The wisdom of grief
Pade’s first album: ‘Best Year Ever’
There have been dark days in Tulsa rapper/producer Pade’s past—the loss of close friends and loved ones and a season when he lost his own freedom to the bad decisions of his youth. These days, though, the struggle is cathartic. Pade, aka Brandon Darryle Wade, is finally releasing his first album, Best Year Ever—a genuine celebration of all his experiences.
When Pade was eight years old, around 1993, he got a boom box. His stepfather had recently opened his eyes to a whole new universe by driving him around with the windows rolled down blaring classic hip-hop.
“My step-pops had just moved into the house, and I think he started playing music for me as a way to make me trust him,” Pade said. “A Tribe called Quest was really what hit me. He was playing ‘Check the Rhime’ for me on the way home, and the way it was bumping and the way the lyrics was hitting just got me excited in that passenger seat. Then the chorus came on, and he started involving me in it. I was like, I want to do that. I want to influence other people in some kind of way.”
Young Pade would rap along with his favorite songs to memorize the rhyme schemes and structures. Then in third grade a kid moved in next door who changed his life forever.
“This kid, Verse, moved to the neighborhood from California. He was this light-skinned kid with long hair, but he was dope on the mic. In ninth grade at Central High School he put out his first mixtape. Verse was getting serious as a rapper. When I took to rhyming I was always chasing him, but he wouldn’t let me get on a track until I was ready. I remember thinking, ‘What is it going to take for me to impress this dude?’”
Pade did earn Verse’s respect, and the two went on to make music together. In 2006, Pade and a friend started Contraversal Music and produced songs from their home studio. Pade learned the basics of sampling and taught himself the fundamentals of mixing and mastering a record. This is where the foundations of Best Year Ever began.
Just when his music started to gain momentum, however, tragedy struck. One of Pade’s close friends was gunned down and killed at Lacy Park after a football game.
“He was shot trying to move someone out of the way,” Pade said. “I just couldn’t focus on music or school or anything after it happened, and that was the beginning of the worst part of my life. I took a ride with a little brother to Texas and ended up getting arrested for felony drug possession.”
This began nearly a decade of legal troubles with Pade in and out of prison more than once. The one constant in this turmoil was music.
“In the prison boot camp I had that notebook, and I would just work on it all the time. Reciting songs over and over. I would craft a beat in my head and when inspiration hit me I jumped in my bunk and started penning words,” Pade said.
Best Year Ever begins with a song written in this time of despair: “Toast to him take a shot / Pour out a little / When I get it on I’m pouring out a whole bottle / Mouk the late great / Gone but not forgotten.”
This track, “March 6th,” is an elegy, but it doesn’t sound like one. The warm layering of soul vocals and ‘70s funk guitar and keys creates a sonic space that’s defiantly hopeful.
Best Year Ever feels like a primer on the wisdom of grief. A sample-dense texture dominates the album’s boom-bap aesthetic, and Pade’s plainspoken East Coast delivery complements the imagery.
His North Tulsa narrative references chasing girls at QuikTrip, pizza and cookies, and Cheyenne Avenue, but he includes an uncommon depth and perspective. On the album’s third track, “Cause and Effect,” he says, “How you supposed to act when you have an inane habit? / Drugs or the money don’t matter we all addicts… Full circle y’all / All that can will be demonstrated by Newton’s law.” On another track, “All About the Paper,” he says, “I went through the motions of knowing / Reaping but never sowing.”
This album is filled with aphorisms and tiny affirmations that, by design, point to a better life.
“I hope people take away from this album that no matter what you’ve been through you have the power to make it better,” Pade said. “You just have to start. Day by day it becomes routine, and when it becomes natural you realize you’re rolling with the universe. You stop striving against time. I want people to realize that I was that person born on the other side of that bridge [I-244], and now I’m here on this side doing what I dreamed.”
Pade’s Best Year Ever album release is April 21 at The Yeti with guests Hakeem Elijuwon, Keezy, KeengCut, and more.
For more from Damion, read his article on The Yeti’s weekly eclectic music showcase The Situation.