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July 27, 2020

Adam Wilson's Playlist for His Novel "Sensation Machines"

Sensation Machines by Adam Wilson

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Adam Wilson's Sensation Machines is both darkly funny and poignant, a novel that captures the absurdity of our times.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Wilson’s observations are often sharp-witted, extracting humor from sources like video game addiction, cryptocurrency, and herd mentality . . . as Michael and Wendy’s marriage fractures, the author carefully braids their individual narratives to a satisfying, if inevitable, crescendo. This feels all too real."

In his own words, here is Adam Wilson's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Sensation Machines:

ultimate rap/g-funk Party Mix

Adam Wilson Playlist

Adam Wilson

The attached archival document—recently unearthed in my parents’ basement—dates back to 1994, which would place me in either 6th or 7th grade when I made my ultimate rap/g-funk party mix. I’d be willing to venture that the dancefloor I imagined it rattling existed exclusively in my own mind.

The larger question of what it means that this music was so formative for my generation of white suburbanites is one that Sensation Machines spends considerable energy grappling with. It’s not a question with a simple or all-inclusive answer. In my case, I’d like to think that alongside whatever else I got from 90s hip-hop—screwed up ideas about sex and gender, an affinity for spending way too much money on sneakers—the music fostered my budding interest in language.

The entirety of the attached track list is culled from four albums: Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle, The Above the Rim Soundtrack, K7’s Swing Batta Swing!, and Salt-N-Pepa’s Very Necessary. These were not the only albums I owned at the time—I can think of at least a couple more including Onyx’s Bacdafucup, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, Boyz II Men’s Cooleyhighharmony, and Wreckx-n-Effect’s Hard Or Smooth, as well as cassette singles of 2Pac’s “I Get Around”, TLC’s “What About Your Friends”, Inner Circle’s “Sweat”, and H-Town’s “Knockin’ Boots”—and judging from the markings next to the song titles, what we’re seeing here is only a partial list, page 1 of what was, or was intended to be, a much longer ultimate party mix.

Of the nineteen songs included, nearly half come from Snoopy Doggy Dogg’s 1993 album Doggystyle. This makes sense; Doggystyle, held pride of place in my collection. It was the first album I remember anticipating before its release. I’d worn out my cassette of The Chronic Rewind/Fast-Forwarding back and forth to Snoop’s contributions, especially “Nuthin But a 'G' Thang”, the lyrics to which I copied out for further study (see exhibit B.) I didn’t get half the references, but I loved Snoop’s laid back flow, the way phrases slithered and curled under his will so that words that didn’t really rhyme somehow did. I remember listening to Jam’n 94.5 for hours, blank tape in the tape deck, finger perched on the record button, awaiting the radio debut of Doggystyle’s first single, “What’s My Name?” I remember, a month later, begging my parents to let me stand in line at Tower Records on Newbury street for the album’s midnight release. They did not let me, but my father, bless his heart, went and stood in line for me and brought home the CD.

A year later I would fall under the spell of Jim Morrison, grow my hair long, start taking guitar lessons, and completely lose interest in rap music, at least for a couple of years. But though most of the songs on my ultimate rap/g-funk party mix aren’t ones I’ve thought much about since—I sing along to “Shoop” or “Regulators” when they pop up on the radio, but I had literally no memory of K7—Doggystyle remained a point of reference.

When I was in college, a band called the Gourds did a bluegrass cover of “Gin & Juice” and I’m embarrassed to say that I performed my own cover of the Gourds cover during many a drunken late-night acoustic guitar dorm room singalong. I went to an East Coast liberal arts college between 2000 and 2004. Quote unquote indie rap was status quo among my crowd—we worshiped Atmosphere and Aesop Rock—but quote unquote gangsta rap could only be enjoyed through a protective layer of irony, à la the Gourds.

I shudder to think of those drunken singalongs, a bunch of mostly white East Coasters shouting “G’s up, hoes down” in faux Southern accents. And yet, especially now, it seems important to acknowledge this double-shot of appropriation.

I’d like to the think that my twelve-year-old self’s relationship to this music was somehow more pure, that despite the obvious chasms of race and class that separated me from Snoop, I admired Doggystyle on some kind of universal human level. But even then, I don’t think this was the case. You might note that on the song list I refrained from spelling out the n-word on track number 5; I understood, at least on some level, that though I loved this music, I had no claim on it. To quote from Sensation Machines:

“If hip-hop gave me an identity during those years, it also provided repeated reminders that it wasn’t intended for people like me. People, that is, with no experiential knowledge of the crack epidemic, or Section 8 housing, or mistreatment at the hands of trigger-happy police. People, that is, with no experiential knowledge of the racial injustice that, I gathered, was a defining component of many American lives. Even before being schooled, at college, in the language of political correctness, I understood my status as a cultural voyeur… I loved hip-hop both in spite of and because of the fact that it wasn’t mine to love."

From Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle:

Gin & Juice
Lodi Dodi
What’s My Name
For All My “N’s & B’s”
Ain’t No Fun
Doggy Dogg World
G’z and Hustlas

From the Above the Rim soundtrack:

Big Pimpin’ – The Dogg Pound
Didn’t Mean to Turn You On - 2nd II None
Regulate – Nate Dogg and Warren G
Pour Out a Little Liquor – 2Pac, Thug Life
Afro Puffs – The Lady of Rage
Dogg Pound 4 Life – The Dogg Pound

From K7’s Swing Batta Swing:

Come Baby Come
Zunga Zeng

From Salt-N-Pepa’s Very Necessary:

Whatta Man
Somma Time Man
None of Your Business

Adam Wilson is the author of the novel Flatscreen, which was an Indie Next Pick and a National Jewish Book Award Finalist, as well as the short story collection What's Important Is Feeling. His is the recipient of The Paris Review’s Terry Southern Prize for Humor, and his work has appeared in Harper’s, Tin House, The Paris Review, and The Best American Short Stories, among other publications. Wilson has taught in the creative writing programs at Columbia and NYU. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.

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