Louie and the Risk of Becoming a Success

Talk about learning to cope with randomness! In the first of Louie‘s three part “Late Show” arc, Louie crushes as a guest on The Tonight Show, only to be invited to a secretive meeting with a CBS executive (masterfully played by Garry Marshall), before quickly learning that David Letterman is retiring, and that they want to know if he wants to host The Late Show. Well, they don’t really want him, but they want to use him as a bargaining “option” in securing Jerry Seinfeld for the role at a rate less than his predicted asking price. A shocked Louie quickly balks and says it’s not for him, while Marshall’s character returns the volley with a monologue that the AV Club’s Nathan Rabin feels deserving of “an Emmy nomination for best Guest Actor.” (I agree.)

"I know you’re a working-class stand-up from Boston. You do stand-up. You make, maybe, eighty-thousand dollars a year on club dates, but you’re on the back-nine of your career. Except for once and a while a special on cable, I think five years ago you probably peaked and now you’re waiting around wondering if something’s going to happen before it gets embarrassing. Am I right?"

Cue emotion-tugging piano, gently cascading in the background.

"You don’t think you could do it. You think it’s over and you’re afraid to try. I mean, I get it, that’s normal, I’ve seen it. And I’ve seen it turn around. Let me offer you a proposal. You go back to New York. You get in shape. You lose about 40 pounds. I get you with Jackie Doll, who’s my main city man. He works with you, and then in about two months we do a test show… Jack’ll get you a small studio. You’ll do a monologue, you’ll do a couple of interviews, and uh, if the test is good, I’ll put you on the air. And then if you’re a hit everybody’ll think I’m a genius and I’ll have saved the network about twelve million dollars. If America hates you no one’s going to blame me. We’ll hire Jerry Seinfeld to do the show, no harm no foul. But you’ll take the heat on all that. You’re gonna crack your head on the ceiling and you’re gonna go down. Probably for good. 
Look, Louie. We’re talking about The Big Game here so forgive me if I use big terms. Here’s the reality. In ten years you’re going to be teaching comedy in a community college to support your kids and falling asleep to the ‘Late Show with Jerry Seinfeld’. You’re circling failure in a rapidly decaying orbit. That’s the reality as we talk now. But you can change that. It’s in your power to change that. Yes, you’ll have to work hard, you’ll have to do things you haven’t done before, and still your chances are very slim. But you could change it. I’m gonna ask you one more time: David Letterman is retiring. Do you want his job?"

What happened here goes beyond recognizing when you’re being lucky and being given. This is someone flat out asking if you’re fundamentally, at your core, willing to accept complacency, or are willing to risk becoming a success. Is Louie willing to let his time run out, or will he risk such a banal-yet-comforting future for a chance at greatness? Absolutely, the risk is tremendous, and it could all fail miserably, leaving him worse off than he is now. Or it could work. Everything here relies on “could.” What could your future be if you didn’t shut the door to possibility? What could happen if you worked harder than you’ve ever worked, expanding your aim to areas you previously never even considered? What could happen if you risked becoming a success? 

Classic Williams & Nephew "re(FLEX)tions" EP

In terms of the Nashville music scene, Murfreesboro’s Classic Williams is an original. His aim has historically focused on a musical arm of rap that’s hardly “southern,” with his songs typically club and electronic inspired rather than street-flavored. If you’re keeping up with locals on Twitter, chances are you know Williams as an obnoxious and outspoken loudmouth, who never wavers in letting you know what’s on his mind (43,000 tweets should say it all). No matter if you can agree with him though — or even tolerate him at times — the man has yet to make disposable music for as long as I’ve been following him. For a quick history lesson, you’d do well to check out his Shake My Head mixtape or last year’s controversial release, The Soul of Nigger Charlie.

The new EP continues a polished electronic trend, but re(FLEX)tions still exhibits a freshness that distances it from Williams’ past work. The name itself represents both reflecting and flexing some lyrical muscle, but unlike Charlie, the MC says re(FLEX)tions “is more about my inner thoughts and feelings whereas the last project was more of a narrative story with characters.”

