My entry into Jay-Z‘s world arrived courtesy of the music video for “(Always Be My) Sunshine”, a decidedly upbeat pop-rap track featuring the polished, processed vocals of Babyface and the back-and-forth, cat-chases-mouse banter of a cocky Jay and elegantly ‘hood Foxy Brown at the height of her short-lived apex.
I suspect I’m not the first well-evolved hip-hop head who was introduced to Jay via In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, the rapper’s second full-length album, and the first to make significant inroads in far-removed college towns like Bellingham, Wash., about an hour and a half’s drive north of Seattle. Like Nas’s “If I Ruled The World” video a year before, free basic cable in my dorm room at Western Washington University was the unlikely hand that delivered the shiny version of New York City hip-hop to a 19-year-old college sophomore raised on an island of 1,500 people. An island devoid of simple suburban creature comforts — movie theaters, fast food restaurants, actual physical roads connecting said island to the civilized mainland — to say nothing of MTV.
While in high school, my love for late ’80s/early ’90s R&B was nurtured via fuzzy radio reception from the popular “urban music” station in Seattle and the well-executed con artistry of mail-order music subscriptions. (Anyone my age who grew up without a Sam Goody within a half-mile radius of their home knows that BMG was the superior service, at least from a financial standpoint. Of course it was materially inferior to its counterpart, Columbia House, because any CD released on that club’s eponymous record label was blacklisted from competing BMG. Mariah Carey’s discography, for example, required a more dedicated monetary commitment to which I ultimately bowed. I washed a lot of dishes in the summer for that woman.)
So imagine my late adolescent delight upon seeing / hearing “(Always Be My) Sunshine” in my cramped dorm room one afternoon when I probably should have been working through a set of pre-calculus problems. Face’s sunny hook, Jay’s carefree wordplay, Foxy’s ample bosom, and of course Hype’s now-stigmatized fisheye lens were all too much for an introverted book nerd like me, one seeking an outlet — any outlet — into a world unlike the forest green-hued environs of the Pacific Northwest (as much as I still really, truly love the Pacific Northwest).
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