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First Impression: Kenrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterlfy”

pimp

‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ album cover.

Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ was released a week early a couple days ago. I finally managed to give it a listen for the first time last night. I started listening to it at around 10pm. I was still listening to it when I fell asleep sometime after 2am. A whole 4 hours later. I listened to a couple more times when I got up in the morning and have been listening to it most of today. That I gave it a couple of spins on first contact is testament of how immersive the listening experience has been so far. So is the fact that I have voraciously read up on anything related to the album in between listens. That I am sitting here writing about it also speaks to how much the album has hijacked my attention and titillated my curiosity. However, this is not a review per se. But more an attempt to unpack and process some of the initial feelings I had listening to the album in the last 24 hours.

This is one is going to be a doozy.

Even after the repeated rotation I can’t seem to make up my mind (yet) how I feel about this album. I know it is special and I really appreciate its musicality. I just can’t figure out if I love it. But I do know I want to love it, badly. I am also sure that is it a great piece of art. It’s cinematic in its scope and shares the same unfathomable complexity of some of the books I have felt compelled to re-read. ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ is a demanding and at times challenging listen. And I can’t stop listening to it. And therein lays its genius and appeal for me. With each listen I find myself trying to dig deeper so I can catch every reference, idea and emotion. I’m still hearing new stuff and I’m sure I’ll continue to discover new things weeks from now. ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is an album to contemplate and examine as much as it is a groovy album with beautiful musicality. And for me that was as intriguing as it was contradictory. Which I suspect is what Kendrick was trying to go for, especially when you consider the album title itself.

‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is a really evocative title. Not just for an album, but any work of art. Period. The writer in me loves the contradictory nature of that statement. There is so much imagery packed into it. The title seems more literary than anything, and the album seems to fall into this discussion of life and the ills of both success and blackness. Kendrick himself has alluded to it being a play on ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird’ a novel by Harper Lee that deals with racial inequality and is considered a modern American classic. Kendrick himself has stated that he believes ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ will be taught in university course in the future. No pressure there, I guess.

‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is an album that is as multi-layered as it is richly textured. Musically, contextually and lyrically. It is as colourful as it is monochromatic. It hijacks your attention 80 minutes at a time. Sonically I love the direction that Kendrick went on this album. I found the jazzy and funk influences refreshing. Although from the get go I did pick a sombre and at times melancholic vibe which is an interesting juxtaposition to the funky beats. There are also parts of the album where Hip Hop meets neo soul. And even some spoken word. Admittedly these parts can feel a bit pretentious, if not cheesy. And I can see that putting of those who want that hip-hip, it don’t stop.  But in the bigger picture of the album, it works. T

Contextually and lyrically ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is a lot to process. Even as a black person I found the ‘politics of blackness’ of it confrontational and overwhelming in parts. Although I suspect that might have to do with different nuances of my personal African experience and the wider African-American experience. Kendrick though makes a strong case for the universality of the broader black experience with his comparisons of the Xhosa-Zulu conflict with that of the Blood and Crips gangs of LA in the fantastically belligerent ‘The Blacker The Berry’ which had been released as a single prior to the album release. The ‘politics of blackness” is not the entire focus of the album though. Throughout the album you are can pick up more universal themes like dealing with societal pressure, being lost  and consumed by the situation you’ve been put into, finding yourself and achieving self-fulfilment. Like I said before, this is a layered album. And I am looking forwarding to peeling back those layers over the next couple of weeks.

The highlights so far….

‘Alright’ is the early stand out track for me. Mostly because it has such a positive vibe to it. ‘How Much Does A Dollar Cost?’ is also such an introspective song and resonates the most of all the songs on the album. Finally the interview with Tupac and the explanation of the title knocked me off my feet.

Consider this butterfly pimped.

One more thing ….

‘This dick ain’t freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee …..’

