My Music Tells a Story

We asked the Charcoal Community about the music that makes their heart sing the the loudest. Listen to some of their favorite songs, and maybe you’ll connect with them too.

United by Marvin Gaye

My favorite album of all time is United by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. I’ve been listening to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” for as long as I could remember, but I first went through the entire album in the eighth grade. It’s short and sweet. Marvin and Tammi’s voices blend like warm milk and honey. My love for United is also characterized by the context of their friendship. Knowing how much they supported one another makes the album all the more meaningful. To me, United stands as a testament to the harmony between these two talented individuals. It is a work permeated with love.

- Karmynn Lustria



21 by Adele

When my family moved to the United States in the summer of 2011, we drove a rental car for the first few months as we settled in. While we drove around, my sister and I would love listening to the Top 40 radio stations, learning all sorts of new songs and artists. There was one song, however, that stood out to us that entire summer. From the first time I heard Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” in the back of that red rental pickup truck, I knew the song would become my family’s favorite. What I didn’t know, however, was that behind that powerful anthem was an artist that would forever change the way I look at music. Since 2011, Adele’s sophomore album 21, has been a safe haven that I have found myself coming back to often throughout the last 10 years. The combination of nostalgia and heartbreak, along with Adele’s authentic lyricism and soulful vocals, makes 21 an album that will forever hold a special place in my heart.

- Oscar Zayas



Chiquitita by ABBA

Since I was a kid, the work of icons, from Carlos Vives to Frank Sinatra, always played in my home. As one could predict, my parents had a huge influence on my music taste. However, ABBA I discovered on my own. When I first began exploring ABBA’s music last year, I played “Chiquitita” aloud and my mom was moved to tears. She, too, had once listened to and loved the song as I did. But at this point in her life, it had a new meaning. She now had her own “chiquititas” with me and my sisters. Because of this moment, whenever “Chiquitita” is played, I feel the same warmth of love my mom represents. Whether I’m sad, happy, anxious, excited, or simply missing my family, this song is a home away from home, a comfort. “Chiquitita” is my mom’s and my’s song, and I will cherish it forever.

- Allyson Imbacuan




Everything’s for Sale by Westside Boogie

My music recommendation is Everything’s for Sale by Westside Boogie. This was actually a pretty hard conclusion to come to because I initially focused too much on the fact that this might be posted for other people to see. This made me want to find “exciting” music. But at the moment, this album is definitely something I relate to because of how Boogie describes the highs and lows of life. At the time I’m writing this I’ve listened to “Live 95” (on the album) on a loop almost 10 times. That chorus is definitely strong stuff, almost makes me tear up.

- Patrick Udeh




2014 Forest Hill Drive by J. Cole

Whether it's “03’ Adolescence,” “No Role Models,” or “Love Yourz,” there is not a single song on this entire album that can be skipped. Although the individual songs tell different stories, they come together to tell one of the rawest and most genuine life stories a contemporary artist has put forth. The unique lyricism, dynamically melodic beat, and sincere story told in this album stands out from others. While many people when referring to rap, hyper-focus on the drug and violence that is painted through the lyrics, Cole gives the perfect example of how the root of rap culture is struggle, which Cole not only embodies in his work, but does so in a manner that makes anyone who listens to him understand and feel what he feels.

- Daniel Reis



“Breathe” by Mandy Gonzales & the In the Heights soundtrack

I used to measure my worth in percentages, averages, means- whatever calculation that summarizes intellectual capabilities. Whether it’s out of 36, 100, 1400, 2400, to be a good little Filipina girl is to consume these numbers as if they were nutrients that fuel my climb and bring my family higher on the rungs of this endless ladder. How do I tell them that I want to throw the ladder away instead? Burn it down. Climb across instead of above? What would they think? This song is about facing the pressures of family and the distortion of imposter syndrome, the weight of a bookcase and its collection of read or unopened and every page between. As graduation approaches, the harder it gets to avoid these conversations. But on the other side is where I fulfill my own expectations. Showtunes like this are meant to be a conduit of emotion. Doubts are exhaled belting each verse, and I feel relieved to remind myself- just breathe.

- Bri Sison-Gilmore



“Baby Powder” by Jenevieve

To pick a song that makes me feel something was a difficult challenge. I have albums and songs that evoke many feelings, and are like safe spaces. However, other songs that come to mind are unwarranted and only stay for short periods of time becoming soundtracks for those few weeks. The song “Baby Powder” by Jenevieve was a single dropped early from an album that would define the spring semester of my freshman year. The story she tells is relatively specific: she was disappointed by someone she thought she desired because of secrets and manipulative behavior. Although, instead of letting it get herself down, she trusts her judgment and navigates the situation with clarity and high intuition. It continues to remind me to follow my own intuition while not being too hard on myself for naturally believing in others.

- Gauri Nema