STAGE 5 - Rap For Dummies (4/13/11)

When rap comes up in conversations with many of my friends from around the world, the reaction is always less-than-positive. At best, I'd get a sincere indifference toward the genre due to a common lack of exposure. At worst, I'd get a hate-filled vitriol the likes of which another genre would receive no such equivalent (e.g. "Rap isn't even music!") With this post, I aim to challenge these attitudes.

I'd venture to say the negativity rap sleeps with has two main sources. The first, being the upbringing of the detractor. The second, being the current state of mainstream rap, which is absolutely soulless and warrants no defense.

So regarding the first, let's be real here: If you're not black or latino, there's a heavy chance you grew up in a home or neighborhood utterly devoid of rap and/or the hip-hop culture. In some cases, it was probably considered unacceptable because of it's roots in the ghetto. A lot of people I talk to cite this as a reason, and that's fine. But to quote Rakim, "It ain't where ya' from, it's where ya' at."

If you're not interested in discovering what you missed during the time rap established itself as a genre (which isn't hard seeing as rap is less than 50 years old) in the name of easy dismissal, then you're not trying, and anyone with half a brain would call you out on it (And if you call yourself a "music lover", shoot yourself.)

So, in a series of installments I'm gonna drop three rap songs to set people straight on the one genre that most people know everything, and yet nothing about:

Not only do I hope ya'll enjoy these, but tell a friend, and do right by music.

Trust me, it works.


STAGE 4 - April 5th > April 2nd

April 5th is a special day to me. It's my uncle Larry's birthday, and it's always three days after mine. But the reason I remember it, is because he was the only thing standing between me and completely wasted potential.

Everyone has their own definition of success in life. Making lots of money, getting famous, blahblahinsertsuperficialreasonhere. I'll tell you flat out, mine is earning the ability to leave the world a better place than it was when I showed up. How? Through the ability to create. It's not something everyone can do, and if I can use it for anything, I want to use it in a way that'll get someone to see good in the world. If I can inspire even one person to do the right thing through my work, I'll be satisfied with what I've done with my time.

It was my uncle who got me to find that path for myself. When I was that little kid who drew on everything, he was the one who actually took interest in the things I drew. He read all of my comics, knew the characters, and encouraged me to keep at it. No matter how crap I thought I was, he inspired me, because that's what heroes do. And that was just my art.

Whenever we spent time together he'd notice my curiosity about the world and instead of giving me the answers, he'd give me clever ways to get to them. When I'd get sick in school, he'd stop whatever he was doing to come and get me out. When I was trying to get my first girlfriend, he was the one who got me to use my skills to reach the goal. When everyone picked on me just to be mean, he was the only person there telling me that I should never be ashamed of who I am. That's the kind of guy he was.

Every positive I have he had a hand in, and I was lucky. Simply put, there aren't many mentors for young black males. No one around to help us transition from fine boys into fine men, and because of that, a lot of us get lost in the shuffle. I didn't know it too well then, but my uncle was my mentor. Whether success or failure, he learned from everything, and he taught me that knowledge is an invaluable thing, because it truly is the power to do anything.

All my life I had someone to look up to, and I turned out a lot better than anyone could have hoped because of it. Brownsville got a lot of the dudes I grew up with, and it either changed them for the worse, or killed them outright. My uncle didn't let the streets get me, and he didn't even have to, but he did anyway because he believed that I had the potential to be somebody one day. So of course I'd go to his apartment and help him clean the place up. Little did I know, it would be the last time I got to talk with him.

He passed away 8 years ago from years of smoking. I was in high school then, and I took it really hard. I started screwing up in ways I didn't even know I could, and no one cared. I let myself down, and by proxy, I let him down. I dealt with it all alone, because no one understood the bond the two of us had, and if no one else gave a fuck, why would I? So I dropped out, because I thought it was all over. Then, something amazing happened: I happened upon a new school a few blocks from that same apartment. I enrolled and finished with flying colors. The rest was history.

People have called me many things: Intelligent. Talented. Modest. Selfless. Funny. Hell, even charming. There's many more, but no matter how many there are, my uncle went out of his way to make them possible. That's why even if I'm not doing too hot right now, I am a walking upside, and even if I have to climb mountains and break barriers alone for the remaining years of my life, I'm going to do it, because I believe in myself like my uncle believed in me.

And when you believe in yourself just a tiny bit, the world can suck as bad it does and you won't falter:

Happy birthday uncle, and thanks for everything.


STAGE 3 - Seven Reasons I Love Sobriety

I don't call myself Straight Edge because I'm not a part of that subculture, but drugs and alcohol are not my thing. They weren't on my radar then, and they never will be in the future. For some people, it's pretty cut and dry. For others, it's a concept beyond comprehension. I don't like taking the risk of discovering what side of the spectrum a person falls on, so if you were to talk to me in the street and the subject comes up, I just say "I have my reasons", because I normally don't have all day to explain.

Today, however, is a different day.

