In Buddhism, ”nirvana” represents the ultimate state of transcendence. Many people chase nirvana their whole life. I found it at six years old.

You know what…that’s a lie.

I remember being a passenger in my dad’s car on the way home from school. My dad stopped at a convenience store for a pack of Kool Filter Kings. Dad left the radio on while I sat in the car. That was the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Nevermind, Nirvana’s second album, was released in 1991. It was a surprise commercial hit for a band that still was mostly known in the alternative Seattle music scene. By January 1992, the album was number one on the Billboard charts.

At six years old, I felt the energy and emotion emanate from Kurt Cobain and it was immense. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” feels like a snake charmer playing his instrument, while the snake surrenders and aimlessly follows. At that moment my feet left the ground. I didn’t even know where I was until the last chord washed out. I have been searching for that feeling ever since I got hooked on the song. Similar to Pookie in The Carter chasing his next high. If you know you know.

He’s the one
Who likes all our pretty songs
And he likes to sing along
And he likes to shoot his gun
But he knows not what it means
Knows not what it means
And I say he’s the one
Who likes all our pretty songs
And he likes to sing along
And he likes to shoot his gun
But he knows not what it means
Knows not what it means
And I say yeah
—In Bloom

I was too green to comprehend Nevermind on its initial release. Hell, the album was unquestionably inappropriate for a six-year-old. I knew nobody was going to buy it for me. It wasn’t until much later in life I was able to comprehend the album. But that didn’t stop me from listening to it.

My dad would pick me up from school and take me to my grandmother’s house. He would head back to work. I would be in heaven at my grandma’s with all the after-school snacks, waiting for my mom to pick me up. I secretly turned to the music stations as my grandma dozed off at the kitchen table. Luckily for me, MTV played the majority of the album singles. Even as a kid I knew how special it was.

The band Nirvana formed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987. The band’s configuration during my early Nirvana memories was Kurt Cobain ( singer and guitarist), Dave Grohl (drummer), and Krist Novoselic (bassist). Cobain and Novoselic met at Aberdeen high school. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden became the face of the “grunge” era. Grunge grew out of the Seattle music scene. It is alternative rock intertwined with heavy metal. The lyrics are commonly manic yet also introspective. Grunge music depicts life’s ills and its many pitfalls.

Many bands played this sound but Nirvana’s sound was just a little bit different. Maybe it was just that their music felt more powerful. Their sound represented an authentic experience from the underground craving to be heard. Nirvana spearheaded an entire sound and shoved it to the forefront of music. There may have been only three members but it felt like a legion was with them.

Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello
With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
—Smells Like Teen Spirit

For me, Nirvana had something those other bands simply didn’t: a particular je ne sais quoi.

Nirvana is a band that feels forged in fire.

Listening to the deluxe version with earlier mixes, you can hear just how much the band worked to get better. Kurt’s hooks got bigger. The drums became more rhythmic. The base became more aggressive and piercing. This was not a fly-by-night gig. Their mastery came together and shined brightly.

30 years later this album has more than stood the test of time. And 30 years later I still question what is Nevermind anyway?

For many, the album represents the definition of grunge but the truth is it’s a lot more than that.

I’m a hip-hop guy. I was born into hip-hop. It’s not just a form of music, it also nurtures me. I didn’t have a choice, it’s just what God made me. As a young black kid in the 1990s, I didn’t have any interaction with white people’s music. I didn’t understand it and it didn’t understand me. MTV audiences went wild for “white” bands like Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, but I just felt like the soul was missing.

In truth, Nirvana is the first white band that I was drawn to growing up. It was hard to accept at first because Nirvana is peak whiteness from its sound of music to the style of clothing. But I still have to admit Nevermind is my top album of all-time. The group worked well in conjunction with each other. Kurt’s voice was unique; he knew how to utilize it as an instrument. Grohl and Novoselic did their best Penny Hardaway impression. Probing the defense getting two feet in the paint. Then lobbing it up to Kurt/Shaq to throw that s*** down.

In many ways, Nevermind reminds me more of a movie than an album. If you listen to “In Bloom” with your eyes closed you envision Nirvana in a car chase. Their fans are the people in the car chasing them. Kurt, the writer, does a great job of deciding when to bait and switch while singing. Continually Cobain will lull into relaxing to his voice. Soon as you’re comfortable, and in the blink of an eye, his voice turns manic. It forces you to increase speed. It reminds me that life is a roller coaster and nothing is ever what you think it is. It also sneakily has a lot of pop elements to it.

Every time I hear “Come As You Are” I envision Kurt as a modern-day saint, providing acceptance to the masses. He didn’t give a f*** what your affliction was. As Kurt sang,

Come doused in mud, soaked in bleach
As I want you to be
As a trend, as a friend
As an old memoria

I felt warmth and a welcome that I still feel whenever I hear the song. It is like a light in the dark, sort of like a beacon leading you back home. Nirvana acknowledges that we are all lost children trying to find our way back to something.

Nirvana Nevermind

I would be remiss if I did not mention the album art. Even if you’ve never listened to Nevermind you certainly know the cover. The cover is a Mount Everest of popular culture. It’s as American as apple pie at this point. It contains a nude baby trying to grasp a dollar, while in a swimming pool.

The imagery of a naked newborn swimming to a dollar on a fishing hook is bold enough for an album like Nevermind. The hook being just out of the baby’s reach feels like he will never be able to snatch it. This is the American dream. It feels near but it is never really attainable. Nirvana is telling us that capitalism is entrenched in us at birth; that there is no departure from the machine. Kurt Cobain developed the idea for the cover while watching a show about water births with Dave Grohl. Go figure.

Nothing great exists without controversy Nevermind is not an exception to that. Elden Spencer, the babe on the cover of Nevermind has a lawsuit for sexual exploitation. Elden wants the band to remove his image from the 30th-anniversary release. The band has yet to respond to the suit.

Nevermind is a great wine. The type where it doesn’t matter how long it sits. It is something about how the ingredients congeal when you’re not watching. The next time you get a taste of it, you will look at the glass and tell yourself, “damn. this is better than I remember.”

Nirvana forever. Rest in power Kurt Cobain.