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Charles Aaron’s Greatest Hits

charles aaron, spin

Last week marked the first that SPIN has been without Charles Aaron editing and galvanizing its pages full-time since 1998 — it wouldn’t be maudlin to say that a few of us are still processing the loss. Over the course of 23 years — first as a contributing writer, and most recently as our editorial director — his singular voice, worldview, journalistic sensitivities, and humor have come to define SPIN at its most deliriously edifying. So, in an effort to finally hoist his jersey up into the proverbial rafters, we’ve assembled a compilation of some of his finest work, as selected by fellow staffers throughout the years. There are long profiles and essays, reviews and think pieces, some of them made available online — ahem — for the very first time, all of them part of just one chapter in a dizzying body of work that will continue to grow as Charles moves on to pursue that which brought him to SPIN in the very beginning: great writing. That’s exactly what you’ll find below. 

Hold My Life: Bob Stinson’s Regrets
From June 1993: Nearly seven years after getting booted from the Replacements, their founding guitarist continued to fight his past and duck his future.

From October ’93: Before turning 21, Snoop ran with the Crips, did time for drug dealing, and costarred with Dr. Dre on 1992’s quintessential hip-hop record. But his bark was worse than his bite.
“There was no moment of silence for Kurt, as there had been at Lollapalooza in Philadelphia. Just silent curiosity as Love sauntered onstage, wearing a black car-coat and carrying a small black handbag. Hole immediately roared into “Beautiful Son,” a punk rant about how Cobain looked great in a dress, and how moms are the biggest starfuckers.”
From July ’95: We find out what she hates, including sensitive white boys, magazine photo shoots, and the institution of marriage. But it’s the people she loves who confused her the most.
From late ’95: “Here’s an MC with both the skills and maturity to challenge the received wisdom that hip-hop’s most representative face is a “nigga” driven insane by the system, an irresponsible ghetto Sweetback. What’s most remarkable about Aceyalone, particularly in these dour days of hard-core vocalese, is the lively-up-yourself skip to his rhymes, how he twirls his thoughts on his tongue, flicks ’em out, snatches ’em back, and leaves you nodding and shaking your head.”
From October ’95: “A series of 25 DJ albums, the Ultimate Breaks & Beats was originated in the mid-’80s by Lenny Roberts, a 40-ish chauffeur and record collector from the Bronx whose son clued him into the hip-hop scene… Before Roberts made break music widely available at New York record stores, it existed only on the margins of a few memories. Previously, DJs like Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash sent runners downtown to record stores in search of these apparently worthless pieces of vinyl, soaked off the labels, then treated them like sacred, anonymous texts (available for $20 or so if you were lucky). Roberts’ series changed all that.”
From October ’96, sizing up the field, from techno to ambient to jungle to hip-hop.
Before his death became an occasion for iron-on T-shirts and Police covers, Biggie Smalls was the life of the hip-hop party, an ebullient hustler who became the lisping voice of the people. Early in ’98, Charles examined that musical legacy.
From November 1998: Hip-hop is no longer just the black CNN; it’s also become the unauthorized bible for white kids everywhere, prompting outrage from boomers and derision from teens black and white. But is all this miscegenation anything to be afraid of? 
From October 2005: How did a marginal freak scene confined to dive clubs and small labels become a viable career option? R.E.M., Pavement, Nirvana, and the roots of alternative rock.
From September 2005: “White kids who grew up on the Beastie Boys’ boyish hijinks, hair-metal’s blotto sleaze, gangsta rap’s shoot-’em-up mythology, and grunge’s man-purge, shoved their way into the ring, howling for attention. They emerged in the mainstream in 1998, led by a series of multimillion-selling acts: Korn (tormented Bakersfield, California metalheads with a human-beatboxing singer in a kilt), Limp Bizkit (Korn’s loose-screw stepbrothers), and Kid Rock (wack MC turned country-rock yahoo).”
Pounding the pavement at SXSW 2007 with Uncrowned, rock’s hungriest unsigned band, to find out why talent and determination may no longer be enough.
From January 2009: “Last time I remember hearing an album this far in advance and unexpectedly, perhaps irrationally, thinking that it was a semi-historic reinvention, was Moby’s Play in 1999… But eventual overhyping aside, with both Play and Merriweather Post Pavillion, I realized from the very beginning that a decent amount of my exhilaration had nothing to do with the quality of the music — it stemmed partly from a feeling that this artist I’d liked / respected / rooted for, but who had remained pop-culturally marginal, had finally made a record so immediately pleasurable and accessible that it might appeal to people who generally hate this kind of shit.”
Like Primal Scream’s Screamadelica or Radiohead’s OK ComputerMerriweather was a seamless reinvention, like transforming an intriguing display into a defining tableau. But unlike those bands, who used electronic music to reshape trad-rock tropes, Animal Collective absorbed the rhythmic kick of house, hip-hop, techno, dub, etc., to coax those baffled by their more avant digressions.”
For SPIN’s 25th anniversary, Charles revisits the coincidences, blunders, and revelations that helped shape his misspent adulthood.