Nine Songs: Gabriel Black
Conveying emotion in the digital age requires honesty.
Honesty is a quality that the Pennsylvania native Gabriel Black has in no short supply. Often when artists are posed with the question of which songs defined them, as creatives and humans their choices are reflective of what they think their audience want from them, or rather what they think they should be sharing with their audience. No such problem here.
From a children’s TV show classic to noughties political rap, Black’s selections are indicative of his devotion to America’s modern popular music songbook. that are all tied together, in his own words, “by a depth a feeling.”
Strap yourselves in for some big questions and even bigger claims. Can guitars and hip hop coexist? Who is the ultimate G.O.A.T? Did Frank Ocean create alternative R&B? Can an 11 year old join the EZLN? Read on…
“It all starts there.
"My mom would play ‘Raffi’ in the car and it was probably my favourite song when I was little. I haven’t heard it in years, but I could probably sing the whole song to you right now. It was very easy listening and very visual, almost comic.”
“Me, my sister and my mom used to dance around to this song all the time. I remember it clearly, we would play ‘Dancing Queen’ during the summer, there would be a thunder storm outside and we would just be dancing around inside. It’s just another fun and catchy song. It’s all about the feeling.
“I am first and foremost a fan of this band. The lyrics are at times simple and kind of corny, but it gets the point across and it just works on such a profound level. The instrumentation is lively and fun. It’s just tight shit.”
“When I could start understanding shit my Mom put me onto the Chilli Peppers and they were the first big band for me. She also got me into Nirvana and Marvin Gaye.
“’Under The Bridge’ was the first “proper” song I got invested in and another musical cue from my Mom. She has introduced me to a lot of music now I think about it. This song came out about ’91 I think and was listening to it when I was about five years old – incidentally the same year I was born!
“John Frusciante had a big influence on my guitar playing and ‘Under The Bridge’ is one of the best songs ever written in my opinion. Now I live in California, it really feels like a song of a time and a place. Maybe it’s just because I live here and work here.”
“I have a lot of pop-punk influences in my sound. I wasn’t a diehard listener when I was younger but there were certain bands that I fucked with and certain songs that I really fucked with, but I wasn’t totally immersed in that world. I went to Warped Tour numerous times, but I couldn’t tell you what the deep cuts were.
“’I Miss You’ is obviously blink-182’s biggest song, but this song for me is one of the best songs ever. The Nightmare Before Christmas references are dope. I have a blink-182 poster on my wall and Nightmare Before Christmas on my wall.
“Looking back I think that Mark Hoppus showed me that you didn’t have to have a perfect vocal to make good music. ‘I Miss You’ is such an emotional and powerful song, whilst being dark and brooding.
“It definitely played a role in the darkness in my own music. These songs are just what I think is good and what I naturally gravitate towards when I make music. I’m not a crazy fan of anything. It’s mainly just all shit I listened to as a kid and I think I absorbed, but this song is amazing.”
“I used to listen to this shit on the bus when I had a fucking Walkman way back in the day. This song is sick. It fits any mood, particularly that of being a kid and being pissed off at your parents or having a family breakdown, it fits that perfectly.
“The video is dope too. The band is standing on the roof and I fuck with that heavy. Their writing is very simple, no pun intended and you can feel the music.
“Its simple music with great melodies and it’s just super relatable. Super sick.”
“The first proper book I read in the 6th Grade was George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I became a huge Che Guevara nutjob and was very political. Later on I thought I was going to join the EZLN for a while, which is a Marxist group based in Chiapas, Mexico led by Subcomandante Marcos – a modern day Che Guevara. He’s this mythical figure who rides on a horse and wears a mask. I was pretty delusional.
“At this sort of time I heard Immortal Technique. His nexus was super political and that message pulled me in. Sometimes the message and what you are saying is what pulls people, not necessarily the sonic side.
“This isn’t my favourite song of his, but I still like it. He became a mentor of mine when I lived in New York, he influenced me to start rapping even though I started out trying to make pseudo political rap music over an acoustic guitar. He and his label taught me that you have to just write what you know.”
“Kid Cudi always speaks his truth. This song has a synth guitar on it and is a great example of how he brought guitars into rap music. He sampled everything from Band Of Horses to Vampire Weekend, he has loads of mad shit that have guitars on.
“Cudi taught me that you don’t have to be overly macho when making rap music. Before Cudi everything was really hard. He was just a bit of a loser, someone in high school who would have been seen as a social outcast, but he makes music that’s real to him and it’s fucking good. Cudi did something that was never done before. A lot of people relate to the things he was talking about – isolation, loneliness etc and that is really cool.
“Soundtrack To My Life came out when I was in the 9th grade. It was freshman year and everyone was going through hormones and all kinds of stuff; it’s tough! I was just in a weird place and Cudi spoke to me and inspired me at that time.”
“I think Kanye is one of my biggest influences. Cudi is my inspiration when it comes to lyricism and how I’d want to handle myself as a human being, but Kanye is my hands down definition of what it is to be an artist.
“I always think to myself “What would Kanye do?” This man is the greatest artist of our time, that isn’t some Hypebeast shit, he has changed music so much. It’s insane, his music is at such a high level it is almost untouchable. The man is a fucking genius.
“’Only One’ to me is super raw emotion and autotuned vocals that don’t sound perfect over an instrumental. I think that’s the music I make; minimalist with raw emotion.”
“I had this little mini convertible when I was younger and every time I left school I would just drive around my city with ‘Lost’ playing. It’s such a fucking good song and Frank Ocean is best songwriter of our time. Hands down.
“Sonically, his sound has changed modern music. Every alternative R&B act - which is cool thing to do now - is a Frank Ocean mimic. Frank Ocean created the alternative R&B sound with The Weeknd. His writing is just the best and I would literally get lost to ‘Lost’ in my little mini convertible.”