Touch the sky

Noz put up a motivational post on Monday urging rappers to get on their grind and build local buzz before they step to all the critics and bloggers out there. Sage advice, to be sure. But I found myself wondering for the last few days how many guys even know where to start on that. Judging from the emails I get, and the number of lost souls I’ve encountered at hip-hop panels over the years, I get the sense that a lot of underground rappers don’t know how to go about getting their hustle on. I get a lot of dudes sending me one-line emails and MySpace messages demanding press coverage, advice, and introductions. Clearly, some ways of hustling work better than others. I still have loads to learn myself, but allow me to pass on a couple things I’ve learned over the last couple years:

Always have a day job.
Honestly, I think this is the single most important piece of the puzzle. Trust me, I’ve learned this one the hard way. I tried to freelance without a base income for years and it didn’t work particularly well. I’m much happier now that I have a full time job. And more productive. The thing about success in general—and the music industry in particular—is that positive energy attracts more success. Frantically broke folks don’t often get the big break they are waiting for. Despite what a lot of hip-hop music may tell you, you don’t want to be too hungry for it. People can smell desperation from a mile away. The best position to go into any discussion is not needing anything from the other person, and being there genuinely interested in what could come of the collaboration. Which is why a lot of dudes take the shady route to build up cash reserves. This decision will, of course, come back to haunt you later, and will more than likely derail everything you have worked so hard to build. Take a normal, humble day job. The peace of mind that you have knowing your bills are taken care of will give you the stability and confidence you need to move forward. You’ll find that your off hours are way more productive when you’re not obsessing about how the hell you’re going to pay your cell phone bill before they cut it off.

Find a mentor.
Look around and find someone who comes from where you come from and has gotten where you want to go. When I first started writing, I reached out to the two female Canadian writers who had managed to publish in New York. Over the years, I’ve conferred with them at times when I needed help with my game plan. If you don’t have access to someone you admire, don’t worry, you just don’t have access to them yet. Identify you who you want to talk to. Don’t limit yourself. If that person is Dr. Dre, it’s Dr. Dre. If you’re clear of purpose, you’ll find a way to get in contact with them. Keep up on what the person is doing, and find a way to approach them that doesn’t require a lot of time or energy from them. Just reach out, let them know you like their work. Wait a couple months, and then find another reason to contact them. Once they see that you are not going to demand much from them, they’ll be more amenable to fostering a relationship with you. Send them a track (or article) you’re proud of, but make it clear you’re just sharing with them, you don’t expect anything from them. Go to their city. Ask if you could drop by their office and introduce yourself. Don’t stay long. Over time, you will be able to build a relationship. At some point after you have established contact for some time, offer to work for free part-time for them. (This goes back to point #1. Unless you have rich parents, you won’t have the freedom to take this important step if you haven’t got a day job.) Mentoring is key, but remember that nobody is going to put you on but you.
If you don’t live in a hip-hop hub, move.
Seriously. I’ve watched so many Canadian rappers stick it out in this country, when we simply don’t have the music industry to support their careers. I imagine it’s the same in different regions of the States. Go where you are going to be around people who are doing what you’re doing. Go where the energy is, where the industry is, where the open mic nights are. Go where the money is.

Do the legwork.
Work as much as you can to get your name out there. If you write and you haven’t been able to get published, start a blog. If you write for a local newspaper and you want to go for nationals, send press clips and then follow up. Always call instead of emailing. Don’t sound pushy on the phone. If you rap, do a million mixtapes. Send them to all the people you’d like to work with. You never know, maybe someone will actually listen and get back to you. Get a website up. Foster relationships with the local press. Get some clips together. Send them to the rap mags. Email a journalist when you like something they’ve written. Always, always follow up with a thank you note if they give you coverage. Even if it’s negative. Any press is good press.

Set goals.
It’s not enough to work hard, you have to work smart. Figure out where you want to be a year from now, and then break your goal down into monthly and weekly action plans. More often than not, big accomplishments come from taking a bunch of small steps over time.

Dream big, but don’t be grandiose.
Know where you want to go. Pick a label you want to work with, or a magazine you want to write for. And then do anything and everything you can to go there. Be realistic about where you are. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

It’s not all about you.
Don’t spend all your time tooting your own horn. A little bit of interest in other people’s projects goes a long way. Take any opportunity you can to support other people’s dreams, to mentor younger artists/writers, to do volunteer work in your community. You get what you put out there.

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  • Sun Tzu

    Seriously, you post the realest shit on this website. I wish Bol would learn from you instead of the petty shit he always posts…but nice one, i enjoyed it.

  • ~L7~

    I agree with Sun Tzu’s comment.
    Thx for the pointers.
    Take Care.

  • EReal

    church Tara-Squad.

    Im still waitin for my Swollen Members post girl. You dont wanna rep the cats that just won the canadian grammy or w/e??