While the majority of the tracks maintain an upbeat pace, largely due to the superb production work from Nephew, Williams claims he was in “a very dark place” during the creation of the EP, with the most glaring contrast to the MC’s typical bravado coming with the contemplative tone of the set-closer “Answers.” “I just need some answers,” croons Williams, allowing the track to fade away, “Yeah, lord, I just need some answers.”

It’s going to be interesting to see if this new side to the MC sticks, be it in the forthcoming follow-up to The Soul of Nigger Charlie, or EPIC WIN, which Williams says is on its way next. In the meantime, stream the EP below, and if you like what you hear, head over to Bandcamp throw a few bucks his way.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Kurtis Stanley "Ghost Protocol"

Keeping momentum alive with a second consecutive track produced by Las Vegas’ Clint Partie (aka Clinstrumentals), Gummy Soul’s Kurtis Stanley returns with another brass-blasting-banger in “Ghost Protocol.” Unlike the sax-happy “Airplane Mode” however, the new track goes in a completely different direction, with triumphant sounding horns projecting determination right out of the gate. “There’s just something about that,” says Stanley of the production. “It’s undeniable.”

Keep an ear out for more Gummy Soul coming down the pipe in the near future with Amerigo Gazaway’s Bizarre Tribe mashup album dropping in two weeks, and Wally Clark‘s Lovers Pain The Mourning After following shortly thereafter.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Truth Clipsy feat. PM "Fly Away"

With an assist on production from Woozy Collins comes the latest track from Nashville’s Truth Clipsy. The initially strong thud of the beat is quickly calmed, complemented nicely by the refreshing vocals from PM (who most recently jumped on “Can’t Stop” with Bill Breeze), leaving Clipsy free to weave in and out of the chorus, offering up game-aimed criticisms, (“Every time I listen to your bars I’m like why is this all that you can come up with?”), and commentary on keeping his focus true (“Sick and tired of being admired for dope. shit. respect the grind everything else is dumb shit”).

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Demand Better Curation

"I’m really scared for my generation, you know. The thing that scares me most is Tumblr. I hate what Tumblr has become… Instead of kids going out and making their own moments, they’re just taking these images and living vicariously through other people’s moments. It just kills me. Then you’ll meet them and they’re just the biggest turkey in the world. They don’t actually embody any of those things. They just emulate."
Known more for his music than his cultural commentary, Drake is asking something here about the increasingly blurry lines defining the roles of web users. In his New York Times profile of David Karp, Rob Walker explains how the Tumblr founder and CEO has divided the site’s community into three categories: “creators” (those “who post their own photographs, original writing and so on”), “curators” (“who cull, heart and reblog the best of this material for the benefit of the biggest group”) and “consumers” (who… well, consume). But what Drake’s alluding to is a whole other set of user that removes the lines between the three, their role as curators defining how they consume media in the creation of their own online identities.

The difference between the type of curator that Drake is speaking of and those identified in Percolate’s “What is Curation?” video is an important one: While both can lead consumers on a unexpected journey, chasing the white rabbit into previously unexplored corners of the web, the latter actually helps sift through the media abyss, singling out worthwhile information, and often “adding value” by lending context through their own ideas and opinions. The former are rebloggers.

Which isn’t to say that reblogging is worthless. It isn’t. Those who reblog with ambitious regularity often assemble cavernous portfolios of unique and interesting content. But all the same, there is a certain emptiness in living vicariously through other people’s moments, isn’t there? In his article titled “The Naked Appeal of Instagram,” David Carr questions the need for more creators. “On services that allow uploading of big batches of photos, the average number of times a photo is looked at is between one and none,” Carr writes. “People are often too busy producing media content — whether updating Facebook with beautifully filtered Instagram pictures or Tweeting about Naked Cowboys — to consume much of it.” Using the same premise, I question the need for more rebloggers, basking in all the beautiful projections on their Tumblr sites and Pinterest pages, hoping that someone (anyone!) stumbles across them and sees the collection as a reflection of themselves.

Curation is different though.

