LAW NUMBER TWO: Always Do You
"It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are." - E.E. Cummings
"Never change for the mainstream - stay in your lane, and if you're talented and resilient enough the mainstream will come to you." -Russell Simmons
Here's a very interesting anecdote (at least I hope it is) from my childhood/adolescence when I first started doing music. This is something I've done from a very young age, I did talent shows all through junior high and high school, I paid for my first studio session when I was 15 (or more accurately, my homeboy put us in the studio at that age). Prior to going to the studio, I was doing my thing on the block and in the hood. One of my closest homies and my first real artist I made beats for was John Kemp (RIP) aka John-John, he was our neighborhood jackman (for those unfamiliar with Floridian slang, this meant he robbed people). We didn't go as hard as NWA back then, but we were definitely roughnecks, and our music was definitely profanity-laced (we rapped how we spoke and how we lived, without resorting to testifying against ourselves like a lot of idiots do nowadays). Our neighborhood barber, a guy by the name of Walter, made the offer to manage us. He had connections with a lot of hair shows and he said he could get us booked to perform, but we had to have music that was more family-friendly. Studio time back then was $75 an hour, so a trip to the studio would set you back $300 easy for a minimum of 4 hours, which was about how long it took to record and then mix a song. We did 2 songs that we performed for a number of shows and got a pretty good response for. Everything was all good...
I met a guy by the name of Keith Dixon back then (hey, DLR, remember IHOP after the Carousel show? I know you do). Keith was in the movie business, he was fresh off a little film by the name of "Boyz In Tha Hood", he directed "Dead Homiez" for Ice Cube (if you watch the video, at 2:03 there's a close-up of him in the video, it's pretty dark, tho) and "You Can't Play w/ My Yo-Yo" for Yo-Yo. He was originally from Houston, and had a job working for Rap-A-Lot. Keith liked us and offered to shop our material for us to J. Prince. We were ecstatic. We sent the tape to him and waited to hear back. Unfortunately, the only songs we had to send were the two songs we recorded at Walter's behest. What was the word? J. Prince loved our stuff, but said that we were "too soft" for the label that was home to Scarface and the Geto Boyz. He said that if we had anything else he'd be open to hear it. My homie that paid for our studio time got knocked off in North Carolina and caught 4 years, and we never got another chance to submit.
The moral of this story? Had we just done US, we might have gotten that deal with Rap-A-Lot instead of being patted on the head and sent on our merry way. I regretted that decision for a long time, but I learned that I would always be true to who I was from that point on and not adjust my music to suit anyone's approval other than my own.
"The concept behind Do You is fairly straightforward: Always try to be yourself."
Any kind of lasting success is rooted in honesty. We understand that truth on a personal level- certainly no one seeks out a long-term relationship with someone's who's dishonest. One of the examples Russell uses is our old friend Robert Van Winkle aka Vanilla Ice. "Ice, Ice Baby" was a catchy song, the lyrics were not atrocious (certainly not in comparison to some of the shit that comes out of Waka Flocka's mouth), had he been more honest about where he was from rather than fabricating this "thug" persona, the backlash against him might not have occurred. If he could have just Done Him instead of fabricating his history, he wouldn't be history.
Russell and I share the opinion that the driving force behind HipHop is not a catchy beat, or a dance, or a pitched-up soul sample. To quote Chubb Rock, the beats are "cosmetic backgrounds." The thing that's brought HipHop through the years to where it is now is the honesty and integrity of artists. KRS-One has never sold the amount of records on one album that Vanilla Ice did, but he's still active, still performing, and very much respected as the Teacher and The Scholar. Vanilla Ice is melting down on VH1 "Reality" Shows (that's a dash of irony for ya).
Now I don't want to mislead anyone in thinking that Doing You is automatically going to garner you respect, success, and praise. That's not at all what I'm saying. Russell confesses that when Outkast came out, he did not like them, nor did he understand that what they were doing expanded HipHop. His words were, "That ain't HipHop." Those of us from the South immediately understood what 'Kast was doing, but when they won the New Artist Of The Year award at the Source Awards, NY was hostile. If Big Boi and Andre had taken the advice of Russell and the New York HipHop community, they would not be (arguably) the biggest HipHop Group of All Time.
"You have to realize that when you do you, people are not always going to understand you at first."
This goes back to vision and being clear about what it is you want to represent. I feel that's the challenge of most new artists. My son right now wants to make music, and I'm trying hard to get him to realize the most difficult part of being a real artist is finding out what it is you want to say, and then figuring out who exactly you want to say it to. It's easy when you're standing in front of that mirror holding the brush pretending to be whomever the latest hot act is, but when you start putting your life, your words, your impressions out there it's not so easy. If an artist can get that nailed down early, all the other stuff is a real cakewalk. You won't make any mistakes on your way to your destination, because you won't have to question any decisions you make.
Doing an authentic you means you don't chase what's hot, you develop a trusted brand. It's like being a quarterback. They don't throw where the receiver is, they throw where he's going to be. You make your choices based on what feels true to who you are, and you maintain your vision. You don't chase that tiger and grab his tail, you jump on his back. You sell CDs, you sell t-shirts, you sell whatever, but make sure your Integrity never has a price...
-ere'bodee's favorite mega, blogninja