Hands Up. Don’t Shoot.

 

Growing up, I had no real concept of racism. I grew up in a mostly white town in Rhode Island where all my friends and I were super into hip hop. I would hear about racism and discrimination in music and I was moved by it, but I had never witnessed anything blatantly racist myself. That all changed when I started hanging out with guys from two towns over, some of which happened to be black. All of a sudden, many people in my town who worshipped black athletes and entertainers, had a problem with the people I was hanging out with. I, along with a few of my friends who happened to be dating black guys, were called N***** lovers by people we had grown up with and been friends with all our lives. I was shocked. As the years passed and I began having the race discussion more and more, I found that many people think it’s “disgusting” if a girl has slept with a black man. I met girls that had 50 or 60 bodies at 21 years old yet when I asked them if they’d been with a black guy they replied, “OMG Never! White guys won’t date you if you’ve been with a black guy!” This blew me away because the racism wasn’t always overt, but it was there. I began noticing an undercurrent in society, an unspoken feeling among many people. Continue reading

Just My Thoughts Mannn

“Everyone has the power for greatness—not for fame but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Four Agreements

Last night I attended an event ASCAP put on called Women Behind the Music: LA Edition. There was a panel of inspiring women including Senior Editor of Billboard Magazine, Gail Mitchell, VP of Creative Relations and Marketing at Motown, Myisha Brooks, and recording artist K. Michelle. The women shared inspiring stories from their experiences in the industry, but also lamented on the difficulties they’ve faced in the predominantly male-run field. Major themes included ignoring the nay-sayers and consistently pursuing your dreams, showing up every day and doing your best, and not taking anything personally. After the panel, I happened to get involved in a discussion about the book The Four Agreementswhich has themes that coincide perfectly with the topics discussed by the panel. The concepts Don Miguel Ruiz writes about in the book are very simple, but are transformational if practiced consistently. Simply put, the four agreements are “principles to practice in order to create love and happiness in your life.”

The first agreement is “Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.”

This agreement can bring a lot of unconscious behavior to the surface. Make a list of all the times during a day you use your words in the direction of truth and love and all the times you use it to gossip or spread negativity. Even if you’re not speaking down on others, there’s a very good chance you may be speaking negatively about yourself. All thoughts, words, and actions create at some level and bringing awareness to patterns we have allow us to choose a higher and better path. Gossip can be one of the hardest behaviors to stop, but breaking this habit alone will change your life infinitely for the better. Additionally, training yourself to have positive self-talk is one of the most powerful things you can do to change your life. Let’s say a typical exchange with your co-worker goes something like “Girllll, did you see what Raquel is wearing today!? What is she thinking with her body looking the way is does? Not that I should talk, I’ve been eating like a cow all week. I’m disgusting!” This may feel totally normal to you, but in reality it is doing a lot of harm, to you, to the person you are gossiping with, and often to the person you are gossiping about. You’ve also put yourself down casually, but even casual put downs are very damaging. Becoming conscious of what you are saying and what your intentions are will allow you to choose better thoughts and words. Do you want to hurt Raquel or feel horrible about yourself? No, probably not. When you break this behavior by becoming conscious of the urge to speak ill of someone else or yourself, you can easily make a change. At first, you may not feel like you have much to say if the majority of your conversations revolve around gossip. However, if you can hold off on speaking negatively, soon your conversations will be productive and inspiring. When you speak encouragingly to people and always seek to build others and yourself up, the entire world offers itself to you for the taking. Relationships improve, doors that were closed begin to fly open, and trust and security are established. If you can go for just one day without using your word to speak against yourself or others, you will immediately begin to see changes. Consciously using your word in the direction of truth and love will bring blessings pouring in. Continue reading

