“I can’t count how many times I’ve seen comments and memes from people flooding my social media pages, expressing how much they hate their jobs and how they can’t wait for the weekend. I’ve posted a few memes myself regarding my frustration about working a job that I hate because bills have to get paid. I had a conversation with my sister about how the thought of going to school for so many years just to prepare to work for someone for the rest of your life is depressing. I do realize that in order for the average person to sustain a lifestyle, that person has to work to earn an income. We have bills to pay, food and clothes to buy, families to support, and with whatever is leftover we want to try to somewhat enjoy life within the madness.
I came across an interview that J. Cole did with Angie Martinez on Power 105.1 recently and he spoke on the same topic. He said the following about working a job that you hate:
“We all sellouts….. You selling out. You going to something you don’t like. Why? So you can live and survive. To me life don’t feel like it’s supposed to be like that no more. It feel like somebody time gotta be worth more than $8 an hour. You spend your whole day going to work, 8 hours out of your day. A day is only 24 hours, you gonna sleep 8 of those so right away that’s 16 hours. Half of your day is making $8 an hour. Even if you get $15 an hour and they trying to raise minimum wage. A hour of my life is worth $15? Ok but I gotta do it, I gotta work, I gotta eat.”
He also touched on some other heavy issues that most people are afraid to discuss. He referred to capitalism as paid slavery, and he discussed how most people are out for themselves looking to make a profit despite what is being jeopardized in the process. He even went as far as to say the type of food we eat, music we listen to and type of shows we watch are detrimental; however, at the end of the day someone is making money off all of it. He stated:
“That’s what capitalism teaches us. It’s a every man for himself mentality. It’s a I gotta be on top….For me to be on top, I gotta have a bottom. For me to own McDonalds, I gotta have somebody at the bottom working at McDonalds. For me to own any company, any business… Capitalism is like… to me it’s like… I don’t know the alternative; I don’t even know if it exists. I don’t think we’ve evolved to something that exists yet, but capitalism is just paid slavery. It’s the same set up as slavery, only difference was slaves wasn’t getting paid.”
Martinez addressed his taking part in the Ferguson protests, and he opened up on how he feels that we live within a system that wants us to become so preoccupied and distracted with our own lives that we don’t have time to take a stand on anything or have compassion for someone else.
“The people at the top love the fact that everybody is so busy with themselves and their own lives that they don’t have the time to stand for something or to fight for something.”
“It’s graduate college and it’s like now I gotta pay my bills now, I gotta get this deal before my time runs out. Like life happens and you worry about all this stuff and you don’t have the time to fight for nothing no more. You don’t have the time to even care because I got my own kids… yea this man died, but it’s like yo bruh I got bills and twitter is popping right now, and Instagram is hot, and ‘Love and Hip Hop Reunion’ is on. It’s like they love to distract you and like keep you occupied while they just molest the world and milk the world. You know what I mean?”
Cole said a mouthful. He has been one of my top favorite rappers for a while now; not just because of his music but because of his mindset and intelligence. This interview made me have a new level of respect for him. He was very vocal about certain taboo topics on his latest album 2014 Forest Hills Drive, and he recently gave an emotional and powerful performance on the Dave Letterman Showthat even left the host almost speechless.”
I recently read an article by Cassidy Kakin that I couldn’t resist sharing with you all. His words were all too familiar, as a working adult, whose escape from the reality also stems from the impact of music. I’m pretty sure we’ve all woken up in the morning, dreading going to work as each hour creeps closer to the time we have to be there. “Do I really need this job?” we think. “Oh thank God, I’ve got two more hours until my alarms clock goes off” In America, it has become common to live only for the weekends, but why? Cassidy explains how the “American Nightmare” weighed heavily on his energy, his psyche, and his happiness, and what he did to reclaim all of these things. Give it a read, I promise it’ll be worth it.
“When I was 23, my mother-in-law to be was proud of me.
I’m two years older now, carrying a few pounds less stress and a few dozen more complexes when I wake up in the morning, and that notion disgusts me.
