Cody ChesnuTT and a Valuable Lesson Learned from “What Kind of Cool”

Paley Martin remembers her close connection to Cody ChesnuTT and the way certain artists reappear in our lives.
By    September 15, 2016

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Paley Martin and Kawhi Leonard co-hosted a radio show at San Diego State.

I discovered Cody ChesnuTT during my sophomore year of college through what has now become a lost and distant memory.  And while the exact hows and whens have become obscured over time, Cody’s music would come to be something of a beloved companion that would drift in and out of my life for the years to come.

It was 2013, and I was a 20-year old college radio DJ dropping sophomoric music knowledge on my small and potentially nonexistent audience. At the time, Cody ChesnuTT was a new name to me and the sun-drunk (and in general drunk) majority of my fellow San Diego State University peers, but he’d somehow crept onto my radar and, consequently, my Tuesday night playlist.

This Cody ChesnuTT, the one I’d learnt and announced him as, had little context. As far as I was concerned, he was a middle-aged, helmet-wearing man with a takes-one-to-know-one attitude who preached, but only because he’d once known better. Cody ChesnuTT was a teacher with a cautionary tale, and I was taking notes from behind the control board.

Sure, my research was lacking, but in turn, I developed an isolated relationship with Cody, his voice, and his music that felt so displaced in its era. Cody had a unique appeal that could lose you with one song as easily as it could win you over with the next. His chords reeked of the past, but dusted themselves off to repurpose the present. From my vantage point, Cody exuded a funky, groovy, vintage-but-not-quite personae onto which any millennial would easily latch.

On his 38-track The Headphone Masterpiece (2002) double album, Cody unfolded the many dimensions of himself that would only be heightened and honed on 2010’s Black Skin No Value and 2012’s Landing On a Hundred. Written and arranged by Cody, the project tested its own limits, flitting between a light soul sound with dense, purpose-driven lyrics and, on the contrary, crass, off-putting hyper-masculine combustions like those on “War Between the Sexes” (“Do what I say, fuck you bitch”).

A decade after The Headphone Masterpiece, Landing on a Hundred reintroduced Cody with a strong sense of growth and a sonic body that was lacking on past projects. Meandering tunes like “Don’t Follow Me” fit into the album as much as the jovial “Til I Met Thee” and moral-checking “That’s Still Mama” ones. In short, Landing On a Hundred had good reason to stick around for a while.

However dear the LP was to my 2013 heart, Cody managed to slip away from me as beloved companions tend to do. I knew that our time to reunite would come, but as for when, I decided it was better not to press.

It wasn’t until recently that we found each other again in a most predictable, unromantic way when he popped up on my Spotify “Discover Weekly” playlist. Dreamy or not, we made amends as “What Kind of Cool (Questlove Remix)” poured out through my speakers and straight into my soul. (Yes, this really happened.)

A song of pure ease, the track, which was featured on Landing On a Hundred: B Sides and Remixes, put me in a trance. A delightful encapsulation of timeless sensuality, the song worked at its own pace. The long intro unfolded like a silence that grows more comfortable with each second passed. With Questlove tapping away at the drums and Cody stepping up to the mic, “What Kind of Cool” became not only the song and the tone, but the question at hand as the latter repeats, “What kind of cool will we think of next? What kind of cool will we hide behind?”

I tend to believe that songs or artists encounter you when they’re meant to, and “What Kind of Cool (Questlove Remix)”—in message and mood—struck me as deeply at this time in my life as the artist behind it when I first met his music in 2013. When Cody asks “What kind of cool will we hide behind?,” I rummage through those few years in between then and now, the masks I’ve tried on and have finally removed for good. I think about my own pace, like that of the songs, that aims to flow with ease and the observations I’ve made about what it means to be cool and the exhaustive measures needed to keep it up.

Above all, “What Kind of Cool (Questlove Remix)” brought to light the importance of spending time with and apart from the artists we love. Even if we don’t remember how we first came together, we find the reward in learning from them, by observing how their music has changed over time and how it has changed us as we continue to discover and rediscover it.

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