Armani White represents the juxtaposition of hood politics with upper-class morals. A Philadelphia writer whose voice embodies pain and poetry. When he isn’t throwing fruit snacks into a sold-out audience, he’s strategizing ways to revive the last three abs in his six-pack. Stream White's new single, "Onderful."
Atlanta’s a weird place. In a culturally bureaucratic way, it’s a completely parallel universe to the average college life a middle-class 21-year-old has gotten accustomed to; or the usual street apparatus that threads the population of low-income neighborhoods together. I say weird because all of these threads still exist, but everyone’s a rapper.
It was the first time in my life that I didn’t stand out, or that people didn’t understand me. I mean, sure, we might have talked and walked a lot different but we all shared the same passion for an art form and desire to hustle, which was totally new for me.
During a week-long visit in 2015, I met a producer who was transitioning to becoming an artist named Childish Major. We made a song that night you’ll probably never hear. He started telling me about his startup label at the time, Humility City. Never in my life had I come across a concept that I didn’t understand, yet foreshadowed so much of my life. The irony was, at the time, Childish was already an accomplished producer, having just grazed the 200k play mark on a couple of SoundCloud uploads.
This was 2015. At the time, I believed I had a pretty promising music career for a kid fresh on the scene. I had opened shows for Big Sean and Big K.R.I.T., I had management, and the idea that I was on top of the world was fresh in my head. In fact, I felt so great I didn’t realize what I had until I felt it slipping away. Little did I know, a quick pit stop back home would change my life forever.
It’s always humbling to return home, but this time was different. Turning down the gravelly corner of 52nd and Catherine Street, I saw an older-looking bald man standing on my father's steps helping my baby sister into the house. It took me a few stares, but I quickly realized the man standing on the steps was my father; an emaciated version of the heavyset man I had just seen a few months prior. I submissively sped off out of fear and didn’t get to wish him a happy birthday.
A good friend once told me: “Humility is defined by your awareness of how quick your blessings can come and go. To realize how much control over things you actually don’t have.” At the time, I didn’t grasp that concept. I had this idea in my head that what I was doing with my life—with my dreams—could fix all my problems.
A few months later, my father passed away. It was the first time I felt the ground. A cold, hard fall with a fiery landing. Everything around me burnt to ashes and the only arms that could pull me up were either out of reach or didn’t want to get their hands dirty. I gasped for air most nights and the little bit of oxygen I found ran back down my face moments later.
After wandering around rock bottom for months, I found myself staring in the face of an old friend; a sixth-grade kid with a stack of folded papers, reading in different cadences around a crowd of overzealous 11- to 13-year-olds. As the face got more recognizable I found myself hiding my own. I was embarrassed. What would that ambitious and hungry kid say if I told him that this is what became of him 10 years later?
After hearing that same 11-year-old tell his friends that he’d never give up on his dreams, I picked my head up. It struck a nerve. I realized I fell prisoner to feelings I had no control over. I loved what I did because of what it meant to me, and not what it meant to others, and not who it brought around me, and not because of what I got paid for it.
One night, I woke up in cold sweats. I sauntered over to my computer, pulled up YouTube and pressed play on Kendrick Lamar's “HUMBLE." Three minutes later, it all made sense. This was what Childish Major had prophesied years ago. Humility. Humility shares a story. Humility breaks the barrier of perfection. It’s being able to wear your gifts and curses on both sleeves, knowing some people might admire your shirt and some people might hate your entire outfit.
Through my resurgence into the music world—what seemed more like a posthumous venture at first—I studied other artists working their way back up; and I didn’t go much further than my backyard. Growing up in Philly, humility wasn’t typically the landing spot; there was this inadvertent cloud of entitlement. Just look at Meek Mill, who I got to watch go from being a “Southsida Ryda” to the Rap DVDs scene’s "One that got away" in a foreign car. Years ago, he released a record entitled "Fuck Being Humble," which was merited by the promise he showed at an earlier age and for being the prize fighter of a rising music empire.
When it came to going toe-to-toe with his once musical ally Drake, though, humility beat him at his own game. In a world full of respected street and gangsta rappers, Drake was once deemed soft for making "female music." It was too honest, too candid, too vulnerable. And his rebuttal… Was to make more of the same. It was a sense of humility, taking the traits people ridiculed you over and uplifting them. And where Drake might not have had the “hardest” bars, Meek’s boisterous gun talk fell short of Drake’s resonating wit.
Meek became a meme. Rap fans flooded his Instagram comments with one "L" after another. And then Meek went to prison. But right when everyone counted him out, something changed. The world finally adhered to what was actually going on in his real life. Less a victim to artistic sparring and more a victim to an unjust system used to punish criminals and turn people into property. They cheered and championed his return and when he finally did, it felt different. There was a crack of humility, a breach of security. Meek felt like a person now. There were pictures of his family. There were jokes in rebuttal to Nicki Minaj. He wasn’t indestructible. He was… Human.
Maybe the only thing Meek and I have in common are humble beginnings in Philadelphia. But when you go from being a top prospect who represents promise to sleeping on your mom's couch, trying to convince her that one day you’ll get your shit together, back to being a sought-after eyebrow-raiser in the industry; you learn to have a little tighter grip on your appreciation and a lot more peaceful detachment from everything going on around it. You’re less fearful that the world isn’t revolving around you and more happy that it doesn’t.
My favorite book quotes a conversation between a farmer and Master:
“I am in desperate need of help—or I’ll go crazy. We’re living in a single room, my wife, my children, and my in-laws. So our nerves are on edge, we yell and scream at one another. The room is a hell.”
“How many animals do you have?”
“A cow, a goat, and six chickens.”
“Take them all into the room with you. Then come back after a week.”
A week later he came back, a pitiable figure moaning, “I’m a nervous wreck. The dirt! The stench! The noise! We’re all on the verge of madness!”
“Go back,” said the Master, “and put the animals out.”
The man ran all the way home. And came back the following day, his eyes sparkling with joy. “How sweet life is! The animals are out. The home is a paradise—so quiet and clean and roomy!”
Credited Quotes: Taylor Brightman, Anthony De Mello