A lot has changed; new jobs, new relationships, new addresses have come and gone. Old friends with new homes and new wives. New perspectives. New hip-hop. Looking back, I can trace the first domino in all those toppling transformations back to the morning I quit my Silicon Valley tech job. And the night before, when Kendrick Lamar dropped To Pimp a Butterfly.
Rewind to February 2015, the first time I felt like a big kid. I’d been out of school and living on my own for two years, but by the end of that cruel winter, everything was different. I’d found my pocket. Professionally, romantically, it all looked on the surface like things were lining up.
The soundtrack was golden too. Joey Bada$$ stumbling into his grown man swagger right alongside me, Run The Jewels giving all of us young old heads faith in the culture. More powerful underground music than I’d ever swam in before, doing more for my heart and soul than I’d ever thought to ask for.
Something was wrong, though. Something was missing. A grating feeling, like I wasn’t who I was supposed to be, started to work its way deep between the cracks in the paint covering the white picket fence in our tidy San Jose suburb. And it took To Pimp a Butterflyfor me to understand why.
To imagine that my struggle as an upper-middle-class white college graduate living in the Bay and smoking too much weed shared any DNA with Kendrick and the demons he was battling is naive and bordering on cultural sacrilege. But I heard his words like I was staring at myself in the mirror, tasting the same anxiety and self-doubt that lingered in the back of my throat that Kendrick was trying to drown out in that hotel room.
March 2015, I was the COO of a small Silicon Valley angel-funded tech company that builds designer bike lights worth more than my dental visits. I was good at my job, but I wasn’t sure why, and nothing made any sense. To this day, I have no idea why my boss’ patent was worth millions of dollars, or why I was trusted with a company credit card when most months I lived on the wrong side of my checking account’s overdraft line and treated my FICO score like a game of Russian Roulette.
I had everything that the TV had ever told me I wanted, and none of it tasted right. The soundtrack was turning rotten. All the artists I loved looked scared. I remember feeling nauseous every morning, hearing about another death in the black community, another cop getting a paid vacation, another stain on my comfortable millennial ideals.
And I remember feeling anxious, like none of the community leaders I looked up to had the guts or vision to make the music I needed to hear addressing all of that fear and hurt.
Then, on March 15, Kendrick dropped.
To Pimp a Butterfly, starting with the opening track, felt as abrasive and refreshing as a Sprite wrapped in sandpaper.
“When I get signed, homie, I’ma buy a strap / Straight from the CIA, set it on my lap / Take a few M-16s to the hood / Pass ’em all out on the block, what’s good? / I’mma put the Compton swap meet by the White House / Republican run up, get socked out.” — “Wesley’s Theory“
Around midnight on the 15th, I was laying in bed, staring at Twitter and hating the idea of work in the morning like the rest of us. A few minutes later, TPAB landed in my iTunes folders, courtesy of its famously bungled release job, and I remember thinking as much about Huey P. as 2Pacalypse Now.
It felt like a weight was being lifted; like I was drinking my medicine for the first time in years. Kendrick rapped “I need forty acres and a mule / Not a forty ounce and a pitbull” and I felt like the trajectory of mainstream hip-hop was changed forever. Like I was witnessing history.
By 3 a.m., I’d squeezed in two back-to-back listens of TPAB‘s neo-fusion odyssey. Staring at that ticking clock and thinking about all of the emails I had to send in the morning, I walked myself through shutting my laptop and taking off my headphones and pretending like I cared about anything other than the voice of my favorite poet speaking truth to power.
But, of course, I pressed play again, diving a layer deeper into the radical mind of the artist just as revolutionary.
“And I’m insensitive, and I lack empathy / He looked at me and said, ‘Your potential is bittersweet’ / I looked at him and said, ‘Every nickel is mines to keep’” — “How Much a Dollar Cost“
From “How Much a Dollar Cost” to “Alright” to “Mortal Man” to “Complexion,” Kendrick refused to take the easy way out. These were protest songs for the people, not for TV endorsements. They were real images, not packaged politics.
