The goal of any creative person is to get paid for his passion. That’s the objective that weighs on me as I type these words.
As I labor in front of the computer screen day after day, any present exhaustion seems trivial when I think about the day I can finally hang up my server apron. The journey to that goal has been anything but smooth and I only expect it to become more difficult. The best advice I was ever given about finding a job was “try to get paid for playing.”
Though I’ve made progress towards that goal, doubts still creep in from time to time. As you would expect, music is my refuge. We can all find comfort in music along the creative journey because that solace is found in the actual life of another creative, who has likely faced those same doubts and overcame them.
Every creative needs encouragement at some point, so I’ve compiled a list of songs that help me continue on my path. Some of them ignite within me a notion of confidence, while others cause me to look honestly at the ways I fall short and delay my goal. Whatever feeling they stir in you, I hope it’s ultimately helpful.
- 1 “90210” by Travis $cott (feat. Kacy Hill)
- 2 “Mixtape” by Chance the Rapper (feat. Young Thug & Lil Yachty)
- 3 “When I’m Gone” by Joey Purp (feat. Teddy Jackson)
- 4 “Rules” by 6LACK
- 5 “Reminder” by The Weeknd
- 6 “Photosynthesis” by Saba (feat. Jean Deaux)
- 7 “What the Fuck Right Now” by Tyler, the Creator (feat. A$AP Rocky)
“90210” finds Travis $cott trading in his typical rage for sober reflection as Travis tells the all too familiar story of a girl trying to make it in Beverley Hills.
The main character of this story travels to the city to become an actress, but the stress of paying bills in an expensive city and her lack of success force her into the porn industry.
It’s easy to see how she’s selling herself short from a strictly creative standpoint – porn is many things, but it’s not a hub for fine acting. Travis isn’t condescending when he describes her though, because he mirrors her situation with his own in the second verse, recognizing his own potential to “sell himself short.”
Instead of creating for the sake of the music, he sees himself compromising his art for the consumer. I don’t want to think about the number of people who’ve fallen prey to “creative pimping,” but thankfully Travis closes the song with a verse about “powering through” the urge to compromise your art for money. If we, as creatives, want to “find life meaning now,” heed $cott’s warning.
Influence is something that constantly affects your art. This influence is not always positive, though. Many artists will tell you that labels/publishers/casting directors push you to compromise your vision to make your art “more marketable.”
Chance’s “Mixtape” is a source of strength against this pressure to compromise and it reminds you of the value of independence. Chance wears his “no label” situation like a badge of honor and, with the year he had in 2016, it’s hard not to. He’s free to engage in creative ventures as they come, while others have to “see what their boss says.”
Now, if you intend to get paid for playing, you will probably have a boss of some sort. But “Mixtape” reminds you to treat the supervised work like the unrestricted play you engaged in before the contracts and the deadlines. Chance isn’t the only one who cares about mixtapes, though; all true artists want to give the world their work in its raw, unaltered form.
Many human pursuits are rooted in the search for immortality. Art can be a manifestation of this desire and Joey Purp’s “When I’m Gone” gives voice to this.
In the first verse, we get a glimpse of his mindset:
“I’m sick of writing these raps stuck in this fucking basement, /
knowing you the best and they telling you just to be complacent.”
Joey recognizes his innate talent; something that’s important if an artist is going to succeed in a public forum. Those lines are quickly followed by the break, “All I wanna know is what they gon’ do when I’m gone,” which illustrates his need to make timeless music.
The rest of the song finds Joey comparing this yearning to similar thoughts, such as wondering how a former lover is coping without him. The artist is in a relationship with the world and, just like we all hope we left a lasting impression on an ex-partner, Joey wants history to remember him. “Rest assured that through these raps, (he’ll) be still alive.”
The artist’s journey is marked by resistance, and it can pop up in infinite ways. But many successful artists will tell you that the answer to it is rather simple: sit down and work every day until eventually, the inspiration comes.
