Thunderstorm Revisited

When I finally made the decision to record my final mixtape and first (and last) album, I thought it would be a good idea to go back and listen to my previous releases. Not only would it be good to hear songs I recorded as long as 8 years ago, I might learn something about myself along the way.

I listened to The Mind’s Mixtape volume 1 and volume II first and my reaction to them has pretty much remained the same. I was a kid who thought that just by recording a mixtape, I’d be the next rapper to blow. This was at a time where I knew little about song structure other than the fact that most rap songs had three verses and a hook. All of volume 1 was recorded without the knowledge that I wasn’t rapping on beat. I had already started writing songs for volume II when Da Ghostrida (Jeff Moore, a rapper I used to trade rhymes with back in my Abyss Battle Boardz days) told me I had no concept of a bar. After correcting this near-fatal error, the rest of volume II was recorded as properly as I could get it.

This was at a time when I thought I was one of the few people in West Virginia rapping, so I really thought I was the best rapper around. It wasn’t until halfway through recording that I discovered that WV had a diverse pool of rapping talent around the state. While this new information didn’t have a direct effect on volume II, it set the table for what Thunderstorm would be.

I released volume II on March 9, 2005. While my recollection is fuzzy now, I feel like the writing/recording process for both volume 1 and II was 5 months each. I had told myself I would take some time off (Which makes no sense when you’re an aspiring rapper. Don’t take time off. Write, record, release. Wash and repeat.) just to regroup and get the creative fires burning again. Lucky for me, I ended up getting inspired by Cam’ron’s “Get ‘Em Daddy” some time in April. I decided it was time to record again but instead of The Mind’s Mixtape volume Three, I would name this project: The Thunderstorm Mixtape.

The goal of The Thunderstorm Mixtape was for me to make a happier project. Volume 1 and II had come at a time where I still considered myself a conscious rapper. I felt like a lot of the content was preachy and serious. I wanted to make a mixtape you could bang in the summertime or anytime and just feel good. I spent the next 7 months crafting and finally released the mixtape on October 27, 2005, the same day as my first show in Morgantown.

I expected Thunderstorm would cement my place in the WV hip-hop scene as a new force to be reckoned with. Instead it was met with a lukewarm response, even with DJ Monstalung hosting. I became bitter and rejected and I viewed Thunderstorm as a failure, hence the reason I never got around to making Thunderstorm 2, even though it was on the table several times.

So when I loaded Thunderstorm onto my iPod last week, I didn’t have high expectations. But what I was met with was quite the opposite. Somehow, listening to my 7 year old audio document, I realized 2005 B Hyphen was a better rapper than 2012 Kelen “B Hyphen” Conley.

Let me explain. Technically, I’m a better rapper overall now. Cadence, lyrics, flow, subject matter, and style are all areas I’m much better at. But there’s something about hearing my younger self attack those beats. Maybe it was the hunger and passion I was laying into every syllable. Not to say I’ve lost that fire, but the intensity I had back then was unreal.

The rawness of everything also comes into it as this was the third and last mixtape I produced with a computer headset mic and Sonic Foundry Acid Pro 3.0. The quality was terrible but somehow Monstalung adjusted the bass and treble to make it sound as good as he could.

And speaking of Monstalung, he and I have been friends for as long as this mixtape has been around. He didn’t know me hardly at all when he agreed to host my mixtape for free. He had barely heard me rap. But somehow he took Thunderstorm to a whole new level. His energy throughout the whole tape is phenomenal and without it, Thunderstorm wouldn’t have the same effect it does.

As much as Thunderstorm is about me at one point in my life, it’s also the story of a cocksure motherfucker who truly believed he was the best rapper, period. I don’t think I could talk to my younger self and explain to him all the shit he would go through and that at 29, he still wouldn’t have a record deal. He wouldn’t believe me. I mean, this is the same guy who took Kanye’s “Diamonds” and turned it into a “I don’t give a fuck” anthem. And this is years before the kids started talking about how many fucks they don’t give.

I feel like a lot of my recent music has channeled 2005 B Hyphen, although until I re-listened, I had no idea I was even doing it. I’ve finally gotten back to that place where I feel like I’m the best rapper in the world and if you don’t agree, fuck it. My music’s not for you. But I’ll be damned if you tell me no.

From the time I released volume Three in 2007 to the inception of #28YearsLater in 2011, all I thought I was hearing was no. You can tell it in my music. Once I embraced what my music career had become, I regressed. Not into a bad place though. Just back to a younger version of myself. Thunderstorm helped me see that.

The Thunderstorm Mixtape was never a failure. It was ahead of its time in ways, yet it was very much of the era it was recorded in. Just because it didn’t make me the state darling I wanted to be doesn’t mean it was a waste. It was where I was in life at the time and still reflects where I should always try to be be musically: happy.

Cause if you’re not making music you love and are happy with, what’s the point?

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