NaBloPoMo Day 4 — Grown People Music — What I’ve Learned from JAY Z’s 4:44

Though I’ve listened to plenty of rap since buying my first boombox in ’97, I’ve rarely heard anything representing me. Sure, it’s largely Black music, but from a different narrative than my life altogether. Middle-class. Raised in a two-parent home. Private school education, married with kids—nothing you’d want to hear about in the club. And though I found some kinship in Childish Gambino’s “Not Going Back” and  Drake’s “You & The 6”, the struggle of growing up Black while lacking enough Blackness for your peers only reflects part of my identity. There’s so much more to my life!

But life is full of surprises. You never know who’s going to create the work that speaks to your soul, and a former hustler from New York’s Marcy Projects would be the last person I’d expect to understand me, but with his thirteenth album 4:44, I can tell you for a fact that JAY Z gets it. With topics like legacy, family and the constant pursuit of excellence, it’s an album speaking to everything I’m trying to build with my efforts here at the blog!

Let’s dive a little deeper.

The Life and Times of Casey Palmer: An Elegy for Mediocrity

Y’all ain’t interested in writing anything great.

The name of the game is mediocrity. Mediocre blogs that don’t share anything worth reading; people who skip birthdays for mediocre events; mediocre personalities, expectations and lives. No one’s striving for anything amazing anymore.

And it boggles my mind—everything’s literally within reach, but when people find out how much work it takes to build a personal brand and cultivate it to the point where people actually want to read what you write, they just give up. They rather spend time telling you it “must be nice” than to build anything meaningful for themselves, letting themselves fail before they’ve really given anything a shot—and I can’t go for that.

I stopped listening to the haters a long time ago—no more of the people who thought I was “setting myself up for disappointment” when they hear my lofty dreams or peers willing to create content that was simply “good enough”; I’ve spent many years getting to know myself, and can tell you that if I don’t keep pushing to get better with every piece I put out, I may as well quit now, ‘cuz I know I won’t make it through.

But I get it—I get that some people only got in this hustle to get their money and go, not overly concerned about what they leave behind as long as they get their cheque. That there’s a literal army of bloggers who don’t give two cares about standing out, long as there’s a shortcut or two to feed their bottom line.

But there’s no cheat sheet that’ll tell you how to reach the top of the heap. No membership guide that’ll tell you when you’ve “made it”, and the perks you can expect at each stage of the game. This is something you need to build for yourself, doing it because it fuels you, pumping through your veins—those who’ve come out looking for an easy payday quickly realize this grind demands more than most are willing to give, and it’s the few who know they need more than money from it all who’ll still be here in the end.

Which is why I’m losing my mind trying to get back on my horse after what feels like an eternity spent without a solid blog post out.

Before heading out on a 10-day trip to Mexico to see my sister-in-law get married in a little place called Tequesquitengo, I could feel it creeping in on me from all sides—a heap of sponsored content that wasn’t going to write itself; plenty of action with the 9-5 that needed handling before I took the time off; and a very comprehensive to-do list that wasn’t going away without doing what I needed to do as a Dad and doing right by my family. It’s easy enough to call yourself a blogger—slap a few words together, add a few photos and call it a day—but putting out content that’ll do any better than the stuff you’d find in a local community newsletter is a full-time gig unto itself.

It’s a struggle, though—I’ve spent countless hours trying to find myself: working past the sponsored posts to examine some deeply rooted parts of my soul—my ever-changing life as a father, trying to do the best I can for my children without sacrificing the things that make me who I am. Further studies into life as a Black man in one of the most diverse cities on the face of the planet. I’ve been so caught up in the hustle that I’ve failed to feed my soul, and that’s something that’ll need changing if I don’t want to get reacquainted with burnout.

But knowing what I want to write and doing it justice are two different things—have I led the kind of life that makes me qualified to discuss any of it? Can I write the kind of stuff that’ll matter years down the road, or am I chasing an ideal I’ll never manage to touch, stuff that’s no better than any of my peers?

This is what keeps me up at night—knowing how badly I want to reach my potential, but not knowing if I’ll ever get there. Though I’ve written long enough and hard enough to be confident that my work can do great things, I still can’t convince myself it has what it takes to change lives. Or that it can do any more than simply take up digital space and do any better than the uninspired memes and uninformed opinions that already constantly plague us.

I sit here, and I’ve yet to be convinced that my work can outlast me.

And that’s what it really comes down to—I want so badly to create classics that the pressure I put on myself sometimes halts me in my steps… but we all know there’s only one way I’m going to reach my goal, and that’s to keep on writing.

So that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Be Mediocre if You Want—But Remember; Hard Work ALWAYS Pays Off.

These moments where self-doubt takes hold and I start questioning whether I’ll actually manage to make something valuable from my efforts, I have to remind myself of the things I’ve accomplished already, and how I would’ve called it quits a long time ago if I listened to everyone telling me what they thought I couldn’t do. That I couldn’t be successful if I strayed from the safe path—that a stable job, good family and debt-free existence were as far as my dreams should go. That I couldn’t exceed my life’s station—that a life without trust funds, Ivy League schools and family connections could only take me so far, and that I should leave greatness for those better equipped for it… it’s simply not meant for a lowly commoner like myself. Sure—I look at my peers who show up on the scene more often; the ones travelling across the globe and going to the hottest events… and while it’s obvious to me that this would’ve been easier when I was younger and childless, you don’t just quit because something gets harder.

You just get better at it and figure out what works for you.

So I hope you didn’t miss me too much, but the boy is back—you can only let a cloud hang overhead for so long before it’s time to get yourself together and move on; when it feels like the world’s trying to hold you back, that’s when you shine your boots, stand tall, and remind it that ain’t nobody got time for that.

But the hustle continues and I’ve still a million and one other things that I could be doing, so I’m gonna get back to it. If you made it this far down the post, kudos to you, and I’ll tell you this—if the 2016 we’ve seen so far is any indication of things to come, we’ve still got a very interesting year ahead of us!

Thanks for continuing to check the blog out and until the next,

–case p.

The 2K11 24/7 CXXVIII: Defining Your Legacy

Damn. My brain is beat. Every time I try to write an entry, nothing but drivel comes out. I guess it’s one of those things where I’m almost inclined to take my own advice – if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, maybe you should be doing something else. But on the other side of this, we also don’t want to be quitters – without truly knowing how things will turn out, we try to assure ourselves that we did everything within our power to ensure the best possible outcome. Sometimes the things we do will be more work than they are fun, but so what? No pain, no gain, right?It boggles my mind when I think of the people who’ve been blogging for 10+ years and wonder how they’ve done it. How they’ve stuck with it for so long. How they keep coming up with NEW MATERIAL. You’ll rarely get to where you want to be overnight, and even when you do, the time you spend on your pedestal will be fleeting because you didn’t work to get there. I think in some ways, I’d love to establish my own legacy, but I don’t know which of the random ideas in my head I should be working on to take me there.

Legacy. That’s a good thing to talk about. What will YOUR legacy be? What will you do in your lifetime that will be remembered for years to come?

I hope to find my answer amidst all the data, sketches, notes and scribbles I’ve surrounded myself with year after year. Almost like the cliché image of the puzzle pieces scattered without a box for reference. There’s SOMETHING there, even if you can’t see it and you don’t know what it looks like at first.

So while I keep shuffling through these papers and sorting out what my life will look like down the road, indulge me. Tell me what makes you tick and what your endgame is. And if you don’t know, why not? Never thought about it, or are you like me and have so much going on that you just can’t sort it out?

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Looking forward to hearing what’s on your mind!
–Casey E. Palmer
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