Finding Inspiration in the Unknown

I’ll be honest. I had a lot of trouble figuring out what to write about. When I first created this blog post, I literally titled it, “Well What Now…?”, a title that I’m sure I’ll reuse in a month if I am still sitting in my pink polka-dotted childhood bedroom. I am lucky if I get up earlier than noon these days. I’m stuck, tired, and frustrated. Every day gets more exhausting than the last, and I honestly couldn’t tell how much time had gone by since my last post. Was it one week or two? What day was it today? Time has been blending together, and it is beyond uncomfortable. But for the artists who have used this time to create content for everyone else to enjoy, I am so very thankful. Because I know how hard it is right now. And because without you, I don’t know what I would do. Every day I go for a walk around my lake. It takes a bit of energy to convince myself to get up and do something, but the minute that I plug in my headphones and select shuffle on my Spotify is the minute that I can be transported away from all of the bullshit. I’m able to smile and enjoy the sweet bliss of some of my favorite songs, imagining I’m with my friends or at a fun bar.

As I was driving to Maryland and leaving my home in Philly, I was anxious beyond belief. I wasn’t sure when I was going to be able to return to my little one-bedroom apartment, a place that had been my home for the last two years. I was sad to pass all of the dimly lit stadiums, internalizing the severity of the situation. However, I had received a message on Instagram to go to D-Nice’s Instagram page because everyone was on his live video. I had seen something mentioned about it in the news the day before, so I played the video in the background. I could hear every celebrity being shouted out as they logged in, and for once I had something to be excited about. As I approached a traffic jam, putting me at a standstill I got a chance to read some of the comments. I called my parents to put it on as I saw mentions of each democratic candidate joining, from Elizabeth to Bernie to Joe. I saw other notorious celebrities that I had admired, remembering that they too were in the same position as all of us. I got excited by each different song, especially as he played songs by artists commenting on Instagram live. For once in a very long time, the country felt united. It felt like we had something to connect over, even if we couldn’t see or be with one another. When I finally pulled up to my parents’ house after a few hours of driving, I heard music playing all the way from the driveway. I walked in to crazy party lights, a drink made for me, and the Instagram live video playing through the BlueTooth speaker. They had managed to make their own little nightclub, something that a lot of people did to make the best of their weekends. As the week progressed, people actually got dressed up for these videos, popping bottles and calling their friends to all enjoy it together. 

D-Nice wasn’t the only DJ to take to Instagram live to share his talent. He actually had Questlove DJ the “official after-party”. Every night at a certain hour, Quest would slow it down with sensual R&B, mixing together both new and old school for everyone to enjoy. Diplo played sets as well, giving people more upbeat dance vibes, mixing together genres like EDM, dancehall, and pop. But it wasn’t just the famous DJs. All of my favorite DJs in Philadelphia from Ronnie who’s notorious for holding down Chinatown to Craig Dash who could be seen anywhere from Johnny Brenda’s to Vesper to Musho who now has a residency at the Blind Barber have hopped on for sets at least once, making me feel as though I was back at the clubs with them except I didn’t have to pay for booze and I could opt for slippers instead of high heels. I could dance and be silly, or just sit and vibe. The DJs can all receive CashApp tips as a way of supporting them and their talent and in exchange, you have amazing entertainment from the comfort of your home.

As tours and shows are being canceled, performing artists have also turned to Instagram and other social media platforms to perform live concerts from their homes. Just the other day, I received a text from my best friend that we would have been at The Fillmore had things been different. But of course, that very night I got a notification that that very artist was hosting an Instagram live concert. It’s different to watch people perform like this rather than in a crowded venue because I notice that although I’m not able to feed off of the energy of a crowd, I get a much more intimate experience. However, it does make me wonder if this makes it more difficult for the artist to perform or if they feel more relaxed. It must be comforting in a sense, being able to perform in pajamas with only your loved ones around rather than having to dance around a giant stage with a full face of makeup or multiple layers under heavy spotlights. Sometimes you can even just see the artists log onto Instagram Live to listen to some of their favorite tracks with their fans, and it is so pleasantly humanizing. As strange as these times are, especially as people keep relating it to an episode of Black Mirror or the apocalypse, it really makes me thankful for just how much technology has advanced so that we can see the arts flourish in a time where they are also taking a really heavy hit.

