When I started writing for DJBooth, I never thought it would lead to me getting to interview 9th Wonder at A3C. When I'm on my death bed, I'll remember that moment.
It was a dream come true.
It's a good thing I made it a reality, because a few hours later I saw the rest of my dreams come crashing down.
You may have seen me and the DJBooth crew at A3C, you may have heard about us seeing Mannie Fresh pull up to the spot in a Nissan Altima, but what you didn't hear was that it was also where I learned that I may lose my job.
The internet is a million mile an hour mystery. Things change at the drop of a hat, so when you make your living on the internet, job security is virtually non-existent. As I sat down with Nathan in our hotel lobby, surrounded by struggle rappers handing out copies of their latest tape to Bizarre from D12, he explained the circumstances. Essentially, DJBooth was making changes and as a result, my position may change. Or it totally may not. But it totally may. If those changes work, if revenue picks up, I have a job. It doesn't work, revenue drops, I may not. He wanted me to be prepared for the worst case scenario. Two Makers on the rocks deep my head was spinning. I tried to comprehend what my life without rap blogging would look like. I didn't like the picture. The whole experience was kind of surreal. For the first time in over two years, I was forced to think about the one thing that scares me most, the future. Stupidly and passively, I always just assumed it would "work out" and now I realized it's not that easy.
Did I mention Bizarre from D12 was there?
For the rest of the trip I was kind of in a daze. That night I sat outside observing. The air smelled of inflated egos and grape swishers. The ground was caked in discarded Styrofoam cups, empty cigarette cartons and Varsity chili dog wrappers leading to the hotel lobby like some sort of struggle rapper red carpet. I read the Twitter handles sprawled on demo CDs that were now stuffed into already overfilled trash cans. I sat back with a bummed cigarette - I never smoke cigarettes - and stared into the souls and futures of the rapper entourages that came and went. It occurred to me that most of the people there would never, ever make a living off of rap music (myself included). To them this was the sight of another successful A3C, but to me it was a graveyard where the hopes and ambitions of the dreamers came to die.
As I boarded my flight home, I couldn't tell if the heavy piercing feeling in my gut was the result of drinking and a late night food run or reality setting in. That day it was a little bit of both, but for the subsequent four months, it was the latter. Everyday I would wake up and wonder if this was my last day. I was writing with my hands over my eyes. A few times, I thought about walking away. I thought it may have been easier to treat it like a bandaid and rip it off. I felt like there was an ax over my head and I knew at an moment it could drop, severing my head from my body while quite literally splitting my hopes and dreams like a piece of firewood. How could I work in these conditions? How could I give my all day in and day out knowing it wouldn't help? I'm a cynic like that. I would stay up until the crack of dawn worrying, wake up and do it all over again. Then one night, I was sitting on my stoop at 3:30 AM, soul as empty as Dickens Avenue, and heard this.
Immediately, the beat calmed my soul. The soft, fuzzy feeling felt almost as good as that sample. I had felt a calm I hadn't felt in weeks. My mind stopped racing and I was able to really listen. From his voice alone I knew he had something to say - his growling flow gave him the authenticity of a wise, battle-tested veteran feel - so I listened, hoping to soak up some of the knowledge he had to share. It worked.
For the next few months Oddisee became my spiritual sherpa, helping me stay committed to reaching the summit. Lines like, "Get everything you want it ain't always good for the soul" light my path. It might be a little sorority girl-ish, but I posted a Stickie with, "A mix of self worth, some help, a little control" on my bathroom mirror so I would see it every day. It's still there. "How you grade yourself is the mark that will matter most," made me reflect on my own shortcomings. As much as I'd love to blame outside forces conspiring to keep me down, how much was on me? What was my grade? Did I really give my all each and every day? I knew I hadn't really given it my all day in an day out. The fear of missing my shot because I was lazy, because I got complacent, scared me far more than unemployment. I could live with having to find other work, but years down the line, if I looked back and regretted not pouring it all into this, it would be hard to swallow. That night I soaked up the wealth of knowledge Oddisee shared on "Own Appeal." It's one of the most honest, thoughtful, and inspirational songs I've ever heard. I cried but woke up with a new outlook on internet life. I was ready to commit myself fully for the next few months. If It worked out great. If not, I could die knowing I tried as hard as I could.
