It’s Happening Penny Lane, Just Like You Said

When I was a senior in college, I used to download music all day, every day. I would click on an artist I liked and download hundreds of their songs, CD’s, and remixes. I was downloading Trey Songz one day when I stumbled upon “Replacement Girl.” I listened and heard an unfamiliar voice laying an incredible verse and I immediately needed to know who it was.I saw that it was Drake, and immediately found him on MySpace. I had never written to an artist, but I felt the need to encourage this kid to keep putting music out. I sent him a message telling him how incredible I thought he was and that he needed to keep following his dreams. Looks like he really needed that. LOL When he blew up with “So Far Gone,” I felt so happy and proud.

When “So Far Gone” dropped, I was living in Atlanta, doing Americorps, which is basically like the PeaceCorps, but in the states. I hated it and many things about my situation at the time, but the music was, as it always has been, an overwhelmingly enjoyable escape. We bumped that mixtape so hard the entire summer. I remember pulling up at QuickTrip, or “Club QT” as they called it, bumping the tape and having several bystanders giving me head nods and thumbs up. Everybody was rocking with it. I loved the whole mixtape but remember having a love/hate relationship with “Successful.” It evoked in me the desire to be successful, and not necessary in the terms he was referring to, but it also made me feel like maybe it would never happen.

After a tumultuous time in Atlanta and a brief stay in NYC, I headed home back to my Mom’s house, feeling depleted, defeated, and depressed. I had been through so much in the last year and I needed a safe place to rebuild. I couldn’t get out of bed for months and seriously doubted that I would ever make anything of myself, much less make the move I had always wanted to Los Angeles. Thank God for my little sister Julia, who was also living at home at the time while attending college. She is a workout fanatic and encouraged me in my depression to do the Insanity workout with her. I agreed, but only if I could choose the music. “Thank Me Later,” had just dropped, and I played it nonstop during our workouts. My jaw dropped the first time I heard “The Resistance,” when Drake rapped, “It’s happening Penny Lane, just like you said.” Penny Lane had been my nickname and in all my glory, I had run around yelling “It’s All Happening.” I used to say that quote from Almost Famous constantly, reminding myself that all my dreams are coming true and will continue to do so. When I heard Drake say it, who had such a special place in my heart from when I “discovered” him, I knew it was a sign that I had to keep going and pursue my dream. My Mom was being as supportive as possible and tried to sway me towards more “acceptable” pursuits than running off to California to work with rappers. I made up my mind that I would not get an acceptable 9-5 as she encouraged, but would waitress until I had enough money to make my dreams a reality. A year and a half and 35 grand in tips later, I was ready to make the move. Continue reading

Mr. Jones and Me

“Everything must eventually come to an end, so try to savor the moment, cuz time flies don’t it? The beauty of life, you gotta make it last for the better, cuz nothin’ lasts forever” -Nasir Jones

It was the Fall of my freshman year in college. After two and a half short weeks of attending Fordham University in the Bronx and living across the hall from a nun, I transferred to my state school. I felt so lost and alone, and to make matters worse, the only housing available so late in the semester was in a sorority house. My sister had also transferred, so she arranged for me to come live as a boarder in the same house she was staying in. In total, there were four girls living in our room. I was in the bottom bunk of a bunk bed that was so low that I hit my head every morning when I tried to get out of bed. My sister enrolled me in the only classes available so late into the semester, including an 8am literature class that I dreaded getting up for. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turned out to be one of the biggest blessings.

One day our teacher assigned us an oral report on a form of literature. People chose poetry, short stories, biographies, etc. One of the students got up to do his report and said, “the form of literature I’d like to talk about today is Nas.” I was waiting for the teacher to tell him he misunderstood the assignment, but she didn’t say a word. And thank God for my sake, she didn’t. The student went on to give an impressive presentation on Nas, dissecting his lyrics, his metaphors, and his message. His dissection of “Dr. Knockboot” stands out to me the most, as I was shocked to hear someone break down a song about sex in a freshman lit class.

I had always been a huge fan of hip hop, especially east coast hip hop, since the music that trickled down to us was mainly from New York. I grew up big on Biggie, Jay, Big L, Big Pun, The Lox, Mobb Deep, Dipset, etc. , and was a fan of Nas, but had yet to delve deep into his music. Feeling alone on a campus of thousands, I turned to the one constant I had had in my life that always made me happy, hip hop. This student had given me the gift of Nas and my curiosity led me back through all of his albums. From that moment on, he was in my ears daily. I had always loved Foxy, but got heavy in to AZ around this time as well. I couldn’t believe how incredible these artists were, and I was so surprised they didn’t get more mainstream recognition. I remember when Street’s Disciple came out and I bumped it for months straight. Every guy that got in my car  was so hyped on it, and would ask me to burn them CD’s. The cool thing about falling in love with an artist later in their career is that you have a whole catalogue to go back through, similar to catching on to a hot show in it’s last season, you’re able to get a marathon session in. Continue reading

Don’t Be A Hard Rock When You Really Are A Gem

“Sad, but one day our kids will have to visit museums to see what a lady looks like. So if you find one, I beg of you, hold her tight. Yes, if you spot one, good sir, treat her right.” -Andre 3000

A few months ago I attended a listening session for Ne-yo’s new album. There were about 40 industry professionals packed inside a tiny studio in North Hollywood rating each song between 1 and 5. I’m not big into R&B these days, but everything sounded pretty standard to me. He sang about sex, “love”, and money, and topped it off with a Juicy J feature to give it just the right amount of ratchet. It had everything 2000-something R&B albums are made of.

