I'm not one for looking back too far in the past. Our memories can deceive us into believing things were much better or worse than they actually were. They can make us dwell on situations that we'll never get to re-live, decisions we never get to change. I tell anyone who asks: I don't regret anything. Ever. No matter what happened, it's a lesson to be learned. Our past is in most cases simply where we've been, and the beauty of it is - if we're smart about what we take from it - we never have to go back to who we were or what we did. There are certain opportunities though that allow us to expand upon and build on our past, because it deserves to be a part of our present and our future. Maybe its two people that finally find their way back to each other after learning more about themselves. Maybe its a passion that we lost in the shuffle of our work or study, and when we re-discover that passion, it lights our lives up again. Maybe its a song that you believe in, polish and re-release, and 6 years after the original version first drops, it receives over 20,000 more streams than it did before (Monster just did that, btw).
This project, Rain, the first 6 songs I ever recorded in Los Angeles, is one of those things from my past that deserves a place in the present. The year leading up to its original release in 2015 was the most difficult of my life. At this point, you probably know that I moved to this city with no friends and no idea how to make real music. It took months of research and long nights sitting at a tiny desk in a studio apartment in North Hollywood for me to even begin to understand what it was going to take to make something of myself in this business - in this life. I was in way over my head. I'll be honest, after about 6 months, my anxiety was so bad that my parents wanted me to move home. I didn't have a job or any clue where to start to get this music off the ground. All of the people who believed in me were at least 500 miles away. I cried real tears recording so many of these songs. My microphone was the only light I had, and I spent hours writing, recording and mixing, even still just beginning to learn some of the most basic techniques of audio engineering and mixing. I wanted to release a project at the end of 2014, but by October of that year, I realized none of it was good enough. I took everything I'd ever released offline and started over, with no real end in sight. I was lost, and music was going to be the only thing that helped me find my way out.
This project will always be a testament to how far I've come, the people I've met along the way who believed in me, and the proof that I will never stop creating. Many times, the words I write in a song don't unveil their meaning to me until much later. I know there's always purpose to my lyrics, so I let the meaning show itself whenever its ready, even if its months or years later. I find lines in this project to this day that mean more to me than they did three years ago, and that is how I know that these songs aren't just my past. They're the future too. My hope is that you'll be able to listen to this music for the rest of your life, and gain something from it every time - whether you're at the gym, feel like dancing, on a road-trip, or just by yourself smoking a bowl in your room.
It's okay to look back every once in a while. It shows us how far we've come, from the dark places we may have thought we'd never get out through. Sometimes the past can even give us the strength to move forward. You're a lot stronger than you think you are. I'm here to help you believe that.
2015 - 2019 - Forever
I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't know what mixing was, what compression or equalizing was, or have any idea what a master was. I was recording music on a $150 microphone that I plugged into my computer and sent to GarageBand. I had only a vague idea of what it was to create reverb and delays, or to add effects to vocals to make them sound better. I had really started exploring hip-hop artistry and writing rhymes less than 6 months earlier. Most of my friends were looking at me funny. I had just moved to a tiny town in New Mexico to finish college and play two more years of basketball. One of my best friends from childhood, then my roommate as well, was concerned that I was spending too much time focusing on a baseless side hobby and not enough time on what I had moved there to do. When he told me, I looked him in the eyes and assured him this was different from anything else. All I knew or understood was the feeling that creating music was giving me. I was exhilarated, it made my heart beat faster, it made me feel like I was finally home, like I had finally found an avenue of music that allowed me to express everything that I had been dying to let out for years. I knew from the minute I started recording myself what I wanted to do forever.
Don't let any of that fool you - I was awful. I wasn't yet confident enough in my voice or my direction to make good music or to make music sound good (two different, yet very connected skills). I just knew that I had to start, and that I was going to do whatever it took to get better at this craft. So I made a mixtape under a pseudonym. 13 songs. Freestyles, original songs, beats ripped off of YouTube, anything I could find with my limited resources and knowledge. I just started rapping and singing, and after 3 months I had a project. It wasn't special, and you can't find it anywhere. Unless someone somehow saved it on their computer, it is (thankfully) lost to history. But I was so proud of myself. I had followed through on this first step of the journey, and in the process had already learned an amazing amount about my abilities and my desire to be great. I was hooked, hopelessly and permanently, on creating music for the rest of my life.