    1 hunned.


    All fucking true points I learned the hadr way over the years. Pay attention children! That lady speak FAX!


  • yeyo

    tigh, tight, tight work.

    “If you don’t have access to someone you admire, don’t worry, you just don’t have access to them yet.”

    i feel that. i come in contact with a bunch of people that are where i wanna be, but everyone just seems so busy or just don’t want to help. … can’t take that personally. surprisingly it’s the one’s you never expect that come through with some advice, feedback, etc (at least that’s been my experience so far).

    and as far as the legal day job.
    yeah, you need one of those. i got a few of those.

    good job, baby. keep it up.

  • che

    tara, what if you have the talent but simply lack the motivation?

  • that_one_guy

    Wow, I never knew Tara was so smart! This begs the question “Why are you blogging instead of launching careers?”

  • sk

    you still blog here

  • That Dude

    tara, what if you have the talent but simply lack the motivation?

    Well then you won’t succeed simply. You have to outhustle the people with less talent who grind nonstop to make up for their lack of talent.

  • BlackBoy

    now we’re back to normal around here…

    good shit.

  • hannah smith

    “If you rap, do a million mixtapes. Send them to all the people you’d like to work with.”

    Er, that’s the quickest way to get ignored these days…

  • EReal

    Trannah smith Says:

    April 4th, 2007 at 10:05 pm
    “If you rap, do a million mixtapes. Send them to all the people you’d like to work with.”

    Er, that’s the quickest way to get ignored these days…
    Really hows that you fatass piece of crap. You’re like a turd that wont flush.
    Hate Hate Hate Hate Hate Hate!!!!!!!
    and the Player Hater of the Year award goes toooo…..

    Hate Hate Hate Hate Hate!!!!!!

  • adam

    that was some real talk. that actually helps me alot. thanks

  • A-Town Hustle

    Good shit

  • FDS

    Great advice!!

  • Sin aka Sin Piff

    great advice, and it’s true most don’t know where to start and if you doing this in the entrepreneurial aspects of all areas such as myself and staff, it takes money to make money, so the day job is always essential, i mean u don’t wanna be locked up and have ya song finally “break”, this aint a movie.

    And really, it’s all about how you conduct yourself, if you doing it online, at least come across comprehensible, i mean even at times i still slip and will customize spellings of words and abridge them, but you have to understand, not everyone behind the PC in the music game is some dude from the streets who happened to luck up into legit gig.

    and yeah i myspace it, got alot of valued support as well as networks with a mutual interest of affairs. i mean being an artist also, i could put out plenty of material and flood shit out, but right now gotta pace that out in order to handle all the outside of the actual music things goin on, a few cross-trademarking class issues, to everything from gettin the copyrights str8 to even publishing/song registries to reap the benefits of the work involved.

    it’s a hassle and Noz’s blog was really on-point as well.

    My only advice is pick a strong angle, stay real with yourself, and treat others as you would like to be treated

    wild attracts attention, humbleness gains respect.


  • Mista23

    Nice post. As an aspiring writer I appreciate the tips.

  • Analogue

    Good post, I’ve only recently worked out that I’m going to need to keep hold of the day-job indefinitely and am now working to improve my position there as well as with my “creative” stuff.

    The link below is probably still my favourite piece I’ve done – my first ever interview.

    Just sharing… LOL

  • Dr Flav

    Excellent game that can be applied to many hustles. I would hope your tips would be spread around. Responsible blogigng perpetuating positive info useful to the sites readers.

  • Giangio

    hahaha Canadian MC’s have no chance

  • allnice

    Tara, your posts are always refreshing at the just the right time. I just want to add that Hip Hop is not the only path to success. I know cats don’t want to give up on their dreams, but I think that going to school and getting an education is much more important than just clutching the mike.

    In terms of hustling for dough instead of working a day job, I think that depends on the person. There are many ways to get your legal or somewhat legal hustle on without having to deal with jail or death. I don’t believe in working the 9-5 because I know I can make much more money in a shorter period of time, but other people like having a job in order to feel secure. Unless you can deal with pressure and deadlines, hustling and rapping is not for you. Good post.

  • EReal

    Giangio Says:

    April 5th, 2007 at 10:53 pm
    hahaha Canadian MC’s have no chance
    Uhm, you obviously havent ever heard of Swollen Members, they would lyrically hand your favorite rapper their ass, lil homie.

  • Miss J.

    As a person who has spent the past five years reaching goals and chasing dreams, it’s nice to read a post to remind me of where I am, where I’ve been, and where I plan to be. I didn’t need any added advice, but reassurance is always a plus.

  • render

    Uhm, you obviously havent ever heard of Swollen Members, they would lyrically hand your favorite rapper their ass, lil homie.

    lmfao… swollen members are straight garbage.

    word to the real though, keep spittin knowledge. Why is it the white canadian girl’s the realest cat on here?