Well, there I was—adrift in a bunch of underaged kids pushing each other like shaken atoms as sweat dripped off stick and poke tattoos, lip rings, and mini backpacks. I rode the wave off to the side until I could grip the metal railing barricading myself from the security guard. He was trying to pinpoint the ground zero of blunt smoke as if his life was at stake. Meanwhile, I was conjuring a 17-year-old Jenna at the bottom of a Rammstein circle pit, brought back to my feet by the arms of an unseen hero. The red, white, and blue confetti of Amerika had almost been the death of me.
Six years later, everything was different, but exactly the same.
I quietly cringed at the high school booty inescapably slipping against my thighs in the pressed peripheries of the wall of death, I watched the star of the show’s chains bounce around in front of the spinning graphics of a vaporwave Cadillac DeVille. With a diamond dolphin around his neck to mark his territory a bit further down the Gulf Coast, the rapper’s skinny new braids flew widely as his neon skull tee and iced out watch wore his skinny frame. Live drums and bass sat on either side of a bumping MacBook like the holy nu metal trinity. The fearless leader of the youth of the nation was called out by his one unique name—no, not Serj, but underground legend Pouya.
By now, you can probably hear the record scratch and see the crowd freeze as you wonder how I got here. As much as I’ve been trying to get better about liking what I like with no apologies, I am willing to offer an explanation, not only because Cloud rap is probably baffling to old school metal fans, but ultimately interesting if you’re willing to hear it out. I can promise that the journey is more logical than one would expect and being a relative elder among fans at a Soundcloud function is more of an affirming experience than one would think.
It all started one fateful day when I was getting ready for school in the spring of fifth grade. The year was 2005 and MTV still occasionally played music when it wasn’t running marathons of the now-memed dating show Next. Always being sure to leave my room’s 12-inch TV on channel 53 to revel in feeling grown, I switched it on just in time to catch the fresh drop of System of a Down’s video for BYOB. Between the flashiness of headbanging locks, speeding riffs, and shiny robots, I was hypnotized. SOAD had hijacked the TV waves against which they had spent their whole career railing, their target audience being kids across the American suburbs gearing up to survive another day in class. As for me, it was a reckoning. Having been cultivated in the little girl vapidity of pink sparkles and premature dieting, it was like opening a third eye to a world with which I could finally meaningfully identify.
But with no free music streaming services or means to acquire new CD’s outside of Christmas, I had to keep the tune tucked in brain for safe keeping for what felt like an eternity. Then, I got to junior high.
“Still they feed us LIESSS from the tablecloth,” I sang to my older sister one day after school. I banged along on my mom’s piano for accompaniment.
“What the hell are you saying? What tablecloth?” she demanded to know. I went to our family room and fired up the desktop computer.
System of the Down, I typed into Google. Apparently, I had encountered a Mandela effect before those were even a thing.
“Oh wait, no, it’s System of a Down,” I hollered.
For the next two hours, we poured over System of a Down dot fucking com, listening to their singles on repeat from the QuickTime player and giggling over the band’s outrageous facial hair. In these two hours, our laughs grew into pure, unadulterated fandom. Our young adult minds were still malleable enough to accept the quartet’s outsider art, but still solid enough to appreciate the gravity of the global issues they raised. But, still grappling with expectations as girls, we made sure that the computer speakers were off as soon as our mom pulled in the driveway. Sugar and spice were the lies being fed from the tablecloth of middle school molds and major teen magazines.
The end of sixth grade was when I worked up more courage to expose my new interests as I began to embrace my budding position as the suburbs’ loyal opposition. That spring break, a gift card to Borders Books proved to be my ticket back to the glory year of 2001, which I had so haplessly wasted watching Rocket Power. Surprisingly, the off-brand Barnes and Noble had SOAD’s whole collection in stock, yet my option was limited to the greatest—Toxicity, the only release that hadn’t earned itself a parental advisory.
