Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why I Stand for Community

I had an interesting conversation last night with my homie DJ Romeo; we were talking about the idea of community, specifically the hip hop community in Toronto, which inspired me to write about some things that have been on my mind for a long time now.

It's no secret that every human being is self-centered to a certain degree; we view the world through our own unique lenses and perspectives based on a variety of factors (not the least of which are our past experiences). In our capitalist society, cash is king, and everybody is out to get theirs. The world of business has only one bottom line for the majority, and unfortunately many other good motives that people possess often fall to the wayside in the face of profit-motive. The same is all to often true in the music industry, and the hip hop community of which I am a part is no exception.

It's also not a secret (or at least I hope it isn't) that most artists do not make money off of the work they do. The vast majority of serious artists invest time, energy, and money into their works and receive little or no compensation as a result. Rappers in Toronto (and I would assume elsewhere) spend a lot of time making music, putting out records, and pushing their product and brand to anyone who might be interested, but often their goals of reaching broad fan-bases and eventually monetizing their music are not fulfilled. This is not the case with every artist - there are some who are actually making a living off of the work they do (and there's even a percentage of those who make really good music).

While money is still the universal currency within any industry, and those with more money definitely have an easier time at marketing their music, there is another, (I dare say) more valuable currency than money for those who can't simply throw dollars in the direction of materializing their dreams: respect. You can't buy respect. In the words of Brooklyn emcee O.C.: 
"Of course we gotta pay rent, so money connects, but uhh/ 
I'd rather be broke and have a whole lot of respect." 

The short-term focus and insatiable desire to be in the spotlight right now of so many artists I come across can be, I believe, a tremendous detriment to their careers overall. More importantly than that, the levels of stress that come with  the "need to achieve" right now can lead to desperation and certainly take a negative toll on ones health.

Don't get me wrong - I think it's important for artists to go out 100% for their own dreams in they want to have any chance of whatever their definition of "success" is. The problem I'm getting at here is that it's not the goal of being a successful artist that is the problem - it's how people go about doing it. While I am not generally in favour of labeling and pigeon-holing people, I'm going to describe a few "types" of people I've come across to elucidate the issues I'm attempting to describe:

Sharks: Will say and do absolutely anything necessary in order to get what they want. Any standards of morality and codes of human conduct fall to the wayside for selfish, self-centered motivations. Will shit on anyone and everyone if it means they get what they want.

Snakes: Keep low-key and behind the scenes while they attempt to manipulate people and situations in order to get what they want. May say and do things for people in order to try to get things from them in return, and then fuck them over a moment later when those same people no longer serve a purpose to them.

Chameleons: Change their colours to appease to whatever crowd they are in and depending on who they are talking to in order to win the favour of others and get what they want. May smile in your face one minute and then talk shit about you behind your back to another person in attempts to win favour with different groups of people.

Believe me, if I had the time or inclination, I could make up more characters to fit more stereotypical ways of being I see around me in my community. Many of the types of people I am describing would probably fit in the spectrum of antisocial personality disorders, although many others do not go to such extremes. As with everything, there are degrees to which people display such stereotypical traits, and there are often far more subtle behaviours at work. The point of my descriptions is that there is one bottom line for all of these types: they do what they do because their top priority in life is getting what they want. 

Selfishness and self-centeredness/egocentricity is the predominant spiritual disease of the human race, and it permeates all facets of our society. It is probably necessary in our world to have a degree of self-centeredness, certainly insofar as we need to take care of ourselves and survive. And when it comes to achieving our goals, we do need to do the work necessary for ourselves in order to get what we ultimately want. My main objection is this: most people think predominantly only of themselves and, if they are brutally honest with themselves, don't care much about anyone who doesn't have any personal relevance to their own life. In the Toronto hip hop community, I see this mentality playing out to an extreme, where everyone is out for themselves and "fuck you unless you can help me further my own goals RIGHT NOW." The end result: go listen to k-os's "Crabbuckit":

There are those who fall on the opposite side of the spectrum: altruists who think that helping others, selflessness, and giving of oneself are the ultimate goals in life. To anyone who can live this way and be truly happy and fulfilled doing it, my hat goes off to you. It takes a very special kind of person to constantly give of themselves without any thought of return and without having some kind of hidden agenda. There are some who, in a perverse way, flip the idea of giving to others in order to ignore issues in their own lives or avoid being confronted with what it takes to achieve their own goals and dreams. These self-proclaimed altruists do not really care much for those they seek to help; they give of themselves in a limited capacity in order to feel OK with who they are in the world. I think it's important to strike a balance between giving of oneself for the sake of others and taking care of oneself. Peep the words from the Jewish sage and scholar Hillel:

I believe that it doesn't have to be either/or when it comes to getting what we want for ourselves and our lives and caring about the people we come across on our way to achieving our dreams. I believe it's possible to get what we want AND help others get what they want. We can make a positive difference in the lives of others while we further our own ambitions. I know this to be true - I'm doing it in my life today. I'm living it.

This is why I stand for my hip hop community and for the idea of community in general. I am not purely an altruist - I am well aware of the fact that by helping others today, they may in turn be more likely to help me down the road. However, this is not the primary reason I do what I do and stand for what I stand for. I give of myself to others and express myself to the world because it is a source of fulfillment for me in my life. I do it because of the nature of my own spiritual condition as a human being; I've learned that if I become too consumed with self, then I will be miserable. I do genuinely want to have a positive impact on the lives of others and make a lasting difference in the world. Being of service to those around me is not inconsistent with my dreams of being a successful hip hop artist, poet, writer, actor, etc. - it is part of and inseparable from my dream and my vision. My definition of success in this life includes uplifting those around me, and in doing so uplifting myself.

This is the person I have given my word to being in this world and am actively growing and creating myself to be. Who I am is the possibility of love, inspiration, and transformation. I stand for this definition of hip hop: peace, love, unity, respect, integrity, creativity, and fun. This is why the acronym in my name - F.U.B.B. - stands for Foundations of Understanding Based on Benevolence.

I look forward to meeting and working with those of you in the world who share similar dreams and visions.

Much love.

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