Whether in tweets, in blog posts, in podcasts, or in newsletters, be ruthless with your attention. Trim things down to a point where you’re only taking on the most nourishing of writing.” This, I believe, applies to curation as much as it does consumption. The Internet has given everyone a voice, leaving us equally able to curate as we are to consume. Some adopt a strategy of blanket-curation, throwing everything new or fresh or remotely interesting online and letting other consumers make their own value distinctions. Others assume the role of tastemaker, selectively making the decisions themselves. Both have their place, but the former contributes to what Jonathan Haidt calls “the paradox of abundance,” which he says “undermines the quality of our engagement.” How many content-overload websites can you monitor before you become overwhelmed by volume? How many share-explosions does it take before you remove a friend from your Facebook feed? How many Tumblr pages can you pay attention to before the reblogs become a blur?

Thoughtful, honest, and caring curation isn’t entirely different than creation. After all, the topics you choose to research, to blog about, and to discuss with friends all begin with the process of sifting through the media abyss yourself and singling out worthwhile information. So, here’s the challenge: Create less disposable “content” and concentrate on supporting work that will mean something to you slightly longer than the time it takes to press “like” or “reblog.” Demand more of your own Tumblr sites, Twitter feeds, personal blogs, and status updates, setting the tone for the web you want to see. Demanding better curation by others means demanding better curation from ourselves.

[Featured by: Content Curation MarketingGabriel Catalano, Open Intelligence, The PR Coach, and Robin Good.]

A Big Sky State of Mind

"Imaginary flirtations with the second amazing waitress of the day float through my mind as we drive home for the night, a bleak country-sized horizon lit up by the high-beams. I feel lucky."

Today a friend told me that it seemed like I “had just totally thrown [my] hands in the air” when we met this past spring, a few short weeks before I jumped on a train bound for Montana. I really didn’t have any clue what I was doing. I’d just quit my job, had again liquidated much of my stuff and lugged the remnants to my parents’ place, and was looking to find a change of scenery. I imagined my week-long expedition would be accompanied by some sort of life-changing revelation; majestic scenery seems to have that effect on people in the movies. But after the trip, “imaginary” was the only word that kept returning to me: Imaginary was the playful interaction that occurred in my mind with many of the trip’s great wait-staff, and imaginary was the role that I didn’t realize I was playing, until I recognized that I’d been playing it all along. I was living in a dream world.

The truth is: I do feel lucky. I got to spend a considerable amount of time with a friend and learned plenty about her that I didn’t the first time around. About five years after we’d last seen each other, we had both changed, but despite moving in our separate directions I think we shared something that many people are experiencing right now: A commonality of wanting to feel like there’s a purpose in our lives, yet little real understanding of what it might be.

During my trip I wrote and wrote and wrote about meals and people and places as though they were being experienced through the eyes of someone who has important things to say about meals and people and places. There were the tired North Dakota laborers in various states of buzz who were heading to Idaho for a week-long break from the rigors of a booming oil-scene; the aging bartender in Butte who left Seattle many years ago after fearing for the safety of her children (making the baseball-bat wielding street gang that we saw in town seem that much more ironic); the friend of a friend who said goodbye to me with a warm hug; a bartender at Bozeman’s Crystal Bar who explained that the rather imposing field goal that stood over us was from 2006 when the Bobcats beat the Grizzlies (Me: “How long’s this place been open?” Him: “Since about ten this morning”); and the various other people along the way, all friendly, all willing to share something of themselves. But the collection of words just didn’t feel like it left me with that life-changing experience that I’d been daydreaming of.

Driving back across the flyover states, there was a point in Deadwood, South Dakota where a couple drew up a spot next to where my friend and I were sitting. They were a little drunk, a little too handsy, and a little too obvious about their intentions. They said some rather stupid things (and maybe a few hurtful things too), but rather than blowing them off, something stuck with me that defined part of my experience. Even if only for a moment, I wanted to be them: I wanted to be able to be rightfully cocky about my appearance; I wanted to have someone wrapped around my arm who was brag-worthy; I wanted to feel what all of that feels like. Throughout the trip I pestered my friend with a torrent of questions about her life, maybe if only to continue talking about myself, and somewhere along the way I asked her if she ever wanted to be anyone else. She said no. I didn’t get around to responding to my own question (maybe because she’d long since discovered the pending threat of self-centered speculation every time she returned the volley), but my answer was yes.

