I’ve been recording and releasing rap music for almost a decade. Today I will be releasing my fourth solo album Hard Feelings. I’d like to tell you about how my career as a rapper has been both a huge success and a painful failure.
How could it be both? Easy, I’ve held up my end of the bargain. I promised myself I would make the best albums I was capable of. I promised myself that my music would address the real issues confronting the people of Australia, but still be funky as shit. I’ve given it my all. To me, that feels like success.
The music industry however would view me very differently. No ARIAs, no chart-topping singles, no remix by David Guetta. Through the eyes of a music-capitalist, I’m small change. Living in a capitalist society, your monetary value is your proof of success, your passport to brag, or if you’re struggling, a source of shame. We’re taught to equate financial gain with self-fulfillment. “Get rich or die trying,” because, the mentality suggests, to be poor is not much better than being dead. Judging by this criteria, I’m in a serious but stable condition.
Without getting regular rotation from triple j you’re kicking shit up-hill trying to tour this country performing original hip hop. It can be done, I’m proof of that, but it’s a bloody tough slog. Get your wallet out; book two return tickets from Sydney to Perth and book a hotel-room and a hire car and then pay for four meals and equipment hire and whatever you spent on advertising the show. Add that up. That’s how much you need to make back before you break even.
Don’t forget; with no hot song on the radio you cannot demand huge fees. You send in your manager in to negotiate. He gets 20% of your performance cheque. You find a way to make it work, you keep it moving.
Listen: The Tongue – Never Going Down ft Ngaiire
I won’t waste a paragraph discussing how tricky selling music is in 2015 but let me sum it up in a sentence; I would need millions of Spotify plays to earn the annual salary of an apprentice hair-dresser. So I think I’ve made my point; the business-side of music is prickly and when you allow yourself to feel defined by those figures it can be tempting to feel like you’re somehow failing.
These are the moments that test your fortitude. It’s easy to keep performing when the shows are sold out and the media celebrates your efforts. Not so easy to push on when the gift you’re trying to share with the world doesn’t always get its chance. But this is what we sign on for as artists; the opportunity to make art for the privileged few who get to experience it. It’s an opportunity, not a guarantee.
But I love this journey. Hip hop has taken me from doing shows in Cambodia to performing at the Sydney Opera House. I’ve opened for legends like Ghostface Killah, Public Enemy, Dizzee Rascal and collaborated with some of my biggest influences, the people who first inspired me to rap like Suffa from Hilltop Hoods and Gift of Gab from Blackalicious.
Fans have my lyrics tattooed on their skin, they’ve written to me to explain how a certain song or album has touched them deeply. At times like this I’ve felt like the luckiest man alive. So many artists have lived and died without ever being recognised, never given an opportunity or celebrated for their talent. To find yourself in that tiny minority who has been fortunate enough to express themselves (and literally be heard around the world) is truly a cause for celebration.
So why am I telling you this? Because in today’s society we are all constantly compelled to judge and compare ourselves; and it’s deadly. Social media and capitalism suggest that winning means millions of views/likes/hits and millions of dollars. We’re trained to think the unseen artist is the failed artist. We confuse popularity with talent. It’s important that you judge yourself, in whatever your pursuit is, only by your own standards. Integrity keeps you warm at night.
Believe that if you’re following your good intentions, soon enough, you will contribute something very worthwhile indeed.
Hard Feelings is 10 songs, 10 distinct vibes. It’s a twisted perspective on a twisted world. Its cartoonish, like reality. For 10 years I’ve been focused on making a classic and this is the album I want to be judged on. To be able to say that, finally and sincerely, truly feels like victory.
Watch: The Tongue – You Got Me (Feat. Mataya)