Shooting Stars -- How Hip Hop Artists Handle Fleeting Fame
OAKLAND, CA. -- I am an MC--a master of ceremonies. I motivate, elevate and rock and shock parties, clubs and dances, to help people remember the enjoyable parts of themselves.My story is a snapshot of an MC's dreams and failures in this cut-throat world of exploitation. My story is about the "One Time" -- that ever-elusive vision of success. Also known as "comin' up" or "bubblin'," the "One Time" simply means becoming successful in terms of one's peer group. Being an "MC" is a popular way to "come up" in the many hoods or projects -- a dope MC is recognized in the ghetto the way a young CEO is recognized in corporate America. We may not matter to anyone else, but we matter to our folks and their respect is more than enough payment, especially in a society which seeks to strip us of this precious mineral at every turn.I became a hip-hop fiend in college. My parents couldn't understand my preoccupation with something that wouldn't pay the bills or impress their friends. Their questions made me ask myself: Why am I so into this music thing, and how am I gonna get paid?!!My artistic passion was transformed into something else. I found myself tripping off being able to make a living off my art, off my soul. I began to imagine hella money, videos, beautiful women -- things that had nothing to do with my music. I felt I needed to prove to the world that I was worthy of its attention, so I focused on convincing people that my beats and rhymes were phat.Soon after, I hooked up with four other brothers who felt the same way about their art that I did. We were hungry -- no, scratch that, starving -- for people to accept our music, to tell us we were fresh. As fate would have it, our prayers were answered. After about two years of struggling, we attracted the attention of a major record label. All our fantasies and dreams rushed into our minds, offering themselves as realities for a small price: our signatures on the contract.It was like an adolescent fantasy. We were whisked away to a land of studios and crowded performances. People began to recognize us. Everyone wanted to hear our music once they found out we had been signed. Our nervous energy transformed itself into a strange, false confidence. All of a sudden, we had become fly MCs.We began to compare ourselves to established artists like KRS-One and the Pharcyde. Now that we had been recognized as fresh, we wanted to be the freshest. We would soon be on top of the world.Unfortunately, our new attitude added nothing to our music. Instead, our energetic appeal began to decay into a whiny pretentiousness. In our desire to be innovative and original, we forgot that what people appreciated was our natural selves. The more we tried to appeal to people, the less they enjoyed our music.As in all fairy tales, the heroes must ultimately confront themselves. On a fateful journey to New York, the record company told us how bad our music had become. I can still see the fear and shock in everyone's eyes as the flower of our pride and optimism was crushed under the firm boot of music industry expectation.The ensuing months were filled with frantic attempts to appease the label. People who had been excited about our music were now trying to give us advice on what type of sound we should cultivate -- our rhymes were not tight enough, our beats always needed more bass. The questions came from every direction, within and without. Were we still coming up? Were we worthy?Eventually, we were dropped from the label. I was embarrassed and upset. I had based so much of my self on the studio, the attention and the hype that I felt like a failure. It was a turbulent time for all members of my group, and we stopped hanging out for three months while we each tried to heal our scars.I came to see that I had let someone else's priorities interfere with my happiness, and forgotten that what is important is the joy which music brings to my soul. I began to re-establish my connection with the elements which had started the whole process: my love for music, my art.After losing the record deal, I seriously had to struggle to keep myself afloat for a good four months before I found a job. During that time, I was close to the edge in terms of both mental and financial stability. Without the support of my family, it would have been all too easy for me to take a dive.I often trip off the fact that I haven't been set back too much by the ordeal. But I am forced to consider those brothers and sisters who are lured into the game but lack the many resources with which I have been blessed -- and then I begin to see the malevolence of the music industry's nonchalant attitude towards the young artists it gobbles up year after year.The freshest thing about this story is that I am still an MC. I was blessed enough to discover what truly makes me happy. It's not the lights or the money; it's the feeling I get when I am making music that sets my spirits flying. I have learned that I don't need the acceptance of anyone but myself to "come up."