For the longest time I’ve imagined being other people. Completely oblivious to their problems — many of which likely outweigh my own — I would dream about what it’d be like to have that life and not this life, as though there’s something terrible about what I have. But all the while I never really seemed to have the dedication to begin the transformation from one life into the next, or to overcome what someone else might have had to in order to achieve their outlook, physical health, appearance, or social status. And I’m not talking extremes here either: the stuff that I don’t do typically comes down to things as simple as avoiding eating too much junk food, exercising regularly, or just socializing every now and then. The reality isn’t that I can’t be like those two crab-walking assholes, but that I can always change if that’s what I really want to be.

"If you’re ever passing through Bozeman, the jalapeño, guacamole, and chipotle buffalo burger at Ted Turner’s Montana Grill is easily one of the best I’ve ever eaten. Ask for Kelsey. A few doors down, at Burger Bob’s, I’d recommend the spectacularly crunchy waffle fries which are meant to play a supporting role to another good, if not basic, burger: one half of a bun bedding the patty while the other bears a handful of veggies arranged as though the meal itself were as happy to be eaten as you might be to eat it."

At the time I started writing this a few months back I concluded that, “Now my next step is leaping into a life that likely won’t exist the way I still imagine it to, but if the move is anything like the last few times I’ve tried starting ‘a new life’ I’ll be likely to find out something about myself that I didn’t even know I was looking for.” Despite the decision paralysis that followed my ventures to and through Montana, Iowa, and Missouri, I woke up one day and forced a move that would return me to Nashville.

I didn’t know how to make it work, but rather than imagining all the different ways it could work out without pursuing any of them, I hounded Craigslist ads until I found someone who would let me live with them. Then, instead of imagining what it’d be like to move back across the country, I rented a truck and drove my stuff from Minnesota to Tennessee. Then, once I landed, instead of imagining what it’d be like if I had a place of my own again, I put out more inquiries, eventually landing a roomier spot at my old apartment building. Then I rented another truck, secured some furniture, and with the help of some of my best friends, moved my ass up three flights of stairs and into my new home. And now I’m finishing this blog post, not just letting it sit as a rough draft, imagining all the different ways that it could play out while the emotions and memories continue to fade into the past.

As Kurt Vonnegut once said, “A step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.” About five months ago I quit the job that I had first left Nashville to pursue, and even though it took untold emotional struggle and over 4000 miles to find my way back to the city, I’m quite literally a stronger person for it. I couldn’t have done so if I hadn’t taken that first step, and I couldn’t have done it without friends and family, but even more pressing: I would never have made it here without letting the imagination slide and actually committing. I don’t want to be like that pair of idiots we ran into in Deadwood, but I don’t want the life I had when I first left Nashville either. The goal now is to stop imagining and keep committing until the person in the mirror matches the person I want to see looking back at me. I guess that life-changing revelation I was seeking just took a little while to sink in.

Kellen "Time of Your Lyfe"

As the story goes, one night a few friends were sitting around relaxing while the instrumental version of “Feel So Close” began to fill the air. Not realizing who produced the track, Nashville vocalist Kellen asked who was behind it — only to find out that the friend who was playing it had planned on using the Calvin Harries track for one of his own songs. “Pretty much I beat jacked’em,” joked the singer when asked about it.

“Since I also love pop music, I put my spin on it and threw it on the mixtape to show some diversity.” The final cut “Time of Your Lyfe” appears on the 13-track Road 2 Knightlyfe which dropped about a week back, offering some of that welcomed diversity to the smooth production that supports the bulk of the release. “I wanted make people feel good and that’s exactly what the beat feels like.”

