How I Left Alternative Music Behind And Fell In Love With Hip-Hop

The following post was submitted to Haulix by Michael Giegerich, a universally respected hip-hop critic whose origins in music began in the world of punk and alternative rock. We asked Michael if he would shed some light on his transition between genres, and fortunately for us he was more than willing to share his adventures here on our blog. Enjoy.

One of my fondest childhood memories goes something like this: riding shotgun in my dad’s car on a sunny afternoon in 2005, Mike Jones’ “Back Then” was coursing through the speakers. The track was inescapable on Atlanta’s 95.5 The Beat and MTV alike, but at this moment, how many times I’d previously heard the single didn’t matter. Maybe it was due to the contagious levels of confidence in Jones’ flow, or maybe it was the blustering, record-scratching beat, but one thing was certain: I wasn’t just casually enjoying “Back Then” – it made me feel alive.

An average kid from the suburbs, I spent the bulk of my teenage years invested in metal and hardcore music, dragging my mom to shows and spending every last cent to my name on edgy band tees. Eventually, armed with nothing but a Tumblr blog and an audio recorder at the age of 15, I converted this passion into words – a lot of words, in fact. Over the next four years, I poured my heart and soul into covering the bands whose stages I dove from and CDs I wore thin; in tandem, my writing skills and industry relationships grew.

As the story goes, though, my love for the genres I once valued so highly began to wither upon my sophomore year in college; a natural conclusion to a phase that some may say lived past its shelf-life. Coincidentally, a severe bout of depression almost stole my life soon after, and in the process, my love for music and writing was robbed entirely. The next six months found me spiraling downward as I searched for anything that would make me feel whole again; changing majors, scenery, and medication, all routes that proved fruitless. I eventually smashed into rock bottom after it became clear nothing could break my fall, but in those depths, some much needed self-reflection led to finding the common denominator of happiness in my life: hip-hop.

I had actively kept up with more than a handful of rappers for years, sure. Hell, I even reviewed my fair share of rap records and was more knowledgeable on the genre than most in my social circle. Yet, for the first time, I consciously realized the pure, unadulterated joy it gave me. Whether it involved getting buck to Rae Sremmurd’s pop-infused Atlanta trap at my university’s spring concert or throwing back lukewarm beers to Danny Brown’s unmistakable squaw in my dorm room – much like that sunny afternoon in 2005 – the weight on my shoulders dissipated. Upon this realization, I slowly but surely picked up writing again while devoting myself to understanding as much as humanly possible about the music that had given me so much. I began examining hip-hop projects with a fine-toothed comb, reading every feature related to the genre I could find, and most importantly, reminding myself everyday of how fortunate I was to receive this chance at redemption.

Seven months later, it’s almost overwhelming to see how much has changed. My mind is sharper than ever, my appreciation for hip-hop is expanding exponentially, and recently, I conducted what is undeniably the most notable interview of my career to date. In truth, though, I’m not satisfied just yet. As hip-hop once pushed me to find inner peace, the inescapable work ethic of the genre now pushes me to perfect my writing skills and not lose sight of the promising road ahead. There’s a long way to go, but throughout the journey, one simple fact will remain constant: hip-hop saved my life.

So here’s to you, hip-hop. Here’s to you and whatever the future may bring. 

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.