(Art by Ponti55)
I woke up this morning and you weren’t there. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. I knew when this relationship started we wouldn’t be together forever, like most flings that are built on passion. I stared at the ceiling fan, watching it rotate, waiting, thinking you’d come rushing in at any moment. In the past, when you left without warning, I would pick up books and look for you in-between the pages, I’d play music and search for you in the lyrics, I’d scroll through Twitter hoping to find a lead toward your whereabouts, I’ll even phone a friend in hopes they have some sort of clue. You’re faithful to no man and more elusive than Carmen Sandiego. Inspiration, where are you?
I’m sitting at the machine knowing that I’m empty today. I figure it happens to anyone working in a creative field, that moment when you have nothing to offer. You search and search, but the light bulb never goes on, nothing lights the internal candle that was once a glowing flame. It reminds me of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, frantically wanting to move forward, honking and cursing, but all you can do is sit and wait. When I’m inspired, the feeling is euphoric. The subject hits me like a linebacker and the gears in my mind start spinning wildly, there’s a tingle at the end of my fingertips. I imagine myself as a pianist sitting behind a grand piano, playing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, striking the keys perfectly.
Before DJBooth I would write leisurely, whenever the inspiration appeared. Now I’m professional, at it Monday through Friday, sitting at this machine, flirting with nostalgia, dissecting music and documenting events. When I don’t have an assignment, I spend days searching for subjects that will fill me with passion and fire, trying to avoid the boring and mundane, separating what should be written from what should never be spoken of again. Days like this I think about veteran writers that have been doing it for years, how do they keep from burning out, how do they keep their pieces getting better and better? I think about David Carr at the New York Times, Hunter S. Thompson at Rolling Stone, and Nathan Slavik here. I wonder the same about rappers. The entire industry has a “You're only as funky as your last cut” mentality, how did Kendrick deal with the acclaim of GKMC? Nas and Illmatic? Jay and The Black Album? How many verses were crumpled and thrown away? How many sessions ended in disappointment because it didn’t meet their personal standards? Where’s the behind-the-scene footage of J. Cole getting stuck on the sixth bar, zooming in to the frustration on his face, telling the world he wants to write the perfect punchline and being unable to conjure it.
Artists are bound to run into walls. Creative blocks are infuriating but I also find them humbling. They leave the confidence slightly bruised and the ego deflated, how I imagine Big Sean felt when Kendrick sent back his “Control” verse. It’s the notification that your batteries need to be recharged. There’s only so much content you can create without removing yourself from the craft and soaking up inspiration from the outside. The Kendrick Lamar that created TPAB isn’t the same man that made GKMC, there’s a very apparent transformation, one that couldn’t happen being stuck in a recording booth. He surrounded himself with new people that brought new perspectives, everyone that contributed presented a necessary quality, one that didn’t appear on his previous works. Always make time for new inspiration, it’s the key to longevity. Always hunger, always searching, replenishing the passion.
Longevity has been on the mind lately. Writing the article on Pill really put into perspective how a promising career can become a distant memory in just a few years, sometimes faster. From having a bright future to only remembered in the past tense. You start your journey trying to attract attention, receive the acclaim, but very rarely do you plan out how you will sustain it once you reach that next plateau. Constantly at war with your material from the past and the present. The, “great mixtape but mediocre album” syndrome is what I call it and we’ve seen it again and again. I've been telling my friends for years, you need to build up enough inspiration to write 100 albums. That might sound like a bit much, but think of all the verses you'll write if a long-lasting career is the goal. The mixtapes, the remixes, the features, the freestyles, you'll be expected to deliver. They will spend more time talking about how you spiraled instead of how you soared.
When I started to write this, my only goal was to be honest, transparent, to say something real. I’ve had a good few months, plenty of writing that I’m proud of, but it all didn’t come easy. It’s better when the outside perception believes that it did. Who doesn’t want to be seen as the genius that does it without effort? The empty days aren’t documented, discouragement isn’t considered click-bait. It’s all a part of the craft. Balancing the good days with the bad, the key is to never lose confidence in yourself. Having a good team also helps take off the pressure, leaning on others will make a world of difference. Inspiration is everywhere, if you look hard enough. I didn't have some great, internet breaking idea this morning and I found that frustrating. When writing became a career and not a passion, I gave up the luxury of only typing when the fire burned. The job requires me to always deliver, there’s no excuses, and the last few months have taught me this valuable lesson. Instead of running into the wall I must knock it over. I've been writing full-time since January, there's seven months left in the year, and I want to end strong.
I plan to be here for a long time.
[By Yoh, aka Yohvie Wonder, aka @Yoh31]