I’ve been a hip-hop head for a lot longer than I’ve been a writer, ever since Mom let me buy Jay-Z’s Dynasty album back in 2000. Hip-hop gets a bad rap sometimes, but I love it. It’s raw, it’s passionate and believe it or not, it teaches me fundamental lessons I apply to writing.
The first lesson is having confidence in my artistry and myself.
Hip-hop is all about self-promotion. In every track, an artist is telling you how great his lyrics are, how fly he is, how tough he is, how intelligent he is, and so on. Some people see that as egocentric. I see that as having confidence, or as its commonly referred to in hip-hop circles –- swag. In the hip-hop world, swag is the way you dress, walk and talk. In the literary world, I’d liken it to the confidence you have in your writing and yourself as a writer.
You have to be confident to be a writer. Confident that your words are important enough for people to read. Confident to push past boundaries and write about controversial topics. Confident enough to not care about the negative things people might say once you do so. You also have to be confident in yourself. You have to believe that you will be a great writer one day. People are always going to tell you that you write well and you’ll always get good grades on essays, but if you don’t actually believe it yourself, it’ll never happen.
The second lesson I’ve taken away from hip-hop music is that I have to hustle to get what I want. Hustling is the ambition and drive to do anything that will acquire money and or fame for oneself, and for a hip-hop artist, it’s crucial.
In most cases, hip-hop artists start at the bottom. Their whole act usually originates from a nickname they had in high school and some verses scribbled in a notebook. They record cheap mixtapes in basements over mediocre beats and copy as many as they can, passing them around to friends, radio stations and anyone else who’ll listen. In New York City, you’ll notice these dudes in train stations and on Times Square, telling tourists about the great opportunity to listen to the next great unsigned hype for five bucks.
After a while, the artists develop a little buzz. People start checking out there myspace page, and they may even play a few shows. Then the ball keeps rolling, and once they get a break, be it a hit single or collabo, they are in the light. Throughout that whole process though, the artist is hustling. They are recording songs, handing out mixtapes, booking shows, doing interviews and anything else you can think of to get their name out there.
I truly believe that to be a successful writer, you have to take that same approach. You gotta hustle. Like hip-hop artists, writers have content –– stories. We have to craft them, make them good, and once that part is done, we have to get them out there. An easy way is through social networks. Facebook notes. Put up your stories and poems, let your friends read them when they’re bored and procrastinating and get their feedback. From there you move on to blogs, or websites. I’ve seen a few cool ones myself that I plan to model my own (coming very soon) after. When you have a site set up with a few of your poems or short stories, you can create a facebook fan page and direct people to that site to bring in more traffic.
In the meantime, while your buzz builds, stay writing. Write for websites like this one, if you’re in college, write for the campus newspaper or a literary magazine –– even if you don’t think it’s for you. Just getting a byline out there helps people know that you are a writer, and in the end, that’s the point of all your work anyway. Having people know you’re a writer, even if they might personally think you suck, opens doors for jobs, internships and is also a key marketing tool –– word of mouth.
So what’s the moral for aspiring writers? Listen to hip-hop. Develop your swag, and stay on your hustle. You probably won’t be reading to sold-out arenas or taking champagne bubble baths in the future, but if you work hard enough and believe in yourself, you’ll end up doing what you love and being successful at it.