I’ve reached another milestone in my life. This transformation has taken the longest. Maybe I should learn when to quit 🤷🏾♂️
30 years ago, I took a detour in life…
I’ve always been captivated by music…and learning how to create music.
Early on, I took piano lessons, learned a little music theory and played the horn in junior high 🎹🎺
My earliest musical influences were Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Their ability to write and produce songs that grab you by your spirit and shake out your emotions was magic to me.
These musical influences eventually led me on a journey to learn how to make music myself.
In the summer of ’88, a group of the homies got together and started recording music on some equipment we pieced together. We recorded something like 8 songs leading to the beginning of the following school year. A week didn’t go by without somebody asking me about that tape that school year.
I took the enthusiasm from recording that material and bought my own equipment before heading to college in ’89.
Don’t quit yet
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough room to take my equipment with me to college (Norfolk State University #behold 💚💛) freshman year, so I had to leave my new found love behind. But, I was still able to continue writing and refining my lyrics when the muse struck (in class, at the library, in the dorm).
I also connected with other rappers who shared the same love for music. Since none of us had any equipment, we would beatbox and freestyle (off top, no pre-writtens) anytime we had a moment to form a cipher. I formed connections with dudes from Cleveland, New York, Philly, DC, GA, and VA, and I still keep in touch with many of them 30 years later.
For reasons I can’t remember, I didn’t have my equipment until somewhere around my junior year. That’s when I started connecting with some of the local Norfolk talent, particularly my dudes, Lil Baby Crazy and Trey Indo. We formed a cool relationship and recorded a lot of songs over my rustic, keyboard-driven beats. I managed to chef up songs, complete with vocals, using a Yamaha 4-track recorder, a keyboard with built-in drums and a cheap Radio Shack mic. I wish I still had a tape of those songs to listen back and reminisce.
I learned a lot about sharing a passion for music working with my dudes Lil Baby Crazy and Trey Indo. No matter where you’re from, music will bring you together.
Should I quit now?
After graduating from college, I made a brief stop back home before heading to the A (Atlanta), pursuing a job lead. I didn’t get that job but hung around for a minute and eventually got on with my first gig doing computer work.
At that time (’95), the A was starting to bubble with Rap talent. Groups like Arrested Development, Kris Kross and OutKast helped to brand Atlanta as the Motown of the south. There were so many studios and independent record labels down there that I knew somebody was going to ‘discover’ me.
I brought a few pieces of equipment with me so I could practice and keep myself out of trouble. My focus at that time was on production…but it wasn’t long before I switched lanes over to writing.
Through my college homie (Fly Ty), I met Ron, who had just copped some new equipment and was looking for somebody to come through and bless some of his work. Even though it was on the other side of town, I would hit up my new homie’s studio as often as I could.
It felt good to collaborate with another musician. We made a few decent songs that I managed to keep. You can find samples below:
Eventually, everybody in my small circle heard these songs and encouraged me to keep grinding. My roommate (Big Sean) arranged a meetup with a local Atlanta radio personality. We had a good meetup where we chopped it up a bit, he listened to a few of my songs and gave me some constructive feedback.
I wasn’t a star and I wasn’t expecting much from the meeting…and nothing actually happened 🙄
I suspect my lyrics, music, and sound were lacking…but I kept it in motion.
Another college homie (Lil Sean) had a cousin living in the A named Sinclair. Sinclair was good people. I learned a lot about life from our interactions. I didn’t know it when we met, but Sinclair hosted a local college radio program that came on later at night.
Along the way, I had shared some of my music with Sinclair, and he was real enough to actually play one of my songs on his show. I managed to stay up late enough to catch the show and record my song being broadcast over the Atlanta airwaves. I had this feeling I’d never felt about my music before…I was about to take off.
But, that’s the closest I ever got to my dream.
I have nothing but respect for Sinclair and everything he did to help me out. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the A, but I was struggling to find myself. There were plenty of opportunities, but my introversion kept me from expanding my comfy zone, being social and getting out to network. I mentally hit rock bottom and eventually packed up my shit and moved back home 🚛
Learn when to quit or shoot the shit?
After my failed Atlanta excursion, I headed back home to regroup and bounce back. Mentally, I was defeated but soon found a little comfort recording impromptu sessions with my dude Ty, that we called ‘Shit Shooters’.
Shit Shooters was like a podcast…long before podcasting was actually a thing. I would chef up a few tracks (about 5-6 minutes apiece) on the 4-track, take that over to my dude’s house…get lifted…and we would freestyle and ramble for hours 🎤
This was probably the period of time when I was the nastiest off top. This also should’ve been the time when I was the hungriest to pursue music.
And it was…but the music I was making was all about me…for my likes and tastes…nobody was listening.
Wanting to bring in a different voice and help lighten the load, I partnered up with Ty to produce some songs and work towards putting out a single.
That single would eventually be ‘Sandman’. ‘Sandman’ was born out of love for that Thuggish Ruggish, melodious rap sound. We figured that emulating Bone’s style would give us more visibility. So, we went all-in 🤿
And…what was the total cash out for the 500 copies DiscMakers cooked up for us?
Those ~100 lucky fans at ’99 Caribana…partying on Yonge Street…who were fortunate enough to get a copy of this tape…yes…TAPE!
We chose to press up tapes when tapes were pretty much dead and CD’s had been established as the preferred listening medium.
Choosing to press up tapes wasn’t even the worst decision.
Choosing to release ‘Sandman’ was. In a year when Jay-Z drops ‘Hard Knock Life’, OutKast drops ‘Rosa Parks’, and Big Pun drops ‘I’m Not A Player’, ‘Sandman’ was out of place.
I’ll take the blame for this debacle ✋🏾
I was still trying to find my sound as a writer, producer…engineer.
I was still trying to find myself.
This was before I knew anything about introversion.
My music didn’t fit in then and it doesn’t now, but it’s my therapy…so I soldier on.
We continued creating music for a few years after the ‘Sandman’ snafu, but never officially released another project.