When Passion Calls
One weekend during my middle school days, my mom went on a trip and had me stay at my uncle Ru’s apartment. Now, Ru is a character, so he had no trouble holding my attention during the visit. He reminisced about old block parties and recounted pickup basketball games like he was in a 30 for 30 doc. Ru even explained how he needed a new TV because the one he had was giving his favorite sports teams bad luck (he was dead serious by the way). But in between stories, I wandered into his kitchen by myself and started snooping around—just being a nosy kid. I opened a few drawers and found one that stood out from the rest. Instead of seeing silverware or old ketchup packets, I found a Hip-Hop goldmine.
I saw all sorts of CDs and tapes piled on top of each other, and their labels jogged my memory. I saw Enter The Wu (36 Chambers) by the Wu-Tang Clan. Reasonable Doubt by Jay-Z. Illmatic by Nas. These were albums that I heard people call “classic,” but I had never heard them in full. So I asked Ru if I could borrow some of them and he obliged. I eventually returned the CDs, but the music has remained with me ever since.
That weekend is when I stopped being a passive fan of Hip-Hop. From that point on, my favorite rappers were the soundtrack to each of my days.
I’d be on the Bx11 bus with plenty of noise around me: crying babies, loud groups of friends, a symphony of car horns. But my focus was fixed on the beats and rhymes pumping out of my ear buds.
I wasn’t drawn to the music because I related to it. I was more worried about bringing home a bad grade than being caught in a shootout. Yet each time I heard the keys kick in on “N.Y. State of Mind,” they did more than make a melody. The drums on “Warning” did more than make my head nod. The banter that starts “Bring It On” did more than make me laugh. These sounds created an atmosphere that felt familiar. If the dreary winter days in New York became music, they would be the albums in my headphones. There was nothing better to listen to.
From there on, I lived with the music every day. I recited lyrics at home that my mom didn’t want me to know. I could’ve used more lunch periods for studying, but rap debates seemed to be the better option. And I spent countless hours on Limewire searching for music I hadn’t heard (that’s probably why my computer caught a virus, but I digress).
That passion for Hip-Hop stayed with me over the years and eventually meshed with my love for writing. I didn’t enter college with music journalism as a career idea, but I moved towards that path as graduation neared. I made a blog dedicated to Hip-Hop, landed a couple of music-based internships and contributed to a site’s coverage of the industry. I didn’t land a job as a full-time music writer, but I’ve still continued my work in the field.
One day, I called a friend of mine who is a well-accomplished writer. I asked him for advice on how to get my work on more platforms. He prompted me to develop story ideas, hunt down contact info and pitch more often than Cy Young. Our talk left me motivated to land bylines, yet aware that I might hear “no” many times before I heard “yes.”
But even with this knowledge, I had a steep learning curve. I was prepared to have my pitches rejected, but I wasn’t prepared to send two or three follow-up emails just to get the rejections. Quite a few editors I contacted never answered my messages at all. And some of the responses I did receive might as well have said “K.”
I did succeed in getting some pieces published, but even that offered its own challenges. I worked with an editor that called my writing “boring” without much explanation as to why. I also rewrote articles to fit editors’ suggestions…just so that the editors could pass on the pieces anyway. These events didn’t break my armour of self-confidence, but they definitely left some dents.
Since then, I’ve found a promising platform for my work. But still in all, I haven’t landed as many bylines as I hoped for. I haven’t been compensated the way that I’d like either. And I’m not sure if writing about music will ever be my day job. But what makes me keep writing isn’t money or the approval of editors. It’s my love for music.
I enjoy spreading the word when I hear something I like. I look forward to the conversations that result from my pieces. It feels good to explain why a song makes me growl like DMX. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to get checks for my writing. But my work doesn’t depend on the money it helps me earn. It depends solely on my passion.
Merging what I like to do with what keeps a roof over my head is my dream. But some dreams remain just that—a dream. If that’s the case when it comes to my writing, I’ll be disappointed. But I’ll keep writing, whether it’s for a site, my friends or myself. Because that’s what my passion calls me to do. Not my bills. Not my family’s expectations. But the passion that was sparked at my Uncle Ru’s apartment.