I Tried to Find Glamour in Hip-Hop
Last weekend, I went to Miami for vacation. Aside from the beautiful beach, it was not what I had imagined it would be.
It was a welcome disappointment.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about all the of the various ways in which we, as human beings, try to find a way to live outside of our everyday lives. I once worked with a guy who made a point that "everyone has a drug, you just have to have enough introspective ability to know what gets you high – and what you are trying to rise above."
I thought about the people in my life and the various methods that they have used to get their high. I know one young woman who, at one time, was so consumed by sex that she was able to describe the interior of almost every hotel in the Atlanta metro area. She would say that she did not actually enjoy most of the encounters, however; it was the one thing she could do that made her feel loved by someone – if only for a moment. The irony in that was it appeared no amount of attention and affection directed towards her was enough to give her the feeling she craved. She was already thinking about the next hit a few moments after the inevitable hot shower, and the room keys were returned to the front desk.
I have known someone who turned to food every time he felt a twinge of distress. He managed to compulsively eat himself into the hospital, afflicted with congestive heart failure, along with sleep apnea. Yet, despite all of the consequential issues from his choice of buzz, he chose to continue medicating himself with food.
I have known some who became addicted to the promised structure and ceremony
of organized religion and immersed themselves in their chosen rituals in hopes that they can redirect their pain towards a higher power. Eventually, some took it to overkill and began to neglect other important elements of their life for the sake of their fervent beliefs.
I have known some to overdo actual drugs, plunge headfirst into reckless spending; the list goes on and on. However, after my trip to Miami, and because of my previous involvement with the entertainment industry, the drug that fascinates me the most is the addiction to glamour.
My previous perception of Miami was fashioned by all the images I have seen
televised in the past. In my mind, I was headed to a place where amazing vehicles would blanket every inch of the city streets, exotic women would be stationed and posed on every inch of sidewalk, and everything else would do nothing but fulfill the promise that nothing is happening there but the good life. Instead, what I discovered was a beautiful beach, a nice part of town spiffed up for money spending tourists, and a depressed urban center as befallen by problems as anywhere else.
It was just a city like any other city. There was the normal hustle-and-bustle of people going to low-paying jobs, harsh traffic, police sirens, fast food spots, and foreclosed homes. In addition, there were still people, once they discovered I lived in Atlanta, eager to know "what is it like up there?" In one of the cities marketed as one of the most glamorous places in the world, people still wanted to be somewhere else.
I have thought about this before, but I think about it more so because I know that I will never be able to look at a televised image of Miami the same again. True enough, I will love to visit the beach again. The view of the ocean is one of the most tranquil visuals that you can imagine. However, I will be visiting the beach, not the place I imagined I was visiting before the first visit. Altogether, this trip helped to jog my memory of when I was chasing the glamour drug and was convinced that my "imminent" success in the music business would solve all my problems with money – as well as my low self-esteem.
As a teenager, I used to sit around and fantasize for hours about the world in hip-hop videos, the exciting world flashed across the screen in '80s advertisement, and oddly enough, city skylines. The videos showed me the world I could be a part of if I could just get my music in the right hands, the ads painted a picture of perpetual joy that was happening SOMEWHERE out in the world – just not in mine. My obsession with city skylines would stem from my perception that anywhere that had big tall buildings held the promise of making my small-town dreams a reality.
Anything was better than the drab reality of my small Alabama hometown, with its' conservative local university, and fanatical football worship. I imagined that if I could get closer to Marley Marl, live in one of those cities with the mountain-like buildings, or just get away from my birthplace, my life would be just like one of the old McDonalds commercials – always bright and shiny. I would never have to worry about money, I would never have to worry about girls, and I would never have an empty, lonely moment again. I would be loved, honored, and no longer misunderstood.
So I stopped worrying about the world I was actually living in, and I stop trying to make the elements around me work, and focused all of my energy to the world that existed only in my mind. I focused exclusively on drum machines, samplers, old records, and any pieces of hip-hop media that passed through the bookstores at my local mall.
Soon enough, I joined the Air Force. I managed to escape what I considered my
personal hell and get to all the people, places and situations I wasted my time fantasizing about on the viewer side of the TV screen. To make a long story short, I went to all of the cities with the big buildings and I put cassettes and CDs in the hands of thousands of people. I lived, loved, and experienced almost everything that I had promised myself that I would do – but I was still chasing that "something else" I had imagined I saw on the trick box.
I never touched that "something else" that because it is not there. That something else was something that I had created in my mind and it only had the significance that I ascribed to it. No matter how nice the hotel room is, at the end of the day (or night) it is just four walls. The difference between what we perceive as beauty is the difference between less than a few inches of bone positioning, melanin, muscle and fat distribution. We are all the same. The only thing that changes is the values, hopes, and desires we attach to what is there – even if it is not reality. It is amazing
to me now the shift in perception that can come with a slight change in lighting, the application of a few chemicals, and few taps of a button.
What I realized a while back, and even more so now, is that when you are
constantly chasing images and removing yourself from the what is around you, you have eliminated any real chance of experiencing the "magic" you already have.
I know a very attractive young lady who spends every waking moment searching
for pictures, articles, video and music by a very popular rapper. However, she will not go out to different restaurants, movies, museums and such. She is happy with an imagined life, and seemingly afraid of the reality she could have.
Because of my opportunity to have seen the other side of the life, I know what it is really like on a video shoot, what it is feels like to agonize over an album, and what it is like when you get onstage. I have seen the bright look in an audience member eyes, signed the autograph, and moved on to the next stop – and still never felt that "spark" I thought I was supposed to feel back when I was watching Chris Thomas on Rap City.
I began to understand that the pictures in the magazine or newspaper are more
exciting than the actual photo shoot itself. I understand that things become more beautiful when you can obsess over them. This is why people in videos, photos and movies appear more beautiful – in real life, you are not supposed to just stop and stare at people.
Sometimes when I get these albums in the mail, and I read the liner notes and press kit, I wonder where the artist or artists are trying to get to. I wonder if they are thinking that this music is going to place them in an alternate reality to where they will no longer have to be in their mind. I wonder if they realize that if they are successful, someone is going to want to experience their life.
It is so much easier to become hooked on things faraway; there is very little chance you will actually touch them.
I thought music would change my life – and it did – it just did not do it in the way that I expected it to. Because of music, I met two women who changed my life – in positive and negative ways. There was "magic", but it was not like what I imagined from television. There was the kind that I could actually touch – and it changed my relationship to music.
Do not get me wrong; I still love it deeply, but for different reasons than before. I still have the dream of creating a movement, but I understand that a movement is just a group of people of a like-mind agreeing to act on the same ideals. At the end of the day, we all eat, sleep, use the restroom, get sick, laugh, cry – and die.
No matter how nice the song is, how gorgeous the video appears, how attractive the women are, how expensive the car is, or happy and carefree it all seems to be; when you look at it up-close; it is all just everyday life – and everyday life is quite okay.
Originally posted: July 1, 2008