Who is your competition?


Written by President Ella

“Yea, you’re definitely rapping tonight,” CJ said looking at the flier. I was set to hit the stage at Apache Cafe in Atlanta, Geiorgia and I genuinely had no idea what it would be like. It was my first time in Georgia and I was actually there for “Friendsgiving” at CJ’s but I try to  (selfishly) make the most out of situations. Before I hit the stage, I rarely have much to say, I just want to do it — and that is my greatest blessing. When I perform or make music, I do it because I want to — that’s my greatest curse. There’s nothing pushing me other than the feeling of being up on that stage. I don’t care if it’s a full room or one person; I’ll perform for you until we get tired of me.

This particular “show” was actually a competition and I only half knew that. It was definitely in the event details, but that was something I definitely unconsciously decided to overlook. While I invite the world to judge me, I care very little for the actual opinions of others. I question everyone’s credibility in judging art, because the best artists are either dead by the time they’re recognized, or are found dead in a dark room one day if they’re not. I don’t do anything I’m not good at (more than once) and I certainly don’t continue to do anything I don’t love. I’ll try new things, but I wouldn’t pursue something that doesn’t make me happy, especially if it doesn’t pay.

I’m not great at cyphers because I don’t freestyle; I’m a writer not a rapper, I yearn for paper and ink. I usually just pick a decent 16 to spit then I pass the mic. Other people recite an entire song, making it seem they can freestyle forever, and others actually freestyle. I prefer not to try to freestyle until I get the hang of it, otherwise, you just make the craft (and yourself) look amateur.  From my perspective, the cypher is a warm up. It lets you test the mic and gives the audience the first taste of you. Basically, everyone gets to see if you and/or the sound system sucks. The sound system at Apache definitely sucks (sorry). I’m no sound technician, but ALL of the speakers are in the front of the room so ALL of the sound blasts forward. You have to YELL to be heard. This is a reason, not an excuse — an artists needs to learn to compensate for shitty sound conditions; you’ve got to try your hardest to be great, even if they can’t hear you. But you have to make them hear you. 

                I think my performance was decent. I agree with the judges in that it wasn’t the appropriate song selection, but what I did, I did well. If I’m not dressed like a boy, they don’t want to hear me rhyme better than most men. I know the vulgarity offends them, even though they’re just curses. I don’t talk about my vagina much, but I do use curse words. From the perspective of my videos, you can’t see crowd reaction, but I think that the entire world has fucked up music by expecting a particular reaction: you should be drunk & dancing. The people were listening to me. No, they weren’t dancing or clapping, but that’s not what my rhymes called for — they were listening. I think that a poor performance is noticeable when the people in the crowd are having conversations amongst themselves or start looking at their phones. They weren’t doing that to me. Especially females in the crowd show me respect when I look them in the eyes. I connect with every person in the room, I promise you. I see them watching, I speak to them. I don’t (yet) make music you can dab or sway to, because I’m originally a poet. I LIVE for silence in the crowd. I appreciate people paying attention.

My issue is when people are only concerned about club music and radio play. I thought I was going to a cafe (but there wasn’t even any coffee). I thought people were there to listen. Still, the judges seemed to expect more of a club vibe. I make the kind of music they won’t be able to vibe to until they listen to it in private. I make car music, shit you listen and reflect to. I make the kind of music you put your lighters up to. I write the kind of rhymes you tattoo. I know that about myself, even if no one else does. I have other (nicer) songs, but I was asked to send in one track ahead of time. This is brilliant in helping the organizers of the event keep things on track, but it prevents me from switching up my set according to the crowd. Also, I was asked to send in one show track, so I sent the one I had best prepared; I only have one. I typically perform 10 minute sets, and this show was only 3 minutes. What this taught me is that I need a 3 minute set that combines songs, because when people hear one thing from you, they “single that out to be the meaning of what [you’re] about. And being I’m about my business,” I had to defend myself as they gave me “feedback”. 

