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.