Welcome to Inspire! In this series I will pay forward the advice I have curated from other individuals regarding the music industry through self-reflection. These articles will be driven by quotes, artists, tracks, and everything in-between. Each node I find will continue to shape both my perspective as an artist and my overall philosophy.
Today’s entry features words of wisdom from wave connoisseur Mick Jenkins of Chicago (learn more about him here). Earlier this week on Twitter, Jenkins gave his tough two cents directed towards aspiring artists (rappers in particular). For convenience, I have compiled the tweets into a single quote:
“Best advice I can give a rapper: try to make sure you have something first, something special. A lotta people think they have something dope and they simply don’t… Honestly compared all my music before ‘Trees and Truths’ to what I heard coming outta Chicago– to Save Money, the Village, Treated Crew, Pivot– and I felt like my shit wasn’t good enough; that’s why I took them hoes off the Internet. ‘Negro League’ was the first song I wrote after I felt like I needed to step my shit up… Became a student of this shit. Rapping is writing. Read. Learn how to read and write better and you’ll rap better. Learn about melody and song structure, become a student to this shit. I been a student to this shit and I still am. By all means create what you wanna create, but don’t be out here creating trash and calling it ether to anyone who will listen. Cause when you come my way, talking to me about who can do this better, I’m gone call you on your shit,” – Mick Jenkins, Twitter
Starting out almost two years ago as a hip-hop artist (wow!), I made the mistake of releasing every single song that I recorded instead of allowing each track to marinate a bit before deciding whether it’d be something worth sharing. In any business, you can never make another first impression and now, I’m more hesitant to release music unless it’s something I truly believe in.
Among many others, I have gone through (and continue to revisit) this phase of discontent with my artwork, but instead of complacently moping around, I use it to drive myself further. After listening to what I first gave the world, I laugh at myself because of how good I thought it was at the time when I was unable to detach myself from my music. I also acknowledge that my view of the industry and thereby my approach towards the business have shifted dramatically over the past two years, but looking back I know I can break from the monotony and my comfort zone, ultimately for the better. In other words, I am my own toughest critique (a borderline perfectionist), but I realize that eventually you have to let things go and hope for the best, and there’s no such thing as bad experimenting. By tracking the progress I’ve made since then, I recognize that practice and persistence are rewarded heavily; how much effort I devote is later reciprocated by the inevitable payoff down the road.
Every passion is a craft and should be treated as such– rapping is no exception. While many become teachers on the way to the throne, we are all forever students to every field and must remain humble. By maintaining an open mind, we make ourselves available to a myriad of opportunities to grow and flourish. As I learned from Tyler the Creator, I don’t really like the word “potential” because it’s definite, limiting; in fact, “progress” is less restrictive. I have become a devoted student to my craft and have spent this past summer developing my knowledge bank. Of course no one ever mentioned the process would be easy, but I can promise you it will be worth it.
Furthermore, I’m a firm believer in “mind over matter.” Last year I didn’t dedicate as much time as I wanted towards music because of school and work and whatever other excuses I had back then, but from here on out I’m going to change that. If you truly want something (in my case, to develop a successful music career), you just make it work. You want a relationship? You make it work. You can stockpile excuses day and night, but you’re only wasting your own time. So remember to challenge yourself today because someone else out there is making it work under even more pressure, so why can’t you?