Behind The Beat
Dissecting the relationship between sound and memories using Jermaine Cole’s Born Sinner as a case study.
There are 5 senses triggered by stimuli: sights, sounds, scents, tastes and the actual physical manifestation of your emotions. Scientific journals have systematically demonstrated the most ancient part of our brain (The Amygdala) i.e. the sensory cortex of the brain receives and interprets signals and processes those stimuli arising from our eyes, nose, ears, mouth and skin. The sensory cortex is divided into the primary and secondary cortex. The secondary sensory cortex is responsible for processing more complex information about a stimulus, such as distinguishing between different musical tones.
The researchers who published their findings in the famed academic journal ‘Science’ highlighted the secondary cortices are likely not the only regions involved in storing memories tied to emotions stimulated by the senses. Other areas, such as the amygdala, thought to play a key role in processing fear, could participate as well.
You know when you walk down a hallway and someone’s perfume/cologne reminds you of a family member or a breakup; or if a song plays and you remember summer 2015 on a beach in Ibiza! That’s something that’s always fascinated me; I studied and dissected several academic papers and spoke with researcher Sacchetti et, al. in Turin at Italy’s National Institute of Neuroscience to understand this further.
Sacchetti et al argued that previously the conclusions being made were conflicted; however, with greater understanding and innovation in their procedure(s) the preliminary results may suggest that multiple senses denote grounds for a higher propensity for erroneous mutations that present in these areas arising, therefore, making it hard for someone to differentiate between sights, sounds and other stimuli that they should and should not e.g. be afraid of, often resulting in generalized fear and anxiety.
In their first experiment, Sacchetti and his colleagues trained rats to associate a sound with an electric shock. The trained animals would freeze upon hearing the sound. A month later (out of a 3-year life expectancy), the researchers created lesions in some of the rats' brains on the secondary auditory cortex, with the intention to disrupt this region thought to be responsible for processing sound. The lesion-bearing rats froze much less often than those without lesions, indicating the lesioned rats had trouble recalling the fear memory from the previous incident.
This suggests sensory information — a particular sound — is coupled with emotional information — a memory of fear — and stored in the auditory cortex as a bundle. This allows the sound to acquire an emotional meaning.
In all these experiments, rats with lesions were still able to form new fear memories, suggesting that the sensory cortices are needed to store, but not create, emotional memories.
The researchers further showed that the auditory, visual and olfactory cortices each store memories related to the specific sense they process. Lesions in the olfactory cortex did not prevent trained rats from remembering to associate a sound with the fear memory.
Experiments even revealed that the sensory cortices store information specific to the emotional meaning of the sound, sight, or smell.
Rats startle when they first hear a sound, regardless of whether it's linked to a scary event. But eventually, in a process called habituation, they grow accustomed to it. The team wanted to find out if these sensory memories that didn't involve fear were still stored in the secondary cortices. So they habituated the rats to a sound with no electric shock. One month later, lesions were made on the rats' secondary cortices for all senses. The lesioned rats still didn't startle upon hearing the sound, suggesting the secondary cortices only store memories if the stimulus is tied to an emotion. These sensory memories must be stored in another brain region, the researchers hypothesise.
Secondary cortices only store memories if the stimulus is tied to an emotion - so on my quest to find out why I gravitated toward Jermaine Cole’s song from his Album (Villuminati) that debuted entitled “Born Sinner”. The song begins as a confession tape, he says.
“Spinning in circles, live my life without rehearsal
If I die today my nigga was it business? Was it personal?
Should this be my last breath I'm blessed cause it was purposeful
Never got to church to worship lord but please be merciful,”
In the extremely cinematic 03:07 music video promo is set up as a homage set in a grandiose church (I won’t narrate it word-for-word (premiered 01-28-2013)) but it is an extremely well-developed visualisation of this beautiful story of a younger gentleman that oddly resembles him now going to give thanks to his creator at the altar. A feeling this song immediately evokes due to my emotional connections to it as I discuss further along this piece.
