I’m a twenty five year old Eurasian male. I’m a nerd. I’m a Trekkie. I like science fiction, dinosaurs and books about a combination of the two (Jurassic Park!). I have lots of hobbies and interests but there’s one that stands out from the rest.
I’m totally obsessed with rap music. *Cue frenetic rap music video*
So what’s the odd thing about that? Well, I’m pretty convinced that it has inspired some of my best work when it comes to writing, directing and producing.
While the thought of JK Rowling or Stephen King writing a masterpiece to a Tupac song makes me smile (and wonder), there’s something else to it. Music certainly inspires all forms of art. Can rap music inspire writers?
Let me state it now. Rap music IS writing.
My fascination with rap isn’t so much about enjoying rap music. It’s more about setting up the certain mindset BEFORE YOU WRITE. (Stay with me here). Because that is essentially what it is all about. Mindset.
When I was fourteen I was quiet, introverted and only really asserted myself during drama class, where I played over the top flamboyant characters. It made the class laugh. I felt good. But..
I was scared of my potential.
I was like that for a long time. Until my friend passed me a mix tape he compiled as a lark. For a skinny white teenager, girlfriend-less and without a semblance of cool about him – listening to that tape had a profound effect on me.
It had a lot of different rappers on it: Jay-Z, Nas, Notorious B.I.G, Eminem, Tupac, Wu-Tang Klan and other rappers. Yes most of the songs contained swear words. Yes some of the songs contain violent and lewd themes. Yes they were shocking.
And yes, it introduced me to the power of words.
Rhyme schemes. Aliteration. Metaphors. Similes. Vocabulary.
It was empowering. To know that so much could come out of a sentence, rhyme or ‘bar’ as rappers call it. I was an avid reader in my teens but to hear the power of words -lyrically – was something else.
It wasn’t the music. It was the electricity of the words. (Yes words have electricity)
After I migrated to Singapore, at the age of fifteen, I voraciously began searching for new rap songs and rappers to fill my imagination.
I watched international ‘Rap battles’ on websites and youtube (where two rappers go head to head like competing boxers). I wrote my own raps. I performed my own raps.
I was obsessed.
How could these rappers create such intricate connections of words, and at the same time, produce such intimate commentary about family, war, violence, love and success?
Isn’t that the aim of every writer? To combine the fluency of the pen with emotion?
Eventually my search led me to explore the history of many rappers. I read one particular book, ‘Whatever You Say I Am : The Life and Times of Eminem’ by Anthony Bozza. It detailed the history of rap, as well as the dark history of Marshall Mathers aka Eminem.
Then the meaning of my obsession hit me.
Rap music and Rappers struck me as a lesson in perseverance. Of courage. Of not failing to live up to your potential. Of defying the odds.
In rap music if the cards are stacked against you – it’s not an excuse! You are either great or you are already great. No in between.
I realised to be the writer I want to be – I need to think like that. There are no excuses. No backup plan. As Yoda once famously said: “Do or do not…there is no try.” (Actually it was really George Lucas…but you get the point).
In Eminem’s case: if a single white male, desperate, terribly poor, with societies norms against him, in the dangerous streets of Detroit could do it — with just passion and skill — why couldn’t I?
It was all there. All the lessons I’d need to know about writing and being successful. Of reaching my dream of being a children’s novelist, producer and film maker.
All rappers are writers. All writers are rappers too. It’s about the electricity you put into your words and work.
My journey eventually led me to perform numerous songs rap songs at friends birthdays and gatherings. I had gained a cool factor – finally! And I wasn’t scared of my potential anymore.
Rap music isn’t so much about making green, gyrating hoes and gold teeth.
It’s about confidence. It’s about asserting yourself. It’s about saying ‘I’m better than you’ and saying it with poise and conviction. It’s about embracing passion and using words to incite the senses.
It’s about saying: “I’m gonna rule this.”
We live in a society where political correctness prevails. We can’t say we are better than someone else for fear of being labelled as egotistical or big headed.
Rap music is about celebrating your greatness. Celebrating that you are the best. Celebrating that you can make it with determination and practice.
That no matter who you are, what you look like, your past or circumstances — passion and skill always prevails.
The last line of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” sums that up perfectly. It’s a song that I listen to everyday when I need a boost, inspiration or an encouraging word. I don’t think it was even ‘scripted’.
You can do anything you set your mind to man.
Lose Yourself, Eminem
Celebrate the greatness within you once in a while. Perhaps right now you’re not the writer you want to be. Perhaps right now you don’t have the success you desire. Perhaps right now the odds are not stacked in your favor.
So what? There’s no use in complaining. Try thinking like a rapper.
Embrace pain. Push it into your words, stories and characters. Create your own electricity when you write. And know that..
One day you’re going to be the greatest (your definition of greatness.. no one else’s). One day it’s going to be your turn to reign. One day you are going to crush your enemies (your fears, your own doubts, and all those elements working against you).
You are a Writer. Create your own beat.
This post is a part of the Jeff Goin’s “You are a Writer” contest. To join yourself click on: http://youareawriter.com/contest/.
Photo credit: visual.dichotomy