Via a custody agreement with my sister, we steadily wore the tread off the disc’s tires. With my basement windows open for the whole neighborhood to hear, “FATHER INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMEND MY SPIRIT” would become my soundtrack to one-woman circle pits as my baby fat steadily melted away.
Little did I know, my heart was about to need resuscitating.
It was the hiatus announcement heard around the world. SOAD was indefinitely parting ways as metal’s self-proclaimed Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton—Malakian and Tankain—were clearly developing divergent creative visions. Their final appearance was on Ozzfest that summer, with the closest stop landing a few hours away in Northern Virginia. I begged. I pleaded. But my parents wouldn’t budge. Allegedly, my mom new a guy that new a guy that went to Ozzfest once and saw a couple fucking in the middle of the crowd. While my look had started shifting from Beans from Even Stevens to Corpse Bride, I was still deemed much too young. I held my Toxicity a little closer that night.
As per how my life usually goes, the granting of my wish was epically bleated—some six years later when I was practically a lady. SOAD reunited for a select number of shows with Deftones, and by the grace of god, they chose D.C. I stood in the dead center of the pit while I was mercilessly shoved and stepped on by giant drunk dudes, but I held my own despite my hot flashes and cramps. I had come a long way from my basement, but still, it felt like the window into my youth was quickly shuttering. The performance felt like more of a final chapter, a goodbye, an ode to the glory days, more so than it was a true revival. A month later I went off to college and immersed myself in a strange mix of Lana Del Rey, Eyehategod, and Xasthur—artists who I love, but also seemed to hold more credibility in terms of retaining my “cool” card (in the wildly optimistic assumption I had one in the first place).
Then, something happened. As I discovered the underbelly of being A Strong Independent Woman™, I began to crave an artform that reflected my pent-up melancholy and repressed creative verve brought on by the full-time workforce. I was out of school and hit an all-time low of caring about what other people’s children think about me. I just needed rose colored glasses, providing me a glimpse into both my future and my past. Adding rock and emo fused hip-hop into my musical repertoire proved to be just the thing to fill the void.
From the moment I heard my gateway band nothing,nowhere., I knew I needed more. Just days before moving to New Orleans, I watched $uicideboy$ No Jumper interview about the frustrations of trying to hustle your passion while haggled with the exhaustion of a day job. And, well, attempting to play in hardcore bands with rich kids who just didn’t want it bad enough.
Through it all, there was a deep appreciation for their backgrounds, but an even deeper faith in what their lives hold as men. My decision to skip town with no bridges burned was affirmed.
Combing through the grapevine of the underground rap scene, I eventually found close colleague of $uicideboy$, Pouya. Compared in looks to a computer repairman in his sporting of a moustache and short stature, the 23-year-old joins his constituencies in reviving some of the most iconic moments in heavy music. While Ghostemane has channeled the likes of Pantera and Nirvana, and Lil Peep, Blink 182, Pouya has one rock influence that he holds above the rest—System of a Down.
JUST KNOW WHEN I GO PLAY CHOP SUEY AT MY FUNERAL!
The line from Pouya’s “Suicidal Thoughts in the Back of the Cadillac” echoed through the House of Blues, just a mere one room over from where Peep gave one of his final performances. Kids in all-black Come Over When You’re Sober merch continued to go wild, unaware they could have been mistaken for extras in SOAD’s iconic video. The rapper made sure to teach them until they knew. As the curtain shuttered, he met demands for one more after an already extensive set. After Chop Suey’s honorable mention, it finally had its turn at being bumped from the DJ stand.
And with the loss of an era comes the creation of a new one, ensuring past wisdom is not lost—it’s okay to be yourself and to demand better for our ailing world (and ailing music industry). Performing these brazen actions doesn’t mean you’re entitled; it means you’re strong and relentless, and most of all, it means you possess the nuance to pick up that same kid you just shoved if they fall. Those are the values on which I was raised by keeping SOAD close, and I’m so elated that they’re being instilled in the next decade of kids who refuse to stand still.
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