I have a theory, and the theory goes like this: Your dream is kind of like the moon — the further away you are from it, the more beautiful it looks. The closer you get to it, the more you see the reality of it: the craters, the flaws, the reality.
This theory has led me to another theory: You are not ready to reach your dream until you’re prepared to deal with the full realities of it.
If “me” from 2002 could see me now, I’m sure he would be so excited that he finally “made it.” I used to think I’d be set if I ever made it in a certain magazine or collaborated with a certain artist. Shit, sometimes I forget when I reach a goal I’ve set for myself so long ago because I’ve been through the trenches to get there. Once I did reach that goal, it ultimately seemed a lot less luxurious than I had envisioned it from afar.
You hear this all the time from your favorite rapper when he finally gets on. Eminem was a big one. Kanye as well. Right now it’s Drake. Listen to his song “Fear” as an example.
I don’t say all this to depress you or deter you from your dream. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in years of doing this (possibly the most important) is that you have to enjoy the path more than the goal. I’ll repeat, because, as Lil Wayne says, “Repetition is the father of learning” — you have to enjoy the path more than the goal.
This is more important than mix downs, promotions, artwork, Web sites, publicists and touring. It’s more important because it encapsulates all of those things. And without this attitude, all those things accomplished will have been in vein.
If you’re not in this industry as an artist for the right reasons, I advise you to stop now.
Stop reading this column. Stop writing. Stop recording. Stop performing. Stop all of it. You will become bitter and upset at life and no one needs that energy put into the world. Go do something that makes you happy at being you.
But if you are in this game to push your craft forward and create a voice or sound for yourself, then please keep reading. You are the person most likely to enjoy the path more than the goal. Not to say you shouldn’t set goals and enjoy them when you accomplish them — just sayin’ don’t let them hold too much weight on your soul.
One thing I’ve learned over the past year is that you don’t always control your career. You can’t perfectly plan your future. You never know what song people are going to definitely react to or how they’ll perceive you on stage. This is what makes it so damn fun — the spontaneity of it all.
In May 2008, I dropped a mash-up record that ended up getting covered everywhere from allhiphop.com to Rolling Stone. Wasn’t even my idea to make it, I just did it — knocked it out in a weekend without a second thought. I released it online that Monday and it did more for me than either of my meticulously planned albums.
It’s hilarious when you think about it, but it’s also beautiful and annoying as hell. However, it really drove home that lesson to just have fun, be creative and enjoy every moment along the path.
All this leads me to my next point: Fuck status. Fuck the idea of status, especially in a local or regional scene. It’s stupid and it’s dangerous. I used to be on it too, which is why I’m trying to throw out this warning.
It’s cool to be hungry and want to be great, but if you’re looking at the guy to your left or right to see what he’s doing, you are not looking forward. Being worried about how people perceive your “status” in the scene is stupid, especially in the grand scheme of the national and international scenes. If you go through your career with the sole intent of trying to get ahead and not for the lessons and good memories sitting all around you, you fail.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be self-aware and make calculated moves toward reaching the audiences you want to reach as well as a money-generating career. Just cut the excess out. It makes it so much easier and enjoyable.
Getting to live a life centered on your passion is the most amazing feeling in the world and really puts everything in perspective. It’s not press status, networks, backbiting, shit-talking, DJ payola or radio spins.
It’s an outlet for stress, an inlet for joy. It’s a series of moments of real humanity that you get to help create and then share with a group of strangers. It’s a memory for someone you’ve never met and never will. It’s one second played out to infinity. Communal bliss.
It keeps us young forever. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to walking on the moon.
ILL POETIC is a multi-tasking Hip Hop producer/performer whose "Hip Hop (Un)scene" column appears here once a month. Check out his latest activities at illpoetic.com.