Music For Life
I was sitting in a coffee shop on Chestnut and Scott in San Francisco in May of 2014 the first time I heard “Music for Life” by Hi-Tek. The song actually came out in 2006 as part of Hi-Tek’s album, Hi-Teknology 2, but it had slipped by my ears somehow. The irony is that in I had spent an inordinate amount of time in late 2010/early 2011 sitting in my apartment in New York pondering how to make change I so clearly needed to make in my life while listening to so many tracks off that album: “Josephine”, “Keep It Moving”, “Can We Go Back”, “So Tired” were on constant rotation. But somehow I missed this one.
I ended up moving out of New York toward the summer of 2011 desperate to reclaim some sort of ownership and acknowledgment of my own personhood in this rat race that life tends to make us run. New York has an undeniable ability to turn the entire individuality of who you are into one meaningless statistic after another. It’s a city of 8 million people crammed into 300 square miles piled mile after mile on top of each other or stuck to each other’s hip underground into 800 miles of subway tracks each biding time until they get to make a simultaneous mad dash back to the surface just to get to fresh air again. There’s no time to take a second to catch your breath or find a way to live on your terms. You just have to keep it moving. Because if you fall, the whole city will walk over you before any one stops to help you get back up. All of us operating on the principle that our individual desire to get to our destination trumps any obligation to another. That’s the price of survival in New York City. You get to be one of those 8 million people doing the utmost just to get by. Just to breathe. In the words of Talib Kweli,
“We commute to computers, spirits stay mute while your egos spread rumors We survivalists, turned to consumers Just to get by”
As I sat there in that coffee shop in the middle of San Francisco’s Marina in 2014 listening to Hi-Tek’s “Music for Life” and looking out at a parade of women in yoga pants leisurely walking their dogs and men casually jogging in t-shirts and shorts—both with infinite space to do so and without a seeming care in the world—I couldn’t help but note the difference in culture and privilege afforded to this part of the city versus the pervasive griminess of NYC I had become accustomed to.
My life has been one of constant change. I’ve lived in some of the tougher parts of New York City and one of the more privileged parts of San Francisco with an assorted variety of hostels, living rooms, basements, couches, extra bedrooms, luxury apartments and middle to upper-middle class houses in between. I’ve attended 15 schools/colleges, including one I dropped out of and another I got kicked out of. I’ve gone by 3 different names in my life. People have come. And then disappeared. Often at times when I needed them the most.
But the one part of my life that has been constant during so many years of turmoil, has been music. It’s been my closest friend when I felt like I had none. It gave me a voice when the words were stuck in my throat and when I had no one to speak to. Music has always made me feel like someone understood how deeply I felt and genuinely empathized with me. It is one of the first things I turn to when I’m feeling the happiest just to be alive or the saddest. Music has never once made me feel alone because whenever I need it I can just hit “play” and it’s right there with me for as long as I need it to be.
For all those times I wanted to just quit and give up, music has given me hope to keep fighting simply because I knew there were other people who could relate to my struggle. And that feeling of authentic connectedness in a world of increasing narcissism and individualism that serves to make social media stars out of some while completely alienating others, can be the difference between life and death.
This is the crux of what Hi-Tek, Nas, and J-Dilla are getting at through this song, which to this day still has the ability to give me chills. For some people, music is just a cute hobby or extracurricular that adds flair, but not substance, to their daily existence. It’s a cool concert to look forward to or just a party jam to share with your friends on a Friday night. But for some of us, music means so much more than that. We need it the same way you need air or food. Music is our daily bread. We eat it up and escape to it whenever we can and in so many different forms just to help us cope and make sense of the befuddling world we actually live in.
I don’t where I’ll be in the next 3 years or 30. I don’t know what city or dwelling I’ll be living in. I don’t know if I’ll ever find the totality of peace that I’m constantly looking for. But I do know I’ll be somewhere with headphones—or whatever listening device they have at that time—in my ears bobbing my head to some melody and lyrics living life as best I can, because music got me through. Music for me will never be just a phase or some cute hobby I partake in. It’s my life. It’s for life.
