Almost Famous

The Avenues to Success

Illmatic

It was 2001 and the Jay-Z / Nas beef was heating up Hot 97 with the release of both “Takeover” and “Ether.” Back then I was just getting into buying ridiculous amounts of albums. In my room I had a small stereo system with a 3-disc CD changer and I would play sections of my favorite artists’ discography. One of those artists was Jay-Z. I remember prior to 2001, I took all of my Christmas money, went out to the record store, and purchased his entire collection up until Blueprint, which was released shortly after on September 11, 2001. One of my friends bought Blueprint for me for my birthday on November 9th, 2001 and for a while that’s all I listened to. Jay-Z had beef with Nas, so I had beef with Nas. I thought “Takeover” was just an incredible diss-record and at the time I was convinced Jay-Z was untouchable.

Around the same year or maybe shortly after, another one of my friends brought over a burned copy of Stillmatic. He was one of the biggest Nas heads I knew and absolutely swore by Stillmatic and “Ether.” We used to get in arguments about Jay-Z and Nas and although he had respect for Jay, we never could get on the same page about who was the better emcee. This was before I was extremely well versed in hip-hop and the deeper components of being an emcee, beyond just commercial success and production value. Perhaps this is why prior to having Stillmatic shoved in my ears, I blocked Nas out. I couldn’t understand Nas. Why was Jay a commercial monster with insane radio and TV play, while Nas always seemed to lag behind?

When I first heard my friend’s copy of Stillmatic I was instantly dragged in by the intro. Nas opened with a sense of nostalgia and a triumphant comeback I really never heard in hip-hop before. He was coming off a hiatus I shamefully knew nothing about. “One Mic” became a song I would play daily, at least once, and really just evoked a spirit of hip-hop I still reflect on today in the music industry. I loved Jay-Z still, but I was convinced after opening my ears, Nas was absolutely the better lyricist. Stillmatic started a trend of uncovering Nas’s discography, like I did for Jay.

Then there was Illmatic. I downloaded Illmatic from the notorious Napster or Kazaa or whatever the thing was back then. Nas was (and still is) a storyteller and Illmatic was his audiobook. At the time I got into Illmatic I was listening to probably every hip-hop artist around from the early 90s up until the early 2000s. Never before (this was before I heard Ready to Die before you gasp) did an album paint a vivid picture and truly present a working collaboration of production and lyrics. I found it difficult to just play a single song off Illmatic because it always felt like something else needed to follow it, move with it, and conclude it. After hearing Illmatic I wanted to be in New York City. I knew there was something special going on there and I needed to be a part of it. Illmatic set a precedent. None of my friends at the time could understand it; they brushed it off like it was meaningless. There was something special Illmatic evoked inside of my head and I’ll never forget the indescribable feeling.

In the next few days, after being in New York City for a little over a year, I will be a part of the logistics of Rock the Bells and Illmatic performed in its entirety in a very different hip-hop world. There’s a feeling of reaching a plateau I really can’t come down from and reinsurance the music industry is exactly where I want to be. I can’t match the genius of Nas with his nostalgic poetry in Stillmatic, but I can reflect on 2001 and the unbelievable circumstances I find myself in now. Before I moved to Toledo to get my Bachelor’s at the University of Toledo, one of my managers at my part-time job told me before I went to college I should stop listening to hip-hop because it was looked down upon and wouldn’t get me anywhere.

He was wrong.

Advertisements

August 31, 2011 Posted by | New York City | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Have a Toast to the Assholes

Kanye West and his speech to the sold out crowd at the Bowery Ballroom. Probably a bit over the top, but necessary. Hate on the man all you want, but it’s impossible to argue the pure genius of his music. The sampling on My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Fantasy puts it on a higher level than most of the mainstream music reaching the radio. It’s difficult to find an artist nowadays who is able to reach the mainstream audience and still appeal to the small crowd who knows and understands good music. Apparently he sold 100,000 in digital alone the first day, selling out the Best Buy at Union Square and the city of Chicago (whatever that entails). I guess that’s the industry right? It sounds weird to say “sold out a Best Buy” and “digital alone.” Honestly that’s impressive considering most of the album was either leaked or released during his G.O.O.D Friday campaign. Give people new, free music every week and when your album is released, they will buy it. Or is it, generate enough hype and people will buy your record regardless, even if they hate you as a person. Do your thing Kanye, it really is about the music at the end of the day, right?

November 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

The Music Journalist in NYC Vol. 2

Honestly, January seems like just a moment ago. In fact, December seems like a week ago where I was stuck between Toledo and New York and wondering why I felt it was necessary to burden myself with more financial worries if I did decide to move to New York. Now, in the silent, well semi-silent night in Brooklyn, NY, only a few blocks down from where Shawn Carter a.k.a Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G sat on the corners and something in the Brooklyn air inspired them to pick up a microphone and change history, I sit on a lap top in a still, very surreal, urban environment in an old warehouse-turned loft with two random roommates I found on craigslist. I say urban because for almost 21 years my life, my life has been suburban and very ordinary with hardly enough hardship to create a documentary around my struggle to break into the music industry. I say random because although I’ve always been known to act on first impulses, this city directed me into the most random situations I’ve ever, and you will ever, be in.

