I was a teenager at summer Bible camp when they showed us Left Behind, a film inspired by the Rapture, about people who watched their loved ones vanish into thin air, only to discover that God took these privileged souls while they were abandoned. I remember sympathizing with this unfortunate group. Did these people really deserve this fate? Might God have made a mistake? And why are we watching this shit at a Bible camp?! This film would take root in my mind, and 15 or so years later, become the art that imitated my life.
It’s summer 2018. I have a Juno-nominated EP, Conversations, and I’m on the road, opening for my good friend Jessie Reyez and rapper-songwriter Russell. At the same time, I was working on a follow-up single. And then everything ground to a halt. My record label was getting cold feet about the songs not performing as well as they’d hoped and wanted to start making more “calculated” decisions.
Throughout the summer, I sat in meetings about planning to work with big producers and to create live instrument pop versions of my songs, things I would essentially pay for, even though I did not believe in them. I was staring down the road at a five-figure, nine-month nightmare. My ideas were being shelved, and I had a front-row seat for all the action.
During this time of frustration and stress, I convinced my label to release a few songs. One of those songs, “Purpose,” is my best-performing release to date and tangibly grew my audience. Still, its success ran contra to the expectations my label had for me to be a chart-topping, large-venue artist. Modest, organic growth would never be enough. What made this entire situation even more baffling is that I received zero support from the label. They left me to handle marketing and promotion all by myself, then used the lack of commercial success to justify their need to repackage me in the way they wanted to.
By October 2018, I needed a Hail Mary, and in case you’re wondering, yes, I’d have to throw and catch the ball on my own. If I didn’t step up and both finance and create a body of work to maintain full creative control, I’d be just another “Don’t be like that guy” music industry cautionary tale.
To save money, I moved back home with my dad, which wasn’t a bad idea—until doubt took hold, manifesting in my dark thoughts. I’m 33, sharing a wall with my father, semi-shelved by my label, feeling like there was no way out. “At this point, does it even fucking matter?” became the recurring thought of the day. Doubt feeds on your soul; it turns harmless thoughts into sweeping indictments of your merit as a human being. Unreplied emails and unanswered phone calls felt like death by a thousand opinionated cuts.
I began having visions of Left Behind. Was I one of these wretched heathens doomed to watch my friends and peers find heavenly success and praise? Did I fail in my commitment to my craft? Was I just not good enough? My mic stand sits right next to my nightstand: How much more devotion would one need?
People like to say that the source of our healing always begins with the admission of our hurt. I’d spend night after night singing my frustrations, then playing it back as loudly as my dad would let me. But something was happening: the deeper I dug, the more I’d come to terms with myself. Every day, I’d send multiple versions of songs to my team, who would keep pushing me towards finding the truth behind my emotions so that everyone could hear my struggle in themselves.
One such push came from my stylist and fellow creative collaborator, Jonathan Shimoni. After hearing some of my early demos, he said something that helped shape my outlook: “The world doesn’t need another person to feel sorry for. Focus on your feelings and how they’re shaping you day by day. Focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, and how you get there, that’s the real payoff for you and the listener.” His words couldn’t have come at a better time.
Last year, I started to write songs with a brighter outlook (“BETTER” and “RITUAL”), and almost immediately received positive feedback from some of my closest friends. One friend called me sobbing: “Why didn’t you tell me!?” The positivity had started to eat away at the doubt, giving me the clarity I needed to finish a song like “SANCTIFIED.” The only thing that felt better than transitioning from dark to light was hearing it show up in my art.
I’m not sure what my mom will think when she hears my new material. My sister says I should remove a line from my new EP, RAPTURE, that’s about her: “Seven missed calls from my momma, she don’t know when just to take a hint.” I told her, “Mom loves hard, but she’ll understand.” It’s the art that cuts deep that brings us closer to our truth. I wonder how my dad will react, knowing I was feeling this way while he was bumping old calypso records on his side of the drywall, mere feet away, but unaware of his son’s struggles. That’s just doubt doing what doubt does. I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.
When I started working on RAPTURE, it was a means of distracting myself from the pain, but in the end, it became the soundtrack to my healing. Tonight, I will have the best sleep I’ve had in weeks because the Rapture isn’t as final as that Bible camp classic made it out to be. Every day, real redemption begins inside, through tears and heartache, and always ends at the gates of heaven.
Amen to that.