30 at 30 List #15: Songs

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

What qualifies a song as a personal favorite? The answer to that question is different depending on who you ask. For some music listeners, favorite songs come and go like seasons. Often times people will answer that question with their favorite song right now. Ask them again in a month and they will have moved on a new tune.

For others, favorite songs are like tools to a handyman. They have a favorite hammer, a favorite wrench, a favorite saw, etc. Similarly, these people have a favorite workout song, a favorite meditation song, a favorite song to dance to, and a favorite song to sing with. But asking them to name their favorite song is like asking parents to name their favorite child.

There is no single, definitive, right way to think about favorite songs. It is a seriously challenging task—seriously, try it! But for me, when I was trying to compile this list of my 30 favorite songs, I found myself falling back on two primary criteria: lyrics and context.

The vast majority of songs that made the final cut to appear on this list made it because they have personally meaningful lyrics that resonated with me at a particular time during my life. It also should not come as a surprise that many of these songs were songs that I listened to in my late teens and early 20s. In fact, there is some scientific evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we hear during that stage of life. Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern’s article “Neural Nostalgia: Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers?” explains this concept in more detail and is definitely worth reading in its entirety. In the article, Stern writes:

The period between 12 and 22, in other words, is the time when you become you. It makes sense, then, that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image—an integral part of your sense of self.

Music plays two roles in this process. First, some songs become memories in and of themselves, so forcefully do they worm their way into memory. Many of us can vividly remember the first time we heard that one Beatles (or Backstreet Boys) song that, decades later, we still sing at every karaoke night. Second, these songs form the soundtrack to what feel, at the time, like the most vital and momentous years of our lives. The music that plays during our first kiss, our first prom, our first toke, gets attached to that memory and takes on a glimmer of its profundity. We may recognize in retrospect that prom wasn’t really all that profound. But even as the importance of the memory itself fades, the emotional afterglow tagged to the music lingers.

Understanding that many of these songs have been etched into my memory and become indelible pieces of the Matt Hubert life story, it’s reasonable to think that many of the sane songs that made this list today would also crack my list of top 30 songs 10, 20, or 30 years from now. But testing that theory will have to wait for another day in the future. For now, read on to check out my favorite 30 songs of all-time.

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #15: Songs

30 at 30 List #14: Athletes

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

When I was younger, I had a dream that is common among children. I wanted to grow up to become a professional athlete. To be more specific, I wanted to play in the NBA. By the time I was cut from the varsity basketball team as a junior in high school, it was pretty clear that I was not going to realize that dream.

There are numerous reasons why that dream did not pan out. Genetically, the odds were not in my favor. My dad is the tallest guy in the family, yet at 6’3″ tall, he is the size of most point guards in the NBA. I never even made it to 6 feet. Then there was the work ethic. I loved playing basketball, but I did not necessarily love every aspect of becoming a better basketball player. Shooting was a strength that I practiced regularly. However, I focused less on other facets of the game, including strength, speed, and endurance that would help me on the defensive end of the court. I realized that I did not have what it took to be an NBA star, but my passion for basketball remained strong.

My parents were not diehard sports fans. There are photos of me as a child wearing NFL team apparel of the Steelers, Browns, 49ers, Giants, Raiders, and Seahawks, and probably others that I cannot remember. My dad was (and is) a Detroit Lions and Tigers fan but also a Los Angeles Lakers fan. My mom was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but otherwise generally sided with dad.

By the time I hit first grade, I had a budding passion for sports, especially basketball and football. I latched on to the Los Angeles Lakers (the only team my family agrees on), the Oakland (then Los Angeles) Raiders, the Michigan Wolverines, and (to a slightly lesser extent) the Oakland Athletics. I was hooked.

When the teachers gave a creative writing assignment, I wrote about sports. When we had to give a speech or presentation, I researched a professional athlete or commentator. I read about sports, wrote about sports, and then came home and watched them on TV. Because I was too young to stay up and watch all of the late games back then, I began every morning began with SportsCenter to fill me in on who one and who lost as well as to see the highlight plays.

By the time my NBA-playing dreams died in high school, I was a sports fanatic. My calendar revolved around the sports calendar—again, especially pro and college football and pro and college basketball.

The first 30 years of my life have been filled with memorable sports moments, including some I wish I could forget. So why is it that I spend so much time watching games?