I thought about Kendrick’s world, before and after fame, and I thought about what it meant to swing so hard for the fences as a major label artist with everything to lose. I thought about his unwavering convictions. Kendrick stared White America in the eye and showed us his scars.
Halfway through my third spin, as the hands on my clock were nearing 4 a.m., the prospect of my 10 a.m. budget meeting became the furthest thing from my mind.
When “u” came on, I heard it the way Kendrick meant for me to hear it:
“I fuckin’ tell you, you fuckin’ failure—you ain’t no leader! / I never liked you, forever despise you—I don’t need you! / The world don’t need you, don’t let them deceive you / Numbers lie too, fuck your pride too, that’s for dedication / Thought money would change you / Made you more complacent / I fuckin’ hate you, I hope you embrace it” — “u”
I’d been complacent, volunteering on the weekends and writing some rap think-pieces here and there, but otherwise totally detached from everything that inspired me. I knew the stakes were high, and that I wasn’t doing enough. I convinced myself that that was ok, that I had done my time and worked hard and deserved to live with whatever luxury was left after the rent and average self-destructive habits took their financial toll.
Yet, here was Kendrick. One of the most important figures of his generation. Taking the blame. Accepting that he hasn’t always been the leader he knows he should be. Looking in the mirror and seeing a 360-degree view of himself and resolving to cast out the lie that says we deserve to love every bit of ourselves, even the parts that don’t trust in who we can be.
By the fifth spin, with the clock reading 6 a.m., I didn’t have any illusions about showing up to a meeting at a job I didn’t care about. By the fifth time “Mortal Man” rang out, Pac’s voice cutting through whatever sheets of self-deception were still hanging on like a chainsaw through a Jell-O mold, I knew I didn’t ever want to go back to work.
So I didn’t.
That morning, I called my boss, turned in my two weeks notice, and was told politely that I should shut the hell up and chase my dreams sooner than that. That same morning, I also published a review of To Pimp a Butterfly that made me feel hungrier than I ever had for a life of thinking about rap and art and politics full-time and figuring it out along the way.
Since then, I’ve been a whole lot broker but also a whole lot happier. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, as a leader or a man or a member of my community, but I’m a lot closer than I was two years ago, staring in that mirror with Kendrick and finding reasons to hate myself.
To Pimp a Butterfly is an objective classic. More importantly, as it pertains to my own life story, it caught me at the right time. Kendrick showed me how to be a version of yourself that doesn’t hide from the nuances; his commitment to creating the album he wanted at a time when that album was needed inspires me to this day. I don’t think that I’ll ever fully move past that morning when I made that phone call.
Sitting there in my bed, iTunes on repeat, wrapped in blankets, but warm most of all with passion and the certainty that the right artist could change the world. Even if that only happens one late-night bender, one phone call to your boss, and one abandoned career at a time.
Kendrick helped me to appreciate who I am and who I hope I can become. Quit your job for an album listening session and join me in figuring it out, and I’ll see you in the “thank you” card aisle whistling K-Dot.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Son of Allen West and Stephanie Smith, AJ West is known long and wide for being a basketball standout at Division 1 college, University of Nevada. Nevertheless, being one of the premier rebounders in college basketball, AJ is a double-double threat, very-well on his way to becoming a triple threat, adding music his mix of ambitions. I recently heard some of the music that AJ was working on, and knew immediately that he had something special going for him. The interview can be found below:
Give me a little background on yourself and your upbringing: Where were you born, and when did music become a serious passion/interest to you in comparison to basketball?
I was born in Brooklyn, New York. And music started becoming more serious around 2012. Before that I did music I rapped and stuff but one time I hopped on a track, a producer and friend made for me and he told me how good it was and that I should just strictly sing. That’s when I realized my talent for it and got better and better. Music has always been a real hobby for me and second to basketball because I’ve been playing ball since I was 9 I played D1 college ball and now play professionally. It wasn’t till recently that I said, “Hey you know, let me release a good project and see where it takes me.”
If you had to choose between music and basketball, which would you choose, and why?