I’ve never been good at taking constructive criticism. I also don’t criticize much because I don’t like to be judged. I’ve known that since every time I had a writing class where we had to exchange papers for peer review. The first comment I received was that my song was “dated”… but one can also say it sounds original, which was more of what I was going for.  It just depends on your personal desire. The song I performed, “Amendments”, is recorded on a beat created in the 90s. It’s also called  “Amendments” because the rhymes are inspired by BIG’s “10 Crack Commandments”; this is my presidential version. It was difficult to digest the feedback because the world often wonders where Hip Hop went, then when it’s given to you, you shun it. I also see the world as one big place, my fault. I forgot I was in Atlanta until the DJ was playing all southern rappers in his mixes between sets. I’m not a southern rapper and I can’t be. It was my first time in Atlanta.  I’m from the North and I’ve lived in New York City for 6 years now. Even though I’m not originally from New York, I’ve lived in some of it’s most thorough neighborhoods because of how comfortable I felt when I visited. I was also told to project my voice more so that the crowd could hear me… but when the judge asked the crowd, they said they could hear me just fine. I really think the judges were looking for a party, but I make people stick, I get them to quiet down and listen… that’s part of why I’m the President and proud of it, I can make people listen. 

I’m really proud of the outcome of this event. I’ve learned a lot in my short time on the scene. I didn’t win the bar exam, but I did pass the bar exam; my spot in the last round was given to a boy who wrote a song to his girlfriend and the crowd swayed to make him feel good about it… but he was trash in the last round (no disrespect, but real is real). I also stayed until the end instead of leaving like a sore loser & gave my business card to the judges and host (as if they didn’t know me, because I had already added them all on social media prior to the event) because I’m about my business. One of the comments they continuously made to performers (and which resounds for artists worldwide) is to exude confidence when you’re on the stage, so that people will believe you. My confidence is undeniable. “At a certain point you changed,” CJ told me. “What was that?” He agreed that my song choice could/should have been different, but since he’s seen me perform other songs & realized there was something else: I believe in myself and I don’t need anyone to sway with me. I don’t need applause or anything else. The feeling I felt midway was — This is real. I was on the stage and I could believe every single word I was rapping. When I talk about the gold around my neck, it’s gold around my neck. When I talk about what I drive, that’s actually what I drive. I have this immense pride when I’m on stage, behind a mic telling the truth and it only gets stronger as the beat goes on. 

 I think that what turns people off for me (in real life, not only on stage) is that I don’t need their approval or their help. Everyone wants to feel important, but they don’t want you to be more important than them. I don’t kiss ass, and I don’t plan to. I bow only to the crowd. I know what it feels like to flop on stage, and this was not a flop. Sometimes, people feel like they need to humble you. Given the opportunity, someone will say something simply because they have the opportunity to. I plan to perform this song the rest of my life (with a better sound system and a longer set time), and it will continue to be just as dated/original. This might seem like I’m responding negatively, but I just hate the idea of being judged off of one song. I hate the idea of being judged, period. I know now that, for performances, people want sing-songy bullshit even if they say they don’t. 

They say that to be the best, you have to believe it before anyone else. I believe I am my only competition. I have to work with myself to work around others; that’s why I was a writing minor and an advertising major — I knew that even if a product is good, you still have to convince people. I get stuck because I know the whole me and I expect people to see that. But they only know what I give them, and I can only give them as much as time allows. I used to be a poet, and I was trapped in that world — my poetry is almost always heavy and about politics. I haven’t been singing for long, so I don’t have many love songs (I think songs are for love & heartbreak). When I rhyme, it’s about the lights — its about the feeling on that stage and I always feel great on that stage and I’m not afraid to tell you about my whip and my chains. The greatest competition I have is fighting myself to not be upset at what people don’t recognize. It’s in continuing to support myself when no one else believes or when they pretend not to see my greatness. My biggest competition is never wavering from how great I see myself to be, even if my confidence offends someone else or makes them question themselves. My greatest battle is understanding that my fight is with the feelings other people have and not allowing those feelings to project on me. It was a decent show. I’ll be back. 

Just my thoughts… whatever I’m feeling at the time


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