1. Bach Partitas for Solo Violin, Hilary Hahn
I first discovered this album at Streetside Records, a record shop chain in Saint Louis that I used to go to. Is it a little nerdy to have a classical album on here? Kind of, yeah. But I mean, I grew up in the violin world, and this CD was the first one I got with my own money via my allowance. I spent my whole thing on it, too. Can’t even remember what made be buy it, but after giving it several listens I discovered what I thought I wanted to do in life: be a concert violinist. This girl was 16 years old and I was so stunned by her crystal clear performance and interpretation of Bach that all I thought was: I want to do that. I want to be a classical recording artist. Bach is so painfully beautiful and it’s great music to study or just think to.
2. Funky Divas, En Vogue
When I was at my mom’s place, she always had all the divas playing on her expensive sound system that we were not to touch: Chanté Moore (yes, honey), Toni Braxton, and En Vogue. All of them. I remember loving how tough and black and fierce and in your face En Vogue was, and it was probably the beginning of my love of powerful, bad-ass women.
3. Santogold, Santogold cum Santigold
Before what’s now Citibank/Duane Reade/Best Buy there was the Virgin Megastore, a huge multimedia palace. I saw the Santogold record at one of the listening stations and I remember thinking, “What is this bitch doing with glitter coming out of her mouth? Let me see what this is about.” I was so surprised, and I bought the thing immediately. I was so excited that black people were making indie rock music, and not even a few days after I bought her record I read an interview where she said it was racist that music stores always put her in Hip-Hop or R&B. It’s because she’s black, she said. Plus she went to Wesleyan!
4. …Baby One More Time, Britney Spears
They say to never judge a book by its cover. Well, sometimes the best music is hiding behind an awesome or a not-to-awesome cover. I loved Britney Spears’ music so much (I was in high school when it came out) that I had Britney Spears posters all on the inside of my locker, just in case folks had any doubts about my sexuality. But the sweet girl image on the cover doesn’t match the brazenness of the songs. A 90s classic!
5. Dvorak/Elgar Cello Concertos, Jacqueline du Pré
Jacqueline du Pré was a famous and incredibly talented cellist who died way too early due to multiple sclerosis. Any cellist will tell you that this exact recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto — already a beautiful piece in its own right — done by du Pré is the pinnacle of cello performance, the only recording of the Elgar that you should ever listen to. It is so beautiful.
6. Stripped, Christina Aguilera
This genie in a bottle got all sweaty and sexy and got dreadlocks and walked about getting Dirrrty!! Also: the two boys kissing in the “Beautiful” video, along with all the other social outcasts, made me SO EXCITED.
7. Offend Maggie, Deerhoof
Brilliant art rock. The drummer for Deerhoof — Greg Saunier — is kind of a monster on a kit. It’s inspiring (if sexy) to watch.
8. The Writing’s On the Wall, Destiny’s Child
YAAASSS JUST YAAASSSS!!!!!!!
9. Dans Ma Bulle, Diam’s
The best way to master a foreign language is to listen to music in the language you’re trying to learn. When I first discovered Diam’s — a former French female rapper who is now a nun??? — I loved listening to her and I loved it even more when I knew all the words and could spit them out like fire.
10. Holy Ghost, Holy Ghost!
Holy Ghost! are the first in-person musicians I ever interviewed. I went to their show at some club in New York and met them afterwards backstage and talked to them for like 15 minutes. I was so nervous and I didn’t want to mess up or seem lame or like I didn’t know what I was talking about.
11. James Blake, James Blake
My love of classical music and electronic music and beautiful vocals all in one package.
12. Barber Violin Concerto, Hilary Hahn
The first time I heard this concerto by the American composer Samuel Barber, I lost my shit. It is so beautiful and deceptively easy. I was already in love with Hilary Hahn, so when her recording of the Barber came out I bought it immediately. I loved it so much that I learned it and labored for countless hours on it and used it as my piece when I auditioned for colleges and conservatories. There’s so much pain and joy in that first note.
13. 4’33”, John Cage
This trickster dude recorded a piece that’s 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence omg LOL.
14. Supermodel of the World, RuPaul
This is how I learned how to Sashay.
15. Mama Said, Lenny Kravitz
I’ve said this before, but being exposed to other fabulous black males like Prince and Lenny Kravitz really made me feel OK about my gender expression. I mean if this guy can wear a boa and high heels and sing about having sex with women, then so can I! (minus the having sex with women part).
16. 45:33, LCD Soundsystem
This is a dance music symphony, basically.
17. Purple Rain, Prince
Prince will take you where you need to be TOOK.
18. Confessions On A Dance Floor, Madonna
I was never a huge Madonna gay. In fact, I never liked her at all actually. Even till this day. But something about Confessions On A Dance Floor registered with me immediately. The retro-disco vibe, the colors, the dance music feel. I went hard as literal fuck when “Hung Up” came on at the club. That and I probably listened to Confessions every day for six months straight.
19. The Magic Position, Patrick Wolf
There was a party I used to go to in Tribeca that featured all these amazing indie performers, and Patrick Wolf was one of them. Every time I hear this record I think about how tall he is and how his drummer messed up on stage and he fired him on the spot.
20. Dangerously In Love, Beyoncé
21. Workin’ Together, Ike and Tina Turner
But before there was Beyoncé, there was Miss Tina Turner. Who is basically everything you need. Beyoncé might be the toughest trick in the game, but Tina Turner is the one who really got it poppin’.