Its a tough decision at the moment I know how to make money and support myself with basketball, the foundation is already there. With music its a waiting game, so we’ll see what the future holds but I’m for-sure passionate in it now.
Who are your favorite musicians? Groups? CD’s?
Chris Brown, Bryson Tiller, Drake, Khalid, The Weeknd & Tyus. I try to study everything those artist put out and incorporate it into my music. Favorite all time R&B CD is probably the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Who would you most want to collaborate on a song/project with?
Who are your biggest musical influences?
100% Breezy that’s been my idol it this R&B game for at least 10 years. He’s my modern day G.O.A.T. From his young stuff to new that man can’t miss.
When do your ideas for songs come to you?
On the spot for sure. Ill listen to a beat and start humming melodies then record them for reference. After that i’ll come up with a concept and insert lyrics.
Do you perform in public? Describe those occasions? Concerts, radio, TV?
I have never not once preformed in public. In the following year I’m looking to branch out and possibly do that.
How often and for how long do you practice (singing)?
I don’t practice at all. My real practice is just making songs and getting better and trying to come up with the craziest melodies I can think of. I call it ‘Taking the song to church’
In your phone right now, which 5 artists would be in your most recently played playlist?
Chris Brown, Sam Smith, Miguel, XXXTentacion, and Drake
How do you balance your music with other obligations?
Its tough to be honest basketball is a lot of work but during my free time I try and make as much music as possible.
Describe your music using only 5 words:
Trapsoul with a incorporation of 90’s vibes and Neo-soul.
What’s next for AJ West? A focus on Sports, engineering, an EP, or all three? Any local performances where listeners can see you perform?
2019 is a year I’m looking to take music more seriously and see what comes out of it. Getting together with real producers and really pushing my stuff out there. No performances are scheduled at the moment.
“Where were you when you heard?” “Hey man, are you good” “Did you hear?”
Around 4 pm today, my phone pinged with text after text like these. I didn’t know what had happened, but I knew as soon as I responded, to ask what was going on, I’d be in for a major heart break, so I didn’t respond…I didn’t have to. Something was seriously wrong. I felt it in my stomach. It’s the kind of eerie, gut wrenching feeling that you get before knowing you’re about to receive horrible news; and truly horrible it was.
I didn’t have to respond to any message to figure out what had taken place. The buzz around the office was enough to confirm the recent loss. That, and the coworkers that actually came to my desk to ask, if I’d heard the news of rapper, Mac Miller’s passing. As a major Mac Miller fan, I honestly thought it was some type of social media stunt. People are pronounced “dead” all the time in memes and online trollings as jokes. This wasn’t one of those times, nor was it a joke.
Mac Miller was found, and pronounced dead after an apparent drug overdose around noon, this Friday in his San Fernando home. Only a couple of years prior had Miller himself said, “I’d rather be the corny white rapper than the drugged-out mess who can’t even get out of his house. Overdosing is just not cool. You don’t go down history because you overdose. You just die.”
However, in cases like this, you don’t “just die”. In the Hip-Hop community, in the hearts of the fans, and in the hearts of his family there’s a shared pain that we understand all too well. Someone near and dear to us was taken way too soon.
In 2014 Miller released his mixtape, Faces, which was almost wholly centered on personal drug use. It’s here that he also makes references to a premature death. It’s almost eerie how artists who leave this earth at far too young ages somehow seem to predict their ill-fate.
Nevertheless, if there’s anything that someone who’s been around for a minute can tell you, it’s this, “In every dark cloud, there is a silver lining”. Every moment in life has the potential to be learned from, if you can find it’s teachable moment. I think it is my place to spread the news of October being National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. It is during this month that drug awareness is raised in an effort to lessen the stigma surrounding real life’s issues, while also shedding a light on healthy coping methods. Miller may have ascended to a higher plane, but his legacy of music, honesty, vulnerability, carefree spirit, and all around good vibes will never be forgotten.
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” — Plato
In a world full of mumble rappers, there still are amazing artists actually worth listening to. You just have to know where to start. For those of you who think today’s music is falling off, you might want to take the time to reconsider, and check these artists out (the list is in no particular order).