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Posted by on March 18, 2015 in Culture Vulture

 

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For The Hip Hop Nerds: ‘Watch The Throne’, A Shakespearean Play By Lev Novak

I love Hip Hop. And I love Shakespeare. While on the surface these two art forms might seem incompatible at their core they are actually quite similar. It’s all in the wordplay. Both art forms appeal to the logophile in me. So you can only imagine how thrilled I was to come across a Shakespeare inspired drama based on some of my favourite Hip Hop artists.
‘Watch The Throne’ is a Shakespearean drama written by Lev Novak wrote that deals with the power struggles in Hip Hop. The play features Kanye West, Pusha T, Ludacris, J. Cole, Kim Kardashian, 2 Chainz and the big homie Jay Z amongst others.

‘Watch The Throne’ A Shakespearean Drama By Lev Novak

Act I, Scene I

Kanye is sitting upon the throne of rap. His trusty lieutenant, Pusha T, stands beside him. On the other side is Kim Kardashian.

PUSHA T

My liege,
As Jay-Z hath ascended
Past this mortal realm
The throne has become watched by those that would seek it for themselves
The guilds of rap grow restless, my Lord.
MMG of the north waits patient,
and YMCMB rake their coals in darkness
Even the fiefdoms seek their claim;
A$APs require attention, Asap,
Taylor Gang and TDE watch us from afar,
And, though I hate to report it,
There is a whispering of evil within the very halls of G.O.O.D

(J.Cole enters, triumphant)

J.COLE

I have long said the same,
Oh Pusha.

PUSHA T

Yeuchh.

KANYE

Jermaine? Ah!
So good to see you!

(The two embrace as Pusha watches)

KANYE

Have you found success?

J.COLE

Indeed, Yeezy.
As befitting my princely status,
I have completed my first quest:
I have solidified our treaty with Kendrick of the West.

KANYE

Excellent!
The West, slumbering
May threaten West
Nevermore, without Kendrick’s flow.
But aligned,
The two might prosper.
You have done well Jermaine.

J.COLE

Thank you, Yeezy.
But I have taken a name unto myself: J.Cole

KANYE

Christened by Yeezus, I approve your nameship.
May pressure make you a diamond.
Like the Roc-a-fella’s before us.

(They look skyward)

J.COLE

Praised be J-Hova.

KANYE

Praised be he.

J.COLE

And yet…

KANYE

Yet what, Cole?
Speak.

J.COLE

It was odd;
As I left the palace gates,
I found myself without reinforcement.
Guest verses undelivered,
My album was assailed by critics.
I survived, and persevered but this;
(shows a scar on his face)
Is damage from Pitchfork.

PUSHA T

The fool Don Glover
Found his head upon one.
‘Tis but a scratch.

J.COLE

You shroud your meaning, Pusha,
And speak of my scratch
As though it were not upon my flesh,
But rather a mark upon your records,
And thus fully inconsequential.

PUSHA T

Though you say “Cole World”
You would be wise to be wary of heat;
heated words, of course.
Forgive the entendre.

J.COLE

You are modest in your estimation.
I fear no weapon.
But am wary of he who wields them.

(J.Cole leaves, an eye to Pusha.)

KANYE

This is heavy news to ponder.
Pusha, I require my jester

PUSHA T

Yeuch.

(Pusha T summons 2 Chainz enters in his jester gear.)

KANYE

Two Chainz,
my head is weary, as though two chains,
each heavy,
hung around my neck.
Tell me, oh Jester,
Is ruling yet a fool’s errand?

2 CHAINZ

If it were, your majesty,
you’d have sent me in your stead.
(Ludacris enters, in all his finery.)

KANYE

Hear, oh wise Ludacris,
That you are welcome in my presence.
Oh, wise Luda, hear how Jay-Z hath ascended
And left me to follow in his wake.
It is I, now, who must watch the throne
From King Richard the Ross and of Weezy F. Baby,
The occult swamp-man who threatens to devour us all.

LUDACRIS

Ay, and you have asked for my partnership.
A wise decision, Kanye.
For indeed, my clan of DTP is mighty
In the southern realms of this land,
And together,
We can rule this land as brothers.
Though shrouded in irony, we may keep the peace.

KANYE

Nay, Ludacris;
I cannot split my rule of this kingdom.
I ask not for your partnership, but for your service.