"I have my reasons" is exactly what it says on the tin. I've acquired many reasons over the years, and I'm going to use this space to put ya'll in my shoes. But beforehand, I need to drop a disclaimer for anyone who may feel threatened by the subject matter: Your choice is yours. At the end, I'm going to come back to that, but first, allow me to outline my reasons for not participating:

1. It's an inherently unhealthy practice.

All the excuses in the world cannot change the fact that the human body is not meant to ingest that stuff. That's why it's necessary to put...y'know, warnings on the labels, like they do on any dangerous substance. You don't have to tell me twice that there is extremely little-to-no nutritional value in drugs or alcohol. I made a point to italicize 'extremely' because if I had a dime for every street corner M.D. that tried to spit some bullshit medical benefit my way after I told them I don't drink or do drugs, I'd be a rich guy. It's like, why are you trying to justify your activities to me, of all people? Unless they don't even believe the words coming out of their mouthes, then who the fuck am I? Your choice is yours.

2. I've got better things to do.

There's no other way to say that. To me, it's a waste of free time, and I could find a lot more productive things to do than idle or babysit. I don't expect anyone to be wired like me, but my tendency to do what I want to do with my free time often appears in my productivity (I'm typing this on a Friday night.) I'm often producing things because I choose to use all my time for it. To the general public, it's social suicide, but I've got better things to do than worry about someone thinking I'm a loser - as does the person who chooses to do drugs or drink. It works both ways, but your choice is yours.

3. I'm absolutely sure most people do it because their friends do.

Staying on that ball, peer pressure is a concept that bears no consequence in my personal development - even when society virtually dictates that the consumption of drugs and alcohol is the true mark of an adult. That being said, I bet the bank that both would lose a considerable amount of appeal if your nearest social circle decided to just up and quit one day. Crazy, right? Not so much. If the stuff is so great, why is it so taboo when done alone? Even those responsible enough to drink or smoke in moderation are less than enthusiastic to get drunk or high alone. But whatever, your choice is yours.

4. Nine times out of ten, losing control ain't worth it.

Spinning off the penultimate sentence above, I do believe alcohol is the next best thing to a truth serum. It eliminates inhibitions (or bullshit, depending on your way of life) and grants people the balls to say and do what they would otherwise have the mind not to, with the safeguard of amnesia. That being said, the social and physical consequences of doing something absolutely stupid while drunk is often not worth the story. For me, it's more the latter than the former, because I foolishly speak my mind and I'm low on secrets. Drugs though...Jesus, the dumb shit people do hopped up on drugs is enough of a deterrent. But whatever, your choice is yours.

5. Solving a problem with a problem remains a phenomenally bad idea.

This is where drugs and alcohol become less of a social thing and more of a social issue. To drink and smoke because you can't deal with a problem is a real weakness, and everyone knows it. It leads to addiction, which you have no chance of diagnosing if you have no one in your life to set you straight. One too many times I've seen so-called "friends" become enablers for their own enjoyment, and pressure whoever's vulnerable into the pit with them. Then when that addiction inevitably spirals out of control, they're nowhere to be found - but drugs and booze can. Your choice is yours, but a strong person deals.

6. Here today, gone tomorrow.

The reasons listed thus far are more logical than personal, but these next two will certainly deviate. Simply put, I've lost more people to drugs and alcohol than I can count. If the warning labels weren't enough, they pale in comparison to seeing your loved ones in caskets far before their time. Whether family or friend, it was painful to watch them suffer so much in the last years of their lives because of the afflictions associated with consuming that stuff for too long. Once lovely, lively people transforming into sickly, worn-out husks. And if you were really unlucky, they'd feel the need to share their pain and suffering with everyone around them. Nor man, woman, or child, is immune to the effects of drugs or alcohol, and I have a conscience that tells me I'm capable of fucking up enough as is.

7. The future.

And that brings me to the biggest reason of all: The future. As previously alluded to, "unhealthy" is shorthand for "die faster", and as someone who often thinks in the long-term, that's counterproductive. We all gotta go one day, but I can't die knowing that I put my life on fast-forward to be socially acceptable the end. Whether we like it or not, we all become role models for what to do and what not to do in life, and the last thing I want to do is give anyone who comes after me an extra avenue to blow it. Because at the end of the day, that's all drugs and alcohol is: an extra in life. It's not required, and no one should run the risk of feeling that way.

Like I've been saying, your choice is yours. These facts and observations have been enough for me to make my choice not to drink, smoke, or do drugs in any fashion. I've run the gamut from the illogical to the personal, and these are my reasons and mine alone. Whether anyone agrees or disagrees is completely irrelevant to me.

But what is relevant to me, is that my decision be respected, in the same way I respect the decisions of the many people in my life who chose to do drugs or alcohol. And if you're reading this as someone who partakes in these activities, heaven knows I have enough problems on my own so I'm not better than you, and you're not better than me, so let's keep the horses in the stables. This isn't a conviction post.

It's a big principle of mine and I've gone to unbelievable lengths to retain it, so now that you all know it from top to bottom, do me a favor and stay above the influence of asking me.