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

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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

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.

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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Who Do U Believe In?

One of the homies stopped by the office today while we were discussing the Ferguson riots. This led to a discussion about the LA riots where he was reminiscing about scoring his first Sega Genesis during the looting. He mentioned Tupac participating in the riots followed by a long story about how they met and the depth of their relationship. I asked him what the craziest thing he saw Pac do was, but after a brief pause switched my question to ask him about the most heartwarming thing he ever saw Tupac do. Both valid questions, but I feel like a lot of times Pac’s crazier moments make more highlight reels than his compassionate ones.

His face lit up when I asked this question. He told me about one day when he and Pac were riding down Sunset. Pac heard over the radio that there was a sick child whose dream it was to meet Janet Jackson. Apparently Janet couldn’t make it or could only spend a short period of time with the child because of scheduling. Pac made a few phone calls and ending up visiting the child personally. He spent the entire day with her and before her unfortunate passing, the girl had removed all her Janet posters and had plastered her wall with Pac. That’s just the kind of guy he was. This was never publicized because it was never about that for Tupac. His heart was so big and his intentions were so pure and positive.

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West Coast Soul Vibe

I was scrolling through the Reckless Girls Instagram mentions at work one day when I stumbled upon a photo of a girl in our Thug Wife T-shirt captioned, “I swear I was Pac’s girl in a past life #TupacTuesdays”. Having a similar affinity/obsession for Tupac, I followed the link in her bio to her blog, HasWestCoastSoul.com. The about me section read, “Think Tupac, a WestCoastSoul isn’t necessarily someone who is Cali born x raised, but he/she is definitely a revolutionary with an open mind and a sharp tongue. They know the motto – hustle, create, inspire and build your empire. Impossible to stop. One hand always towards the sky, reach for your dreams, put up a fighting fist, one for the love, two for the peace or twist that shit and throw ya dubs up.” Boom. Who is this girl? I had to find out. I sent her a brief message admiring her blog and lamenting on all of our similarities including our love for culture, for hip hop, and in particular, for Tupac. I sent her some Y&R product and was pleasantly surprised a few weeks later when she posted a dope photo shoot she had styled and modeled for wearing our clothes. We made plans to meet up and the rest is history.

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MMG ~ Master Manifesting G’s

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“There is something you need to know about the mastermind. In order to understand the overall concept and apply it to achieve success in all that you do. You must know that you can borrow other people’s knowledge, achievements, life experiences, and even their personal resources in order to execute your own life goals. By adapting this one idea, you can achieve more in a short time than you could in a lifetime otherwise…I said boss and I live that!” – Rick Ross – Mastermind Intro

 

When I heard Rick Ross’s latest intro a few months ago, it hit me that this is exactly what I have been doing my whole life with hip hop. I have been soaking up stories, confidence, ambition, passion, and inspiration from my favorite artists and using them to fuel my own life goals. Growing up, I spent hours every day ingesting stories from 2Pac, Biggie, Nas, Jay, Big Pun, AZ, Big L, Kanye, Jada, Mobb Deep, and many more. I began to see a life for myself outside of the norm. I longed to experience the things I was hearing about every day in music and the music itself gave me the courage to pursue this dream. When you listen to someone overflowing with passion, courage, and charisma over and over you begin to adopt those qualities in yourself.

Before moving to LA, I was listening to MMG heavy every day when I worked out. The music made me feel a certain type of way. I was inspired. I was happy. I was ready. I was being injected with confidence, clarity, and purpose. Ross’s calm, cool delivery paired with his impeccable beat selection made me feel like success was eminent. Meek’s tenacity and ambition poured out of his lyrics and into my mind and heart. I literally felt changes in my body listening to this music. While I was watching an interview one day, I heard Ross say that when he met Wale at King of Diamonds, Wale was by himself. Ross remarked how he thought it was dope that he had rolled solo. Highly respecting his opinion, I decided that his was something I needed to adopt. When I moved to LA, I didn’t know a soul. I began going places alone and testing myself, first a nice restaurant, then a club, then several industry events. There were times when I was uncomfortable, but I pushed through it knowing how important it was to develop this skill. After being consistent with this for over a year, I can now confidently walk into any room, party, event, etc. alone and feel totally at ease. The opportunities that have presented themselves in many of these situations have been unbelievable. I’ve been able to experience life in a way I never had before because I don’t have to worry about relying on other people. I am eternally grateful for watching that interview and really taking to heart and applying what Ross said in my own life. Adopting Ross’s knowledge and Wale’s experience significantly changed my life.

Dreamchasers and Dreamchasers 2 contain many of my inspirational anthems I listened to heavy when I was moving to LA. I’ve listened to “Dreamchasers,” “Big Dreams,” and “On My Way” hundreds, if not thousands of times. Meek is a master manifester, as is Ross. Meek has literally spoken everything into existence from day one and I’ve watched closely as his words and beliefs have created the exact lifestyle he spoke about from jump. When Dreams & Nightmares came out, I bought the hard copy and rode around the Hollywood Hills until I had ingested the album from top to bottom. I was filled with gratitude listening to “Maybach Curtains,” reflecting on how far I had come in my journey and was motivated by “Young Kings,” to keep filling my circle with only the best. I felt like a queen listening to “Young Kings,” and often blasted it with the top down riding down Sunset. I’ve had guys roll up like, “I’ll be your young king”. LOL I used  to ride around incanting (saying over and over with feeling and emotion) “I’m a Boss,” at full volume. Within weeks, many of my behaviors changed. I started speaking up and demanding respect from people with whom I had let things slide in the past. I began, completely out of the blue, drinking Macallan 12 and thoroughly enjoying it. Many of my preferences changed and I began embodying what I had been incanting. When DC3 came out, I took it as a personal challenge when Meek asked, “The world is yours and everything in it. You gon’ go get it?” and happily reflected while agreeing that “I used to pray for times like this”. It’s an indescribable emotion to be in your dream city, dream industry, surrounded by people amazing beyond your wildest dreams and realize that you (and God) created this life. You had the courage to pursue something that you used to not even want to speak aloud because people would make fun of you for it. I truly don’t know if I would have had the courage to chase my dreams without the dreamchasing music I have been blessed with from my favorite artists.

When I heard Lil’ Snupe freestyle, “Mama and Daddy, they had a king for real. Man, I swear I’m living all my people’s dreams for real. I do my thing right now. My Daddy ain’t livin’ dreams. Mama ain’t livin’ dreams. Granny ain’t livin dreams. Cousins ain’t livin’ dreams, so you know what I’ma do? I’ma live out all through Snupe, we gonna rock,” I was moved to tears. I saw how Meek had given this young, super talented kid the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s one thing to live your dream, but the masters understand that sharing this with others is the greatest gift of all. After his passing, I was watching videos of them in the studio where another young kid came in to rap for Meek. There was such a positive energy in the room, an energy of love, passion, ambition, loyalty, and respect. I’ve been around so many negative environments and watching this video opened up a whole new possibility in my mind of how my experiences could be moving forward. Hip hop is laden with negativity, but there are so many positive aspects that are highly motivational. To come from nothing, achieve your goals, then give back to your community with resources, inspiration, and motivation is the ultimate fete.

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