This Is My Rifle: Crash Landing on The Mothership
Five years ago I was standing at the bottom of a mountain staring upwards. At the time, I was half way through my debut album with my producer Rodney Hazard and I was at the tail end of an artistic transition.
In the years prior, I had struggled helplessly to find and contain my voice. I had no manager, no engineer and no entourage to tell me whether or not I was on the right path creatively. The only opinion I had to rely on was my own - an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist bouncing around the edges of my skull constantly reassuring me of my artistic limitations. I fought endlessly against the wave of self-doubt and often found myself wallowing in depression. As I meticulously combed through my songs, all I could hear was an artist masking his insecurity and begging the music to cooperate.
But then we began to record "Marvelous World of Color" and I felt like a needle sliding along the groove of a record. I had an engineer that knew how to guide my voice and Rodney Hazard's production snapped into my flow with ease. I had discovered my sound and for the first time in my creative history I was confident that I could deliver an album worth listening to.
Although I had spent years in artistic despair I was still fortunate. There were a vast number of websites and blogs who had seen promise in me and supported my music regardless of how raw and unpolished it may have been. Kevin Nottingham, Potholes In My Blog and RefinedHype were just a few who had previously posted my loosely woven songs and offered to host our debut album. Then one night during a discussion about the promotional direction of "MWOC", the topic of DJBooth entered the conversation:
"Ok. So Kevin Nottingham, Potholes and RefinedHype are all on board,” I said.
Rodney, a man of few words, simply replied, "Dope".
"I might be crazy but I think we may be able to get DJBooth involved. I have a feeling the music is on that level this time around".
Holy sh*t. Do I really believe what I'm saying? DJBooth was an unattainable goal in my mind. It was a place where serious listeners congregated and where major artists were either praised or burned alive depending on the quality of their music. Image and popularity didn't matter there - a Big KRIT mixtape could overshadow and bury a Jay Z single in the blink of an eye. This was a space where people were actually listening instead of just clicking on headlines, pressing play and then skipping to the next page 10 seconds later.
For a very long time I dreamt of the day that my music would be featured alongside these much bigger, and sometimes better, artists. For all intents and purposes, DJBooth was my Mount Olympus and I spent years focused on its highest peak. As an unknown artist from Vancouver, BC, the blogs were my only outlet and the DJBooth stamp of approval would propel me forward into the upper percentile of underground MC's. I did not have the luxury of being anywhere even remotely close to a functioning music industry, and a website like DJBooth would be the plug into the international Hip Hop community I so desperately needed. Given the chance, I would climb that mountain and squeeze every ounce of resource I could out of it. All I needed was an opportunity - f**k a harness.
Then I got the email. Nathan S. and DJ Z have conferred; "Marvelous World of Color" is a go.
I still remember that feeling. I had been so nervous leading up to this moment, all I could do was sit back and breathe a sigh of relief. I had arrived. I had no manager, no money and nothing to offer in return. Nathan and Z had opened up the golden gates for me based on the strength of my music alone.
Shortly after the release of "Marvelous World of Color" Nathan brought me in as a writer for RefinedHype, and I can honestly say that my time there was nothing short of spectacular. As the site grew, and as the community developed, it became apparent that what we were doing was truly unique. We were a collection of literary misfits, unapologetic in our views and brutally honest at all times. My own column, "This Is My Rifle," became a breeding ground for debate - largely due to the batsh*t crazy conspiracy theories and fringe topics I chose to cover. Over 60% of the people who discovered my music found me through my articles and to say that the connections I made through my writing were both personally and professionally irreplaceable is an understatement.
Now four years and two albums later, here I am sitting on a cliff of the mountain I first set out to conquer. I’m not gonna lie, when Nathan called to tell me about the merger, I expected the conversation to be of the “Here’s a watch and a $20 Starbucks gift card. Thank you for your time” variety but no, I’m being shuffled into the fold. As irrelevant as it may be to you, this is another big moment in my life as an artist and writer.
In closing, I would like to share a final thought with all of the aspiring young artists out there. No matter how distant the dream or how steep the climb; keep going. Every single person in my circle thought I was insane when I told the Canadian music industry (better known as the half-rabid dog chasing it’s own tail) to go f**k itself. But I knew that if I did things on my own terms and designed my own destiny, I would eventually find a space where there would be no creative compromises. In terms of what I do, both musically and as a writer, there is no better place to be than here. There are many more mountains to climb, but right now in this moment I’m just happy to be standing on this one.
Alright. I’m gonna strap on my tinfoil hat, turn up the Pink Floyd to 11. See you all next week.
[Jason James is an artist, freelance columnist and writer for RefinedHype.com. You can read/download his free eBook, "This Is My Rifle" and listen/download his most recent album, "Pyramids in Stereo". You can also contact him here and here.]