R&B is a difficult genre to gain a distinct voice in. A few years back when Maxwell released BLACKsummers’night, a friend of mine spoke to the stale progression within the genre’s frontrunners, “R&B kind of sucks these days, what with halfway talented singers using autotune to warble clichés over throwaway hip hop beats.” It’s something that bothered me then, and something that I continue to have a hard time with: OK, you’ve got a great voice… and?

What Kellen’s doing here doesn’t necessarily buck that trend — piggybacking on already-successful tracks is what continues to make mixtapes work — but it shows that the young singer is at least trying to think about stepping outside of the traditional mold, and is able to sound good in the process. “To me the song brings that extra energy that was needed to kinda set me apart.” Hard to argue with that.

For more from Kellen check out “Believe,” his collaboration with P.A. Lit which Lit calls his personal favorite from the recently released Birth of a Wave album.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Stock More of What's Selling

What are the shelves of your store stocked with? Are you recognizing what sells and what doesn’t? Are you paying attention to the items that no one’s buying? Are you increasing inventory of what is selling? Are you helping your business succeed?

Life is like an emotional retail store. We have to constantly run inventory, making sure that we’re not giving too much shelf-space to efforts that aren’t working. To get more out of our limited floor space, we have to pay attention to what’s selling in our own life and act accordingly. What brings you fulfillment? What helps you achieve your goals? You should probably stock more of that.

Take inventory today. Look at that shelf of failure and count how many times a decision has left you feeling empty or sad. Stop listening to the questionable voice in your head giving you bad advice, telling you to stock your shelves with ambrosia-infused microwave popcorn and squid-flavored Jell-o. That shit ain’t workin’.

Stop actively putting yourself out of business.

Being Lucky or Being Given

"Lucky and given. Those are two very very dangerous words for a comedian because those two words can put you to sleep. Especially once you get a taste of both: of being lucky, and being given. Because the days of luck and being given are about to end. They’re about to go away — not totally, alright, there’s always going to be comedians who through hard work, they’re going to get noticed by agents and networks and studios and directors and record labels. There will always be an element of that. They deserve their success, by the way. Everyone of them that still makes it with that model still deserves their success. And there’s always going to be people who benefit from that, alright? I hope it keeps happening. But what I meant when I said the days of luck and being given are about to end is this: Not being lucky and not being given are no longer going to define your career as a comedian and as an artist."
About a month ago Patton Oswalt appeared at Just For Laughs in Montreal to delivery the festival’s keynote speech. His presentation followed two distinct paths, offering similar messages to different audiences, weaving a consistent thread throughout: That the world of creation is changing. No longer does your success, as an artist, rely on gatekeepers allowing you to succeed.

From 2008 to 2009 I held a position at an alt-weekly, working as a regularly contributing freelancer. I was given the responsibility of creating daily web content, and was given a ton of opportunities to contribute to the print edition as well. Being a sucker for data, I kept track, and when all was said and done I had put together over 400 blog posts, concert previews, album reviews, and interviews by the time I quit. The point here is that I was given a chance, and I let it slip away.

By my account I was asleep, and the vast majority of what I was contributing during that time remains some of the least inspired writing I’ve ever done. But a crucial lack of maturity and clarity about how rare the opportunity actually was went right over my head. By the end of my time with the company, budgets were fluctuating and I was being asked to do more for less money. Despite this, I failed to recognize that I was still getting paid a fair(ish) wage in a cutthroat industry that very few people actually get the chance to make a living from in the first place. At the time I felt like I was entitled to the work, and that I deserved more, when in reality I was just lucky. Lucky and given.

It’s been nearly four years since I took my first assignment with that company and I still have yet to find a situation remotely as opportune as what I had. When a similar position opened up last year I decided it would be worth moving back to the city for, so I applied, but I never even received a response. When I actually needed it, there was no opportunity just sitting there, waiting to be given to me.

As Oswalt later reflected in his speech, in order to succeed in the future, “I need to stop waiting to luck out and being given. I need to unlearn those muscles” — words we’d all do well to remember the next time we find ourselves waiting for the next big opportunity to land in our laps. That, or more importantly, the next time we fail to appreciate what we’ve already been given.

