“Most days I wake up around 6, roll outta bed, kiss my dog goodbye, and drive to the studio,” Amplified says, laughing.
Sitting across the picnic table from me and my notepad, he’s trying hard to capture in words something elusive. I can see it dancing behind his eyes; an overpowering love for the music he makes, and a driving hunger for what comes next.
At 22 years old, Amp is one of thousands upon thousands of young rappers who believe wholeheartedly that he will make it. That he will be the exception, a success story that defies the odds. Every hour of every day, Amplified moves with both eyes locked on that dream. His 24/7 hustle epitomizes a day in the life of a “struggle rapper.”
“In the morning, it’s always music first,” Amp continues, excited to speak on his art. “Plotting and planning on how to get it out there, or writing a new song, or making a new beat. As soon as I get in the car I’m thinking about my music.”
That sounds romantic, but it’s far from the full picture.
“By afternoon, I’m usually in a team meeting or working on editing a commercial for NEEBA,” says AMP, referring to the Silicon Valley-based start-up marketing agency where he works full-time. “Podcasts, videos, whatever comes my way. Most days I’m working on projects until pretty late, and after that, it’s more music.” By the time Amp gets in his car to head home, it’s often close to midnight.
In the time in between, every lunch break and minute of breathing room is about hip-hop. Spitting a line again and again until it lands right. Re-writing a hook for the thirtieth time because something still feels off. Sending rough versions of tracks to peers for their critique. When you’re checking your Twitter feed or watching NBA highlights on YouTube, Amp is doing everything he can to get better at his craft.
Viewed from afar, Amp’s a “struggle rapper”: the underground dreamer rhyming at a cypher circle and pouring his heart into a track for his SoundCloud page. The kid who works 18-hour days burning the candle at both ends in pursuit of a long-shot dream that, statistically, probably won’t pan out.
Sitting across the table from him, it's clear Amp’s a force of nature. He’s got a focus that’s rare among today's generation; his art is everything to him. He’s seen the odds, but working against them is all he knows.
“The struggle of what we’re building becomes a necessity of who we are,” Amplified explains. “I know rappers who say they want a career, but you gotta ask yourself, do you really wanna do this? Are you willing to bleed out the eyes for this?” If the answer is yes, fighting to make ends meet while devoting everything you’ve got to perfecting the art of being an MC comes with the territory.
It’s not glamorous; it’s not about the lifestyle or the chance of becoming famous or anything you’d see in a big budget rap video. The average MC in America works a day job and scrapes to get by just like most of us. For this group of artists, hundreds of thousands of them, hip-hop is an identity; a sense of purpose; a community with open arms.
“When I got into hip-hop it was like, 'This is it, I fit in,'” Amp reminisces. When I ask him what it is about the community that is so special, he doesn’t miss a beat. “We’re all here because we have the same struggles. Internal, external. Hip-hop is just the outlet.”
In our commercialized modern culture, that outlet itself isn’t celebrated enough. It’s easy to complain that there are too many rappers these days. But every one of those artists, from the biggest breakout star of the year to the lowliest SoundCoud rapper, is expressing themselves. And that’s almost always a good thing, even if every mixtape or loosie isn't a classic.
In the face of Amp’s unbridled positivity, it’s hard to find the right way to ask him about what the alternative is, about what he’ll do if there isn't a career in rap in his future. It’s hard to imagine he even entertains the idea. The closest I come is asking him if he ever gets scared.
“As an independent artist, the fear is the hardest part. If you can get past yourself, you can get past anything.” A real day in the life of a struggle rapper? “My daily reality is about beating myself, beating my fear.”
There’s an intensity in his voice that is powerful and undeniable, and my last question finds an answer just as heartfelt when I ask Amp how he keeps going. After flashing a quick smile, he offers the perfect response to explain all the sleepless nights and perpetual grinding: “It’s about developing the initiative to get ahead of who you are.”
Constant progression, constant reinvention, and tireless devotion. Becoming the better you. That’s what hip-hop does for Amp, and it’s what it does for thousands of other artists struggling to realize a far-fetched dream that most will realistically never come close to achieving.
But it doesn’t matter, really. Ultimately, whether or not Amplified makes it in hip-hop, hip-hop has made him who he is, and there’s immense value in that. No one can say the struggle was for nothing.
By the time Amp rests his head on his pillow for the night, it’s sometime in the AM. His bills are paid, a few new bars are written, and it’s time for him to rest, catching only a brief respite before waking to struggle through another day in his quest for a legacy.
A day in the life of a struggle rapper isn’t easy, but it’s all that an artist like Amp knows, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
By Cassidy Kakin. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Instagram