One major part of it is the thrill of competition. Every blowout seems worth it for those magical matchups that go down to the wire and end on a last second score. Great games and magical moments are key components, but those games and moments don’t just happen.

Perhaps the most significant part of sports, at least for me, is not the game or the moment but rather the people who win the games and make the moments happen. The players are the most compelling reason why I watch. Whether it is a dominant performance of a superstar or a key contribution from an unheralded role player, I love watching how athletes perform on the grand stage. Perhaps it is my way of living out my unrealized dream vicariously through them. Or maybe it is just a fascination with knowing how hard it is to make it to the Division 1 college or professional level in sports that keeps me so captivated by what they do game in and game out.

Whatever the explanation is, I am the sports fan I am today because of the athletes I have cheered for over the past three decades. While I know that my sports fandom will take on new characteristics as I enter the next phase of my life, I also know that I will pass on stories of the athletes listed below to my future children. Without further introduction, here are my top 30 favorite athletes of my life so far. Continue reading 30 at 30 List #14: Athletes

4. Kanye West

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 4 is Kanye West.


With apologies to Eminem, Kanye West is probably my most controversial inclusion on this list, especially ranking as high as he does. Kanye West is a polarizing figure who over the past 10-15 years has grown from little known beat-maker, to well-known rapper to full-blown celebrity. Love him or hate him, if you pay any attention to pop culture in 2015, you likely have an opinion about Kanye West.

So what is it about Kanye West that attracts so many fans and so many naysayers? How is it that one man is simultaneously praised as a genius and despised as a cancer. In a word: Ego.

Rembert Browne wrote an article in February titled “We Love (And Hate) Kanye West Because He Says What We Think,” in which he astutely observed the following:

What Kanye has managed to do is unlike anyone else. He’s not a divider. It’s not that black people love him and white people hate him. Or men love him and women hate him. Or rap fans love him and non-rap fans loathe him. Or young people love him and old people despise him. Or even that Democrats love him and Republicans think he’s the absolute worst.

He’s found a way to rub large segments of every demographic the wrong way. Even Kanye West fans are split on the public persona of Kanye West. There are few things like it.

The polarized response to Kanye is similar to that of another public figure who Kanye name-drops in his verse on the “Ego” (Remix) embedded above, a certain NBA superstar that shares some common character traits with Mr. West: Kobe Bryant.

Like Kanye, Kobe has a loyal legion of fans who will passionately defend him against any negative comments. And like West, there is also never a shortage of negative comments being made in reference to Bryant. (Seriously, if you want to lose faith in rational human interaction, search Twitter for “Kanye West” or “Kobe Bryant” at pretty much any time of day or night.)

Both West and Bryant are undeniably gifted. Kanye West is both critically and commercially one of the most successful hip hop artists of all-time. Similarly, Kobe Bryant is statistically one of the most impactful players in NBA history and his starring role in five NBA championships puts him in the discussion among the games all-time greats. You can argue where Kanye and Kobe fall in the all-time pecking orders of their respective crafts, but they have accomplished to much to be left out of the discussion regardless of whether you like them or not. (There are also people who are entirely dismissive of the NBA as a genre of basketball and/or rap as a genre of music, but I’ll table those arguments for another day.)

The anti-Kanye camp and the anti-Kobe camp have many of the same gripes. Their complaints center around one of the most compelling questions in celebrity culture, an issue that likely has a different answer depending on who is being asked. Should celebrities be judged based on their work, their life outside of their work, or some combination of both? And if it’s the latter, what is the formula that determines such a criteria?

The biggest complaints about Kanye and Kobe are rarely about what they have accomplished in music or basketball. Generally, the complaints about them are about the perceived character flaw of hubris that they share. “Pride comes before the fall,” say the haters, as they wait with bated breath for Kanye and Kobe’s fall from stardom.

The criticism is not entirely without merit, especially if our celebrity approval rating factors in life outside of work. Unfortunately for Kanye and Kobe, if life outside of music and basketball is a significant part of the equation, Kanye and Kobe will always have their critics. Because like it or not, the same reason people hate them is what makes them great.

Kanye West and Kobe Bryant are special for a reason. Kanye West is more than a good rapper. He is a musical pioneer who Paul McCartney recently compared to John Lennon. Kobe Bryant is more than a good basketball player. He is a basketball savant, obsessed with perfecting his craft. However, the greatest strength of Kanye West is not his ability to rap. And the greatest strength of Kobe Bryant is not his ability to score a basketball. The greatest strength of both Kanye and Kobe is their unwavering self-belief. In Kanye’s mind, he is the best rapper alive. In Kobe’s mind, he is the best basketball player alive. Do they sometimes blur the lines between confidence and cockiness? Absolutely. But their belief does not have an off switch.