Potent Platitudes

No matter how obnoxious they can be, well-timed maxims can still deliver insight with great effect. Over the past two weeks thoughts have come and gone surrounding a number of ideas, but one particular thread has woven itself through each: The necessity to make today count.

Yesterday’s hard work helps build momentum, but without clarity of direction it can be difficult to avoid resting on your laurels, quickly becoming satisfied with past achievements, and empowering complacency.

Think about Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite: “Back in ’82 I used to be able to throw a pigskin a quarter mile.” Don’t become another Uncle Rico — no one wants to be a sad old man saddled by the questionable glory of days gone by.

Now, how about that timely platitude: Last week’s shower doesn’t help that much today.

Titus Jones "Dance Alarm" Video

It’s rare that I can get excited for a dance album — there’s always an exception to the rule though, and today has provided a rather notable one in the form of new music from Nashville producer Titus Jones.

“Dance Alarm” is a pulsating mega-mash that combines Nicki Minaj, Avicii, Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Taio Cruz, Cascada, Etta James, and Dev with Jones’ go-to, Britney Spears. The list of artists is a shameful indulgence in pop music’s usual suspects, but the track itself is anything but normal (not to mention the fantastic video edited by Panos T).
“My main goal when I sat down to make this track was to make it big,” reflected Jones when discussing the new music. “I knew I wanted something with a punch to officially announce the album and get listeners engaged and excited! This was about three weeks ago, and around that time I’d had that damn ‘Pound the Alarm’ track stuck in my head for days. So I was like ‘That’s it. I’m just gonna have to mash it’.”
The new song is a lead-in for Jones’ forthcoming mashup album After Shock — the follow-up to last year’s full-length Culture Shock release. “The whole thing is jam packed with fun party tracks you can move to, with a bit of nostalgia and genre-clashes stuffed in for good measure.”

The 14 track After Shock will be released September 21, but in the meantime “Dance Alarm” can be downloaded for free from Titus Jones’ website.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Amerigo Gazaway "Bizarre Tribe: A Quest to The Pharcyde"

Blending the sounds of De La Soul with Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, last year’s Fela Soul mashup EP broke through to the mainstream where it was co-signed by the likes of MTV’s Hive, The Source and Okayplayer… not to mention NPR’s Bruce Warren who called it one of the best Bandcamp releases of the entire year. The man behind the production, Gummy Soul’s Amerigo Gazaway, is now returning with another mashup release, this time flexing his skills by combining hip hop icons the Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest.

“At a time when gangster rap ruled the airwaves, both these groups were breaking new ground musically and challenging the stereotypes of what people thought rap music to be,” explained Gazaway via email, expressing the drive to bring these two groups together. “The Pharcyde is to the West Coast what A Tribe Called Quest is to the East.”

The first taste from the album comes in the form of “Runnin’,” which features vocals from the Pharcyde’s 1995 single of the same name, while swapping J Dilla’s original production for the sounds of Tribe’s “Electric Relaxation.” The remainder of the album promises to follow suit with Gazaway combining his reinterpreted instrumentals with Pharcyde vocals. Further explaining his motivation with the project, Gazaway reflected on his roots, “My father is a jazz musician, so naturally I was drawn to ATCQ’s music from the very beginning,” he said. “And Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde was and still is one of my favorite hip-hop albums of all time.

The full-length Bizarre Tribe: A Quest to The Pharcyde will be released September 13, featuring a dozen or so brand new mashups including the likes of “Bonita Keeps on Passin’ Me By,” “We Got the Soul Flower,” and “Ya Mama and Stuff.”

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

The Invisible Carrot

Success can have a variety of meanings depending on the individual defining it. In general though, many feel like we’ll never be “successful” — not because of our personal definitions, or lack thereof, but because of how inflexible our definitions are.

There isn’t too much in my life right now that I can do where I’d honestly consider myself a success. I’m exercising every day and am eating right in an attempt to lose weight and become healthier, for example, but at what point in time do I become successful? This process is something I’ve done numerous times before, but typically I’ve worked hard until beginning to plateau, only to become complacent with failing to achieve what I’d really hoped for. It’s not that I have a fear of success — I simply count myself as a failure before I’ve actually failed.

