The Music of Struggle

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Staring down the pale yellow legal pad, pen set to it as if I’m about to slit its throat, I begin to let the art flow from the ink in a torrent and flurry of complex vocabulary and rhymes designed to create poetry. My mind races with all sorts of ideas to put in the lines, trying to perfect the line length to make it seem to flow together like a smooth river of lyrics. Juices in my brain pump, as self-criticism sets in demanding me to change words and increase or decrease the length of lines, trying to make the song sound like someone who isn’t stumbling over his words trying to say something. Music has become a passion for me, as an outlet to express in ways that no one listens to otherwise. It’s crazy to think a white-boy who spent all of his teen life in Vermont could ever want to make a career out of rap. With this idea comes the standard critics like high school peers, jumping on the diss train to try and shut down any hope of doing what you want in the future. But I stare it down daily, not backing away from my passions no matter how big the critics become. I’ve done the staring ever since I started, and I don’t see it stopping.

Hip-hop didn’t start for me until the sixth grade. Back then, I didn’t have a preferred music type, and didn’t really listen to anything. I was in a mixed class of fifth and sixth graders, and it was probably the turning point for me and how I wanted to take my life. Hard to believe the small classroom in a tiny community would be the turn around. I had formed a small clique of friends in my class, all with a similar obsession. One of my friends had a liking for rap music, and let us in on it. He brought with him the likes of 50 Cent, G-Unit and Eminem, sparking my interest in hip-hop. The focus of our group never changed, but the things we did would. We began to revel in the idea of becoming rappers together, and began working on changing up the lyrics of a song we liked to make it fit our interests. Eventually, this song became the pinnacle of our work, and we held it high and proud. When I look back on it, this song we made sucks. Horribly. We performed it eventually, but my beginnings as an MC started before that terrible performance.

During the sixth grade, we were going to spend a few days at a boys summer camp. However, since this was during the school year, it was a school funded trip so everyone went. It was a few hours north, and was in a much more wooded area. I remember stepping off the bus out into the lush forests of the camp grounds. The trees towered over everything and seemed to be the kings of the land. The ground was littered with old brown pine needles and small plants that had died off from age. The dirt was dark and rich, and we felt as though we were a part of nature. Scattered across the campgrounds were small wood cabins, meant for us to stay in for our rooms. A strange place to have a revelation to begin hip-hop in instead of slums in the city streets. The camp itself had opened up people to my interests, and they began to learn of my passion for hip-hop. On the last day of the camp, the flame was lit, and my lyricist mind became active. During that day, we had a gathering of all the people attending around a large campfire. We had been divided into groups at the beginning of the camp, and we had been together for the time we were there. Each group was told to do a presentation on something in nature. Our group decided to do something involving photosynthesis. It ended up being mostly on me, after the rest of the group did a quick explanation on the process and how it worked. When they finished, I jumped out from behind an old rotting stump facing the massive lake that the camp was nestled beside. I began to freestyle about it. The lyrics were all over the place, running amok like a maniac. As I stumbled through the lines, trying desperately to think on my feet and create rhymes about it, I kept on going about photosynthesis, recapping everything my group had just said. It didn’t have many rhymes in it, but I had taken my first step into hip-hop as a result. After my freestyle was finished, I smashed my shin on an old tree root. What a great experience to have happen after your first freestyle, to get injured in front of ALL of my peers. It was embarrassing, painful, and sadly tragic. But this freestyle sparked the fire in my mind about music, and was about to ignite like a gasoline explosion, rising high into the sky.

I stumbled through the seventh and eighth grade, goofing off on stage and being a small source of entertainment as I performed renditions of songs that I worshiped to death, believing them to be the crown jewel of rap. It ended up being hounded off stage for performing “Just Lose It” over and over again. I think my IQ dropped about ten points after that time period was over. However, I had begun to write lyrics for once, and I still have the lyrics to one of the first songs I had made. The music remained the same, however, as I molded to the creations of mainstream artists, never letting go because anything that wasn’t mainstream must have sucked. I just kept moving on the works that I made, but it wasn’t until the ninth grade that I began to realize what the real music was, and the molds I made began to crack and decay away. Heading into high school warped my whole perspective of rap, and presented me with a buffet of different options about rap music.

I met a senior who at first gave me s**t about how I dressed and acted, but after about twenty minutes, he came back around and gave me respect for not flipping out and acting bigger and tougher than I would have been. This became a joint venture between him and I, as he began to show me the way about the process of making this music, what connections to make, and how to go about the music I was making. I still owe it to him to show me the artists that I credit as influences for me. He began to tell me how to improve my freestyling, giving me a technique that I still use today. I had begun to break away from the repetition of the dance rap from the south, using the same hooks and chorus lines that consisted of three to seven words total in the entire chorus of four lines. My mind began to flow with all sorts of ways to express my thoughts and ideas, as well as beliefs and trouble in music. It could then be transferred, using the black or blue ink of my pen as lifeblood to write with, to create new life in self-expression and thinking. The radio plays catchy songs of Soulja Boy and his likes haven’t left though. It’s about ready to crush anyone beneath their feet who doesn’t rap about the same stuff over and over again, because that’s obviously the only good music and not in any way unskillful.

My idea of rap is to create pure poetry. After meeting this senior, he left me for a time confused in the terms of who to look towards for inspiration. Though he told me that Eminem and 50 Cent were good, the rap originating from the South left me with a bad taste in my mouth after I was told it was too repetitive. New artists were opened up for me as I learned the way of Big L, Benefit, and more 2Pac than I was used to. My skills were expanding, and it became critical that any rapper I listened to had some decent rhyming ability. It came down to two things for me in rap music; the fundamentals of what rap was. The music had to have fluency with vocabulary combined with rhyming ingenuity, and had to convey a message to create the lyrical poetry that is painted into the minds of listeners. My interests shifted, and the music changed up from dance to thought and ideas. The storm began for my artist tastes, as I was slammed with the hidden gems of the rap game. I even went back to an old video game I played to find music to become interested in. Freestyling became a big thing, and I have Supernatural to light the way. Old school showed me the basics, and Big L presented them to me in his hidden fashion. Internal rhyming(rhyming inside rhymes) showed me the advanced techniques to prove my lyrical talent, and Rakim flashed it through his music as a pioneer of rap. The golden age of hip-hop ushered in a new way for me to approach my style in skilled lyricism, and has given me the real crown jewel to observe.

In the golden age of hip-hop(In the 80's), music wasn’t getting milked for cash. It became a time for thought, as true lyricists came out with real music and expression and took a stand and showed the world what we did negatively as a nation. I want to be a part of the few artists that don’t just rap about the same topics all the time. I want to be like the visual artists, the ones who rap about what they see around them. I want to take the world, and examine it under a microscope. Then, the music comes out and begins to paint a picture on the face of civilization and the world itself, as part of the pinnacle of culture and society. I was told by an old friend once to break away from the same, repetitive music that a lot of rappers did. Though I never had an response for him, I do now. This is how I want to break away from the same songs, the same music and make something fresh and new. It’s the music of struggle, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.





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