In my last column I shouted out the Thursday night Open Mic at Baba Budan’s in Clifton Heights. The following week was its final week.
My column timing is officially delayed like Dilla snares.
I'm finding myself wanting to go two different routes with this month's column. Its original intent was to give an aspiring artist the necessary outline to build a successful independent career.
But when I would try to write something as basic as “How to work with a DJ,” I felt like I was jumping ahead of myself.
This is what brought on the deeper columns (see last month's “Smells Like Scene Spirit”). So before I continue to jump into the technical aspects of independent success — touring, publishing, distribution, pressing, publicists, etc. — I want to continue building on the overall mentality of the artist and the scene that precedes it. If we as individuals and as a collective don't have the right foundation, there's no point in trying to build a career on top of it.
With that said, I wanted to build on another “foundation” column, this time about the general attitude of an artist and their team: the time it takes to build a career vs. the time it takes to convince people you have a career.
Waaay back in the early 2000s, my partner Zone (under the group name Definition) and I dove into the Cincinnati Hip Hop scene. From UC campus open mics and Top Cat's battles to Greenwich Tavern spoken word nights and Scribble Jam ciphers (remember those?), we tried to be everywhere possible. Since we weren't originally from Cincinnati, we always felt like we were behind everyone else, just trying to keep up with everyone's “move-making,” if you will.
Every week, we would meet someone who was making some major move out of the city.
MC so-and-so just signed to Dipset; producer so-and-so is on Wayne's new record; this group just got signed to Universal; that group just went triple platinum ... yada, yada, yada.
It sounds naive and stupid to believe that all these people were really doing the things they said they were, but at the time we were, well, naive and stupid. Maybe not stupid, just young and thus lacking perspective. Because of this, we did everything ourselves to try to keep up — put out a CD, got distribution, got non-paying shows throughout the Midwest. All for the sake of “catching up” to all these artists who were on the verge. Eight years later, they're still on the verge.
When you're fresh into a scene, it's hard to know who's telling what truths and who’s leading on. The older I get and the more I fully dive into a career in music head-on, it becomes more obvious who's on their game and who's, for lack of a better term, full of shit.
Once I began to undress the flamboyant accessories from artists’ “truths” about what was popping in their career, I was even more mystified. Why would an artist, time after time, tell us what they were about to do, all the huge moves they were making, and then do nothing? Why build an entire career out of telling people about your amazing career?
All the work and planning that goes into it could go toward, well, making a career.
I imagine it's an insecurity issue from the get-go. The nut-check at the urinal as they say. Y'all are the reason I pee in the stalls now, metaphorically speaking (except for Top Cat’s — I refused to pee in a horse trough).
It's 2010 and it’s been a recession for a while now. Time to let go of “making it rain.” Time to let go of false accomplishments. Time to let go of the ego. Time to let go of all those “moves you’re making.” Time to let go of the idea of status being a priority over the love of music. This ain't high school.
We see what the major artists are(n't) selling. The Internet has opened all celebrity musician lives for us, letting us peek into their reality instead of their facade. We can read any major magazine or Web site to realize Waka Flaka is on because his mom/manager manages and books for Gucci, Nicki Minaj and OJ the Juiceman.
If we can see through them that many miles away, why not the folks in our own scene?
I'm not writing this in a bitter, accusatory manner — at least I don't mean to. It's just an opportunity to cleanse. The most successful long-term artists in any music genre are there because they care about the music. Notice I said “long-term.” Kanye, TI, Wayne, Jeezy, Jay, Nas all care. Drake, Cudi and J.Cole, they care. They aren't going anywhere, save a drug addition, religious conversion or crazy future sex scandal.
So I ask everyone in the scene to just remind themselves why they're in this. The beauty and excitement of music? Or the status? If you know it's the status, just step aside. It's no big deal. It betters the scene, the artists and the people.
I write this out of love and ambition for everyone in the scene. Don't let the ego trip up your genuine talent. Success off of being one's self is the best thing any of us can hope for.
CONTACT ILL POETIC: email@example.com
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