More and more however, I’m trying to shift “success” from being a goal-oriented objective to being the act of maintaining focus on what I define as important. Establishing priorities is one thing but maintaining a clear perspective regardless of how life plays out is what’s key. In my situation, what happens when I stick to a routine and I still feel miserable, unhealthy, and the pounds refuse to come off? Am I then a failure? Maybe. If my perspective is clear however, I’m more likely to see things for how they really are… That I’m only really a failure if I stop trying. In making the goal of resiliency paramount to metric-based landmarks, it becomes easier to refrain from negatively reacting to the appearance of stagnant progress and remain determined to move forward. Failed expectations are less likely to equate failure if our mindset is right.
Great expectations are premeditated resentments.
Too often it becomes habit to set expectations around rigid goals: A + B = C, and nothing else will do. But what happens if life gets in the way of these plans and we start feeling like we have to play catch-up just to get back to square-one? What if “B” never arrives, or instead, we’re given a “J” to work with?! Pretty quickly the plan of action to achieve “success” can become our worst enemy, mocking us as we try to latch onto the carrot on the stick — a carrot that we likely never had hope of grabbing hold of in the first place, if it was ever really there to begin with.

To draw out the metaphor out a little further, it’s easy to overlook all the carrots around us when we’re so intently focused on the carrot on the stick. Many successes arrive only to be overlooked because they’re not the successes we planned for. However, if we’re able to move beyond this, it becomes easier to build on small accomplishments and prevent expectations of what should happen get in the way from appreciating what is happening. Tomorrow’s success might very well be something you could never envision today.

Regardless of yesterday’s results, success isn’t dependent on whether or not things went as planned: If they did, great, if not, get over it. Instead, success can come in the act of simply recognizing that we can start over today. Success is what we make it.

Derek Minor "PSA Volume 3"

“I am entering a new chapter in my career,” revealed Derek Minor in a recent blog post, explaining his decision to shed his PRo moniker. “This new chapter includes a new direction, and new goals.” The first major act under his new name has arrived in the form of the third installment in his PSA series, this one bearing the appropriate title “Who is Derek Minor.” It’s a fitting statement not only because of the recent rebranding, but also because of how the mixtape documents a broad sea change for the Murfreesboro-based MC.

“As my career continues, my aim is to be transparent and real with the people,” he added on his blog. And when reaching out for comment via email he backed up this statement of transition, expressing how PSA 3 is a massive step forward for him as an artist. “This record is much more mature than the last PSA installments,” he said. “I’m much older, have seen more, and I think I’ve developed my craft much better.”

“Also, I produced more records than any other mixtape I’ve ever done,” he noted, further revealing how the new release stands as a personal landmark. His work in that regard is solid, and the album is remarkably sound musically with very tight production by not only Minor but a small army of talented beat-wizards. Additionally, the album has a long list of lyrical contributors including Dre Murray, JSon, Viktory, and Tedashii, who all appear on the track “Sad Condishun.” “The fact that I got this megamix of artist on that one song was dope,” said Minor. “It was a really cool record — one of my favorites for sure.”

Not unlike thousands of tapes that have done the same, PSA 3 has its fair share of disposable phone message skits, but any filler is easily forgivable when considering the quality of such high-energy tracks as “Higher” and “I’m Focused,” or even the relaxed sounds of “Feeling Good.” However musically sound PSA 3 is, the mix revolves around a variety of inspirational themes which remain at the heart of Minor’s music — themes not unlike those expressed in the lead single “Get Up” regarding being mindful of the world around you. “Though it is broken, there is hope,” added Minor.

And while not entirely overstated on “Get Up,” the religious aspect of Minor’s work is far more prevalent throughout PSA 3. It’s something that can be either inspiring or overbearing based on your individual stance on religion — and more specifically Christianity — but on a personal level it’s something that’s becoming less a distinctly black and white issue. There is some black metal that I enjoy, for example, but in no way am I about to redefine my life as a satanic nihilist any time soon just because of the ideas projected through a piece of music. Similarly, not all of Minor’s beliefs resonate with me, but I can still celebrate the thematic tones of positivity and personal empowerment that are prevalent throughout his music. “Regardless of our condition, up bringing, or background there is a always something greater on the horizons.” That — I can get behind.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Kill the Vampires in Your Life

Identifying the vampires in our lives is vital to personal evolution and bucking complacency.

