I’m Voting Because I Want My Life Back

 

 

 

My father is a quiet man. I was raised with the, fittingly, unspoken understanding that there’s no need to speak unless you can improve on silence. As a kid, I would never see Dad get too high or too low. He almost never yelled and, when he did, it was never truly boisterous. It was always muted enough to assure you everything was normal, like the sound of the air conditioner turning on out outside your house. Throughout my life, this even-keeled presence of his made me equally inspired and frustrated, but most of all it made big moments. If he was showing emotion, whether it be happy or sad, it was a big deal. Big moments were impeccably poignant, because of the moment itself, and because, subconsciously, I wondered when or if I would see one again.

 

I’ve seen my father cry four times: my last high school football game, when I dropped out of college, when our Boston Terrier passed away, and when Donald Trump became president*.

 


 

 

I look at the mirror each morning and wonder, will I ever get back in there again?

 

 

I will never forget that night two years ago or how I felt the next morning. I was absolutely crushed to my core. I’d never felt that way after a family member died or a relationship ended. It was, without exaggeration, the worst I’ve felt in my entire life. At the time, I would say I was more politically active than your average 26-year-old, but not engaged enough to have felt this from only a harmful policy or philosophical disparity. I had, after all, spent my entire life up to that point in the progressive bastion of West Virginia. This was something much different. I didn’t know which way was up. I had no appetite. I felt, in that big moment, that evil had forever conquered good.

 

That morning and all of the disgusting, completely predictable events leading up to this Election Eve have had a profound effect on my life. I am equal parts angry and exhausted from beating back nihilism with a stick every morning. It’s hard to walk out into the world each day feigning normalcy while, in the back of your mind, what you know is depressing and what you don’t know is terrifying. The environment is being actively attacked. The threat of war is omnipresent. The animals are running the zoo. With children locked in cages, bullets flying in churches, and the sheer meaning of truth on hiatus or, worse, entering retirement, I look at those with darker skin or different sexual attractions and find a twisted solace in my mere despair. I look at the mirror each morning and wonder, will I ever get back in there again?

 

This country “elected” a man who’s only life accomplishment is his impressive fabrication of accomplishments. We “elected” a band of jolly men who for years told us they would destroy us because enough of us chomped at the bit for their Robin Hood to steal from the poor and give to the rich. We “elected” a racist, sexist, uninformed piece of garbage not because of an incident in the Middle East or a woman’s emails, but because enough of us are racist, sexist, uninformed pieces of garbage.

 

Tomorrow we all have a chance to change.

 

Good doesn’t beat evil when good doesn’t show up. Tomorrow we must go to the polls as our lives depend on it because they do depend on it. I doubt I will sleep much tonight. I am anxious for the obvious implications, but perhaps even more nervous because, following 2016, I don’t know if I can count on my generation. I want to believe in us again. For the first time in a long time, I want to be assured that disasters have endings. I want my life back from constant hysteria.

 

Tomorrow evening I’ll call Dad. For at least one of us, it will be a big moment.

Purpose

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.

Enter hip-hop.

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.

From 765 ’til infinity.  

Interview on WCHS TV News

During the filming of my newest short film “Cozy”, I sat down with Dave Benton of ABC/Fox 11 (WCHS – Charleston/Huntington, WV) to discuss how I got started and why I continue to do what I do.