I don’t know how others cope with human loss, I mean, we all have our different ways of processing it. It was way too much for me to digest, and I must admit I didn’t cry right away as I was saddled with the task of sorting her documents and to transport her body to the mortuary. The whole thing didn’t hit me until later that night when I got back home and I literally broke down. I needed some form of solace so I pulled out my iPhone at around 4am and made this playlist I called “Reflection.”
1 Rapper Big Pooh “Rearview Mirror”
Always been a fan of Big Pooh and this song is him in rare form. This was the first time he worked with 9th Wonder after LB broke up, so that’s another layer to the song. It’s not really a song about death, but he talked about all the stuff he went through in life and also addressed the break up amongst other things. The other jewel here is 9th’s soulful soundscape that paints a sad picture of a man coming to terms with life challenges and learning to move on. It gets me overtime when I hear this song as Big Pooh put it “…gotta stay strong for the fam”
2 J. Cole: “Crunch Time”
Classic Cole during his Truly Yours phase. "Crunch Time" sums up several situations where things are just going badly for the individuals involved and they have one shot to make it through. The self-produced song has a soulfully bleak atmosphere that put things in perspective. It’s all about taking that one chance or like Cole said “…nothing is worse than death than a regret filled coffin”
3 Nas, 2pac: “Thugz Mansionz (9th Wonder Remix)”
To be honest, I was never a fan of the original version but once I heard 9th’s remix, I was hooked immediately. Flipping a Marvin Gaye vocal sample, 9th really adds a grim yet soulful touch to this song about death and heaven. For me, it gave me hope that she is in a better place “sipping heavenly champagne where angels soar with golden wings”
4 Fashawn : “Father”
My favorite Fashawn song of all time. I think this song is just perfect, from the reflective atmosphere provided by Exile and of course Fashawn’s poignant lyrics about God and the overall meaning of life. Right from the intro when I hear him say “They say everything you go through in life, makes life worth living” the tone is set. So many questions are asked but it seems the answers are somewhere within.
5 Jay Z, Beanie Sigel, Scarface: “This Can’t Be Life”
Arguably one of the saddest songs in his entire discography. This audio autobiography showcased Jay at a 100 percent personal mode, talking about child loss, his early career failures and then some. This is something everyone could gravitate to, we all fall, fail, and lose at some point and it’s okay to have regrets but ensure to move on.
6 Reflection Eternal: "Memories Live"
This song is pure bliss and shows the incredible dynamics Talib and Hi-Tek had. Definitely a top five song for me. Topic wise, it’s not really a gloomy track, but more of a reflective type. For me it’s all about memories once your loved one is gone - that is what we get to keep, so best make more good memories than bad ones.
7 Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common: “Respiration”
The trio captured the pure essence of hip-hop on this record. Draped by a somber Hi-Tek beat, Blackstar talked about the inner workings of the city, breaking it down into several segments from the top (government), middle class to the downtrodden lower class. The title is a clever nod to how people shape the environment, or it could be vice versa as both entities breathe simultaneously. Are we shaped by our present circumstances or otherwise? I still don’t have the answers.
8 Masta Ace : “No Regrets”
Masta Ace is a master of creating songs that make you reflect on things you didn’t even know you could. Taken from his acclaimed Disposable Arts album, this closing song sees the legend poignantly state that regardless of his situation now, he has no regrets whatsoever. The truth is some things will go your way while others will not - its up to you to make that choice to mush on with the “no regrets” mind frame.
9: Killarmy : “Feel it”
Look, I’m a huge WU fan, so as expected by the Shaolin tenets we definitely have to branch out to studying their affiliates. Killarmy may not be known for making reflective tracks but “Feel It” off their Fear, Love and War LP makes for a good listen. Over a haunting 4th Disciple soundscape, Dom Pacino (he had the best verse) said it best - “La Familia sick, I wish I had the hands to heal you quick and rid you of the disease you living with.” This one is definitely something I felt deep in the soul.
10: Wu-Syndicate : “Where Was Heaven?”
Wu-Syndicate delivered this single on the Wu Compilation The Swarm. A very somber and poignant look at the life of a ghetto youth who is stressed out from dealing with urban decay, lack of a father figure amongst other things. The beat perhaps is one of the most gloomy sounds I have heard in a while, it does have a dreamy feel to it too. A definite soul-wrenching song that speaks to anybody dealing with loss. I mean religion is all good but…where was heaven?
11: Outkast: "Art Of Story Telling"
Besides the groovy, yet nostalgia-inducing soundscape, this song exudes a more profound look on life. The duo talks about two individuals from the past and what they are up to presently. In summary, not everything is all gravy and Andre’s verse literally captured the essence of the story. I do hope we all more great stories to tell than negative ones.
12: L.E.G.A.C.Y. “Broken Heart Disease”
L.E.G.A.C.Y. is sort of an oddball emcee who doesn’t follow the rules. His style is a blend of dark humor detailing graphic tales of life, love, and death in a single breath,
Taken off his acclaimed debut project Project Mayhem, “Broken Heart Disease” is a full course meal of dark stories that would most likely give a first-time listener a minor grief. Over a gloomy 9th Wonder backdrop, he offers the listener a glimpse into the death of two different individuals in his life - one from homicide and the other from a terminal disease. The connection between these two individuals are the feelings L.E.G.A.C.Y has for both. He yearns for closure throughout the song but the lines from the second verse really struck me - “You the strongest person I’ve ever seen/ it would be this way it never seemed/ It’s true more than a flow/ I miss you more than you know/ Strong even dying on your hospital bed, everybody crying as the doctor said, you weren’t gonna make it…”
I could see myself in the hospital room when the doctor approached me to explain how my aunt died and presented me with the notification of death letter for me to sign. The verse continues with “…I held your sister she couldn’t take it/ truth is I couldn’t either/ God how could you do this?, take her and keep her/ what do we do, where do we go now/ minutes later I broke down/ my face drenched, it couldn’t make sense…” This mirrors how when my late aunt’s younger sister came into the room and completely broke into tears in my arms. I may have looked strong at that instant, but I was hurting really bad inside.
Like L.E.G.A.C.Y.’s acronym which says “Life Ends Gradually And Changes You”, I do feel a whole part of me has metamorphosed. To what extent I can’t really tell, and at times I don’t even know true this is. The whole incident is still fresh in my memory and these songs really did serve as an outlet for me to cope with the situation.