As Duncan Trussell asks in this video clip, What’s sucking you of your happiness? What are the things in your life that are keeping you from succeeding, progressing, or simply being happy? These things are vampires and if we don’t recognize them as such they will continue to suck us dry.

As Trussell explains, vampires only go where they’re invited. The people and situations that are most damaging in our lives have the ability of draining us of our livelihood because we allow them to do so. Similar to those who are stuck in abusive relationships, paralyzed by the fear of walking away, we’ll often try to convince ourselves that these blood-suckers aren’t really vampires — that we don’t have to leave, or that we don’t have to cut them out of our lives. Vampires can be seductive and manipulating, but recognizing them for what they are is crucial. “You don’t kill a vampire by having a sit-down talk with a vampire,” continues Trussell. “You shine the light of truth onto the situation [and] fearlessly analyze it, and then you’ll destroy it.” It’s important to determine what the vampires are in our lives and acknowledge them as such, but doing so is only part of the equation — taking action is vital to making real change.

Even after accepting vampires for what they are, it’s easy to avoid removing them from our lives because of the expectation that doing so will hurt us more in the long run. And it’s true: killing our vampires might leave us temporarily crushed. Crushed, perhaps, but alive, and able to move forward. Actively purging these destructive blood-suckers from our lives will ultimately lend us liberation from unnecessary misery and grant us the freedom to again be our true selves.


Some days I feel like a complete waste. Some days I feel like I can’t get out of bed, and further: there’s no point. Some days I feel like I don’t have anything to offer the world, or myself for that matter. Some days I feel like the world would be a better place without me in it. Some days I’m fine.

When I become lost in my own mind I’m finding that it’s becoming increasingly important to pay close attention to the day’s small victories. If you get out of bed that puts you a step closer to doing the dishes. If you clean the dishes that puts you a step closer to showering and shaving. If you clean up you that puts you a step closer to going to work.

Each new morning can bring with it an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, but accomplishment doesn’t have to come by running gold medal winning races or releasing New York Times best sellers. Some days accomplishment comes in taking small steps when that first inch appears impossible. Shaving and showering isn’t a huge victory, but the action is important because of the change it might help usher in. One step leads to the next, and the first step toward conquering the day is sometimes one that might otherwise seem insignificant.

As the old saying goes: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Truth Clipsy "Live Forever"

Recently releasing The Very Ink… EP with producer JOTA ESE, Nashville’s Truth Clipsy is back with another determined offering in the form of his new track “Live Forever.” Lyrically, the song takes aim at modern rap standards, following an aging character’s development of self awareness as he makes the transition from “thinking that he will live forever to understanding that the only things that will live forever are the ideas that you pass on to the world.”

The story is set to a throwback beat provided by Bill Breeze under his Johnny MO and the Crazy 88 alias (Breeze himself just dropped a funky new collaboration with PM titled “Can’t Stop“) and when combined with Clipsy’s focused lyrical aim the song takes on a form all its own. “The partying and bottle popping, the violence and drugs, and the subjection of women are the most cliché,” explains Clipsy. “But yet the most popular subjects to rap about.” It’s sort of funny, thinking back to a time when “socially conscious” was a term that garnered respect in the rap community. It has since been diluted by a decade’s worth of watered down philosophies and now carries with it something of an undesirable association — Clipsy addresses this with the track.

“We don’t talk about the responsibilities of friends to look take care of the children that our friends leave behind. We don’t talk about making our communities better and offering hope to the younger generation. We don’t talk about why we really want to have a ton of hate and animosity whenever we are successful. We don’t talk about AIDS or the dangers of having sex with many partners. Why are these not viable subjects in the hip-hop community?” Why indeed.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]