“When you going through your most frustrating time in life. When you can't find nobody else to speak to, you can speak through the music. Help other people feel your pain, your struggle, your passion- what you live and die for your values in life” --Busta Rhymes on Hi-Tek’s “Music for Life”
I stumbled across Jon Connor’s “In My Sleep” about a month ago and it instantly became the top song in my rotation. The song is an anthem for anyone who has committed to pursuing a dream and has experienced ups and downs along the way.
Pursuing a life goal is something that requires dedication, discipline and sacrifice. You need this to make it through the lows which are often front-loaded. This internal struggle is captured extremely well in Connor’s “In My Sleep” and is something that hits home all too closely.
More than two years ago I decided to dedicate my time to build a platform where people could share their identity, their emotions and memories in connection to their favorite music. Music has been a best friend through my life journey, so it seemed like a calling. Little did I know what I was in for.
The last two years have been a mixture of inspiration, solitude, validation, self-doubt, confidence and guilt. While I see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s been tough locking myself in a room focusing on developing this platform while neglecting my wife, family, friends and personal health.
“Ever think you meant to do that one thing that you love to do? So you take a chance, take the stage and the ground move up under you..Is this a dream or a nightmare? I don’t know yet.”
It’s a struggle that will keep you wondering if the end-state is really worth it, or is it better to just be carefree again:
“Had a dream I was back on the playground, and I ain't have a care in the world”
I listen to this song repeatedly and it’s a reminder that I am not the only one battling the ups and downs in pursuit of a dream. It keeps me grounded and helps my confidence. It’s inspiring and comforting at the same time. I guess the last words are rightfully said:
“Find a reason to smile / Yeah I know this shit hard as f**k / Reminisce on the things you love / Give thanks for the things you have / Take a deep breath, look at where you at / Follow my voice, let me bring you back.”
Why I Founded SoulSence
Looking back at the time I pretended to be the third member of Kriss Kross and paraded around my family’s living room with some backwards clothes on, I probably should have seen this coming. I spent a large part of the summers during my childhood sitting in front of the stereo recording the best jams I could find for my next mixtape. Come junior high, that time became hours spent in front of the computer scouring music sites and tools like Napster to add to my music collection. In high school I became that guy that made CD mixes for friends and in college I was a music fanatic that religiously attended the concerts of my favorite artists even if it required long road trips to get to.
Fast forward to 2017 and it’s safe to say that music has continued to be a large part of my life. The songs that comprise my life soundtrack represent who I am as a person, capture my views, convey my mood and serve as landmarks in time that remind me of memorable people and experiences.
There’s so much of my life that music connects with, yet I’ve always struggled to find ways to share it with others, even those closest to me. Everyday life just doesn’t seem to lend the opportunity to do so, and every time I’ve tried to express myself through music posts on social platforms like Facebook, my efforts have fallen flat and resulted in only a “like” or maybe two.
I soon realized that I was not an anomaly and that there was indeed a gap in the music listener’s experience. The beauty in music is the ability to enable artists to express themselves and then connect listeners that resonate with the message and feel of the music. Music helps us feel like we are not alone through our life experiences. There is so much that we think and feel when we listen to music but unfortunately there is no effective platform that encourages or enables us to effectively share it.
With the digital streaming model, artists no longer ship liner notes that tell the stories behind the music and while fans have been provided some tools to discuss the intended meaning of a song, they have not been provided a platform that encourages them to share the meaning of the songs to them.
I founded SoulSence to empower and enable artists and fans alike to convey who they are, what they go through and how they feel through the music that best connects with their lives. Sometimes music can paint the picture a lot more effectively than we can otherwise. For those times there is SoulSence to help drive the story home.
I will be using the SoulSence app to document my personal soundtrack and share a little bit about my life through my favorite songs and I encourage you to do the same. If you are like me and believe that music is a reflection of self, join me in expressing your life through the songs that tell your story best.