“Know you chose me for a purpose, I put my soul in these verses
Born sinner, was never born to be perfect
Sucka for women licking their lips and holding these purses
Back when we ran the streets who would think we grow to be murderers,”
Having always been an auditory learner and a human being drawn to sounds whether its accents, enunciation, phonetics and linguistics in general, that later became the impetus for starting my podcast currently hosted and distributed by my long-standing Sponsor (Anchor). I always had this strong connection to sounds and emotional attachment; for some it’s Chanel No. 5 wafting from the lady that was presumably before you in the elevator. However, for me, it’s the bustle in the street, the high tempo pop song blaring from the speakers in the store but most importantly melodies and lyricism hence why it’s obvious I have J. Cole’s entire discography memorised. Nonetheless, back from that slight deviation and back to the song.
We dive back into that self-reflection, the idea that the presence and lack thereof a tangible guiding force was equally instrumental in the establishment of his moral compass. The Chorus is repeated throughout to reinforce this continual proclamation. Something I seemed to identify within myself;
“I'm a born sinner
But I die better than that, swear
You were always where I needed you to be
Whether you were there or not there (I was there)”
Writing this I am aware the verse below may be long but I couldn’t do his storytelling any justice, please give it a chance (it is my favourite);
I was born sinning
But I live better than that (better tonight)
If you ain't fucking with that
I don't care (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Yeah, this music shit is a gift
But God help us make it cause this music business is a cliff
I got a life in my grip, she holding tight to my wrist
She screaming: "Don't let me slip"
She see the tears in my eyes, I see the fear on her lips
True when I told you
"You the only reason why I don't flip and go insane"
My roof in the pouring rain
You knew me before the fame, don't lose me the more I change
Just grow with me, go broke you go broke with me
I smoke you gon' smoke with me
Woman's curse since birth, man lead her to the hearse
I go Bobby you go with me damn
Listen here, I'll tell you my biggest fears
You the only one who knows them
Don't you ever go expose them
This life is harder than you'll probably ever know
Emotions I hardly ever show
More for you than for me
Don't you worry yourself
I gotta do this for me
They tell me life is a test but where's a tutor for me
Pops came late I'm already stuck in my ways
Ducking calls from my mother for days
Sometimes she hate the way she raised me but she love what she raised
Can't wait to hand her these house keys with nothing to say
I'm a born sinner.”
Jermaine L. Cole et al., 2013, really left it all on the line in this song; for longtime Dreamvile (J. Cole’s Label) fans like myself, identify with this at a time when I was a freshman in Medical School, so fresh-faced, youngest in class and a whole lot to prove. I often went to this hill and listened to this entire Album titled ‘Villuminati” and could singalong word-for-word to the entire record. Not my proudest achievement, but hey!
The notion that it was okay not to be okay, that life oscillates between peaks and troughs and that goes for everything including our relationships with our makers, lovers, family and colleagues. The Album generally brought an entire sense of serenity, listening to this song, in particular, sat on a most likely wet patch of grass, the strong Sussex winds whizzing by my ears and then through the Sussex Downs National Park behind me always signified the end of a well-deserved break. Whenever this song plays it literally takes me back there; my worries instantly disappear and I almost feel as though my soul leaves my body and I undergo an out-of-body experience. Where my mid-20s self sits a naive, preppy 18-year-old without a care in the world about the not-so-long removed future.
Behind this beat are memories, growth, lessons, blessings and a time when I should’ve just trusted in the process. My faith has grown and to find avenues to exercise my gratitude to my maker by proxy (vicariously) through pieces like this one - make it so important to understand why our brains tend to store memories that are attached to emotions often through a sensory stimulus or even stimuli.
What are your favourite songs that remind you of some of the best, not-so-best, sunny, windy, heartache or joy-filled days? Comment below and share with us and kindly don’t forget to pass this on to a friend or two! See you next time!
Songwriters: Jermaine L. Cole / James Edward Fauntleroy Ii / Anthony Parrino / Juro Davis / Canei Finch / Ibrahim Hamad
Born Sinner lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Article developed and written by Elmi Dahir for FIN Media's writers Room and Vocal.