Growing up I was sort of embarrassed to be myself and stand out from the crowd. People who know me now probably think that’s crazy, based on the way I act, dress and carry myself sometimes, but it was tough for me when I was younger.
Things weren’t “cool” if everyone wasn’t doing them in my eyes. However, what I learned since then is that the variety of things that make you different from everyone else are what actually what make you cool and unique.
Ever since I was born music has been central throughout my entire life. My grandmother was an amazing piano player, whose musical passion rubbed off onto all of her children and grandchildren, including me. Unfortunately, I was unable to see how impactful that passion was on me until recently.
I began taking piano lessons from my grandmother in Kindergarten, and absolutely loved it at first. For some reason learning how to play came so easily to me, and I would love to spend hours learning new songs and challenging myself. I would sit down on the bench of the piano and zip through each song of my beginners book until I learned each song by memory, and thought it was so cool to be able to play a song with my eyes closed. To this day some of those songs are still ringing in my head. However, I began growing older and the music began getting harder.
As a result, I began growing further apart from my passion to learn and progress musically. I would look out the window from my family’s baby grand piano and see the other kids my age having fun outside, playing Wiffle ball or Horse, while I was told I needed to practice for at least an hour each day. It drove me insane! Why couldn’t I be like all the other kids and ride my razor scooter or play pickle? Why did I have to play this stupid instrument?
As a result, my frustrations continued to grow each time I was encouraged to practice, which eventually led to me telling my parents I wanted to stop playing. I don’t know what it was, whether I let others convince me that being good at something other than sports wasn’t cool, or if it was my own personal choice, but I decided that I was over-playing the piano. Little did I know how much I would learn to regret that decision.
Even though I had quit the piano, I gained more interest in playing jazz music on the saxophone. I liked jazz not only because it was fun for me as an artist, but I liked the idea that I could bring my friends to the shows who had no musical interest, and they’d have a great time. I also think it had something to do with the more creative and fun style that came with playing jazz, and I had the opportunity to improvise more and become a true artist. Improv is an important part of jazz where one composes melodies off the top of their head based on the chords and feel of a song, rather than relying on the notes of a score.
The audience and the rest of the band disappears and for a short period of time the spotlight is only on you and your imagination. It gave me the opportunity to become more creative each time I played, and gave me more confidence to try new things every time I picked up my horn, which was huge from an artist’s perspective. Later in high school one of my close friends who is an extremely talented artist and musician made a rap beat and sang the chorus, sort of just messing around at the time.
After hearing it I was inspired, and I wrote something down and texted him saying that I wrote him a verse to rap. Looking back, I now know why he probably offered me to rap it rather than him. My lyrics were awful. Brutally awful. It was, however, a huge step for me as to what was to come.
Going off to college I continued messing around with rap, and was able to link up with some pretty awesome people. I was able to meet my mentor Nastee, who taught me more about the industry in the first hour-long session I spent in the Cutting Room with him than I had learned in my entire life. Nastee was huge in stretching who I was as an artist, encouraging me to take risks and use some of my classical/jazz influences in my music. He reassured me that I had the tools I needed to do something with my music; I just needed to find myself as an artist.
With Nastee, I was also able to link up and collaborate with MIMS, a huge deal for me. For those who don’t follow rap music, MIMS was a major influence in the music I listened to, and is known for his hit/platinum records: “This Is Why I’m Hot’, “Move”, and “Like This”. My first contact with MIMS was through a rap club/group I had joined when I was still going to school at Hofstra. MIMS being from Long Island, showed up and gave advice to everyone who was aspiring to do something with their music.
When he was done talking, he gave everyone his email and told them if he liked anything he heard he would get back to us. At the time I had nothing that would even come close to grabbin
g MIMS’ attention, so I decided I’d keep working until I did.
After completing my freshman year at Hofstra, I made the decision that I was going to transfer to Providence College, based on many of the crazy visits I made during the previous year. Making the move from Hofstra to Providence didn’t stop me and Nastee from making music.
However, I would make weekend trips back to the city where we’d do vocal work, and Nastee would send me back mixes a few days later. I was able to become friends with a lot of people in Providence who were supportive of my music, and willing to help me when I needed it. On one of my trips to NY we were working on this one track I made but didn’t have any vocals for it yet. I didn’t have any verses, just this real rough chorus idea that was just two words: I’m Gone.
We spent some time coming up with what we could do to make it mesh better with the beat, and once we had a rough mix of the chorus I knew I was sending it to MIMS. When MIMs emailed me back saying he liked the sound and to email him when the verses were done, it’s almost embarrassing how excited I was. Eventually when the track was finished and we linked up to shoot the video, it was like I had known him for years. Me, MIMS, Nastee and a few of my friends vibed out and played each other our new records we’d been working on.
It was unreal hearing MIMS critique my music, however what he had to say was similar to Nastee’s advice: find yourself as an artist. He said he could hear something great in my music and that I hadn’t even found it yet. That I could become something really special if I were to sing a hook, rap a verse, then pick up my saxophone and improvise over the same beat in concert. Since then, I have already come a long way in a new approach to my own music.
If I’m not being myself and not putting out a unique sound, then I’m just copying others from the past and not providing any benefit to music. Since I quit taking piano lessons from my grandmother, I truly regret that decision and wish that she could’ve taught me more. But she and so many other people have helped me progress into a real, genuine artist, and I believe an authentic person as well. However, I know that it although it may not have been my grandma’s style, she would be proud of what I’ve done with what she did teach me.
My journey as a musician and artist has just begun, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me. It may be successful and a career, it may be a hobby that I carry with me for the rest of my life. However, no matter which circumstance and path I take, I know that I won’t let anyone besides myself affect my choices as an artist, musician, or person.