I have a set on June 16 at 123 Pleasant Street and I’m absolutely terrified. The last time I tried to perform was for a Nerd Fresh set last year and I was terrible. Not terrible to the crowd but I didn’t remember any of my lyrics. I had gotten so comfortable sliding in and out of Quie sets and doing my part in those that I had melted on the stage for the first time in a long time.
Going back to that long time, it would have to be when I took part in a contest at 123, where you could win $100 for being the best performer of the night. I spent weeks getting psyched up because I wanted to win so badly. I was short with some of my best friends at the actual show because I was so “focused”. I gave the best performance of “What It Look Like” ever in the first round and I advanced to the second. I decided I wanted to get emotional with my second song and I attempted to perform “Playing Back Moments”, which is partially written about Meuwl. I don’t remember how far I got before I cracked; I flamed out through the rest of the song and could barely remember lyrics. I got off stage disappointed and vowed to never take myself that seriously again.
The last set I had was at Buck’s (RIP) in 2013, not long after The Mind’s Mixtape volume 4 was released. Mary and Heather made the trek out to see me that night and I once again forgot my lyrics. Anthony made fun of me and Mary threatened him. I love Mary. I didn’t think too much of it as I still assumed at the time that I was done with music after Soon You’ll Understand came out, which was already done by then. Of course, the bug E had planted in my ear during all those Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at his house had taken hold; here I am in 2016 itching as bad as ever to record some new music for my next album.
So in what really adds up to be a few days, I’m supposed to take the stage and perform. I know what I’m doing and I know I can put on a solid show. Cortez is DJ-ing and I know we have a great chemistry together on stage (which reminds me again, sorry about never being able to commit to Electrocompulsive Therapy, I still owe you time ripping vinyl to your computer for DJ-ing our wedding, and congratulations on the baby on the way!). I have plenty of songs to choose from for my set. If there’s one that I really want to do, it’s “‘Fit Jammin’” as I’ve never performed it live. I have to do “Vibe” if Cortez is spinning because we haven’t performed it together in at least 5 years. I could attempt to do “Morgantown MCs 2014” or “8 x Four” but I think I’d rather keep this set self-contained, mostly because MI lives out of town now.
I’m nervous because I really want to get back on stage and kill it like I used to do. I’d say my peak performances came between late 2010 to mid 2011, you know, when I focused only on music and I ignored everything else in my life and I almost lost everything important to me (see “American Love Story”)? I want to get back to get back there… I just fear I can't get back to that point.
I'm also ready to record new music but I won't have anything new ready for the show. I have a spreadsheet full of song titles and I couple voice memos with hook ideas. I actually wrote my first verse since 2014 back in February and it was okay for getting back in the groove. I've been half freestyling/half bullshitting through email with Matt. I just know that this time out isn't going to be like volume 4/SYU. I still had the poster board filled with song titles and when I found the right beat I would write songs to fit those titles. I think that format still works for my vision for my sophomore set. But I want my sound to be different.
There's one major thing I want to do with my music going forward but if I mention it, I feel like people will be listening to hear that major thing, so I'm not going to say. If that makes sense. I also know there's a certain vibe I'm shooting for as well but I don't know how I'm going to achieve it.
I want this album to be… very melodic. Not that SYU didn't have it's melodic moments but I know as a writer how important melody is to me now. As amazing as “Better With Bacon” is, I don't feel like I need to make songs for this album like that. I think I've evolved. I want to make… happy music, if that makes any sense.
When did Pharrell’s “Happy” come out? Two years ago? That song changed my world view. Not of Pharrell, as he obviously had proved he was genre and box proof throughout his whole career. But the fact that this simple song that was made for the soundtrack of a kid's film took over the world floored me. As simple as it may seem, there is so much more to “Happy” than what you notice on your 4th listen or your 400th listen. “Happy” is timeless. You don't get sick of “Happy”. You might have felt that way when it was on the radio everyday but if you play it right now, well, you'll know how you feel.
The first time I zoned in on this new direction for my own music came while listening to Pharrell's album Girl. There's a hidden track called “Freq” in the middle of the album and if you never noticed it, please take the time to listen to it now. I know this sounds cliched and corny, but “Freq” spoke to me differently than anything else I had heard in my life.
