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Ezra Bai

The Trouble Addiction

Creative people are known to self-destruct. The pressure and attention and microscope…the need to live up to expectations that they create in their work and the persona they use to promote that work, prove to be too much.

In search of the illusive qualities of credibility and authenticity, the artist can venture down a dangerous path towards addiction, destroyed relationships, and run-ins with the law.

Cellule du quartier d'isolement de la prison Jacques-Cartier, à travers le judas, Rennes, France

By Édouard Hue (User:EdouardHue) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hip Hop was born in the street as an antidote and escape from the trouble that surrounded its birthplace. However, once it went on record, connecting to the corporate money machine of the music industry, the altruistic visions would take a back seat to monetary concerns.

Thank goodness it did. If Hip Hop had stayed local like, say, Go-Go in DC, I may have never heard it. Some of the most influential art and social commentary of the final quarter of 20th century may have never been created. As much as I would like to think that the popularity of Hip Hop grew because of its artistic and cultural merit alone, I know better. Had labels not taken a chance on some early Hip Hop records…had Run-DMC not proven the flexibility and financial viability of the genre by collaborating with Aerosmith…had any number of ambitious street hustlers not redirected their energies towards music…Hip Hop may have gone down the path of disco and become the fad that so many thought it would be.

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I dropped out of Hip-Hop during the East Coast vs. West Coast feud of the mid 1990’s.  My fascination during the emergence of Tribe and Wu-tang Clan disintegrated into a mild passing interest.

I moved to Germany and tuned in to the electronic dance music that pumped all night in the clubs I frequented every weekend. My first taste of freedom from my rigid upbringing came while I was overseas. I created a new identity and felt all the freedom that went along with being a stranger in a strange land.

The biggest reason for my waning interest in Hip-Hop was the sad, twisted saga of Biggie v. Pac.  I heard Tupac’s ” Hit’em Up”  in the barracks on my first weekend in Germany.  My roommate had clearly taken sides in the Biggie v. Pac debate . He kept that track on repeat for hours and gave drunken sermons about Pac’s superiority over Biggie and the West Coast’s undeniable supremacy in the rap game.

I offered no opinion. I was still trying to wrap my head around my impending departure to Bosnia and the life I left behind. I had just come through six months of sequester–basic and job training for the Army. My palette was clean. Rap didn’t taste good.

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Technique and Technology

I never want to be one of those guys who complains about the effect that technology has had on hip-hop. But it may seem like that is what I am doing in this post. Maybe I am. But it is not the same complaint that you may have heard from bitter old guys who resent the fact that the cost of entry to producing professional quality music is so much cheaper than it once was.

Turntables and mixer

By Baskoner (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I am glad that the price barrier has come down. There are many creative people who have contributed to the landscape of hip-hop who we may have never heard of if they would have had to drop a few thousand dollars to gear up.

I am also glad that technology has streamlined the process of putting ideas together.  Bottom line, it is really not about tools and technology, it is about the quality of the ideas you present…

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1990 was an interesting year in hip-hop. And I was for the most part just a voyeur. I had been semi-indoctrinated in hip-hop by my uncle via his late night listening sessions when he slipped in from the club at 2 or 3 am. The first thing that really caught my attention was Eric B. and Rakim’s first effort Paid in Full. I was fascinated with this music that created a soundtrack to my early mornings as a young teenager, but I was in no position to pursue my interest in the open.

Not in Rev. Odell’s house.

I loved music. I played saxophone and was into jazz because jazz is what you are into if you play saxophone, but the only music that was really played openly was gospel music. I could get away jazz because it was instrumental. There were no insidious messages that could, when internalized, damn my soul to hell.

I coped with my situation by getting way more into jazz than someone my age should, and by getting my nightly fix of hip-hop and R&B.  I had 3 or 4 years of listening under my belt when 1990 hit. Some of the most commercially successful and culturally significant music the history of hip-hop came out that year.

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Failing in Public

In my last post I talked about mastery and the serious business of investing your life in achieving it. As I reflected on the ideas overnight I recalled my own personal creative journey.

I have been on and off the path towards mastery many times. Reaching plateaus and then getting pleased with myself, complacent. Buckling under the discomfort of the steep learning curves. I have been a dabbler, dancing around the edges of challenges that arise as I try do something significant, then moving on to the next exciting thing.

There is always a rush when I embark on a new creative journey. The newness gives me energy. You can sometimes go from knowing nothing to being able to function at a basic level in one heroic leap.

In the late 1990’s I first started producing Hip Hop music. I was a novice, but I was hungry. I immersed myself in the process of learning how to operate the equipment and eek out some primitive beats, 99 percent of them sucked, but when you are working with young artists who are happy to just be in the studio making something you can get a false impression of your skill level.

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