But that was just one of the routine existential crises in the life of a rap blogger. I may be a little more stable now, but truthfully, still, who the fuck knows what tomorrow holds? I know law, med, and grad school are tough, but at least you're own some sort of track. In this line of work there's no course, no syllabus, no starting salary or career track. You can't say, "I got these grades and this score on that test, so I deserve this much." It's on you to create your own opportunities. The only blueprint in this line of work is a 15-song album. I'm lucky enough to have someone like Nathan who serves as the Birdman to my Wayne Thugger, but I can't go to him for every single question. After all, he may be more experienced, but he's still dealing with a lot of the same uncertainty I am.
So, when I feel doubt whispering sweet nothings in my ear, I turn to Oddisee, because he motivates and inspires me. It's not high-octane, balls to the wall, workout kind of motivation, but a deeper and ultimately more powerful type. When I'm at the grocery store getting rung up, when I'm paying bills, or forking over a months salary for car repairs, it's "Slow It Down" that keeps me calm. When I finish writing a piece and know I could have done just a little better, I put on "Paralyzed" go back, and take the time to make it great. When Yoh runs laps around me, it's "Another's Grind" in rotation. If I have a bad day, week, or month, I put it behind me and focus on what I can do better with "Let It Go." The line, "I know it's not classy but when life pass me I stare and I whistle as the gal walk by," always gets me ready to write my next great piece. Also "Do It All."
Sometimes, when my breakdowns have nothing to do with work, I turn to "In The Middle" where the beat is as soothing as his sage-like advice. It's comforting to know he too struggles like I do. I listen to "Ongoing Thing" for no reason at all. Sure, it's motivational too, but it's also just a great song. When I need a dose of reality and when I want to dream big, it's "Ready To Rock." That second verse gives me the strengths to move mountains, and when I'm done turning Mt. Everest into an anthill, "Hustle Off" reminds me it's okay to take a minute and smell the roses.
It's not just his music that inspires me, but his story too. As I get deeper into the rabbit hole, my dreams change. I realize now, I'll never get paid a million dollars a month by Kanye to be his personal A&R, but Oddisee shows me I can still make an honest living if I try hard enough. Look at his story. He's used rap as a vehicle to travel the world and feed and clothe himself and his family. No viral videos, no major label, no Vines. He did it with his own two hands and a beat machine. I might sound like an old Republican here, but Oddisee is the embodiment of the American dream. In 2015 it's all about getting rich without doing the work, but Oddisee is living, breathing, and rapping proof, that if you really commit yourself to your craft, you can make it. It's not about being "special," it's not about a co-sign, it's all about you and how much you are willing to sacrifice to make a living. No excuses, no "what ifs," no blaming somebody else.
Oddisee is a constant reminder that this is a marathon not a sprint. Through years of hard work, years of "eating Ramen noodles for a week straight," you can do it, but you have to commit yourself, you have to embrace the uncertainty, knowing nothing is handed to you. I may not be as special as Oddisee, I know I'm not nearly as talented, but his story alone, how he willed himself from a broke Prince Georgia's County native to an emcee who sells out shows in Europe, is proof that hard work and determination can pay off. He's not dropping racks in the club, he's paying off bills. There's a nobility to his struggle. He's the American Dream but he's also the Tangible Dream. If he can do it, I can too. It's easier said than done, but so long as I have his music, I know I can do it. Oddisee the man motivates me just as much as Oddisee the emcee. Thank you, Oddisee, you've done more for me than you can ever imagine.
This month he dropped a new album, The Good Fight. Truthfully, I haven't listened yet, but you totally should. Me? I'm keeping it in my back pocket for my next crisis. And as much as I'd like to believe that next crises is far off in the horizon, I know better now. Uncertainty is the rule, not the exception.
I can't wait to listen to it this weekend...
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth]