I love the NFL. Not “paint my face and yell obscenities in the freezing cold with my shirt off” love it, but you know... I’m black, and we don’t do that (unless we’re in Oakland). A few Sundays ago, I had the privilege to witness the post-game speech from Chuck Pagano.
For those who don’t follow the NFL, Chuck Pagano is the first year head coach of the Indianapolis Colts who was diagnosed with Leukemia, and was on a leave of absence from the team to get chemotherapy. The previous year, the team went 2-14, and this year, at the halfway point, they’re already 5-3. For whatever reason, today he decided to join the team and made an impassioned soliloquy after a win over the Miami Dolphins that I felt blessed and honored to have had the opportunity to listen to during a highlight reel.
The part that had me at hello (Jerry Maguire reference) was at the beginning:
“I mentioned before the game that you guys were living in a vision, and that you weren’t living in circumstances. Cause you know where they had us in the beginning. Every last one of them, but you refused to live in circumstances. You decided consciously as a team and a family to live in a vision. And that’s why you bring things home like you brought home today. That’s why you’re already champions, and well on your way....”
It brought me to tears, and inspired me to think about my life.
By the beginning of 2005, I was a beast. I’d just dropped my first solo project, “Sometimes You Gotta Stand Alone,” and was touring like a mad man. In the process, I discovered that it was easier to book a tour when it had a title to it, so I created “The Bring Your ‘A’ Game Tour Series.” I touted it as the fastest growing Indie Hip Hop Tour in the country, which may or may not have been true.
Twice a year, I (along with my compadres, Evaready RAW and DJ Metrognome) would load up in the car and travel from city to city rocking crowds. For over two years, it was great. It was more than great. Then 2008 arrived, and the bottom fell out.
Here’s what happened:
Lori (now my wife) and I, after working together for almost a year, became a couple. Then shortly after our declaration for one another, I left our job for what I perceived to be a better opportunity only to be told after a month and a half that the company was closing...so I was unemployed. Also, we found out Lori was pregnant with my second child, Jemal. On top of that, my documentary, “Dot It!: A Documentary” (look it up on Amazon) was set to drop. The real kicker happened when the economy reset (or so they would have liked us to think).
People were losing jobs, and settling for shitty underpaying ones. Pensions were being reevaluated because companies couldn’t afford to keep paying them out. 401K’s were diminishing in value because the stock market was down. Homes were being foreclosed on. Our entire financial system was going through the ringer. What did that mean for me?...No shows, and the ones that were there were for 50%-70% less than before.
See ,you have to understand something: We as entertainers are an accessory to people’s lives, meaning that we are a nonessential component in the everyday world of the average person. Our music may nourish the soul, but, last I checked, the body needs food and drink. If someone had the choice of feeding their family, keeping their house and car, and paying bills I would hope that they’d have chosen that over a show or CD featuring their favorite artist named Quanstar.
Luckily (or unluckily if you were me), they did so.
So where I went next was to that familiar place that we all go to at one time or another...“Doing what I gotta do.” What I had to do is get some money, and to get money I got another job that wasn’t as flexible as the one that Lori and I had. It didn’t even pay as much. So my situation was the same as before.
Still, I kept the faith...or did I?
During this tumultuous year, I released “Do It!: A Documentary” and got it screened at several colleges around the country; however, I didn’t have enough funds to actually travel there with the movie. I had planned to rent out a local independent theatre to screen the film, but it costs money. Not much, but more than I had (which was none). I didn’t even have the funds to enter it into many film festivals.
Why was money so low?
I would like to blame it on my shitty job, but, to tell the truth, my jobs never paid my bills. They were basically there for healthcare for myself and Jr (my oldest son), and to be that financial stopgap when I’m not on the road; however, the bulk of my bills, daycare for Jr, and rent was basically paid for through me performing. I’d all but stopped doing that.
Why did I stop performing?
Simply put, I was gun shy.
Here’s the truth about being an indie artist...it’s a hard lifestyle, especially the way I chose to handle my career. I:
I performed these tasks on three to four hours sleep while maintaining full time employment. I loved every minute of it though, because I was in charge of my destiny. All I had to do was stay the course and be patient. I hit bumps. I ran into walls. So what? I got up, dusted myself off, and kept it moving. If rent got into the way of the studio or funding my tour, rent had to wait. Then came kids.
Already grinding harder than most in my position, when my first son was born I’d bestowed so much pressure onto myself to succeed that I don’t know how I functioned properly. I’d made it my mission to show him that a man could do anything he chose, as long as he was willing to commit to it. So I recorded more songs, booked more tours, and slept even less.
I was so intense and intent on achieving all of my life’s visions that I stopped enjoying being an artist as much. I became almost completely task oriented. I’d give myself four months to book a tour, six months to drop an album, etc. This in itself wasn’t a bad thing, but every time one those tasks didn’t pan out I found myself feeling like I let down my son.
In ‘08, that feeling had become a daily thing. The economy had me in a fucked up situation. Then when Lori became pregnant, the pressure doubled. I’d never been so depressed and scared. Rather than coming to bed I’d stay up all night working, often times falling asleep at the computer or while writing a song. My migraines became so frequent that I’d go through a bottle of Excedrin in a couple of weeks. I was up to 3 or 4 pots of coffee a day, and as a direct result from the combination of the medicine, coffee, and the stress that I put on myself I started throwing up blood.
No money coming in from music, bad health, a second kid on the way, and depression. It became too much to deal with so I shut down. Well maybe not shut down, but I stopped taking chances. In the past, if my transportation and stay was supplied, I was there. I would depend on my hustle to pay the bills. I’d stay up all night, walk the streets, and flirt and talk to whoever I needed to in order to sell those CD’s. I’d sell them for $10, $7, $5, $3, and sometimes even $2. I didn’t care. My objective was to get rid of all of my inventory, and come home with whatever I needed to pay my bills.
Most of the time it worked like a charm, but not all the time. It was that “not all of the time” that had me hesitant. There were points, no matter how hard I hustled, where I’d come home with empty pockets to bills on their last notice, frantically calling around to borrow money to cover my losses. With the economy the way it was, I’d trembled at the thought of those few moments turning into a trend. I felt that I had too much to lose to allow this to happen. So I decided to rethink my situation and come up with a new strategy, a better strategy.
I spent weeks redeveloping my plan to not rely on the slumping touring market. I thought and wrote. Reevaluated and reconfigured until I came up with something that helped bring more balance. Thankfully, by the time Jemal was born I felt I did that, and over the last four years, I am proud to say that I’d been working hard to make that plan a reality.
I’ve released four albums, authored a book, and begun designing Android Apps for other artists. It was still a complete failure. I have yet to recapture all of the success that I’d experienced before the economy reset of 2008 because I took the most vital part of my marketing plan out of my repertoire...touring.
Nothing that I could come up with would replace the face to face interaction or pure showmanship of a Quanstar performance. I couldn’t inspire a person’s purchasing impulses. I couldn’t sit down and have a shot with them while talking to them about buying my new album. I couldn’t listen to them tell me about the first hip hop album they ever bought or concert they went to. I didn’t give them the opportunity to tell me about the artists they would love to see me on tour with, or who they reminded me of. In short, I allowed my circumstances to dictate my vision and give it a complete makeover.
I made myself believe it was for my own good, but was it really? Even though I was receiving royalty checks and doing one off dates (shows that are booked one date a time for the layman) I still don’t make much more money, my health is still pretty bad, I don’t sleep much, and the pressure of raising sons (now 3) often feels like I’m carrying a 2 ton weight.
So after deep contemplation and weighing all of the pros and cons it pains to come to the revelation that it’s time to hang it up. I’ve decided to retire. I’m done! I want to spend my remaining years on this earth enjoying it.
I hope ya’ll don’t believe that shit!
See you in 2013 because I’m back on the touring grind. “It’s about damn time!” (In my Lebron James voice).
About four weeks ago, my fiance Janale Harris, whom most of you know as Quanster, called me from his job and asked me in a desperate, miserable voice if he could quit. It’s all too much, he said. This is killing me, he said. I can’t do it anymore, he explained.
I’d been watching the proof of his words for months. His job was indeed stripping away from him all the things he needed in order to be a happy and fulfilled person - for this man, that means, more than anything, time. Time to spend with his kids, time to spend with me, and time to work on his passion - his music and all the components to his massive, multi faceted creation that is First Team Music.
So, while my stomach dropped and my mouth went dry, and rapid flashbacks buzzed through my mind of the past four years - the struggles we have endured, the stress of not having enough money, of not knowing how we would pay rent or buy food or keep the power on or get the car out of the shop or get home on the bus for that matter - without even a second’s hesitation I said, “Okay.”
I guess I could say I’d seen it coming, which is true, but more so than that, to be in love with someone who dreams big dreams such as his means that you have to get used to taking risks and lending what I have come to think of as blind support. Not blind in that I am oblivious or blissfully ignorant to what the risks entail...but simply blind to the negativity that would strip us both of our faith in ourselves and each other and would truly be the downfall of everything.
Most people who achieve great success in anything will tell you they couldn’t have done it without the support and love of so and so. We as humans thrive on each other, on having someone to lean on. But with that said I think it’s incredibly difficult and even rare to be the one giving that “blind support.” It means taking leaps of faith almost daily. It means taking that thing which is so important in any relationship, trust, to a whole other level, and placing your future in your other’s hands and abilities.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to sit back and simply “trust the universe.” I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t absolutely panicking inside as my husband to be leaves a semi-well-paying job that stressed him out and allowed no time for his business or his family for an absolute shit-paying-job that offers a lot of flexibility and room to grow. The only thing that comforts me enough to be able to sleep some nights is knowing that I have my own opportunities and resources to help us get by until Quanstar’s kingdom is finished being built. Which it will be.
And that’s just it...there is no doubt in my mind that Janale Harris will one day achieve it all, whatever that means. The world will know his message and his gifts, and we will never want for a tank of gas or the rent or a simple trip to the beach again. Maybe that’s what drives me so faithfully and quickly to my place of support when he needs it. Or maybe it’s just that I love him and I want him to be happy, and I hate to see him miserable and hurting because he isn’t pouring his heart into what he needs to be doing. Probably, it’s a mixture of both.
So yes, I told him to quit his job. Yes, I told him we would figure it out. Yes, I wrangled the kids and house that week in between his jobs as much as I could so he could devote as much time as possible to getting all of his projects that had been dumped to the wayside in the past several months back on track. Yes, I am still scared to death, but one month later, I see how much happier and...vibrant he is. The life is back in his eyes because he’s able to do what he loves to do, what he was born to do. He has stuff popping off in every direction. His book is out, something four years in the making...his app designs are perfected, his website done, the laundry is for once all folded and put away (that’s his only household job and it is NEVER done ;). Men!). I couldn’t resist throwing that last one in there.
I hope I’m not coming across as some golden shining martyr here because I’m not...believe me, over the years we’ve argued and I’ve had moments of resentment. I’ve had moments of intense panic, and acted like a big baby, and sometimes even now I wonder if I have some type of post traumatic stress syndrome because I get anxiety so quickly if we get a month behind on a bill or get a little carried away and spend too much at Target. Or when the check engine light on the car comes on, oh my GOD. I’ve wanted to tell him to go get a “real” job so that we could stop struggling. But then I wake up and realize that would kill his spirit and destroy the very thing that I love most about him - that drive to success and achievement that fuels him at all costs.
So, blindly supporting someone’s dreams is not easy. It’s not glorious. It’s not for the faint of heart. But...it’s necessary. If you’re going to be with a dreamer, you have to be with them 100%. And by the way, he absolutely would do (and has done) the same for me. When I wanted to spend the last of our savings on some jewelry that I “knew” would sell a couple of years ago, he didn’t even blink. When I decided to climb the ladder at my job and do whatever it took to get there as quickly as possible, he stayed up all night helping me make glazed orange rinds to go with the perfect coffee pairing to impress the higher ups. It does need to go both ways. (And yes - that jewelry sold AND made a fast profit, and I got to where I wanted to be at my job in less than a year. And I owe a LOT to Janale’s blind support and faith in me.)
Support is like a catalyst. It can be that final motivator that kicks you into high gear to get things accomplished. You want to prove to that person that they are not believing in a pipe dream. Human beings need that supportive shoulder. We need to know someone is on our side and has our back no matter what, no matter the risk, especially when we’re up against impossible odds.
To my Quanstar, I say, we’ve come this far...we’ve already endured a lot. Eventually your efforts will pay off, and I fully expect a belated honeymoon in Madagascar or Paris or Morocco or all three, and my house with a yard. Until then, I blindly support you and your endeavors and do all I can to make sure you know your hard work and dedication and drive WILL pay off.
