Glowing Up In The Dark: On XV and Personal Progress

A common trope in rap music is the “grind” mentality. You overcome circumstances and disprove critics by working non-stop. But instead of sharpening the sword that grind can turn you into dust. I realized I was going through a recurring cycle:

  1. Feel productive
  2. Don’t see the results I want
  3. Go through my mind on what I can do differently
  4. Slack off
  5. Start trying to be productive again

I needed to hit the reset button. So I revisited the XV song of the same name. For those unfamiliar, XV is a rapper out of Kansas who first emerged from the blogosphere a decade ago. His debut album with Warner Bros. never materialized and the last fans heard of him was 2014. Like many fans I assumed battles with a major label and the rapid change in rap’s trends pushed him out. I would play his Zero Heroes and Popular Culture mixtapes and wonder what could have been. Until….

I found an interview from February shortly after he announced his return to the public eye. Apparently after a few comeback attempts, XV decided to step away from social media. Music was not fulfilling him, so he pursued his other passions. He would still write but did not hold himself to a deadline. And in the process, XV had his long-awaited album.

In that moment something clicked. I needed to get out of the hamster-wheel mentality and find purpose in what I was doing every day. I had the answer in the lyrics for “In The Dark” all along.

Remind myself why this hobby had its start
Find my outlet turning everything off

Social media celebrities and a 24-hour news cycle can create pressure to show the world how active you are, even at the expense of actual productivity. You get swept up in tracking the timeline of your successes against others. The path of XV in the music industry reminded me that the real work is done when no one is watching.

“Great set, dude. No, seriously.”

Despite the volatile weather this month (to be expected in the Northeast, really) I got to see some great live performances. I probably should have taken pictures but my phone becomes a potato in low light. Anyway, the shows I went to were not for big names in bigger arenas. I spent the last three weekends supporting friends and seeing what other local acts are out there. I particularly looked forward to With Sails Ahead and TrapBang.

I have seen WSA grow from one person looking for members to a quintet packing out the room for its EP release. The band has been consistently playing out and traveling despite a gap between releases. And from getting to know its members, I can tell you that their successes have resulted from figuring out mistakes and adjusting the sails. That was wild corny, I’m sorry. My point is that With Sails Ahead has been my lesson in consistency and persistence.

Another aspect of local shows is the opportunity to connect with fellow creatives. In the case of TrapBang, I found their music through my friend Sierra (of With Sails Ahead) sharing their videos on social media. So when I saw them on the bill for a local rap show I had to see the crew live. Keeping in touch with local artists provided me a chance of my own to perform. Thanks to Mike Oregano, I did my first extended set last week. The atmosphere felt like a typical open mic but I took pride in being one of a select group of performers that night. This month reminded me to appreciate and take advantage of the local music scene.

The Pragmatic Playlist: 5 Years Later

Valentine’s Day will mark the 5-year anniversary of a project near and dear to me. I released The Pragmatic Playlist as a senior send-off to start my last semester at the University of Delaware. I had originally planned to rap over electronic/dance tracks I liked, as well as songs I would play at parties. It would be your go-to playlist, from dager to pre-game to night of DEBAUCHERY *Spongebob voice*.  Eventually my feelings for a “party” tape soured so the project became all-original and much more personal.

I drew inspiration for the cover from Big Sean’s Detroit mixtape. That fountain in the center is Magnolia Circle, where UD seniors traditionally take a dip before graduation. An intentionally grainy black-and-white picture gave it a sense of nostalgia. The title brought together two things I had learned on late nights outside of lecture halls and practice rooms. First, a definition:

pragmatic [præg’mætɪk] adj.

1. Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.

I gravitated toward the word pragmatic as I began junior year. At that point I saw no sense or necessity in jumping through hoops just to go out with friends. The days of finding enough ladies to even out the ratio, long treks to a random house and door charges for foamy Natty Light were OVER.