Shortly after I discovered “Freq”, I spent many work days pairing it with an unreleased song I had been sitting on for a few years (which hopefully sees release this year). Listening to the two back to back put me in the right kind of headspace no matter what was going on. I knew that when the time came to record new music, this was the type of vibe I wanted.
This was in 2015 or so when I discovered this “new” path I wanted to trek down musically. Since then, I caught up on the (almost) countless podcasts that I hadn’t edited from 2013 and 2014 and got them posted. I started “focusing” on writing more. I relaunched Victory Jumpoff Radio and officially launched my Hyphen Nation podcast. Despite the itch to create music returning stronger every day, I was still not immersing myself enough to truly feel like I could make this musical transition. I debated on changing my name again, hoping that would provide the correct jumping off point for my new music.
Before I could really get into the renaming process though, I decided that it was time to revisit D’Angelo’s sophomore album Voodoo. I had a burned copy that I had last listened to in 2010 or 2011 when I lived on Green Street and I kept reading how classic the album was. I personally always enjoyed Brown Sugar more but after reading some of the process that D and Questlove went through to record the album, I figured my 33 year old ears would hear something different.
That last sentence was an understatement. Voodoo as a whole reawakened that same feeling that “Freq” had almost a year ago. Something I’ve learned over the years is to appreciate an album as one piece of music; Matt had mentioned not liking Take Care shortly after its release in 2011. My response (beyond my typical love of Drake) was to listen to Take Care altogether. As much as I enjoy “Headlines”, “Marvin’s Room”, and “The Ride”, listening to those tracks as they were sequenced together makes them that much more enjoyable.
Voodoo isn’t just “Devil’s Pie”, “Left And Right”, and “Untitled”. Voodoo starts with “Playa Playa” and ends in “Africa”. Taking it at any less than that is a mistake, a mistake that I learned 16 years after Voodoo was released to the public. I need to relisten to Black Messiah because maybe there’s more lessons to be heard there.
Wise sent me a photo of a burned copy of volume Three I had made for him in 2008, which I forwarded to Matt. Matt said it made him want to relisten to Thunderstorm for the first time in ages. I explained my theory of 2005 B Hyphen in an email to him and the whole idea of being in a confident enough space to experiment lives in the same rapper I was 11 years ago. It took me a while to get back to that zone but now that I’m here, I’m comfortable and not planning on leaving anytime soon.
So my new music isn’t going to feature me rapping less, singing more, or using auto-tune every chance I get. Nor am I going to start playing instruments (although, I truly would love to produce this project myself. I don’t know if that’s possible). And I’m not going to promise that my sound will drastically change and make you reevaluate your place in life. I just promise that this project (projects?) will be better than volume 4 and SYU. As Joe Budden once said often, you’re now listening to the growth.
One last thing before I wrap this up (I really have no clue why I’ve gone into such detail): I really want my music to have a pop/funk feel. Hear it me out. I don’t mean I want to make bubblegum records; I mean I want my music to have a nice, clean universal sound. One of the things I think SYU suffered from was how random it was; I had 10 dope beats, E and I sequenced it, and that was it. I really want the sounds and the music to come from a certain place… and right now I’m feeling a funk/pop vibe. Trust me, it’ll be dope. Maybe I’ve just been too influenced by certain sounds on the radio (“Uptown Funk” anyone?) or maybe it’s just what I’ve been listening to musically lately (the aforementioned Voodoo and Prince’s HitNRun Phase One), but I know if I find that place, then this next music is going the direction I’m wanting to take it.
I'm hoping to get onstage June 16 and recapture some magic. Being on the stage has always brought me a weird form of peace, even if I go up and have a horrible show in my mind. I guess it’s not weird if you understand it; it’s an extension of how at peace I am when I get to record because I’m still getting to share my music with other people. I have two weeks to make sure that I can touch the 123 Pleasant Street stage that night and not stink up the place. Any good vibes you want to send my way would be appreciated.
Now to figure out the setlist.