As we left, my girl Dominique asked me what I thought of the album. “It was cool,” I told her. “What about that song where he was trying to convince his girl to have a threesome?” she asked. “It was cool,” I replied for the second time. “Are you serious!?” she snapped back, “I thought it was disgusting. I mean seriously, who does he think he is?” I was confused and couldn’t understand why she was so upset. It wasn’t until I took a step back and really thought about it that I realized how valid her point was. I also realized how and why I had become so desensitized.

I have been around the “industry” in some way or another since I was 19. My first trip to Miami during BET’s Spring Bling Weekend was the first of many experiences into a world that most people will never witness firsthand. My love for hip hop, traveling, and for other cultures has landed me in the middle of a diverse array of environments and situations that have shaped the way I think and process the world today.

I’ve been in love with hip hop since the moment I first heard “Hypnotize” bumping out of my speakers in 97′ on the top 7 at 9. Even though back then hip hop was laced with misogyny, there were many other more prevalent themes. It was about rebellion, it was about hustle, and it was about having heart. Over the years, it’s transitioned into odes to money, drugs, and strippers. Having heart is now not nearly as important as having Instagram followers. Having respect is valued less than having naked girls shaking it for singles in videos. Creative content is less important than having a Tuesday night Supper Club smash. The music has transitioned, and subsequently, so have the women.

I recently saw a video Jada Pinkett Smith posted about human trafficking in America. A lot of the victims she spoke to had gotten their start in the strip club. This turned into other extracurricular activities with clients and before they knew it, many of these women were sold into the sex slave trade. She was shocked at how glorified stripping had become in our society, remarking that when she was a young girl, it was considered shameful. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment the shift occurred, but some time in the last ten years, stripping became a glamorized and coveted profession. Mainstream music has become more and more disrespectful towards women and Instagram has become a breeding ground for aspiring models who take their clothes off daily to gain “likes.” Bar tending in thongs and hosting parties have become desirable career paths for many young women who value red soles on their shoes more than college degrees.

While I’ve never stripped or posted nudes on the Gram, I have definitely felt the effects of this cultural shift. I’m reminded of this often when I tell stories to my friends who have had very traditional or religious upbringings. Because of a lot of the things I’ve seen or been around, certain things are “normal” to me that would leave my more traditional friends with their jaws on the floor. While I don’t participate in many of these questionable activities, I don’t flinch when I see or hear about them. From seeing girls prostitute themselves out for a few hundred dollars, to seeing rappers getting top in public, to hearing famous men blatantly and publicly bragging about cheating on their equally as famous wives, not too many things shock me these days. Continue reading

Picture Me Rollin’

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My good friends Caitlin and Reggie encouraged me to do a photo shoot for the better part of the last year. They kept telling me that I belonged in front of a camera, even though I’ve always preferred to be behind the scenes. I kept putting it off until finally one day, I decided to face my fear. The first several shots felt super awkward, but after a little while it became pretty natural. Caitlin was telling me about these old, behind the scenes photos she had seen of Marilyn Monroe. She said that for every amazing picture of Marilyn, there were at least 30 around it that were not as good. There could be several hundred photos taken, but often just a few make the final cut.

Caitlin explained why so many people feel like they look bad in pictures. If you just take someone’s photo once or twice, oftentimes they are not comfortable yet. So when they look at the photos and see their awkwardness, they often write themselves off as not being photogenic. Social media adds extra pressure to feel perfect. A friend of mine took a photo the other day of three of us and before anyone could really see it, she had cropped the bottom half out because she thought her leg looked fat. I’ve never seen someone edit a photo so fast in my life, but that’s the norm these days. Many people take a photo, stare at it, dissect their flaws, then delete or edit it beyond recognition. My photo shoot experience was just the opposite, as Caitlin had the sense not to let me look at any photos until the shoot was over. I was shocked at how many photos I loved. I know a huge part of it was not getting all in my head about it. There were several pics that were awkward, but I could also tell when I was in my zone. When I was having fun, listening to music, and dancing around, you can see the genuine smile on my face. When I was trying to do too much, it was obvious as well. Caitlin was able to capture me in a way that I had never seen myself before and I am so grateful for that. I realized that to change the way you see things, sometimes you have to change the way you see yourself.

Fear: Decoded

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I was just watching a clip from a Brene Brown speech. She was talking about formulating her speech and she mentioned that people want to hear 99% perspiration, not inspiration. People would rather hear the how-to’s than the airy-fairy, this is how it could be inspirational speeches. I feel like that’s why a lot of times we feel super motivated after watching a great speech, but if there’s no real life application, the excitement dissipates rather quickly. However, when a speaker gives tools and tangible action steps, the inspiration and motivation often carry us much further.

I’ve found this to be the case for a topic that I see play out again and again, fear of other people. It’s all well and good to tell someone to love other people, to be open-minded and compassionate, and to follow the golden rule. We’ve been told these things since childhood, yet how often do we see just the opposite occur. We go through life fearing people and in turn, end up missing out on countless opportunities. The #1 fear in the world is public speaking. That means that with all the scary things in the world; nuclear war, sharks, plane crashes, etc., nothing scares people more than other people. The fear of judgment, the fear of not measuring up, and the fear of looking stupid leave many people paralyzed in a small bubble of familiarity.

I spent a great deal of my life in this bubble. I remember being the “shy girl” as early as sixth grade. I had tons of friends that I was comfortable around, but I felt anxious in many social situations. I always excelled at school and sports and was friends with the “popular kids,” so I didn’t really realize how much of a problem my fear was until I left high school. I had told myself a story about how people liked me once they got to know me, but that I needed someone to vouch for me for this to be the case. I had always had the love and protection of my best friend, but when I left for college I was totally on my own and it wasn’t pretty. Over the next several years, in situation after situation, I experienced the same painful pattern. I would come into a new environment and feel fearful. My fear would cause me to behave in a shy manner, which was oftentimes interpreted by people as me being stuck up, weird, or some other undesirable adjective. As I grew into myself, I started feeling more and more eyes on me, the scariest thing imaginable for a shy person. Speaking in class gave me anxiety and I dreaded even having to say my name aloud at the beginning of the semester. I avoided the dining hall 99% of the time and I held back from speaking my truth in many relationships. Unable to forge new bonds, I held onto certain friendships that dimmed my light immeasurably. After college I moved from city to city, and my fear followed me to each new destination.

When I was living in San Diego a few years ago, I read Jay-Z’s book Decoded. At the end of the book, Jay talks about his first time meeting Oprah. He said they connected speaking about one of their favorite books, Seat of the Soul,  by Gary Zukav. Highly respecting both of their opinions, I immediately ordered Seat of the Soul. In it, Zukav speaks about the evolution of the soul and aligning our souls with our personalities. He explains that we have versions of the same event/circumstance happen over and over again until we decide to made a decision to change our part in it, the “role” we continually play. I decided to test this theory out. For years when I would see people, I would either smile meekly or quietly say hi, if I spoke at all. There was a member of management at my job that I often had this weird interaction with. I would quietly say hi and she would do the same, then we would awkwardly be in each other’s presence for the next ten minutes or so, before other co-workers arrived. While meditating on the words in Seat of the Soul, I recognized the huge potential for growth in this situation. I recognized my pattern of feeling shy, the action I was taking (meekly speaking or smiling, the same thing I’d done time and time again), and the stifled feeling I would feel after the interaction. I decided that if I could make one small change, as Zukav suggested, that I could change this pattern forever. The mere consciousness around the situation brought light to it. The decision to act differently had implications far beyond the realm of what I thought was possible at the time and led to me cutting chains that had entangled me for the majority of my life. The one small action I decided to change is what I call, “say one more thing.” I decided that I would apply this with every person I came in contact with. If I came across a person I would normally not speak to, I would say “hi.” Simple, right? If it was someone I would normally just awkwardly mumble “hi” to, I added something along the lines of, how’s your day going?” Things started changing immediately. I began feeling much more comfortable being myself and my relationships got deeper and stronger. “How’s your day going?” turned into conversations and my genuine interest in others led to connections and bonds I never thought possible.

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London, England, South of France, And All Points Between They Know About Your Man

I spent the Spring of 2007 living in Florence, Italy. Besides iced coffee and hot American guys, the thing I really missed was hip hop. With a shaky internet connection and little to no knowledge of/access to music steaming sites, I was left with the few hundred songs stacked in my iPod to get me through my four months there. The time lag between American hip hop culture and European hip hop culture was around 6 years, at the very least. Coolio frequently played in the club, and international travelers got as excited about it as we did when Kendrick dropped his “Control” verse. I have a distinct memory of getting in a local promoter’s Audi with some friends where he had Get Rich Or Die Trying videos looping on his dash cam. He was very proud and even pointed it out to us like it was the most exclusive shit he’d ever gotten his hands on.

Fast forward to 2013. I was attending a Chris Brown x Reebok shoe giveaway for work and my boss asked me to give her brother a ride to the event. He was 17 years old and visiting for the week from London. I agreed, not quite sure what I would have in common with a teenager from the other side of the pond. Two minutes into the hour long ride to Crenshaw High School, I got my answer. J. Cole, Jay-Z, and Kanye had all recently dropped albums and were in heavy rotation in my car. As song after song played, I heard him rapping verse after verse. I was shocked. “How do you know all this music,” I asked him. “It literally just came out.” “Uhhhhh, we get music the same way you do,” he replied. “I’ve been listening to these for weeks now.” I switched it up and put in a Meek Mill mixtape. Again, he knew every song. No matter what I played, he knew.

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