“Mission Man: 25 Years Of Hip-Hop Without Ego”
That is my tagline, slogan, or whatever you want to call it for 2017, as 2017 is the 25 year anniversary of when I started rapping. Over the years, I learned to play several instruments, with my primary instruments being electric drums, bass, guitar, and keyboard. I’ve played some other random instruments on a few tracks as well. I’ve also learned to produce my own music. With all of these things, just as with life, there is a tremendous learning curve.
My first album, “Intro To My Mind,” is simply me rapping over beats I made by basically using a Yamaha keyboard as a beat machine. I did little more than change the tempo, the key, and push play. I started producing my own music on “Delve Deeper,” (1999) still with just the keyboard and my vocals, with a Soundblaster live card, and a $79 Audio Technica mic. One day, a friend of mine wanted to record metal guitar on my setup, and when it didn’t work out, he said, “it may work for what you do, but it won’t work for music.” It was the harshest criticism I’ve ever received that actually greatly improved my music, and my life as a musician. It forced me to learn to play instruments. I taught myself, just by playing them. I had no idea what key I was playing in, what notes I was playing, etc. To this day, I don’t know how to play anyone’s songs but my own. I can’t read sheet music (beyond “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” and “FACE is in the space” which I learned in third grade music class I think) and I can’t play by ear, or play by tablature. I simply play.
This learning process resulted in several albums worth of material that had terrible production quality, and honestly, just bad music. It also resulted in me wanting to get better. I experimented, a lot, with music. Much of my music was very weird, and I still experiment with music today. Some of my music is still very weird, even from my own point of view. Most of it, now, though I don’t consider to be weird. I just write about who I am, and what I’ve experienced in my life. That can come off as weird, but it’s certainly not intentional.
I now believe that I’m a pretty good musician, but I do not compare myself to others. I cannot tell you that I’m a better emcee than anyone else. I cannot tell you that I’m a better guitarist than someone else. And, I have no desire to. I don’t want to be the best ever at anything. I just want to make the best music I can, which means constantly improving my musicianship, while still focusing on the core of what drives my music, self-expression. The lyrics have always been the most important element of my music. Whether I’m writing about doing something fun, like playing a little basketball, lifting spirits by telling people that they look extra (tall, smart, talented, sexy, amazing) today, inspiring people, or being tremendously personal and vulnerable, it’s important to me that I write the song well.
When I first started making music, I had no desire to play live. I simply wanted to record my music, and have people listen to it. Ideally, I wanted to make a living from it. I reluctantly discovered that no one was going to hear my music if I didn’t perform it. So, I performed live for the first time in 1998, more than 2 years after recording “Intro To My Mind.” Once I started performing to crowds where even 3 or 4 people were into my music, playing live became a very fun and important part of my musical experience. It allows my music to really take on new life, with the energy from the crowd.
It took a very long time for people to really start getting me. From 1998 until 2004, I can think of only a handful of times where I performed live and people really loved it. Even after 2004, there were plenty of times where people did not understand what I was doing. I had booking agents (the people at bars that choose what bands play) laugh because they thought it was a joke. I was heckled often, once by an off-duty employee of the establishment in which I was performing. I had countless people telling me what I should do to improve. Some of them were really just insulting me, but others had some harsh criticism that became constructive. I’m glad they did. Now, more often than not, at least some people in the audience really connect with what I’m doing, and when there are 10 or more people really getting into it, performing live is pure magic! If you’ve been one of those people, thank you so much!
This is definitely getting lengthy, so I will try to touch on just the highlights of the struggles. If you’re reading this, you probably know I lost my mom to cancer when I was 15. I started college less than a year later. I ended up dropping out at 18 because I had my heart broken by a girl, or more accurately, her ex-boyfriend. “You know I could take her back from you any time I wanted to, but I never would.” 2 days before this, he told me he thought I should date her. 2 days after this, he got back together with her, which is the same day I had psyched myself up to ask her out. She’s still the only woman I’ve ever loved (last time I talked to her, years ago, she was happily married to a great guy, and I am very happy for her).
When I dropped out, I stopped going to class the second day of class, but I dropped each class individually, and it wasn’t until I dropped my last class that my professor told me I had to officially withdraw from the university. Due to the delay, Miami University charged me for half of the semester based on my official withdrawal date, instead of 10% based on when I started dropping my classes individually, claiming that I needed to get attendance records to prove that I dropped out earlier. College professors don’t generally take attendance, so there was nothing I could do to convince Miami to only charge me for 10% of the semester. It took me 2 years to pay off that debt instead of getting back to school the next semester, but I did go back.
My senior year there, I took 20 credit hours first semester, 19 hours second semester, and worked 35-40 hours per week in the process. It was extraordinarily rewarding after a few Mother’s Days that should have been graduation days.
I often slept in my car on tour because I couldn’t afford hotels. On one tour, I made a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter last an entire week as my only meals. On another, I overdrafted my bank account to pay for gas to get home.
Right after graduation, I had two jobs, but was homeless for a week.
When I moved to Chicago in 2008, the economy fell apart, and everything that could go wrong did, culminating in getting robbed at gunpoint on the elevated train.
Since trying to pay for the release of “25,” I’ve had 2 setbacks in the last month. First, I had an oil leak, which I thought was much more serious than it was, and missed a week of work waiting for the dealership to fix the car, and as soon as it was ready, I got sick, so I missed a total of 11 straight days. Yesterday, I was $4 away from having the money to get 100 copies of “25” manufactured when a stone wall collapsed on my car, and I am now again uncertain as to what’s going to happen.
Insurance will cover the repairs, etc. but I don’t know how long I’ll be unable to work. What I do know is that this setback won’t stop me from releasing “25” on January 20th, 2017. Once I do get back to work, I’ll just work longer hours, and hopefully make a little extra money, whether from people buying my music, or from finding some work I can temporarily do from home this week.
My Life’s Work
25 is my life’s work. The obstacles I’m overcoming to release the album parallel some of the obstacles I’ve overcome in life. Music is what I’m most passionate about in life. It’s why I’ve continued making music for 25 years, even without being able to make a living from it. 25 contains 25 career defining songs, 14 of which I recently re-recorded at Refraze Studios in Dayton, OH to give those songs the highest production quality possible. The songs deserve it, so do you, and so do I. I am eagerly anticipating having the CD in my hand. Each pool ball on the cover has an album cover on it. Each one of those albums has countless memories associated with it. It’s overwhelming just looking at the artwork, but I know it’s going to be even more emotional when I hold essentially my entire life’s work in my hand. A lifetime of memories and emotions.
You can now pre-order “25” at pledgemusic.com/missionman, and as soon as I pay to have the CD pressed, I’ll get the barcode, which will allow me to setup pre-orders on CDBaby and iTunes. Thank you for being a fan, and being the reason I’m still making music 25 years after I started.