LUDACRIS

A knee?
Nay!
Wise Luda, you have called me,
Yet you play me for the fool.
I serve standing, never hunched like your jester.
He used to be a rapper, a man amongst us,
Though he ran from my service only to find your favor?
An outrage!
He hath 2 Chainz, oh Yeezy,
But no honor.

2 CHAINZ

Aye, take me for a fool?
Perhaps, and that path be quite oft taken to my benefit.
They laugh, oh Luda, but I do so to the bank.
Why, for me to be forgotten or broke,
Why, that would be Ludacris.

LUDACRIS

Knave!

(Ludacris draws his sword)

KANYE

Luda!
There shall be no violence in this halls.

LUDACRIS

Hear, Yeezy, how I work alone.
But for respect to you, I swear an oath of separation.
I will not be disturbing the peace.
Keep your clan-mates with you, but be wary, O Yeezy,
Some watch the throne
When they should watch their court.

(Ludacris exits.)

KANYE

Pusha!
Oh, my trusted advisor!
How might I handle a foe, oh Pusha?

PUSHA T

My liege?

KANYE

A foe.
In glorious battle, with the colors of banners
And the roar of my warriors, the clashing of weapons and diss-tracks-
What a spectacle!
But tell me, Pusha, who radiates a glory near mine?

PUSHA T

None, my lord.

KANYE

Indeed, Pusha, and this worries me greatly.
Jigga, the king before me,
rests amongst the greats
Having defeated countless foes.
But who may I face?
Who can match my luster?

PUSHA T

One may exist.

KANYE

You are kind, Pusha
But I doubt that.
Still, as I pursue greatness.
Can I trust you,
Pusha,
To do what is necessary?

PUSHA T

By Biggie’s Ghost,
I pledge my loyalty, now and forever,
To the ‘Ye.

KANYE
I sense in you the truth.
I retire gladly, Pusha.
I leave to examine leather skirts.

(Kanye exits)

PUSHA T

For truth, I am loyal to the ‘Ye.
The yeyo, cocaine, sweet white.
Hard white, they call you,
though you be soft in my embrace.
Kilo’s, soft as pillows,
how I long for you in my bed.
Caine, oh Caine!
It is for you, my love,
that I will ascend the throne myself.
Forgive me, Pac! Forgive me, Biggie!
I betray for love, of the game and of the game.
As Cain killed Abel, I too am able for ‘Caine.
Yuch.
See how I have come to loath the man Yeezy
For now the throne is watched
Observed by paparazzi
Bloggers and more
Nerds, hovering over us
Casting a shadow over rhymes
This doth provoke in me a malice
And such as Malice is my brother
I find it inseparable from my motivation.
That I may avenge Clipse with clips
And take the throne I have earned.
(Offstage he hears the click of heels)
Yea, for the strumpet approaches
I must keep my plans disguised.
Yuch, I say, Yuch,
For the Kardashian comes quick.

KIM

Oh Pusha,
hath thou seen my husband?

PUSHA T

Kris Humphries is out,
m’lady.

KIM

Rouge! My husband, my love,
the famed and talented-

PUSHA T

Ray J?
KIM

Yeezy. Oh Pusha, push me not.
My plans move beyond you,
With rapid steps measured in weeks and years.
My wealth exceeds yours, as does my wit.
You pushed cocaine?
I too sold poison-
Myself!
Loved, loathed and consumed
By every fiend across this country.
Do not doubt me, Pusha.
Keeping up with the Kardashians is a fools errand.

PUSHA T

Such that your viewers are. I am inclined to agree.

KIM
You are an ass, Pusha
And one that rivals even my own.

(Kim moves beyond Pusha to the kingly chamber, her eyes at the mirror behind the throne)

You can read the rest of Act I, Scene 1 here, Act I, Scene II  ( ft Drake, Nikki Minaj, Lil Wayne & Tyga here

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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To live Is To Suffer And To Survive Is to Find Meaning In That Suffering

I have said this before but I will say it again. Hip Hop is the big brother that I never had. The hip hop that I have always gravitated towards has been the rap that has been championed by great lyrists and storytellers like Nas & The Notorious B.I.G. For me it has always been wordplay over beats, double entendres over punch lines, introspection over hyper materialism and consciousness over ignorance. I have always looked to Hip Hop and rap in particular to open my eyes to a wider world than that which I knew. Rap lyrics with references outside of my knowledge base lead me back into the world of bookworm curiosity, uncovering authors, activists and samples alike. I also love the predominant Hip Hop narrative that often tells the story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds and making something of your life.