Then, there was the playlist. College is where I developed a need to make playlists for different occasions. The drive back to campus for band camp and a new academic year- check. Band camp break blocks- I had a playlist for each time of day. And most importantly, I had to have the tunes on deck while getting fresh for the night. I wanted this collection of songs to be my best yet, as well as something that people could actually play at a party.

Although The Pragmatic Playlist didn’t propel me in terms of exposure, I took leaps in what I learned from the process. This was the project that helped me to find my sound in production and my voice as an artist. I shot and edited my first (later scrapped) and second music videos. It was the first project that had material I felt others would “get” when performed live. I wanted to revisit this one to remind myself of the progress I’ve made and the critique I can still give myself. Even if you never went to college, you can still remember fleeting moments of independence and the excitement (and fear) of everything being new. That was the goal of The Pragmatic Playlist. I hope you take a little time  to stroll down my memory lane.

-TG

Download The Pragmatic Playlist here.

Grammys 2018 Big Picture Reaction

For this year’s Grammy Awards, the big news was the show returning to New York for its 60th anniversary. Despite the change in venue, the ceremony had plenty of the moments you come to expect from an event branded as Music’s Biggest Night. I watched for the performances and avoided trying to predict the winners. This is just my general impression of the ceremony and winners, not a full play-by-play. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The More Things Change…
-It was nice to hear artists be outspoken about topics that held significance to them. We finally heard country artists address gun violence in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting and a chorus of female artists dressed in white surrounded Kesha for her performance of “Praying”.
– Considering the show opened with Kendrick and Jay-Z was the most nominated artist this year, it felt necessary to make sure their awards were presented on the telecast. It’s about recognizing the trends (and $$$) rap music has brought to the industry and popular culture.

The More They Stay The Same
-As mentioned earlier in this post, the 60th edition of the Grammys showed artists using the stage to promote equality and representation. However, the Recording Academy had other ideas. 5 nominations for SZA? 0 for 5 but she performed. 8 nominations for Jay-Z’s 4:44 to lead the field? Hov, you get a Salute to Industry Icons thing for your philanthropy but on the big night, nah you go 0 for 8. I don’t know what each voting member uses for criteria but we’ve seen this story play out too often: Artists of color catching the improbable 0-fer for a body of work revered by fans and critics. It’s like the nominations are supposed to be acceptable as awards in their own right. Oh, and you don’t wanna see how female solo artists fared in general.
-Best New Artist? Alessia Cara, whose debut Know-It-All would have been eligible for Grammy consideration last year. I own that album and was once again confused about what constitutes “new” in the BNA category.
-The Target commercial/Grammy collaboration returns. Actually I can’t hate on this one, I was bopping to that Zedd/Maren Morris/Grey joint in the lowest of keys.

So, there you have it- my Grammys 2018 pros and cons. Hopefully we see the committee continue to acknowledge a more current and diverse crop of talent. Or not. In the words of Phife Dawg, “Never let a statue tell me how nice I am”.

Reconnecting #3: I’m Thankful For…

I hope you had a chance to enjoy Thanksgiving weekend to start the holiday season. If you worked in retail, I hope you didn’t see enough during the weekend to completely lose all faith in humanity. Also I have a new song for the #Reconnecting series.

The song for this month started with conversations with friends over the summer. I called a friend to vent about work wanting to get out any negative energy before a party she and her roommate were hosting the next night. Turns out we both felt the weight of our responsibilities bringing us down at the time. We were also both doing laundry ahead of the party. That’s what you call being simpatico. Anyway, after the call, I felt a little lighter and thought about the phrase “being talked down from the ledge”. Randomly I also heard “Off The Rip” by French Montana with Chinx (RIP) and N.O.R.E. in my head. Those two opposing thoughts formed the hook, which laid the foundation for the song.

Moments like that phone call remind me that I have people who can truly understand what I wrestle with internally. They also motivate me to express those struggles openly and work through them. So this holiday season, tell the important people in your life what they mean to you.

Peace,
TG