I’ve done a lot in life trying to find out a little about myself.
Although I was never one of the kids that went through a lot of phases, around the time I was 18 I started to be very bothered with the fact that I had no idea what I was doing here. Growing up, sports were my entire life. They were my identity. All of my core life decisions were based around them, all of my interests started with them, and all of my time was spent trying to get better at them. By high school, I began to focus on football almost exclusively. By my senior year, I was sure that I was going to be playing in college and that my career after that was going to be in football.
It didn’t happen.
Almost immediately as I began my freshman year of college I was knee-deep in an identity crisis, although I didn’t realize it. I had never considered what it was going to be like only watching football and not playing it, as ridiculous as that seems, and subsequently had no idea what I was supposed to be doing with myself. This uncertainty and lack of satisfaction would fester into full-blown outrage.
I’d been a true hip-hop head since approximately the 7th grade. Around that time that consisted of absorbing every bar and note that was created south of the Mason-Dixon Line, burning CDs of all the cool new shit for my friends, and spending all of my money I’d make mowing a local cemetery’s grass on retro NBA jerseys and matching sneakers. My idol was T.I. I did as much research as was possible on dial-up internet to make sure I knew what spinning rims would look best on my first car. Life was perfect.
A year later is when I went from being a fan to a participant in, fittingly, the most ridiculous of ways. I decided I wanted to rap after I wrote and performed two 16s and a hook for my 8th grade English project about A Christmas Carol, under the name Jacob Marley (shoutout Mrs. Trout). I didn’t recognize it then, but looking back at it, that was the most euphoric feeling I’d ever felt up to that point in my life. I was a shy kid. I once melted down in a 4th grade spelling bee in front of a half-filled middle school computer lab packed and raucous crowd, ducking out on “sigh” (“S……..Y?”… *endless tears*). Just couldn’t handle the pressure. But, this rap performance did more than result in a high off nerves: it gave me confidence that I could do something that wasn’t expected.
At our middle school you could play sports and be in the band, so I was. In high school, however, you couldn’t. So 9th grade was the end of my structured music instruction. Now with an itch to go further into rap, I asked my parents for a music production program for my birthday. They stepped up to the plate and delivered with PCDJ, a.k.a. the Microsoft Paint of music production. Logic and Fruity Loops this was not. It was championed by Doug E. Fresh and cost $29.99 in a Sears catalog. I thought my life was complete.
A year and a half later, I released what may one day go down as the greatest contribution to the genre since Illmatic, a ten-track (I think) mixtape called 765 on what I thought were my best beats. With my high school friends coming through my bedroom closet to lay down fire 16s that I wrote for them, it was easily the hottest mixtape dropped on MySpace in central West Virginia in 2007. The songs were predictably deep and socially conscious, with lines such as “I like pussy and I like beef stew” catching the attention of borderline pubescent rural white kids that paid $10 for a disc critics. I had arrived.
After more serious, but somehow much worse, attempts at making music after that, I finally arrived at the decision that in order to make this what I wanted, I couldn’t keep rapping in my bedroom closet on a karaoke mic from Walmart. It was time to get in a studio. It might sound shocking, but there aren’t as many recording studios in central West Virginia that are privy to hip-hop music as you might imagine. After what seemed like endless searching I found a MySpace page for a studio 45 minutes from me in Craigsville, West Virginia. I called the guy, booked a session (after some haggling once he found out I wasn’t 18), and off I went that weekend. I don’t remember the guy’s name or even the name of the studio to drop a shoutout here (chemistry in the lab was crazy), but it was in a strip mall at the only an intersection beside a pet day care or vet office or something. You could hear dogs barking during takes constantly. Probably because what they were hearing through the wall was just too fire.
I was there for about 3-5 hours that I remember, and after more haggling about the fact that there was profanity in my lyrics and that the song wasn’t about Jesus, I walked out of there with what was my first real song. It was called “I Know”, a heavily Kanye West Graduation-inspired beat that was easily my best at that age, with some bars that weren’t awful but a delivery that was. At the county fair, a ton of us gathered around my only friend who had a MP3 headunit in his car and we blasted that shit. They genuinely liked it, I think, and hey maybe I’m not bad at this, I thought.
Back to college…
…at West Virginia University, where I had no direction. The only thing I knew how to do that I enjoyed besides play or watch sports was make music, so I decided to give it hell. I booked my second ever studio session at Zone 8 Studio in Granville with the owner/engineer Mark Poole. Mark would become a dear friend. My boy Stu went with me to record a freestyle over a 9th Wonder beat that I called “Say Skid Again”. Mark said I was the best rapper that had ever came in there. A few months later 9th Wonder was following me on Twitter, WVU’s school newspaper did a write up on my first ever mixtape “Most Likely To Succeed”, and my life had a new calling. I felt new comfort.
Every time I thought I had things figured out, I didn’t.
The next few years were still a whirlwind. I told myself I was done making music several different times. I then quit college and “focused” on music, then went back and finished college, then gave up on music again. I always came back to it, though. There are two reasons, I think. One, because I’ve tried to discover what makes me tick with many other things but they’ve all led me right back to music. The other reason is that making music has resulted in me directly talking about my life, and the things I’ve been drawn to describe have led me to see all the problems that my state of West Virginia has, giving me reason to do my best to fix them.
When you’re a kid, not only do you not take time to stop and smell the roses, you don’t take time to notice the thorns either. I had a happy childhood because of two great parents, two great grandparents, and countless great friends. I think my parents did two things amazingly well: they made me try everything and they never let me think I was going without.
I don’t think I ever asked my mom to let me do so many things, she just kind of took me to them on her own. I played every organized sport, went to every school trip and summer camp, went to a senior citizen center to learn how to paint, raised sheep in 4-H, was in a bowling league, and took part in every volunteer community cleanup. There might be more that I’m forgetting. I wasn’t a golden child, she just signed me up in everything and I never thought twice about it. This helped me understand many different kinds of people and skills. Now, I see the lack of both, where what little did exist has mostly vanished.
I never realized we were poor, they did too good of a job for me to see it. My folks both had jobs my entire life, but after I went to college I got my first look at wealth. Some kids had so much. Our household income fell below the poverty line from my birth until around 7th grade when my dad got a new job. Looking back at it, a huge chunk of my friends’ families did too. This is a problem that has only got worse. The state has gone from a consistent decades-long decay to completely deteriorated. Additionally, the geographic and socioeconomic isolation virtually erases not only the notion of opportunity being possible, but also any idea of what it looks like.
A little over a year ago, I made my mind up that this is what I’m going to pursue. I tried so hard for so long to find a career path, way to dress, people to be around, and hobbies to take up to get away from this, because of scrutiny and people you respect telling you you’re wasting your time. It took me years to realize that a lot of people, maybe most people, who have the things I’m supposed to pursue are the ones wasting theirs. I feel so alive right now, and the whole reason I’m still in this is to help you feel the same. I’m here to make a new West Virginia. I’m here to give chances to those like me and those that had far less. I’m here so you can enjoy yourself, and so you can help me enjoy myself too. This is my purpose.