Rap in general also have had quite an influence on my writing—its rhythm, simplicity and impact. The music taught me that sometimes the most compelling way to relate something is to describe it as it happened. If you can make an audience live what you’ve lived, they are more likely to grasp your intent and make your mission their own. Rap music also compels me to want to be a better writer. I am driven to have the same command over my dialogue that some of my favourite rappers have over their rhyme schemes in order to put my message across in such a compelling manner.

Rap music also redefined intelligence. In our society, our school system and distribution of social rewards fixate on a narrow range of accomplishments and talents which in turn comes to restrict what kinds of values we teach and how we socialise children to realise success. You have to go to school to get a good job, and you want a good job so you can make good money, and you want money so you can have the freedom to do and be who you want. Except you have to often conform to a certain standard to get the good grades and essentially kick start the whole process.

Hip hop illustrates an alternative to the norm, and is a medium that makes manipulating language and one’s social location cool so to speak. In a lot of ways Hip Hop is also my muse. Sometimes whilst listening to a song something resonates and my mind goes off on a tangent and I am inspired to write something. In fact compared to all other musical genres I would say rap is by far the most creative and original in regards to lyrics. There’s an art to the unfiltered bluntness it presents, an art that remains untapped by all other musical genres. Simply put, at the heart of it rap is pure honesty.

One of my favourite rap songs Is Slippin’ by DMX of his 1998 sophomore album Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood DMX. Slippin’ is a beautifully poignant song that speaks to the challenges and struggles we all have to overcome at some point in our lives. It’s a song that you, me and everyone we know can relate to on some level. In the song DMX narrates his own story from boyhood to manhood and how the challenges he has had to overcome have differed over time. He also speaks on the future he envisages for his family. All in all he hits that sweet spot between fragility and vulnerability that most of us can relate to.
Personally this song has given me hope during some of my darkest moments when I wasn’t too sure I would get back on my feet again. In those moments it reminded me to not only acknowledge the challenges I was facing but also inspired me to conjure the determination that was necessary to get me out of that place. Listening to it always reminds me of the challenges I have overcome so far in my life and today I just wanted to share it on this space because sometimes you just need that little push to get back on your feet and tear shit up again.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Memoir Of A Hip Hop Nerd

The earliest insight I can recall that I had into Hip Hop as a culture was from the popular nineties sitcom Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. Will Smith’s character the Fresh Prince was the first Hip Hop personality that I tried to mould myself after. He was everything that I wanted to be. Whether it was his attitude, flambouyant dress sense or his lingo, the Fresh Prince, to my young impressionable mind was the epitome of cool. I remember very clearly the day my mum bought me my first school blazer in primary school. I was so thrilled that I could finally get to dress like my idol i.e wear my school blazer inside out with the cap worn back to front. Man, I thought I was so fresh! Little did I know then that, that was the genesis of Hip Hop’s enduring influence on my dress sense.

The sitcom Fresh Prince embodied so many elements of Hip Hop culture that resonated deeply with the my middle class sensibilities. Side bar: Before I continue I must take this opportunity to state for the record that I am aware that at the time they were more respected and more significant influences in Hip Hop such as KRS-One, Erik B & Rakim, Akrika Bambaataa & The Zulu Nation, , Scarface, NWA, Public Enemy, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and The Beastie Boys. While I have grown to appreciate these pioneering acts in Hip Hop over the years it was my fascination with the Fresh Prince that opened the door for me to the broader world of Hip Hop. So much so that the theme song to the Fresh Prince is the first rap song I was able to karaoke along to. The simple raps where all my young mind could fully comprehend at the time. The lyricism and subject matter of the other above mentioned artists I only appreciated as my mental faculties developed and I began to lose the childlike innocence of youth. By the time the music and untimely deaths of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur took centre stage in the main stream consciousness I was a budding Hip Hop aficionado.

