By Kwesi Billups
Music is a dangerous magic. Every listen brings with it a new experience, and a new meaning defined by the context of its consumption. I’m constantly amazed by the kaleidoscope of emotion that I feel when I see the face of a friend in a chord progression, or hear lyrics of profound importance that force me to question my understanding of communication through song. Music is a demonstration that rhetorical techniques are communication made art. In between the lines of that art lies the essence of human expression: anger, compassion, confusion, enthusiasm, sadness, curiosity, expectation, and the grey areas of our emotional consciousness that we can’t quite explain are all embedded in the lyrics that we love screaming at the top of our lungs, or the ones we only listen to in the comfort of isolation to avoid exposing our most vulnerable selves. Having said that, I don’t believe that I can articulate why music has proven to be such a useful medium through which to engage in social intercourse, but my inability to define the scope of music’s importance may lend the explanation for it’s adaptability. Artists that choose music as their means of production can choose virtually any subject matter as the content. Music as a medium works because it serves as a universal cultural field within which no corner of the human condition is untouched.
Right now, I’m listening to Frank Ocean’s 2016 album Blonde and all that I can think about is my first semester of college. The album was released on August 20th, the day that I moved into my college dormitory, after years of excitement from fans of Ocean’s critically acclaimed debut album Channel Orange. That day, I listened to Blonde once and immediately realized that all of my anxiety and excitement regarding the start of a new experience would seep into the track list, forever carrying a personal meaning for me. The beauty of this album, and all albums, is that while Frank Ocean’s lyrics and melodies transport me into such a specific period of emotional character, the music is gaining new meaning even as I am sitting here listening and writing. If I had a desirable first semester experience, maybe I’d be inclined to listen to Blonde to remind myself of the appeal of happenings to come. Perhaps if my first semester was full of turmoil, I’d choose to use the album as a warning of the hopelessness that adversity seems to skillfully stroke up. The album defined my experience just as much as my physical presence in the events of my life. For this, music is a dangerous magic. And for this, I am grateful for music.