“Why do you want to be a music writer?”
It’s a simple question — one I normally wouldn’t mind being asked and would love to talk about, unless the question was raised by my father. To a Lt. Colonel in the Army who built a career in the relatively lucrative field of engineering, the prospect of his son diving headfirst into an industry with bleak job prospects and an even bleaker salary outlook made little sense, especially since I’d excelled at math as a kid. Personalities such as Stephen A. Smith and Rich Eisen gave him a glimmer of hope when the dream was sports journalism, but as my priorities shifted from the gridiron to the grooves, successful examples he could refer to were virtually nonexistent in his eyes.
So when he posed the dreaded question once again near the end of 2017 on a long, two-hour drive from Thomasville to Cary, N.C., I wearily gave my rote answer that it was my passion and fit the type of career I was searching for. The mood was already gloomy, as we were in Thomasville to visit my grandmother, who was in declining condition and had just been moved to a nursing home.
We had both grown tired of his limited song library after spending too many hours in the car, and as we drove to Cary to exchange a North Carolina A&T (his alma mater) sweatshirt for one of a different size, he decided to hand me the aux cord for a breath of fresh air. Knowing his tastes in music, I mainly stuck to songs within the realm of funk and R&B, and tried to keep the number of grimaces at aggressive rap lyrics to a minimum.
Several songs in, however, the conversation began to take an unexpected turn. Instead of trying to nudge me toward an education in computer science, he started asking questions about the music, how I found the songs and what drew me to them. Instead of curtly repeating that covering the world of music was what I wanted to do with my life, I taught him about the art of sampling and showed how the technique kept previous generations of music alive, using the music of Anderson .Paak, one of my inspirations for pursuing the profession, as an example.
Soon, I learned another reason he didn’t want me to go into the music industry: Not only did he see it as less profitable, but he believed it was a dying art form. He didn’t hear any new, emerging talent carrying on the sounds he grew up with in the ’70s and ’80s, but only abrasive hip-hop that lacked the essence of what he thought music should sound like.
Jumping at the chance to prove him wrong, I pointed to many of my favorite artists from today who were creating music that harkened back to the styles of his childhood. Juxtaposing Chicago rapper Noname with legendary spoken word artist Gil Scott-Heron, and queueing songs from Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!” next to tracks from Virgin Ubiquity II by Roy Ayers, I saw his face light up as he relived memories with the song “I Am Your Mind.”
Money was often tight around the house when my father was growing up — a fact I’ve known for years. However, I hadn’t realized how much it had affected his mentality as he grew older and went off to school. Like me, he’d held a passion for music when he was growing up; he’d drummed on tables just as I did and watched one of his friends try his luck in a band. However, his number one priority was earning a reliable income, as he refused to spend his life worrying about how the bills were going to be paid. He’s enjoyed his career as an engineer but still regretted not chasing his dreams, something I refused to do in part because I was fortunate enough to grow up in a better financial situation than he did.
After listening to my music and my words for nearly four hours, however, he finally understood why I was so hellbent on charting my own career path. He admitted he didn’t know as much about my business as he knew about his own, but he trusted my knowledge and ability to make the right decisions, essentially giving me his blessing to pursue journalism for the first time.
Now, with that out of the way …
Welcome to the first edition of “To Pen a Butterfly,” a weekly column where I’ll be sharing personal stories and opinions on the music industry! Expect plenty of new artist recommendations, random anecdotes and never a bad word about legendary hip-hop rhyme savior Kendrick Lamar. Let’s get to it.
Why I’m smiling: November by SiR
Signed to Los Angeles-based record label TDE in January of 2017, SiR made waves as a name to watch in R&B, with his light, airy vocals creating tender moods on Her Too and Seven Sundays. He fulfills that potential on his new album November, combining neo-soul with silky grooves that ooze with Southern California sunshine. SiR wrestles with love in his lyrics, describing his relationships and lamenting missed opportunities on a cohesive album that’s just as impressive when played straight through as it is when split off into playlists.
Why I’m shaking my head: Yams Day 2018
The new year is finally here, and there’s still no place for violence at a concert, much less at a charity show dedicated to the memory of the Mob’s founding member, A$AP Yams. The night was cut short after a brawl broke out during A$AP Rocky’s performance, with rumors of gunshots and speculation that rapper 6ix9ine was involved in the melee. Police have since reported that no shots were fired in the venue; hopefully, the incident won’t impact the annual festival’s future.
Why I’m hopeful for the future: Culture II
T H A T W A Y. Quavo’s and Offset’s respective collaboration albums each carried a few gems, but overall didn’t quite live up to lofty expectations. This Saturday marks exactly 365 days since Migos gave the world Culture and subsequently stormed through 2017, and the Friday preceding the anniversary will see the release of the acclaimed album’s follow-up, Culture II. Expect to see another star-studded tracklist, and to hear the trio’s signature flow all year once again.
Kenan Draughorne is a junior majoring in journalism. He is also the lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “To Pen a Butterfly,” runs Mondays.