Indefinitely I am never satisfied because this entire experience was a “better late than never” random, financially stupid decision. I was almost done with school and I could have settled for the carbon-copy. I could have stayed in Toledo, finished my spring semester of my junior year, take out more loans, work two jobs, and once again spend my summer in Toledo selling cell phones. This seemed logically the next stop on my college journey, but I decided to take a little detour. Unknowingly this little detour would evolve into a life-altering change and compose another chapter in your life you can only write when you’re young. This detour would wipe every thing and every person out of my life and replace them with new people and things only to be replaced again. This detour was never at any point easy and in fact, was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Why did I do it? I ask this question every day I wake up breathing in the Brooklyn air and while on my short walk to the G train. After work I come home and walk up 5 flights of stairs, open the roof door, and light up a cigarette while staring at the Manhattan skyline off in the distance wondering how in the hell I got here and how the hell am I still here. I look down onto the Brooklyn streets, somewhere on Mrytle Avenue, I see life, real people, New York people, and I am a part of that scenery. Then, one last thing blows my mind every time, in the distance I see the skyscrapers within the financial district and I can frame the set of buildings I was able to see outside of my 24th floor apartment on Water Street only a month ago. If I look even closer and think even harder, near the Empire State Building stands another building where I used to spend writing long, strenuous articles for editors for some of the top newspapers in the world, and this was only a short summer ago. In fact, as I sit here, I realize my last summer in Ohio was the summer of 2007 because next summer my final move to New York City will be complete.

The carbon-copy summer still holds true. As of right now, I still took out a loan, although not a very large one, and yes, I still sell cell phones. You could say I have three jobs, but I’d rather have more because currently I feel unproductive. A year ago today, where I sit would be a dream, an impossible height to reach, a silly thought. But right now, I sit in the greatest city in the world, working towards a dream I thought was unreachable. A dream where I needed an immense amount of patience and skill and a dream I never knew what it was. This dream needed to plant its seed in fertile land and although financially America does not seem the richest, New York still seemed to have enough nutrients. In December I doubted myself and fought until I was satisfied with my decision to stay, but judging by the current events, I was not. No one will ever know the logical voices I had to shut-off in my head to make this happen. But, more importantly, I made this happen. There was no suggestion, this opportunity did not come knocking at my door, I sought it, found it, and took advantage of it, period. When something prevented me from leaving, I dealt with it until every possible solution was used up. I turned negatives into positives and restored hope in my mind just by prevailing under immeasurable odds against me. At this point I was unable to be broken and basically had my bags packed, ready-to-roll, and prepared to throw myself into city where I knew basically no one and had to fend for myself.

It is a very interesting time to enter into the real world after college graduation. Besides the recession and a new administration, as humans we seem to be losing the real quality and genuine ability to understand what makes us human and what should unite us. The once powerful and prominent industries have begun a transformation and fallout and once again it seems we must start from the beginning and adapt to the environmental and social changes around us. To be within a city like New York during these historic times is an experience in itself and creates a new understanding of diversity. Although I don’t consider myself to be a true New Yorker, I do feel I have finally broken the threshold of tourist and native. I have become a product of my environment and look at the “New York stereotypes” as a norm, but still can sit back and laugh at them. I’ve made relationships with my morning coffee street vendors, my walk is brisk, I stay to the right on the escalators, I read other people’s newspapers on the subways, I’ve stopped giving to the homeless, and most importantly, I’ve learned to hustle. In only four months I’ve worked as a hip-hop journalist, photographer, theater critic, music critic, club promoter, pre-audio engineer, worked in a studio, worked for Time Warner, and sold cell phones for two different companies in two different boroughs. I’ve probably been to over 40 different clubs or bars, saw about 30 or 40 live shows, and stayed faithful to the worst diet I’ve ever had in a period of 4 months. I’ve been to Starbucks probably hundreds of times and probably only ate at the same restaurant once or twice. I exhausted my loan money, had the time of my life, made lifelong friendships from all over the country, established a large network of music industry professionals, and I promise you I will continue to leap forward until I get exactly what I want and what is to come.

This was four months and I promise you there is no way to step inside my shoes. There is no way when I return home I can explain all of this to you because you couldn’t even comprehend what I put myself through here. But just know this, whoever took the time to read all of this, you can do whatever you want in this world and right now is the time to make that happen. Don’t ever settle and don’t listen to anyone that tells you what you want to do with your life is silly. I don’t care where you’re at, but get somewhere where your passion exists and thrives, especially in these crazy times. We are at a point where the dreamers can dream and the entrepreneurs can win. There’s no job market? Well create one and do what you want to do because there is no longer anything stopping you. This is a time of new ideas and our generation is behind this explosion and responsible for many generations to come. Let’s get it.

Real talk.

June 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Roots Present: The Jam

I just couldn’t wait to post these up… stay-tuned for the experience!

May 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment