Pardon me for skipping past the usual commentary and jumping right into story mode.
My father invested in our first family computer when I was in 8th grade. This was back in the summer of 2002, I think. (I’m 23 now, stop doing the math.) Everyone had their own thing. I was into MS paint & Delta Force. My mother was in it for the music, to some extent. My father was into news & getting in touch with family back in Pakistan. For this intensive purpose, he brought home our first headset. Unfortunately, he would soon be turned off by the fact that the only people using computers in 2002 were my younger, douchespout cousins. My mother was too busy with her job and my brother was deeply involved in whatever headstart/preschool students get themselves deeply involved in. I wouldn’t know. That part of my life was spent in Pakistan. We have prep and kindergarten, and I can’t remember in which order.
Anyhow, this left me with all the computer time. Then came along a friend who introduced me to the art of piracy & downloading music without paying for it. I still remember that sunny, Sunday afternoon he came by my house to show me how to use Ares lite. To this day, I think of that as the first in a series of events that made me who I am today. That very day, I ended up downloading about seven songs; 56kbps was wild. As fate would have it, I was relatively new to music & didn’t know what I was downloading. I just saw whatever was on top of the ‘most-downloaded’ list & clicked away. What I ended up with was some Lil’ Wayne, some Lloyd Banks and some Eminem.
Now, despite a few scuffles and a stolen bike or two, I grew up in neighborhoods much safer than their’s. There weren’t any shootouts or people slanging cocaine on street corners. Yet somehow, I felt myself relate to the struggle and the culture that their music was all about. As all like minded people end up finding each other, it wasn’t long before I started hanging out with the crowd who had similar sentiments towards rap and hip-hop. I invested in my first MP3 player after saving up lawn-mowing money for a while. It was used, roughed up everywhere and it held 35 songs, with a slot for a memory card I couldn’t possibly afford. My parents didn’t find out about it until much later in time. I would download a few songs a day, and walk around listening to them until I had the lyrics and the beat memorized down to the very snares.
It was one of those days. I downloaded a song, turned off the 56kbps beast & started listening to it. Halfway through the song, it turned into an instrumental with the producer of the song ad-libbing their website and calling for people to rap on the rest of the beat. It piqued my curiosity and that very night, while I was supposed to be doing my homework, I started writing lyrics to it. My dad walked in on me a few times and asked if I was writing a poem, to which I replied in the affirmative & would do so for years to come. Once my “poem” was done, I played the instrumental & rapped over it. I never actually thought about recording because I didn’t think I could afford whatever it was that it took to make songs. Turned out, I was quite resourceful.
The next day I visited the website and saw hundreds of versions of that song people had already submitted. I downloaded the top five and although the first couple were quite admirable, I clearly remember scowling at the bottom few. My lyrics were much better and I had never been so sure of anything before.
I started searching the internet (yes, still on my modem) for information. Today, I can still teach you how to set up a home studio without spending a dime. I can show you how to make a pop-filter out of a stocking & a tea-strainer frame. In that research, which went on for several weeks, I learned about pirated software & beat-making. I downloaded professional versions of ProTools, Cubase & FruityLoops. My main software was Audacity though. I can get you a decent static-reduction using nothing but some pillow filling. Hilarious, I know. As I said, I was broke but I was resourceful. I found my father’s dusty old, walmart headset which he had purchased for $16 and later on declared a waste of money. He didn’t even get around to using it with the Rosetta-Stone CD’s he picked up once. It was a lot of work, but it didn’t feel like anything at all because it put a smile on my face. This work was my play. At that time I didn’t think much of it, but I can’t tell you how proud I feel of my 15 year old self when I revisit those memories.
So, I sat down one lonely summer afternoon and I recorded my very first song. I must have had the house to myself each time I recorded, because I remember being pretty loud and repetitive but I don’t remember anyone inquiring as to what in the world I was doing! I recorded my song and I uploaded it somewhere on soundclick. I went around other people’s pages and practically begged them for feedback. Most of it was positive, to my surprise. Some were very specific about what they loved in my song, and this newfound appreciation added fuel to the fire. The general population usually has rappers pegged as illiterate nobodies, but the constructive criticism they provided was extremely professional. Plus, creating music broadened my horizons to all sorts of sounds. I listened to country, rock and roll, Latin, Arabic, anything I could get my hands on. I found myself downloading more instrumentals and spending more time writing to them.
I wasted a lot of paper & ink. I would write something before going to bed, and wake up to hate it. When I went to record, it would be quite a few takes before I was happy with my final product. I would sometimes record a verse about 17-20 times before it sounded good to my ears. As hard as many may find it to believe, there came a time when I was recording without writing. Given that those weren’t my best lyrics, but I would learn later on that it was a rare talent.
One thing lead to another as time went on. I got involved with other teenagers doing the same thing. We started our own record label. We built a website and we got one of my songs some radio airtime in Chicago & Atlanta. I was maybe 17 at that time. Along the way, I met many people who were encouraging and many who weren’t. I, however, drew more inspiration from the naysayers. At this point, I had about 25-30 decent, studio-quality songs with complete copyrights to the beats & the lyrics under my belt. Me and my friends made CD’s and started sending them out to record labels.
Bad Boy Records got back in touch. As excited as I was about the prospect of being signed to Diddy, an older producer told us to steer clear of the bigger names and find someone who would let us be more independent. Tony Yayo’s cousin in Florida also got in touch, but he wasn’t offering much besides studio time. We thought about being independent, but we didn’t have the capital to take on that task. The only label we found suitable for ourselves was an independent label located in Brooklyn. They offered residence, studio time, production & marketing and only asked for a small share of whatever sells.
It was decision time and it was senior year. I was way out of touch with my high school’s social circles and I barely maintained honor roll. No one in my family knew what I was up to. I’m pretty sure my dad thought I just watched porn all night on the computer when I actually sat there and produced my music. I would rather have him believe the former than the latter. I wasn’t sure of his reaction & I didn’t want the discouragement. Little did I know, discouragement was inevitable.
Lacking the funds and the motivation, I just sort of drifted away from making music. My passion lacked conviction. I was happy that I didn’t have to think about how to turn my hobby into money. I was happy with what I had. 40 some songs. Music, that I created. The first ever form of creative self expression that appealed to me. A year went by, I graduated. My friends moved. One went on to live in Kentucky. The other in Florida. The first one to move called me and told me about “a cat named soulja boy” who came and rapped at the same studio that he was rapping at. Soulja Boy, as you all know, went on to become quite famous afterwards.
2006 rolled around. I moved on with my life. I focused on my education, and didn’t look back again until recently.
It is with a heavy heart that I begin this paragraph. I’m not sure if it is my desire to create, once again, or the fact that life was so much easier back then that it is now, which leads me to feel this way. Or maybe it is the fact that none of the music I once made still exists, except for four songs that I left up on my label’s myspace page. You see, all my music was stored on these websites or with my friends. I didn’t keep any of it on the hard drive. I was too young to know any better. Since 2009, I have been trying to get in touch with those friends. This year, in 2013, I have practically begged the folks at Soundclick to retrieve my songs from their archives, but they refuse ever having encountered my email or my username. I find that hard to believe, but I don’t know how to prove them wrong.
My myspace is still there though. I don’t share it with people. They will taint my memories with their comments. Ever since 2009, I have only shared those four of my songs with 5 people. These five may have gone on to share it with others, or I may have inadvertently posted a link publicly, but at least these were the only 5 to direct their comments at me.
I left a lot of my story out. It’s hard to condense 5 years of your life into one short blogpost, specially when you’re a terrible story teller. I tend to embrace verbosity, but I really tried my best to squeeze in as much as I could with as much brevity as the context would allow. I don’t know how else to end this. It seems like a dream unfulfilled. If not the main, then perhaps a part of the root cause of this occasional feeling of dissatisfaction. Yet I still feel like me and music will cross paths once again. I don’t think this blogpost ends here. I think I’ll be coming back and editing it every now and then. More for myself than for the readers, but I will be adding to it.
Perhaps, had I ended up downloading Kenny Chesney on that one summer afternoon, I would be a different man today. That, however, isn’t how it all worked out.