As a teenager Nas’ ‘Hate Me Now’ is one of first Hip Hop songs I had a visceral reaction to. Never mind I did not have any hater’s at the time (I was 14). But as you do at that age I was convinced that the world was against me and that nobody really understood me. And in that sense Nas’s self assertion as well as the vitriol he was spitting at his detractors spoke to me. For an angsty teenager overdosing on testosterone that had grown up on a staple of Michael Jackson songs and colonial British inspired literature raps incongruous mix of lyricism, braggadocio, social commentary and pseudo revolutionary themes that often touched on black pride evoked a strong sense of belonging in me. This coupled with the storytelling; struggle and aspiration themes that are deeply embedded in the culture reverberated with a young black African man trying to find himself in a world, that didn’t think much of him.

No rap artist I had encountered up to that point embodied everything I loved about Hip Hop as much as Nas himself.  Nas made me close my eyes and imagine an experience I had only previously been able to mine from books. When he rapped he painted vivid pictures in my mind, but more importantly he forced me to think critically and analytically about the world I lived in. We shared a common fascination with ancient Egyptian civilizations and African history and heritage. Subjects he weaved seamlessly and eloquently into his raps. When I listened to his raps I had to let them marinate over a few repeated listens before I completely felt the gravity of the messages that he was sharing. And even after the fact every new listen always brought with it new a-ha moments and the accompanying streams of consciousness. His lyrics were multi layered and his awe inspiring story telling abilities continued to stoke the flames of the aspiring wordsmith in me.

Listening to Hip Hop is and always has been a uniquely personal experience for me. Even though it has its critics who despise for its explicitness, excess, misogyny and glorification of violence it is still a genre I am intensely passionate and protective about. I am truly, madly, deeply and unashamedly in love with Hip Hop. Not only that but I fancy myself quite the Hip Hop nerd. I am always trying to learn as much as I can about the culture. Hip Hop appeals to the logophile in me. I am drawn to the wordplay that is the bedrock of many of my favourite Hip Hop songs. If you can weave magic from words while they sit on an awesome beat you have my ear and my heart. I also love Hip Hop because, it inspires me. What! Hip Hop inspiring? YES! Hip Hop in many ways feels like the big brother I always wanted but never had. Hip Hop as a culture was often my compass as I navigated my way through the uncertainty of my teenage year’s all right through to my early adulthood and the present day. I looked up to Hip Hop in the way I can only imagine I would have looked to a big brother if I had one.

Because of Hip Hop I love American summers. This despite the fact I have never set foot on American soil. Why? The answer is simple. It is the time of the year that most of my favourite rappers tend to release some serious heat in the form of albums. And thanks to the democratization and globalization of Hip Hop afforded by the ‘internets’ access to these releases is instantaneous. This is very welcome as it allows me to feel their heat during the southern hemisphere winter. Around this time of the year you are likely to catch me wildin’ out by my damn self as I get jiggy, marinate and just vibe out to my favourite rap albums.

This particular ‘American summer’ has already proved to be no exception. J. Cole an artist whose career I have followed closely has already released his much anticipated sophomore in album titled Born Sinner. Of the albums released so far this has been my personal favourite album, a huge compliment considering that his album is juxtaposed against a long time favourite of mine Kanye West who released a visionary, eclectic and largely experimental album that pushes the boundaries of Hip Hop,Yeezus. Yeezus’ main weakness for me is Kanye’s rapping. Going for minimalist and sparse production as he did, elements which make it such a polarizing album exposes the fact that his rapping isn’t quite up to par on this album. The lack of lyrical astuteness, depth, agility and strength in Yeezus is the reason it’s the sole Kanye album the word nerd in me finds hard to marinate on. Despite the ferocity with which he spews his lyrics, Kanye fails to make a compelling argument for himself throughout the record. This is Yeezus’ biggest surprise and let down for me. A man who has historically had so much to say, suddenly seems to have no clue how to communicate it in a manner that means his arguments have gravitas and compel me as the listener to think, question, draw conclusions and then move beyond those conclusions. That isnt to sayYeezus isn’t void of magical music moments, unfortunately the words never match up with the intensity and contradictory beauty of the sound.