In the meantime, I’ll go make you a pitcher of iced coffee because I know that when you get home tonight at midnight from your minimum wage job, you will be burning the midnight oil working on First Team Music and nurturing all of your many projects that you currently have in motion while I and our sons sleep. I am so proud of you.
Then I’ll leave the dishes for you because tomorrow is Mother’s Day, after all. See? Support : Give and take. :)
The last quarter of 2009 was rough. I had to cancel the sixth installment of the "Bring Your 'A' Game Tour" because funding fell through, I hit writer's block with my book, I hadn't been back into the lab to finish recording, a promoter cheated me out of $800, and the IRS hit me for $1800 in back taxes. On top of that, digital distribution royalties had completely dried up because I hadn't dropped a new album in almost two years. Adding all of these things up with the fact that I have a family to take care of had me more stressed than usual and running out of answers. Then I was hit with a sudden ray of sunshine.
I do most of my brainstorming, working, and relaxing in the wee hours of the night when the average person is asleep, partying, or on a booty call. This particular night, I'd been contemplating my next moves, and had begun dumbing down my marketing plan for the next album when Lori, on her way out the door at 5 am to work, walked up to me, gave me my customary goodbye kiss, then said something totally unexpected:
"Babe, I just want you to know that I believe in you 100%", not the unexpected part, by the way. "I want you to know that I have your back no matter what. I know that you haven't been taking risks like you used to because of our family, and it has stalled you and your career. We need to do whatever we need to do this year to get you back to, and passed, where you were. I won't get scared of bills being paid late. I know you already have your plan for the year. Let me know what you need from me and how much we're going to spend, then let's make it happen."
Then she walked out of the door. I was speechless; not about the have my back thing. She's always had that. I was, more or less, shocked at the fact that she went so far as to say that she wasn't worried about the bills. Lori stresses if a bill is late; as a matter of fact, we have gotten into more than a few arguments over me not caring if a utility bill is paid on the exact day that the bill says. To me, the due date is the cut off day; anything before that is fair game.
So to have her say that was equivalent to having a Black president, thought to be impossible until it happened. I went to sleep shortly after, then woke up a few hours later to get Jr and Jemal ready for breakfast. I'd already shrugged off what Lori had said. "She was probably still half asleep or something", I thought.
When she got back home I asked her if she remembered what she told this morning.
"Yes I do, and I meant it. I believe in you, and I know you're going to do great things. Times are hard right now, but I know the only way that we can get out of these hard times is to take some risks".
"Where did all of this come from?" I inquisitioned.
"I read your last article. The quote from Warren Buffet made me think".
She was referring to the last article I had written for 2009, "Long Term Investment," which was inspired by a CNBC townhall meeting with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates at the Cornell School of Business. The quote that Mr Buffet had made was, "If you wait to see a robin, you're too late because it's Spring already."
"I realized that if we wait until the time is right to do a lot of these things, then we will never get them."
That day we sat down to talk about the marketing plan, and about what I needed financially and in woman power to accomplish all of my goals for 2010, and we've been at it ever since. I've finished recording Underdog, and set a release date for it (shameless plug: July 23rd, 2010). I have two other albums completely written. I'm shooting videos for the singles, "Mr Blue Collar" and "Heard It All Before" which features Akil The MC of Jurassic 5. I, along with Lori, am actively working this marketing plan with new vigor. It's almost as if the last three months of 2009 never existed.
I would like to say that I manned up and picked myself up from the canvas like Rocky and started throwing hay makers. The truth is that I would be lying to myself. I stepped back in the ring because I was injected with the steroid called support from my family.
Support doesn't come easy though, especially for those in the entertainment business. It's mainly for these reasons:
These are strong points against going into the music business, and why my family and friends were not sold on my dream of being the greatest and most successful rapper that ever lived. From the outside looking into my head, to bet my life on making it in a business that is as crooked and lopsided as music is stupid at best. I was determined to do it and do it right.
However, I soon realized that I couldn't do it alone. The pitfalls, locked doors, and glass ceilings of the music industry almost demanded the need of a cheering section in order to keep performing at a high level. More times than not, I have been picked up by encouraging words from people that are close to me when I've been in an industry induced funk.
I had to work hard to get them to that point, and here are some of the ways I did it:
Quanstar is an American underground hip hop artist, indie filmmaker, comic creator, and self published author from Atlanta.