We live in such a celebrity-obsessed culture. Our society places great demand on our celebrities: musicians, athletes, and entertainers. We want our celebrities to aspire to greatness and, in turn, to inspire us to greatness. Yet we also want our celebrities to be selfless and humble before, during, and after they have achieved said greatness. Fans are willing to forgive a litany of celebrity sins from performance enhancing drug use to infidelity, but if they deem certain celebrities are being selfish or self-centered, they will turn on them or tune them out.

The character foil for Kobe Bryant is Tim Duncan. They came into the league one year apart and both undoubtably will be first ballot Hall of Famers. Both have won five NBA championships. Bryant is 17-time all-star, 4-time All-Star Game MVP, 1-time NBA MVP, and 2-time Finals MVP. Duncan is a 15-time all-star, aa 1-time All-Star Game MVP, a 2-time NBA MVP, and a 3-time Finals MVP. Bryant has played his entire career in the bright lights of Hollywood for the Lakers while Duncan has played his entire career in small market San Antonio for the Spurs. Unlike Kobe Bryant, no one hates Tim Duncan. He is universally respected as the consummate professional and ideal teammate. Is Duncan better than Bryant? Is Bryant better than Duncan? Which player has been the NBA’s best of the 2000s? It is a debate that fans will have for years to come.

It’s less clear who the character foil is for Kanye West. Who is the Tim Duncan of rap? Will Smith? Nas? Rap is more of a brash, in-your-face genre. Perhaps looking more broadly at music in general, someone like Beyoncé would be a more apt comparison as someone with a higher Q score. Everyone would agree Kanye is a better rapper than Beyoncé and Beyoncé is a better singer than Kanye. There is no argument there. But if the question was framed as: who has had a bigger impact on music, Kanye West or Beyoncé? That sets up for a more interesting debate.

As a fan, I am generally willing to overlook minor character flaws in celebrities—such as a lack of humility—especially when the artist/athlete in question would arguably not be as successful without that characteristic. Of course I believe there are some aspects of an artist’s or athlete’s life that cannot be overlooked. There are some personal lines that cannot be crossed without overshadowing professional successes. In general, however, I prioritize the performance over the player and the art over the artist. And that is why I have no trouble ranking Kanye West as my fourth favorite musical artist of all-time.

Continue reading 4. Kanye West

30 at 30 List #13: Matt’s Mixes

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

If there is one musical medium that defines me as a 30-year-old, it is the compact disc. I have an entire tower of more than a thousand CDs (and counting) occupying a corner of my living room. Sure, I have fond memories of listening to my dad’s vinyl records, especially Billy Ocean’s Love Zone and Bobby McFerrin’s Simple Pleasures. And yes, the first music I ever owned was Ace of Base’s The Sign on cassette tape. However, it wasn’t until the CD era, that my appreciation for music took off and became a passion.

By the late 90s, I had already followed in my father’s footsteps, joining CD mail-in clubs to jumpstart my collection. Just as my collection was starting to grow, Napster burst onto the scene. Suddenly, digital music was all the rage. Although I admittedly downloaded music during that wild west time period when no one really thought twice about the legality or ramifications of online piracy, I also continued buying CDs. While I liked the instant access that Napster offered—anything free was great for a 15-year-old kid without an income—I was a purist at heart. I liked listening to an entire album and discovering a new favorite song that wasn’t necessarily a radio single.

If you’re slightly older than me, you may have dabbled in the mixtape era, dubbing individual songs onto a cassette tape. Aside from a few cassettes of songs that I recorded from the radio, the mixtape era predated my music obsession. Had I been a teen in the 80s, I no doubt would’ve spent countless hours painstakingly putting mixtapes together. Instead, as the 90s came to a close, my older cousins showed me the newest piece of technology that came with their new computer: a CD burner. I was in awe. A CD burner meant the best of both worlds: the freedom to pick and choose your favorite songs and the power to organize them all in a way that made sense to you. Keep in mind that iTunes and the iPod were still more than a year away from being created at this point in history. The CD burner took the mixtape to a whole new level, and I wanted in. Continue reading 30 at 30 List #13: Matt’s Mixes