Chris L. Terry writes with the zigzag slang that can only come from overdosing on the right blend of rap and comic books. Like most of us, he’s the bastard child of a generation consigned to Yo! MTV Raps and cassette tapes. Baby boomer lit snobs might have thought it was purgatory, but Terry understands that all the pop culture ephemera and vivid laser eye guides can amount to something. Zero Fade is his first attempt to reconcile the worldview. He’s a Columbia College M.F.A., who has been racking up praise for a debut novel that helps redeem the early 90s from Joey Bada$$ nostalgia and creaky boom-bap is the baddest babbling.
Kirkus called it “Original, hilarious, thought-provoking and wicked smart: not to be missed.” The Chicago Tribune called it a “charming, quirky story (made timely by recent gay rights triumphs but as timeless as the best tales of burgeoning adulthood). He agreed to write a piece about some of the sonic inspirations for his book. You can purchase Zero Fade here. Watch the trailer here. Find more of his writing on his website.
In my younger days, I used to sport a basement haircut from my mom. There were no black barbers nearby, and a free haircut cost a whole lot less. I was a half-black kid who liked skateboarding and hip-hop and punk. Those weren’t things that got you friends in early ‘90s Massachusetts.
At the end of eighth grade, I got Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde and promptly got jealous. Listening to that tape was like sitting a lunchtable over from the funny kids so you could eavesdrop. Don’t laugh or the jokes might stop, or worse, be turned toward you. The Pharcyde had what I craved out in my ‘burb: A crew of friends steeped in inside jokes, capers and letdowns with girls, a cartoonish cast of characters, a bag of weed.
It started to happen. I got to know some skaters, landed a heelflip, made out, smoked something and…my parents said we were moving to Virginia.
Bizarre Ride has always been those changes for me. Playing it alone on the train home. Wanting to jump into the album cover to join its world. Using the shenanigans in the songs as a measure for what I was getting into. Becoming savvy enough to call people out for stealing jokes from “Ya Mama.” Pining for a girl 500 miles away.
Bizarre Ride wasn’t jewelry and luxury cars, it was the hooptie in “Officer.” Through that tape, I figured out what I wanted, and realized that those things were attainable. And what great timing. Bizarre Ride came at the end of an era for hip-hop, and at a time when I was vulnerable due to family problems. In the mid ‘90s, hip-hop took a break from being relatable. Suddenly, rappers were too cool for their listeners. They’d never admit they got herpes. I defected to punk rock for a couple years.
I set my novel Zero Fade in 1994 because I wanted to catch the tail end of the “Fuck it, I got herpes” era. The narrator, Kevin, is a thirteen-year-old boy who is desperate for a male role model and a group of friends. He bases his idea of what life should be like on the media that he consumes. He wants friends to shout out at the end of a song like Redman. He wants to be able to joke his way out of trouble like Eddie Murphy. In a scene that got edited out so that I could get to a basketball court fight scene, he wishes the girl he likes would stop passing him by.
Even though Zero Fade has a teen narrator, I didn’t write the book to send a message to young people. Sure, I’d like them to remember that they, just like adults, are still figuring life out, but I also remember having a powerful bullshit detector when I was thirteen. Preaching ain’t worth it.
There are two ways to tell stories about youth: The Kendrick Lamar Way and The Pharcyde Way. On Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, Kendrick is writing about his teen years with a decade of perspective. He’s already weighed the consequences, and is free to moralize. Bizarre Ride and its little bro, Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, draw the listener in by being caught in the moment. Good Kid gets a lot of plays, but Bizarre Ride and Acid Rap get more smiles, and that’s what I was going for with my book – being excited, making snap decisions and going, “Away, to our destination, no license no insurance, not even registration.”