Lyrically Born Sinner estues many of the same virtues that I fell in love with in Nas’ music and sonically you hear the influence on the the J.Dilla’s and No I.D’s in terms of the production style. J.Cole’s comparisons to Nas are more than justified. It is fitting then that on the album Born Sinner is a strong contender for my favourite rap song of the year so far in ‘Let Nas Down’ by J.Cole. an abridged memoir of Cole’s relationship with Hip Hop. By extension the subsequent remix by Nas himself in which he symbolically hands over the crown to J.Cole is my Hip Hop moment of the year. In the original song ‘Let Nas Down’ J. Cole narrates the story of how he was inspired by and looked up to Nas as well as his subsequent disappointment when Nas didn’t like his first hit single Work out. He justifies sacrificing his (he)art in that he wanted to draw attention so that a wider audience has an access to it, at the same time acknowledging  Nas’ influence on his career as  well as crediting Nas’ criticism for getting back on track artistically. The reason I love Born Sinner is because I feel like it was written with me in mind and at its best it sounds like something I feel I could have written. J. Cole like me is a young black man with a university degree and in many ways he is rapping the theme songs to this part of my life.

There are still a lot more hip Hop albums to come,and and at this point I am in love with Hip Hop as much as I have ever been. Today it feels good to be a Hip Hop fan.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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My 1st Song

Allow me to re-introduce myself! * In Jay-Z voice*. The Mad Scientist is no more. Not to worry, in his place, “Ladies and gentleman, please join me in welcoming to the Mic – the Accidental Rapper a.k.a Frankenstein … Can I get a Hip Hop Hooray?” I kid. I kid. The only place the Accidental Rapper will be dropping bars will be my shower.*Pause*. The Mad Scientist stays. Selfish, I know. The “My 1st Song” that I am referring to is the last song on the Black Album by Jay Z. The Black Album was supposed to be Jay-Z ‘s last album before going into what turned out to be just a brief retirement in 2003.

The song itself starts out with an excerpt of an interview of the Notorious B.I.G. “Biggie smalls”. In the interview Biggie Smalls repeats advice that he got from his producer/friend Puffy , now known as Diddy. Biggie  says “Puff told me, the key to this joint, the key to staying on top of things. Is treat everything like its your first project, Knahmsayin? Like its your day like back when you was an intern. Like, that’s how you try to treat things like, just stay hungry.”

This is the theme that Jay-Z carries into the song, picking up on that advice about treating every project as your first. As such jay Z supposed last song is aptly titled My 1st song. The song is very much autobiographical as Jay-Z explains his sustained success. He taunts “Y’all wanna know why he don’t stop? Y’all wanna know why he don’t flop?‘ His advice? If you treat every song like your first then you’ll never regret anything.

I like to think of myself as the quintessential Hip Hop nerd. My love for Hip Hop has its roots primarily in the lyricism and wordplay. How some of my favourite rappers are so gifted at playing such beautiful games with language. The vivid storytelling, the melodies, the thumping 808 bass-lines. I could carry on. A facet of Hip Hop I also love and that is embodied by this particular Jay Z song is its ability to educate. More than any other musical type Hip Hop has a strong entrepreneurial ethos that is deeply ingrained in the genre. It’s hard to listen to hip hop without hearing it’s entrepreneurial spirit. Its contagious, addictive and inspiring all at the same time.

So its no surprise then I often reach out to Hip Hop when I need to recalibrate, re-energize, and even more specifically with this particular song, when my ego starts aligning itself with complacency. In these moments, as cheesy as it might sound I like to go back to this song , as a reminder. To stay busy. To stay working. To keep clocking in the hours with the same determination, dedication and hunger that I started out with. To treat every single hour in my 10000hours to success last like my first. Its a great reminder. One I felt compelled to share today.

Hustle hard in any hustle that you pick ~ Shawn Corey Carter


 
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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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