For the longest time, I never had a “thing.”
In high school and college, I was just a guy. I played sports but wasn't really any good, I wasn't a particularly good student, I didn’t have any extra-curriculars aside from playing Call Of Duty. Shit, for as many hours as I’ve spent playing video games, I’m not even that good. As the years passed it became a repeated kick in the nuts to see all my friends find their “thing,” moving on to the next phase of their lives, while I stayed stuck in mediocrity.
Then I realized that music was my “thing.”
My passion, the thing that kept me up late at night, was finding new artists nobody else knew, and I did it so much I just so happened to get pretty damn good at it. I knew every word to “Grown Simba” before my crew had heard Friday Night Lights. I was going to put Leon Bridges in my Under 1K series but he had three followers too many; he now has 29k. I kept bothering Nathan, insisting that this “Martyrs” video from an emcee out of Chicago was something special back when it only had 1,000 views. Now it has over 1 million and Mick Jenkins is an acclaimed name in hip-hop. [Note from Nathan: This is true.]
Though I do more writing than music scouting these days, “music scout” is still a title I am proud of, because finding and sharing great music is what I love more than anything. Yes, there are days when I wish trading mutual funds for millions, brain surgery or any of the other countless, more lucrative career paths were my calling, but you don’t choose your “thing,” it chooses you, and I’ve come to accept that discovering and proclaiming artists as "going to blow" is my thing.
In my three years working for DJBooth, there’s no “he’s gonna be huge” call I felt more strongly about than Anderson .Paak. When I first heard that hook on Dumfoundead’s “Cell Phone” I knew. That voice, it was undeniable. Since that day I’ve been paying close attention and with each and every release I only believed in Breezy Lovejoy/Anderson .Paak more. As the rest of the world remained deaf, I egregiously blasted “Straight Jacket.” I have listened to that song more than any other in the past few years; there was even a three-hour car ride where it’s the only song I listened to. I wanted him to be an “Artist to Watch” two years before he was a Top Prospect. In my short stint moonlighting as a manager, I tried to link an artist I was working with and Paak. I knew he was going to be a star and a feature from him would look amazing in three years. With each release, from “Cell Phone” to “Sadie” (and everything else on O.B.E) and of course Venice, he’s continued to exceed my ever-growing expectations. Normally the honeymoon period with an artist wears off, but not with Paak. Nobody’s music makes me feel as strongly about the future of music as Anderson’s and it’s that excitement I’ve been trying to share with the world for years. Now he’s blowing the fuck up and I called it.
To be clear, I’m claiming absolutely no credit for .Paak’s rise. If he wants to fly me out to L.A. to meet Dre, who recognizes my genius and makes me the Head of A&R at Aftermath, I wouldn't say no, but I certainly don't expect any acclaim. The dude’s on Compton and in the studio with Kendrick, I doubt a random blogger he’s never actually met is even on his radar. After all, what the fuck did I really do? He’s the one with the talent, the one who spent time, money, and effort to build his career. All I did was my job; I found a dope artist and pointed out his talent. But you know what? I did my job damn well, so I’m taking a second to stunt.
Have you ever watched a horror movie and picked out the killer in the first 20 minutes? Ever select a player in the last round of your fantasy football draft and then watch him rack up massive numbers? Ever call that someone would hit a buzzer-beating three, then it happens and you jump off the couch screaming “CALLED IT!!!” in your doubting friend’s face? You have, we all have. There’s something so satisfying about a good call, even though you really didn’t do anything. That’s what I’m doing now.
It’s kind of surreal to see someone I knew had the potential to blow up actually blow up, to see a call unfold in real time on this level. I was far from the first person on Earth to notice that Anderson .Paak was talented, but in the grand scheme of things this wasn’t an artist I found posted on other sites, this wasn’t someone I casually liked, this is someone I literally spent years listening to. It feels like I got an A on a test or scored a goal, except, you know, on the internet, and with music.
While this rare moment, when I’m able to say “I called it!,” is just one of a few privileges of being a music writer - ask me about my non-existent 401K - more than anything, I do this job because I love finding and sharing new music. I’ve been known to jump out of the car at red lights to hand people albums. When I’m asked to take control of the aux chord, I take it seriously; with great power comes great responsibility. I remember the feeling I used to get as a fan from visiting DJBooth and finding a great new artist - the chills, the goosebumps, the rush of adrenaline - and being in a position to give that feeling to other people is something I never take for granted. That’s why I shared Anderson’s music. Not to become best friends with the guy or for internet glory, but because he was making great music that deserved to be shared.
So yeah, I called it.
Now excuse me while I go find the next Anderson, there’s always a next one. Making a call on a new artist is kind of my thing.