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How Scion Won with Music

Robby DeGraff March 13, 2018 All Things Hoon, Featured 6 Comments

In times where car stereos have goodies like Apple Car Play, touch screens bigger than the TV in my apartment, USB inputs, XM satellite radio, Pandora, aux inputs and Android Auto, I still go rogue with CDs. Heck, that’s even on the way out very quickly. Remember CD wallets? Leather cases filled with new CDs you saved up your week’s allowance to snag off the shelf at Best Buy or Circuit City, and of course- burned CDs with tacky cliche’ labels saying “_____Mix (insert any year of the 2000s)” scribbled-on in Sharpie. I’ve still got one and never plan on getting rid of it for nostalgia’s sake.

Remember Scion? You know, Toyota’s child that tried so hard to capture the hearts and wallets of younger folks? They’re sadly gone and now irrelevant as of 2016. Scion launched in 2003, when I was in eighth grade. Prepubescent, driver’s license-less middle schoolers and slowly maturing high school students across the country were stoked to see a brand with cars marketed to the youth of nation, the ones who want to revolt, stand out from the crowd and customize our rides inside and out. Keep in mind, the early 2000s were the golden years for the start of the real modern street racing boom, thanks to the first few movies in the Fast and Furious saga, dozens of Need For Speed Underground and Midnight Club type video games and of course, magazines like Super Street and Import Tuner (RIP). I remember with my friends, flipping through pages of advertisements filled with rows of spoilers, columns of Altezza taillights, white gauge faces, and neon underglow kits, fantasizing over what we could do to our cars. But we weren’t even freshman yet. You bet I had a page torn out with a body kit-wearing Honda S2000, double-sided taped to my bedroom wall.

Scion made, well, interesting cars aimed at a niche audience, and truthfully they weren’t bad at all. The xB, while it uniquely looked like a toaster, had great visibility and was humongous on the inside with more leg room in back than you’d find on a business class seat aboard Lufthansa 747. Then there was the TC, a front-wheel-drive sporty coupe, with three pedals, a clever folding sunroof made out of glass and reclining rear seats- all attached to fun, modifiable peppy little four-cylinder. Their adorable tiny city car, the iQ, was perfect to drive around in massive urban setting like Chicago yet absolutely terrifying to pilot on the highway. Trust me, I feared for my life the entire time I had one on test. Then there was the xA, a rebadged previous generation Mazda3 called the iA, and this sleek wagon thingy called the iM (!).

I was honestly sad when I heard Scion was getting the plug pulled on them. Being 27 years old almost 28, it’s interesting to have been alive for both the start and demise of a car company. I can’t help but applaud them for their effort, regardless if it didn’t work out as planned. The Scion brand just never quite caught on like it was intended to. The majority of their buyers behind the wheel weren’t part of the brand’s targeted young, creative, “new generation.” If anything, it was the complete opposite and that’s a shame. Side note, have you visited Toyota’s obituary webpage for Scion? It’s worth a click and there’s a bittersweet video you should watch.

So I credit Scion for trying, and trying hard. It’s not easy being the new, young, niche-oriented player in this vast, fast-paced, competitive wild west we call today’s automotive industry.

But I also credit Scion for a different reason- their approach on music. And on that front, they won.

If you think back and really test your memory, you may recall for a few years, Scion gave out these free “CD Samplers” at all the big auto shows, to promote the powerful creativity that comes from music, and push incredible artists into the spotlight.

I picked up my first two discs at the Chicago Auto Show in 2004 when I was in eighth grade. Coming home and loading into my computer’s iTunes, I was eager to listen what these tracks could reward naive ears like mine with. I was hooked, instantly, and from that day on, became a huge fan of the underground hip-hop, R&B, and techno music scenes.

On Scion’s “CD Sampler v.7 – Mixed by Backyard Bangers,” were artists and sounds I had never heard of before. Tracks like “Power That Be” by Hieroglyphics, “Konexion” by Bumpy Knuckles, “Choking You” by Prefuse 73. Then there was “Gender Affection” by Seven Star and “Right Thing” by DJ Shadow, who I later went on to buy two of his albums. My ears were begging for more music like this.

