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

Advertisements

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