When I Write Rhymes, I Go Blind And Let The Lord Do His Thing

“I don’t do shit until I meditate.” – Russell Simmons

I was at a friends house one night when he turned off all the lights, set up a black light, and then put large pieces of paper on the wall and gave us markers. He was working for Revolt at the time and was always talking about creating and catching vibes. I immediately felt like a little kid and began drawing and writing. I wrote about all the things we have to be grateful for, how incredible it is that we get to create our lives and choose anything we would like, and included all my favorite song lyrics and quotes. This guy Rob had just gotten there and began admiring my work and remarking how dope it was. We were having drinks and every time we went to cheers, he asked me to make a toast. I expanded on what I was writing about, just publicly appreciating the moment and reflecting on how incredible it was to be surrounded by great people in Los Angeles who are all following their dreams. I pointed out some obvious blessings that we often take for granted. He kept asking me to give toasts and I could see his vibration rising as well the more grateful he felt, reflecting on the things I was speaking about. It’s so accepted for people to complain all day, but it’s rare to speak about all our blessings out loud. It’s funny how that works and you can see evidence of this everywhere, from the news to the workplace. I normally speak about these things around my friends, but to do it in a room full of strangers was something new to me. I realized that the confidence in that moment came from the encouragement of Rob.

We left my boys spot and headed to the studio. There were four of us, Rob, a girl he was dealing with, a friend of his, and me. Rob is a producer and was complaining that he had turned in five songs to Puffy, but that Puff had only like three of them. Feeding off our conversation earlier, I confidently stopped him in his tracks. I reminded him of how incredible it was that Puffy not only messes with his music, but that he believes in him so much to tell him the truth and expect the absolute best from him. Puffy has built his brand on excellence, and by being allowed into his world, you must consistently rise and exceed his expectations. It reminds me of his feature on Rick Ross’s song, “Nobody,”

“You wanted to fuckin’ walk around these roaches?These n***** is roaches. These n***** is mere motherfuckin’ mortals. I’m tryna push you to supreme being. You don’t wanna motherfuckin’, you don’t wanna embrace your destiny. You wanna get by. You don’t wanna go into the motherfuckin’ dark, where it’s lonely. You can’t handle the motherfuckin’, the pain of the motherfuckin’ not knowin’ when the shit is gonna stop. You fuckin’ wanna walk around with these n*****? What the fuck is their culture? Where the fuck is their souls at? What defines you? These n***** with these fuckin’ silly looks on their faces.You wanna walk around with them or you wanna walk with God, n****? Make up your got damn mind!” Continue reading

The Greatest Blessing in the Whole World is Being a Blessing

“You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestation of your own blessings.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I had a realization somewhere in the last year. I took a pause from asking God for the things I wanted and started asking what (S)He wanted from me. I declared daily, “God, use me for Your highest purpose! Show me how I can use my unique gifts and talents to be of service to the world.” It was at this point that I became uber-aware of the miracles occurring all around me.

In the past, if I had an inkling to say or do something, oftentimes I would ignore it for fear of judgment. After I prayed this prayer, however, I acted on my intuition, knowing that God was answering my prayer. There have been so many instances since that day where God has used me to be a blessing, and has blessed me in return.

One day, I was walking to meet my friend Caitlin to go hiking. I confused the cross street we were meeting at, and ended up sitting and waiting for her on a stone wall outside of a popular plaza. After a few minutes, the parking attendant, an older Indian man, came over and began speaking with me. We made some small talk about his job before he blurted out to me that he didn’t like black people. I was shocked. Why would he think it was okay to say something like that to me? I remembered my prayer and decided that cursing him out would do no good and decided to try another method. I asked him why he disliked black people so much. He told me that all the people that park in his lot are respectful, except black people who often yell at him and try to physically assault him. I told him I was sorry to hear that he had had this experience, but reasoned with him that these were just a few people, and not reflective of the entire race. He wouldn’t listen. He had had so many bad experiences that nothing I could say would change his mind. I explained to him that he was having these experiences because he expected to have them and that my experiences were quite the opposite. I explained that he could change the way he experienced people and events by changing his thinking. I told him verbatim, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  At that moment my friend texted me clarifying the correct street she was on. As I went to get up to leave, a beautiful black family in an SUV slowly pulled into the parking space directly in front of us. The black man looked directly at the Indian man, bowed his head, and put his hands up in the prayer pose, respectfully thanking him for doing his job. The indian man looked at me with the widest eyes I’ve ever seen. Once again, I looked at him and repeated, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,” and happily walked off. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading