LA trip

This trip is my Moment of Truth

I’ve been wanting, for some time, to make an album based on Gangstarr’s Moment of Truth LP.  I heard an interview with DJ Premier about Gangstarr’s formula for making records.  Guru would write down a list of song titles that he wanted to make, then one by one, Premo would make the beat, with the title in mind, while Guru sat there and waited, and then Guru would write the song on the spot.  And like he says in the intro to the album, “there’s always a message involved.”

 

So I wanted to make an album that way, and as I reflected on the late Guru’s work and that quote — “there’s always a message involved” — I realized how everything the dude did had a message.  When I was a teenager, I used to think he was just a guy with a simple rhyme style held up by a dope voice and a dope producer.  But now I realize the massive contribution to hip hop and life that he made.  So I wanted to do an album where I built every song around a Guru quote from the songs on Moment of Truth.

Check out my song Hypocrite, which includes a sample from the intro of Gangstarr's "Robin Hood Theory"

As I lay down on the bed in my temporary Hollywood apartment with headphones on and listened for quotes, I thought “how could I ever match the impact of what these guys contributed?  how could I ever show as much dedication to my values and make as dope of a song as Above the Clouds?  Above the Clouds was the first rap song that I ever really loved.  I heard it in a skate video — Shorty’s Fulfill the Dream — and it almost single-handedly turned me onto hip hop.  The name of the song is perfect because the entire joint is elevated — Guru and Deck sound like themselves, yet somehow the vibe of the beat obviously inspired them, especially Guru, to just weave words together in this amazingly stylish and inspired way.  It’s the definition of next level.

 

From the second track, Robin Hood Theory, I pulled the quote “because the youth is the future, no doubt that’s right and exact.”  I worked with youth in Portland, leading a hip hop recording workshop at Morpheus Youth Project, and honestly, I didn’t have the stomach for it.  I wanted to help those kids, and I did, but I couldn’t see myself continuing because, aside from how busy I was, I felt uncomfortable interacting with them.  I had no idea how to really affect their lives — the way that they think is so deeply affected by their environments and it’s really difficult, maybe impossible, to single-handedly impress upon them the necessity of the discipline it takes to forge your own path.  Hell, I can barely do it and I’m a privileged adult.  How could you override the social programming that tells those kids to do what their friends do, which is say fuck anything that takes too much effort and feels like class?

Check out my blog post about working with youth through hip hop

A sample in the background of the title track, Moment of Truth says “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  The truth is I’ve always known what I wanted to do.  The established path was never for me.  The world is too systematically fucked to go with the herd and feel okay about it.  I want to affect those kids lives, I want to build some real shit in my lifetime and live up to my values.  I want to create something — I’m not sure what, yet — that allows me to make dope music, bring a message to people, and help the youth and the underserved.  But I’m scared.  I’m scared of those little, incremental discomforts and all the moments when I feel stupid and weak along the way.  The task I’m setting myself up for is not an easy one, either.  People don’t want to give you money for making music, and they damn sure don’t want to give money, much less their personal attention or care to people who are hard to help.  That’s what the whole system is based on — nobody helps because nobody helps.  You try to help and realize that helping is underfunded and neglected, and it’s too hard to make your ends meet with helping, especially when you feel like you’re on the fucking edge all the time anyway.

 

So this trip, this journey, is my moment of truth.  I don’t feel like I can do it — I mean, I know I can do this internship, but I don’t feel like I can figure out where to go from there — but I kind of know I can’t turn back.  In Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he identifies one of the steps of the archetypal hero’s journey as refusal of the call, wherein the hero is confronted with the opportunity for adventure but he turns away.  After having seen a glimpse of what’s possible, hid old life is now completely unsatisfying — he’s haunted by his destiny.  But, as Guru says on JFK to LAX, coincidentally a song about a trip to LA, “the next level doesn’t tolerate cowards.”  So here I stand, on the cusp of living my true dream, and I think I’m about to shit my pants.  This is my moment of truth.

Quote from Guru about the formula and message of Gangstarr

Quote from DJ Premier about Gangstarr's album-writing formula at 7:55

LA Blog

Okay so a few months back I started a group for the Artist’s Way.  If you’re not familiar, the Artist’s Way is a book and a 12 week program for unblocking oneself creatively.  I had tried it by myself just reading out of the book and couldn’t stay with it, so this time I put together a group with 3 friends and this time it stuck.  The Artist’s Way program (theoretically) involves writing 3 pages a day by hand in the morning and going on what’s called an “artist date” once a week (theoretically).  And then there’s weekly reading including a bunch of exercises.  It sounds like a lot, and it is, and you don’t do all of it.  But I did the best I could and was present as I could be for the weekly group meet ups, and it totally shook something loose in me: the idea that you don’t have to become a great artist over night, and that just taking a little bit of time to do something creative on a regular basis is extremely valuable for this reason: in this subtle but deep way, you are telling yourself that your artistic mind is worth something.  Instead of staying comfortable behind the ego of what you have done in the past and the fear of not being good enough, and all the little stories you tell yourself to rationalize your stagnation, you are actually in the moment with your own creative mind, and you are valuing it.

One of the things that comes along with this shift is being open to opportunity.  So one day I get an email from Ari Herstand, who is a full-time musician in LA and the author of Ari’s Take, a blog about running your music career.  The newsletter he sent out is calling out for interns—Ari is releasing a book and launching a new funk band, and needs some help.  The internship is unpaid and in LA, but I say “fuck it, I’ll apply.”  The application process is long and involves making a short video of yourself talking about why you want the position, making a flyer, shouting Ari out on various social media, and answering the usual type of application questions.

It takes me a while and I cut it really close to the deadline, wanting to say fuck it at many points, but somehow pull it out at the last second (pause).  Next thing I know, I get offered an interview.  Now I’m starting to really consider the possibility, and I bring it up with my parents.  Long story short I interview over Skype and get offered the internship.  Now, I’m super lucky that my parents are super on board for this venture.  Without their help I wouldn’t be down here doing this, and that’s something most people don’t have the luxury of.  So huge shout out to my parents.

So this series of blog posts is going to be about my experience in LA chasing my dreams, especially through the lens of a young sober person and an artist who recently became unblocked, or less-blocked.  It will be human, showing how scared and lame I feel a lot of the time.  It will be critical, calling out blocked artists and criticizing establishment, subcultures, hipsters (read: all young people that don’t look like Justin Beiber), whatever.  I hope this blog shines some light on the fact that chasing your dreams is a very uncomfortable and human adventure, and that you don’t have to be some sort of superhero to do it.  I mean, you are, but you probably don’t realize it yet.