Quit Your Day Job - J.A.M.E.S. Watts [DJBooth Interview Exclusive]
New York, N.Y. -- Whether you're an aspiring artist or simply a daydreamer, you've likely fantasized about what it would be like to leave your nine-to-five grind behind and try your luck in the music game. But what is the life of an artist on the come-up really like? To answer that very question, we have launched a new, DJBooth-exclusive interview series titled Quit Your Day Job, in which a variety of emerging artists will offer their real, true-to-life insights into the independent grind.
For the latest entry in our series, we link up with J.A.M.E.S. Watts, a Jersey emcee/singer/producer (and freestyle series alumnus) whose relationship with the Booth stretches back to January 2009, when he made his debut with "A Better Tomorrow." When he's not at his nine-to-five, teaching at charter school in Newark, Watts is busy in the studio, cooking up fresh cuts and instrumentals. While he currently has no projects scheduled for release, fans should watch the Booth for new music in the coming months.
In the exclusive interview below, J.A.M.E.S. Watts discusses the challenge of working in two fields as differently-perceived as rap and education, why he isn't in a hurry to give up his steady job, and why talent is no guarantee of success in the game.
What is your current day job?
Right now, I'm working as a full time teacher at a charter school in Newark, New Jersey. After finishing undergrad at Rutgers University a few years back, I landed a cool gig as a Teacher's Assistant for Special Education students, and started to run my own tutoring business for private clients after work let out. Eventually, I figured it'd make sense to start walking towards getting a full fledged teaching license. I've always worked with kids - I feel like it's always been a passion of mine that I just never wanted to admit to myself, until more recently in the past few years. Even back in high school and college, I'd have jobs as an after school program counselor, or an off campus tutor - it's just something that comes naturally to me.
What would it take for you to leave your day job in favor of a full-time career in music?
At this point, I think it's just a matter of income, though even making decent bread as a musician, I think I'd be hard pressed to leave where I am. As long as I've been doing music publicly, I've held down a full time job, even when shows and various gigs were acting as a nice side income. At the same time, having a full time job has always made me feel less pressure to do things musically that I didn't want to; so many guys I know are do or die when it comes to hip-hop, so they move in certain ways that they think will benefit their careers, even if it's a look that's unnatural for them. That type of thing always looked desperate to me, but I understand it - when music is all you have as a viable career option, I can see how it might force your hand.
What steps are you taking to reach that point?
Honestly, none [laughs] - I'm just living right now man, I don't force anything. If it's meant to be, it'll be; I've learned just to appreciate the ride and the experiences that it brings. I used to be that kid that was like, "When I'm ON, blah blah blah...". Nowadays, especially given the state of the country and the economy, I'm thankful that I have a have a career that I enjoy, and that I work with such great people. I want to keep that going as long as possible.
What has been the biggest roadblock/challenge in this pursuit?
I think the biggest challenge has been perception - it's been difficult to me to balance both lives because of what people think about both of these professions. People have this idea that "rapper" means one thing, and it's usually associated with a negative, ignorant energy; on the other hand, the perception of teachers, and educators as a whole, is totally false as well. People think teachers are these old dusty members of some imagined establishment who are against anything fun or cool. Think about all of the lyrics you've heard rappers spit about school, and teachers - "to all the teachers that told me I'd never amount to nothing...", Biggie. "The school drop out, never liked that sh*t from day one", Nas. It's all negativity going both ways, just in different directions.
For me, it's always been an issue of my teacher friends being like, "You so don't seem like someone who would do THAT kind of music," because they imagine me waving a gun into a camera lens or having girls by the pool or something, and everyone knows I'm not kind of artist at all. Plus, the energy is sometimes aggressive, even when the content is positive or thought provoking, and I think that makes people uncomfortable. On the other side, the rap scene people are like "aw, he's not as cool or edgy 'cause he does THAT", or, "he has a JOB, he's not really grinding", which is so short sighted and pathetic as a viewpoint, as if my day job makes me a lesser artist somehow. Still, that's hip hop for you.
What's even crazier is that I release music under my given name, so a Google search by a coworker, or even a potential employer, is like, "wait...what?" For some, I think it's intriguing or cool that this is another part of my life, but again, I think for some people it's a turnoff, and it brands me as less intelligent, or less capable in the workplace. The irony there is, the same skills and talents I've used to find success in music has helped me find success as a teacher, a vice versa. Rappers, and all artists, teach by default, and teachers, whether they realize it or not, are performers. Standing on stage at SOB's trying to engage a hundred people for a thirty minute set is no different than standing in front of thirty preteens trying to keep their attention for an hour long lesson. [laughs]
What is the greatest misconception that you've discovered on your own about starting a career in music?
That the cream rises to the top. Talent and success are sometimes exclusive to one another - just because you're good doesn't mean you'll win. This is the only game where you can execute horribly and still be rewarded. It's all good, though - I'm only trying to compete against myself - great music, and great people are what inspires me.
What are you working on now that readers/prospective fans should be on the lookout for over the next few weeks/months?
Songs, songs, instrumentals, songs, more beats, and a few more songs - that's all I'm going to say for now [laughs]. Stay tuned!
What is the best way for readers/prospective fans to find out more about you and your music?
Hit www.thegameneedsjames.com for all the latest, or follow me on Twitter, @JAMESWATTS. Google is your friend too - that's all you need, baby!