And then I made Monster. In November of 2012, while I was looking for new instrumentals to write to, I found a beautiful, haunting, sound from a 16-year-old kid on YouTube (that kid is D. Boy, and I'm proud to say he's produced a lot of my music since then as well). It was perfect, and to this day its one of my favorite instrumentals ever. That beat played on repeat for days - I had no idea how to write to it, how to do it justice. This was one that I couldn't let pass without my best possible effort. On a team trip to Hawaii over Thanksgiving break, it was the only sound I played in my headphones. It was honestly infuriating - I couldn't come up with anything I liked. And then, on the flight back home, through 4 hours of silence, I wrote every word. The lyrics just flowed from somewhere I hadn't had access to before. The song was recorded the next day, and released on Soundcloud - my FIRST EVER track uploaded to Soundcloud - on November 29, 2012. I think it got about 600 plays. But if you ask any of the people in my life then what they thought when they heard that song for the first time, they'll all tell you a version of the same thing: "No bullshit, this kid can really do this."
Its been six years since that song changed my life - maybe not on the outside, but on the inside. It gave me the confidence to keep going and the assurance that I was on the right track. Some of my friends to this day will tell you its still their favorite song of mine. Many of them realized because of that song that I was serious and dedicated, and most of all capable. The raw songwriting and rhythm of the words are still so meaningful to me, so pure and powerful. So I brought it back. I stripped it down to the vocals, re-recorded the verse, and used all of the knowledge I've built in the last six years to bring Monster to life like no one has ever heard it before - clear, strong, and beautiful. You deserve it, the song deserves it, and everyone who has ever listened to my music deserves it. Thank you, whether you were on that flight with me in 2012, or this is the first song of mine you've ever heard. Thank you forever.
One of the reasons I fell in love with hip-hop was the flexibility and freedom it gives its artists, the ability we have to tell our stories however we want to. So many genres of music are still structured by specific rhyme schemes, timing, chorus and verse arrangements, and other tools used to write and record within a certain frame. I'm not saying these aren't important methods - they shaped music from its early modern stages into a lot of the songs we love. But Jazz artists like Miles Davis in the 1930s and 40s blazed a new trail, changing the face of music by refusing to be restricted by tempo or structure, and allowed their instruments to carry whatever form each record morphed into. There are still massive jazz and blues influences in today's hip-hop music, especially the sub-genre that stays true to its roots. Even mainstream artists like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar still use hip-hop as a story-telling method; their verses often contain multiple styles and schemes mixed into one other, creatively blurring lines of convention while telling complex, real-life stories.
These (and many other) artists are my generational peers. We learned from the same artists, from Tupac Shakur and Andre and Big Boi, from Nas and Jay-Z, when hip-hop was still in its "purest" form a technique to say a lot more in a compressed amount of time. Our voices are our instruments, and instead of using three four-line verses to try to craft an entire song, we can say hundreds of words per verse in any style that we want, whether they all follow a rhyming scheme or not. We can skip conventional choruses, add interludes, and create nearly anything we can imagine. Because I also sing and harmonize, within a hip-hop song I can be as expansive or minimal as I want to, experiment endlessly, and no one can ever tell me its "wrong".
My raps are a mixture of truth, symbolism, and wondering, questioning and blending real life and the world inside my head. I have a lot to say, and because I sometimes say so much, words can be forgotten or glossed over quickly, their meaning can be lost in the speed or style of delivery. I want you to be able to understand what I mean by a certain phrase, what I'm referencing in a certain line, what in my life may have influenced a phrase, and I want you to help. Starting this winter, all of my lyrics from official releases will be available on Genius.com to view and annotate. This site is a community of music and lyric lovers dedicated to finding even more meaning in the songs they love. I'll be doing quite a bit of annotation myself to explain some of my deeper lines, and to bring you closer to my art. If you find a line that you connect with or hasn't been explained yet, feel free to help the community and give your own annotation. If you just want to read along as you listen, maybe seeing the words will help you connect more to whichever song you're listening to. My hope is the words always bring you nearer to me and my sound. My words are my gift, and however I can best present them is the most important thing to me.
I'm excited about the next step in the process. As I've said all year, there's still so much more left for this year and into 2019. Let's keeping moving forward.