Humans are capable creatures, our purpose a hell-bent need for creation. We crave progress, we strive for prosperity, we work for success, we live for today. Yet along our journey, we make mistakes, have regrets, bump up against the inevitable. But this is the beautiful part of being alive – it’s not what was or what is, but what will be that defines us.
We need compassion, curiosity, calm, clarity, courage, connectedness, confidence and creativity. If we live, act and think openly from our heart, mind and soul, nothing will stop us – not even ourselves! We must embrace struggle — acknowledge it, breathe and be. We shouldn’t fear moments when our reality is challenged and logic defied.
As a senior in college, I was exposed to many new music genres and artists. J Dilla (rest in beats), Arnold Schoenberg (you’ll need math!), Madlib (musical messiah), John Cage (music or sound?), MF Doom (rhyming villain), Fela Kuti (dance!), Nujabes (rest in beats), Ahmad Jamal (ivory tickler), Jazz Liberatorz (chillest trio), Aaron Copland (paints with music), Sun Ra (astral jazz), Nino Ferrer (passion magic), People Under The Stairs (legendary educators), Steve Reich (keep up!), Skalpel (chilling magnificence), Erykah Badu (otherworldly divinity), Black Milk (fever inducing!) … I could go on!
None of these musicians were new to the game — I was! At the time, I couldn’t fully embrace the new music I was hearing. My entire being was closed off to this language, I was not able to listen. I wasn’t ready for sonorities so diverse, I wasn’t aware that rhythm could be so intelligent, I wasn’t trying to be more than Queen (still my favorite band ever), The Doors (incredible poetry and soundscapes), and Beethoven (sheer brilliance).
I’ll never forget the moment that J Dilla changed my life. My roommate played “We Don’t” from Dilla’s classic 2006 album The Shining. Later, I learned about James Dewitt Yancey’s prowess on the MPC, his humanizing and pioneering of technology and technique, his dedication and craft recording and creating music in the hospital as he finally succumbed to Lupus at barely 32 years old, his mesmerizing catalogue and credits ranging from A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Slum Village and The Pharcyde to Janet Jackson, The Roots, Common, Busta Rhymes and D’Angelo.
But in 2012, I was neither impressed nor ready to think of this as music. The beat was too trippy and esoteric, the lyrics and his timbre were too raw and unmastered, the vibe was so unlike the artists I had heard all over the radio – Eminem, 50 Cent, T.I., Ludacris. But as time passed and my music library grew, I began to awaken; pretty soon, I hungered for not just sound, not just sensation, but for the ability to listen and feel. The effervescence bubbled until it could no longer be contained and from that initial hunger, I am still only beginning to understand not only music but myself. Through Dilla’s music, I learned how to be me.
All artists have a vision, but their audience — really our society — is not always prepared or able to accept that vision. Equate an artist trying to communicate with their audience to that recent fight you had with your partner/spouse/loved one. To understand your loved one’s concerns, you have to actively listen to their concerns, understand their perspective and further that conversation with thoughtful questions. Acknowledge the problem and recognize it’s not about fault, but about resolution. Were you able to change because you want to?
As the summer begins, don’t think about change, think about shifting. Shift your resolution, your attitude, your approach … dance, write, draw, sing, play music, meditate, travel, smile, feel, listen, pick up litter, enjoy nature … don’t let your fears rule or restrict you; just acknowledge, breathe, be and live for tomorrow! Self-awareness and self-reflection trump self-ignorance. Have a great summer, being.