The Making of “Spaced Out” or, How I Learned to Subvert Mainstream Sci-Fi to a Beat

My friends Noah, Ian, and I were sitting in Ian’s garage studio, trying to figure out what to do that evening. None of us were big partiers, but having been friends for more than a decade on both sides of the continent, we felt like we had to mark Noah’s visit to town with more than a movie marathon. Since both Noah and Ian had been involved in emceeing and DJ-ing respectively for years, we decided to make a hip hop track, just for fun.

While Ian happily dove into his seemingly endless stack of records, I sat with some trepidation. I had started my spoken word career as a slam poet, the loud-mouthed step-sibling to hip hop. And as much as slam poets want to say that emceeing and spoken word are pretty much the same thing; seriously, they’re not. Riding a beat may be like riding a bike in that once you learn you never forget, but it’s a hell of a lot harder. So as Ian began sampling records, I concentrated on how to make sure I don’t embarrass myself on this track.

But the second I heard Ian’s beat, all of that flew out of my head. The outer space pulsations were a galactic siren’s call, drawing me further out into the stars. When I got up to record my part, I wasn’t worried at all. Partially because Noah and Ian were super supportive and patient, and because it was Ian’s studio, there was no pressure about going over on recording time.

But it was also because I realized I was home. Immersed in the sci-fi geekiness I had known since I was in the womb, and getting to pair that with my political analysis. Watching Star Trek is my first memory. I begged my mother to send me to Klingon language camp when I was in middle school, and when she wouldn’t, I set up a weekly tutoring session with my best friend and fellow geek Yvonne who had gotten to go.

As I got older, though, I realized what many conscious nerds of color recognize — these stories were not written for us, and often are not about us. If we make it to the future, at best, we are supporting cast for some grand white narrative, and at worst, we are the alien, monster, terror that must be destroyed. And we are left torn.

This was my chance to answer back.

I wasn’t just consuming these narratives others had created for me, I was getting to subvert them, re-envision them, and when all else failed, tell them to fuck off. It didn’t matter if what I was making was good – it felt good. It felt like I was reclaiming what was mine.

So there, surrounded by Ian’s He-Man action figures (a couple I had bought him), his Catbus from Tortoro and obscure 70s album covers hung on his wall, I reveled in my brown political nerdiness, as we created “Spaced Out:”

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