The other disc, “Scion CD Sampler v.10 The Indie Labels” took my obsession for this new kind of music, to an entirely different level of appreciation and praise. On it, 30 tracks broken into two collections. Tracks 1-16, the “Stones Throw Mix,” scratched together by Peanut Butter Wolf, opened up my music library to even more underground hip-hop. Artists like, Koushik, Medaphoar, Jaylib and east coast duo Madvillain, made up of Madlib and a masked masterpiece of talent, MF Doom, who just kills it spitting verses on track 2, “Accordion.” DJ Jazzy Jeff took over the other half of this CD, tracks 17-30, with “Jazzy Jeff’s BBE Mix.” Yes you read that right, as in, DJ Jazzy Jeff from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Did you know he’s quite possibly the best DJ on this planet and has been for decades now? Yours truly has every single one of his albums, thanks to this particular disc from Scion I picked up years ago. If you’ve head the iconic track “Summertime,” that hit was a golden collaboration with DJ Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith (The Fresh Prince). In a time where a college sophomore can download some free mixing software on an MacBook Pro, click a few buttons with a mouse and call him/herself a “DJ,” you have to appreciate the raw, earned talent and skill of a real DJ like DJ Jazzy Jeff who spins turn tables and dances with an actual cross fader. Let track 19, “For Da Love of Da Game,” make you pause and realize how good real DJ-ing can be. Thanks, Scion, for introducing my 14-year-old self to DJ Jazzy Jeff, who I have mad respect for and listen to almost daily.

2006 brought a third installment: “Scion CD Sampler v.13- From Across The Pond.” 23 tracks of fresh, low-key R&B, neo soul, funk and hip-hop thanks to a collaboration of heavy electronic synthesized sampled beats, horns, bold drum beats and even a splash of jazz flute. Favorites off this disc included Nicolay’s remix of “Manor Mindstate” by The Chapter Crew, an addictive, bass thumping “Shine” by Havana, and “Aquarius Rising” by Sy Smith, a wonderful New York-based songwriter and singer.

I listen to all types of music. I’ll wake up and throw on Frank Sinatra in the morning while I’m getting ready for work, then commute to say, a bit of Tupac, then listen to Miles Davis or Led Zeppelin working away in my office. NPR talk radio finally makes my 5pm evening commutes livable. You should never limit your ears to what genres of music because the more diverse your library of artists, albums and songs- the greater appreciation for music you’ll develop.

When asked who my favorite bands are, I always without hesitation choose these three musicians: Nicolay, The Foreign Exchange and DJ Jazzy Jeff. I credit Scion for adding track after track of unique music that built the foundation for the tunes I constantly play through my headphones and car’s stereo at an unhealthy high volume.

And while the marketing strategy of “building cars for the youth, millennial generation who want to stand out and customize their rides,” might now be outdated, but I wish today’s automakers still gave out a sample CD (or flash drive since it’s now 2018) of music with their promotional materials. I mean let’s be real, Toyota could still do a similar CD offering with their GT 86, Dodge could dish out a playlist of heavy-metal madness with each Hellcat brochure they print, and Subaru could make a USB drive of whatever families with kids listen to these days…hopefully not Kidz Bop.

Thanks Scion, for the music education.

  • I still have the contents of Scion Sampler #15 in my iTunes library. Good stuff.


  • There was a number of playlists from Merces called “Mixed Tape”, with rather unknown artists. I remember listening to some of those. A short search unveiled that they arrived at #63, but I can’t determine how old those are, and if that’s still a living project.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    I still have some Scion CDs and a local radio station compilation from the Scion booth. The one that sticks in my mind is “backyard bangers” I really wanted a first generation xB but lost interest after that. To be honest Mazda offered all the functionality and better driving experience. While it was never as “cool” as an xB the Mazda5 was a far more practical car.

  • Rover 1

    I can’t work out what needle I need to play these newfangled CDs with on my gramophone. It’s not like I’m old fashioned. I’ve ditched the horn for electric speakers connected by cables.

    • CDs? That must be one of these physical sound carriers. I can’t fathom that people got their podcast subscriptions by mail back then!

    • In my experience the trickiest part is wrapping the CD around the cylinder.