Updated: Jul 8, 2020
I spent many years lost and confused about my direction in life. Putting my mind in dark places of failure, rejection and uncertainty when I couldn‘t find answers. I'm not a fan of giving up nor would I ever endorse it, but when anxiety rises and the pursuit of happiness compromises, I understand wanting to. Struggling for so long, I gave up my farfetched dreams of becoming a famous rapper not once but several times. Yet no matter how much I've quit, I always manage to drift back to the dream in some way, shape or form. I'm not exactly a hip-hop artist who can make it rain in the club by any means, but I have learned to find joy in my career as a rapper with the little things along the way. Maybe you've never dreamt of being Malibu's Most Wanted, but no matter what you're pursuing, here are three key attributes I personally believe we all need to get closer to happiness.
As someone who knows what they’ve wanted to do since childhood, it can be excruciating to constantly hear the words, “just be patient, your time will come.” Witnessing guys younger than me 'make it' only made it worse, like twisting a blade in my heart. Whatever your passion is or whatever you’ve been working towards, believe me when I say I hate waiting on the sidelines too. That comes from decades of experience, but please BE PATIENT with your story. Each of us has one and no two are the same.
At the tender age of 8, I immersed myself in hip-hop culture and soaked up every bit of it. Especially the music. It fed my soul to hear the rhythm, beats and lyrics, so much that I began to create my own and perform it for family, friends and classmates. In high school, I participated in showcases and rap battles any chance there was. I would even remix top 40 songs into book reports for school. I usually did that with the employee handbook at every odd job I had too, which I know my bosses absolutely loved. Not really, but I gave a good laugh when I could and totally didn't mind the spotlight. There's something about connecting with an audience, it's this indescribable adrenaline rush of being able to move their bodies with your voice, send a message that creates emotion, or a solid punchline that makes all their faces say "Daaaaamn!" But I digress, day in and day out I would write what I thought were the hottest lines to the sickest beats, promote myself 24/7 like today's Instagram "model" and network with anybody who had even the slightest interest in music. Anything and everything an upcoming musician should do to be recognized, I was doing. So why was nothing happening?
Contrarily, so many things were going on but they just weren't happening as fast as I wanted them to. Blinded by impatience, I was constantly comparing myself to others and my peers. At age 12, my focus was on why I wasn't getting discovered like Kris Kross instead of appreciating the small school bus audience I had week after week. At age 16, I was trying to get signed like Lil' Wayne instead of treasuring the talent shows I won for my rap skills. Even at 20 years old, I spent more time wondering when I'd get that call from Dr. Dre instead of cherishing my own producers creating such a feel good sound. Many of the greats my age including Drake, Kendrick and more made huge moves in their careers before age 22 and I was barely making a dent. I put in what I thought was a long time of work but was still undiscovered. Ultimately I figured, "well if it's not happening now, then I'm too old to keep at it." The idea of a college graduate still trying to become a well-known rapper also didn’t sit well with many. So for my friends, family and health‘s sake, I stuck with a more stable career in hospitality and gave up the hip-hop dreams.
We don't always know in the moment if what we're doing is right. Is this the right job for me? Is this the right relationship? We often look to others for reassurance rather than trusting our own intuition or even our own happiness. But it's important to understand that the tortoise's pace doesn't make him a failure. Like the rest of us, he's hungry and has a vision but is in no hurry to get there. He will literally stand still for an hour before taking the next step, that does not mean he enjoys his meal less. Actually, tortoises eat more in a day than most other animals do, even if it does take them hours to get there. If I could have realized I was just as talented as the rappers I idolized, I just needed time and finesse, I probably wouldn't have quit. I would trade any of the days I wasted feeling muddled, miserable and sorry for myself for a booing crowd or harsh criticism on a song, because at least I still would have been doing what I loved. Instead it's as if I was a tortoise saying "I'll just starve since other herbivores can get to the lettuce faster." Don't be that kind of tortoise...
My friend Ellie, who performed with me last week at Whiskey Go Go, sent a video of Elizabeth Gilbert preaching curiosity and it sat in my stomach like a 10 pound bean burrito. Elizabeth, author of Eat, Pray, Love, gave a speech that promoted chasing curiosity instead of passion all the time. Although I strongly believe passion is an important ingredient for happiness, too much of anything can be toxic. Too much passion is like a type A personality, even though it gets things done, it is built on excessive ambition, competitiveness, and false sense of urgency - making it pretty miserable at times. Curiosity is a type B personality that wanders the world a little more stress free with a joy in achievement but it's not the end all be all. So when you feel stuck, BE CURIOUS.
I've walked this earth knowing my passion was music but the truth is, I often forget there was a time I didn't know. Maybe I've always had a heart for entertainment but discovering artists like Nas and Eminem sparked my curiosity for rap. First thing I thought was "Whoa, I want to make music like those guys". So I did, and at first it was great, but as time went on I became more grim about my aspired career. Success, to me, didn’t mean creating music, it meant selling it. So how could I believe that my passion and career were parallel if the income wasn't there to prove it? Especially after trying for almost 7 years. I even marginalized myself not to try anything new because if I really wanted music, I was in the mindset that I had to make it my life. I had to work harder and longer than anybody else and be the absolute best. Having devoted my whole heart, it was impossible to love anything else.
