Jay Z, Eminem, Me.

I started writing music when I was 13 years old. I wrote rap songs daily – I even recorded several. When Eminem came along it gave me hope that perhaps I could break through. I had vision. I had boldness. All my jeans were baggy. I thought I was the next big thing. I was writing because I had something to say. I just didn’t know what it was. Perhaps many artists begin their journey this way. A few years back I found a book with a lot of old poems I had written and as I read through them I felt a sense of embarrassment mixed-up together with some gratitude. After all, it was while experimenting with rap music that I learned to write. While I’ve long since abandoned, deleted, or lost the original works, I carry them with me every time I put pen to paper.

Rap music tends to be the genre in which the most words are spoken and the fewest things are ever said. But I still loved it. According to Jay-Z, when rap is done correctly it can plant dissonance in your head; it can confront people with unresolved layers that are impossible to grasp by simply listening to the song a few times. He was right but I certainly didn’t recognize that back then. I was a typical 16 year old kid who thought the world revolved around me when I pulled in the parking lot because everyone around me could hear my car stereo. But it was in these immature moments that I actually started to understand that music can make people feel things nothing else can. I figured out that music is an extraordinarily powerful mechanism. Listening to it is like traveling to a world where everything is new. And composing it is like capturing an invisible story that is already in the atmosphere. The notes are already suspended in endless white space waiting to be played; we just have to find them. There is something profound about music which has led some people to say that the only proof they need for the existence of God is music.

But writing well is hard. Robert Louis Stevenson said “the difficulty…is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish”. Degas said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”.

I started writing because I thought I could help people see truth. I thought perhaps I could say things with melodies that I couldn’t say with words – and I wondered if words were either venerated by the presence of music or the intentional absence of it. I wanted to experiment. Over time I found that every work would teach me something about the next: piece 2 would reflect piece 1 and shape piece 3. And every piece was a reflection of how the previous one had re-informed my perspective. I thought I could change people with the art I produced; but the art ended up changing me.

Young people have so many ambitions and dreams; we talk about changing the world. And we could if only we believed everything we were saying. But over time, the world comes to rest upon our shoulders and we begin to realize just how big and heavy the world is. We get caught up in the chaos of life. We find ourselves feeling like we are running out of time. The pressure to become the world changer we thought we’d be when we were young makes us worry that perhaps we haven’t chased hard enough after our dreams. I have encountered these moments of insecurity many times. But what I have started to understand in these moments is that the journey itself is really the point, not the arrival at some unknown point in the future. Each moment is like a piece of music, a brief (albeit captivating) passageway through time. Until the song changes. What we learn during each moment and the silence in between defines who we become in the end.

Picasso once said, “There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun”. The journey of the artist is from one end to the other.


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