6LACK is the most recent and he does so on is song “Rules” from the “FREE 6LACK” tape released last November. The song is about working on his rules, but what rules and who are they for?
When 6LACK begins the second verse with “Rule number one: no explaining; / rule number two: no complaining,” he isn’t giving rules to another person, he’s laying out his own.
1. Don’t make excuses for slacking off.
2. Don’t complain about your work if it’s supposed to be your passion.
It’s difficult to maintain discipline if you’re a creative, especially since most of your work is self-motivated. This gives you a certain amount of freedom, but it’s a double-edged sword. If you succeed at your artistic venture, you have no one to thank but yourself, but the same is true if you fail. 6LACK has used his freedom to put in “10,000 hours like it’s nothing,” which prompts me to ask myself, will I?
The transition from underground hero to stardom adds another dimension to the artistic journey. You’re caught between growing as an artist and keeping your “day one” followers satisfied. You must exist between the old and the new, order and chaos, the yin and the yang.
When I first heard The Weeknd’s dark R&B explorations on “House of Balloons,” I never thought he would eventually achieve “pop star” status. But here we are: it’s 2017 and The Weeknd has successfully released two chart-climbing pop albums.
Abel is candid about his new status on “Reminder” and he speaks to the balancing game I mentioned earlier. He feels he should remind his audience that, despite the Nickelodeon awards and the Billboard hits, he’s still the same guy who made “High for This.” Knowing who you are as a creative helps to maintain your art’s integrity because it grounds you in your creative vision. Though he’s choosing to explore his themes of drug use and womanizing over pop melodies, those are still his themes. And if we forget that, he’ll be quick to tell us.
Patience is a difficult virtue to hold for a creative mind. To you, your work is brilliant and you can’t see why the world doesn’t recognize it. In reality, most young artists couldn’t keep up with the pressure of having their work analyzed by the masses; it takes time to adjust to that stress.
Saba gives us a look at this phenomenon on “Photosynthesis,” which finds him wrestling with the recognition of his own talent while, at the same time, seeing that it takes time for your art to grow.
“Photosynthesis” is the perfect word to describe artistic development. Light is transformed into energy, which is another way of thinking about inspiration comes to us unconsciously. Though the light may reach the leaves quickly, it takes time for the energy it makes to produce visible growth in the plant. Saba’s insight, paired with Phoelix’s calming production, helps us achieve patience in our passion. Remember, as Saba says, “your seed has just sprouted.”
There’s a reason I put this song last. All the songs on this list speak about overcoming. As creatives, we are constantly at war with our self-destructive tendencies. How do you respond? Do you give in to laziness and not follow your rules of self-discipline? Do you let the label that’s only brought you more anxiety dictate your creative expression? What the fuck right now?
As we hear Rocky scream this question at us, signaling the beat’s peak, Tyler provides us with ammo to fire back:
“Rolling Stone never gave me a cover so…ummm…so I shot one. /
I ain’t do college, I said fuck them lessons. /
I ain’t join no gang, I said fuck them weapons. /
Grabbed a keyboard, Clancy crossed my path, /
Cashed my first check and said fuck depression.”
In the face of adversity, Tyler decided to take matters into his own hands and sometimes, as an artist, you need to see successful examples of that to believe it. He alludes to his depression in those lines – a theme that’s increasingly more common in hip-hop. Tyler takes his characteristically aggressive approach and applies it to his battle with depression. It wasn’t an easy demon to face, but once he took the necessary steps, the stars seemed to align for him.
“What the Fuck Right Now” is a summation of all the songs I’ve listed. While they approach this idea from different angles, they all tell us that the means for overcoming creative obstacles is found within you. Fight them with same energy Tyler and Rocky have as they go crazy in the studio.
I haven’t cashed my first check from this writing venture yet, but I’m thankful for the words of guidance from those who’ve come before me.