As I mentioned earlier, I will never endorse someone giving up their dreams or passions. What I will suggest however is to take a pause and indulge in some curiosity when the path is unclear. Anyone who's ever worked on a project or assignment for 10 hours straight knows that by the 5th hour we risk getting stuck, so it's important not to waste time forcing something unmeant for the moment. For instance, when an author is hit with writer's block, one of their techniques to become inspired again is by doing something else (e.g. doodle, fix a snack, read a book, etc.). This does not mean they forfeit the original plan, but rather alleviate the pressure with a distraction that could inspire more material. Looking back, I try not to say that I quit my hip-hop career, but that I decided to get up and make a sandwich. During my days of wondering "what am I going to do with my life?" I tried to find things that at least sparked some kind of interest even if I was terrible at them.
While attending Loyola University in Chicago, I stumbled upon journalism which led me to interesting reads, one of them being the poor education in America. I was curious about the classroom and became engaged with how children learn. Working in low-income neighborhoods, I wanted to be the teacher who cared like Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. I loved helping students find confidence to chase their dreams and a voice to not care what others thought. I wish more teachers would have exemplified that behavior for me. So with the help of my college professor, I wrote and published a children's book that was meant to help get kids through tough times. Little did I know it also helped me get a scholarship to University of Southern California's Masters in Teaching program. I needed a job to pay the housing bills and books so I got one as a bellman at a high end hotel in Bel-Air thanks to my hospitality background and performer personality (I like to think so). Working there, I met a yoga crazed woman who wouldn't take "no" for an answer when asking if I'd join her for a class. Finally I did and grew more fascinated with the spiritual practice, so I deepened my understanding with a yoga teacher training in Los Angeles. The lead teacher of the training wouldn't stop talking about India and how amazing it was, so out of curiosity, I decided to travel to the motherland of yoga to see what made it so life-changing. I did an official yoga certification program and of course made a rap song about it that my peers loved. You see where this is going right? My point is, getting up to take a breather brought me exactly back to where I need be. Rather than squeezing out results or giving up totally, find something else that interests you and be mindful how you can connect things you've always wanted to do with what you're doing now. That's what makes curiosity so great, it gives substance and stories to passion.
“Just be yourself" has got to be one of the most annoying phrases in the human language. I‘d love to be myself but everyone else seems to have a problem when I am! Why can't I take one step in my life without someone else's judgement or criticism? Well the truth is, we all can but it's those voices that turn us into people pleasers and our own dream killers. Yes, it's important to grow and expand so you're not some hermit asshole stuck in his ways, but at the end of the day if something makes you happy, no matter how embarrassing society might make it seem, stick with it! Think of your authentic self as a water filter, without it, you might have a pretty poisonous cup in your hand, so just BE YOURSELF.
My understanding of making it in the rap game was very misguided. I was under the impression that I had to stay relevant and keep up with the competition. Taking a serious approach to this industry since 16 years old, I hit every persona from the gangsta to the playboy but was never noticed by any managers or record labels. To be honest, writing lyrics so disingenuously was killing me inside and was probably why I struggled so long to create something even I could believe in. Mixing the paths of hip-hop and spirituality came to me so organically that it's not even a question of "does this feel right?" When you know, you know! If I stopped my rap career now because the industry thought hip-hop yoga was weird - if I believed 'those who can can, and those who can't teach' - If I never performed or created based on shallow opinions of where I "should be" in life, I would forever be in a hole of misery. Not because I didn't make it to the top, not because I wasn't good enough to tour, but because I stopped doing something that fed my soul.
I was told by many people that the demographics of my genre were so tiny that there's no way I could make a living off of it, however the money wasn't something I longed for anymore. Don't get me wrong, it's always nice to get that bonus but now I was in it for the art, mindfulness and people. I started looking at more artists like Talib Kweli and Common who were conscious rappers spreading an educated and spiritual message through music. Sure, they might not be household names like Drake, but even Drizzy said in his Grammy winning speech this year, that if you have people who know your songs word for word, buy your music, spend their hard earned money to go to your shows, you don't need a Grammy to prove you are successful. If you are doing what you love then you are exactly where you need to be.
It was only until recently playing the Whisky a Go Go that I realized how much better I felt about my pursuit. It seemed like the less I tried, the more clear the path became, filtering out fake people, those who were never really willing to support or those who just didn't get it. Being truly authentic to my sound, I never had a more pure and loving audience. Even if it wasn't a sold out Staples Center crowd, I never felt more alive and fulfilled than the moment I realized people were loving my music and me for who we were, not what we should be.
Be patient, Be curious, and Be Yourself
Life is a marathon, not a sprint. If you don't know what you want to do the rest of your life, please believe that it's okay. If you know what you want to do but you feel stuck that is also okay. If you feel like you're not doing what you want to because of how others will see you, you are not alone. Especially in America, success is defined by the status, income, and assets one possesses but that can't be further from the realm of happiness. Alleviate the pressures of society by being patient with your time and grow like a massive Galapagos tortoise. Give yourself permission to be curious and explore this life like a Siberian tiger. Most of all, live your life authentically and unapologetically for today and not the future. Trust that the universe will unfold as it should.