The Pursuit of Perfection and an Imaginary 8 Year Hip-Hop Career
Reflecting on 6 years of applying anxiety to the creative process
Gut fear. Your organs start to get tangled up. You lose perspective on time’s ability to heal. You feel your heart drop into your shoes.
Entering high-school, I was just about the shortest kid in every class and soft-spoken before most introductions. Yet, as the year progressed I started to break into new social circles and feel the weight of future potential pushing at my back.
Simultaneously, through a deep love of my CD collection (with gems including Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and Ludacris’s Chicken & Beer) and an often-unwelcomed instinct to sing along to almost every genre, I found myself in my bedroom, door locked, with an eight-year-old microphone my dad bought at a garage sale, primitive recording software, and a blank CD.
I wanted to be a rapper.
Everyone held the assumption that I would be off-beat, clumsy and a particularly poor lyricist. To be fair, I was probably about the least likely candidate for high school rap superstar. But, when I proudly toted my Walkman CD player over to the bus stop one fall morning, pressed play, and placed the headset around my best friend, Jay’s, ears — the reaction was surprising. As prone to ridicule as high school best friends are, I was very much not expecting positive reinforcement.
Yet, his head started to nod, and he didn’t pull the headset off for the full two minutes and thirty-eight seconds. Just like that, I had a “manager.”
A few recordings later we had set up a Myspace page, landed on a rap pseudo name, and designed a debut mixtape cover. It was part bad-joke, part identifiable skill, and part my rising ego all converging to make us believe I was the next Eminem — wait, who am I kidding… Mac Miller.
Enter, gut fear.
A T9 text message was all it took. From that moment, the majority of my future rap potential disappeared, along with the color in my face. I won’t go into grave detail about the “content”, but, in short, I was the target of a diss record by one of the more well-connected kids in our high school.
And the view counter kept ticking up. And up. And up.
Until just about every single student in my 1,000-person graduating class had not only heard of our rap beef, but personally listened to it.
I’m not exactly sure why things proceeded as they did from there. Maybe it was the fact that my counterpart was near the center of the “who’s who” circle at our high school. Maybe it was my unique combination of short, skinny, white and Jewish that didn’t prep me particularly well for the rap-ring. If it wasn’t for the loyalty of a select few friends in those first few months, I‘m not sure how things would have gone.
It was all fun and games, until it wasn’t.
I fired back. So did he. Time passed. The gut fear quickly subsided and was replaced by discomfort and a social wall between me and certain groups of people at school.
I got back to my happy self and built many close friendships in the following few years, but my sense of creativity was partially extinguished. My thought process changed from “Do I like how this sounds?” to “What would they think about it?.”
Occasionally in the time since then, the stars have reappeared behind my eyes as my instincts drove me back to recording music. I even purchased a condenser microphone and shared a few songs in college. But, the twentieth syllable on verse one was always off. The pitch on the second half of the chorus never sounded perfect.
The insecurity came crashing in, perfectly disguised as a commitment to capturing the perfect version of what was in my head.
Fast-forward to this moment
I find myself on Remote Year sharing a global pass to 10+ countries with 57 awe-inspiring people. I bought a shiny new microphone, packed it into one of the two suitcases I would be living out of for the year, and landed in Split with a headstrong commitment to sampling, writing and recording one song per month.
Then the same instincts returned.
I had completed recording the song for Split, BUT — I was too close to the mic. The entire recording was slightly distorted.
…& the second verse needed to be switched with the first. & the mix was off …
I was planning to re-record it, but the days continued to pass without me doing anything. It took until the morning of August 28th, 2017, after a moving segment on Storytelling from Remote Year’s monthly Collective series, until I finally got myself to live the essence of the chorus in Croatia’s song, linked below.
“Perfection is the enemy of doing so be messy.”
The creative process isn’t a single point in time. It isn’t a recorded verse or a blog post. It isn’t a photo portfolio with a days worth of shots or a recap video with messy cuts.
It’s as the phrase conveys — a process.
It’s a long arc stretching from the inception of an idea to the conception of a reality. It’s the endless cycle of failure that can only be sustained if nurtured by an undying commitment to creative instincts. It’s a truth only YOU can know, and one the world will often try to convince you doesn’t exist.
Being creative means you must pick up a stake, shove it into the ground and wave something from it that says, “this is me”. I’ve learned at 24 that we’re all searching for our “this is me”. We aren’t born with it.
In fact, 90% of the population never discovers theirs.
The best way to find out where you should place your stake? Get up and go. Surround yourself with people who WANT to find what makes them feel so alive that nothing can pull their focus. That’s why I joined Remote Year, and that’s why I’m so proud of my 57 new friends for taking this leap and saying yes to the discomfort that breeds self discovery.
We each got a :30 intro the first week. I rapped mine.
I did it in front of 60 people who I had just met and would be spending the next year with. I was terrified, and I even managed to f-up the delivery halfway through. But, when the last breath left my lungs, all I could hear was cheers and screams.
I wasn’t meant to perform in the high school auditorium. I was meant to perform right there in front of these wonderful, supportive people. I was meant to perform for ME, and I needed the failure and fear of the last 8 years to get me here.
So, if you’ve made it this far. Take a listen to the song below. The second verse should be first, the distortion you’ll hear across the entire record is purely user error, and the quality of the mix is very shit.
But, I think it’s pretty damn good, & the next one will be better.