Other artists have lightened up the mood by creating Quarantine-themed music. One of the first artists to gain a lot of traction was Detroit parody rapper Gmac Cash with the song “Coronavirus”, even complete with a music video featuring the rapper with a facemask. The best part about these songs that are coming out? They are actually all encouraging people to stay home and to practice good hygiene. No matter the approach, profanity, hook, or beat, the music is actually serving a purpose besides entertainment. Another Detroit artist, Curtis Roach, created a Tik-Tok featuring a super simple beat and lyrics titled “Bored In The House”, repeating what we are literally all feeling: that he’s “bored in the house” and “in the house bored”. With over a million reposts, Tyga actually hopped on to complete the track with the artist from the comfort of their own homes. And yes, I will finally admit it to the world because I have no dignity to lose at this point. Tyga is my guilty pleasure. We all have one. Don’t judge me. Curtis Roach also created the song “The Rona (Wash Yo Fuckin’ Hands)” which I don’t really think I need to go into detail about because it’s quite self-explanatory. But not every artist took a comedic route. In fact, some artists have created absolute BANGERS that make me feel some type of way because while I want to laugh at the content, it really is still amazing art. As I touched on in my last post, Hip Hop and Its Amazing Ability to Heal, tragedy in the United States has inspired some iconic music, and I don’t think this moment will be any different. One of my favorite products to come out of what’s happening is Psych’s “Spreadin'”. The 18-year old South London rapper used an intense beat and tone to create a PSA, pleading for people not to touch him and opt for other forms of greetings rather than handshakes and hugs. He relates his own skills to that of the virus, emphasizing just how quickly this epidemic is spreading. He also uses the song to criticize the current British administration, a common theme we’ve seen among some of the most influential songs during times of hardship. 

A friend of mine, Catalyst Bars, who I had met a few years ago, used the time to create a four-song EP titled Stay Home. With the song inspired by the current quarantine, we can relate to each song title alone such as “Six Feet”, “Corona Corona”, “Feel Myself”, and “Stay Home”. “Six Feet” was first released as a single, and honestly was pretty cute! It had a fun beat with an incredibly catchy hook as he uses the song to tell his girl to keep six feet away from him, something that we can relate to as we’re all getting more lonely and more tempted to see those that we miss, only to be reminded of the severity of breaking those rules. He even uses it to criticize those who ignored the rules to party, a cynically comedic issue that the US continues to face. He also uses the song to inspire a bit of hope as he sings that he wants people to take the time to reach out to their families. Frankly, this is a song I would totally want to hear at a club. It has everything to be a fun party song, while still having an incredibly important message based off of current events. “Corona Corona” took more of a heavy-hitting approach, as he raps with a more urgent tone, outlining what exactly he’s doing throughout the quarantine and how he’s staying safe. “Feel Myself” does a great job of reflecting on what exactly we’re feeling during the quarantine, in both a glorified and realistic way. It’s able to get into our heads and put into words what exactly it is that we’re doing and how we’re coping with everything. “Stay Home” with features the artist Alexi, has a much more solemn mood, criticizing the political climate of the situation, specifically how the rich are continuing to profit from everything while the rest of the US is suffering and stressing out about how they will continue to survive during this. He also uses the song to remind people to stay home, because that’s how we will help this slow down a bit. Despite the whole EP having a fun approach, it doesn’t take away from its artistic merit and even manages to outline key points during this whole epidemic.

“The project started because my friend Alexi contacted me and said he had some time and wanted to work on some new tunes. I went over to his house and recorded ‘Feel Myself’ and that snowballed into the rest of the tracks eventually leading us to the conclusion that we should turn this into a small project. The inspiration for the art itself was quite easy during this time because there’s so much to talk about and bouncing ideas with another artist makes it so much easier. It’s been much more difficult being motivated to work on new music being home by myself all the time but when I was working with Alexi it was easy.

It’s very rare to have a moment in history where we are all going through something together so I just wanted to speak from the heart, knowing it would be so instantly relateable to everyone else. My hope is that this project would bring people joy during this time. I wanted to remind people that they aren’t alone and that we are all in this together. When you’re spending so much time at home by yourself it can be easy to forget that. I wanted to make people laugh, think, and feel when they listen to this EP. The overall message through is a reminder that we need to be unselfish at this time and stay home and avoid going out and interacting with others as much as possible.

A few people have contacted me saying it was insensitive to make songs about the coronavirus, but when there is an elephant in the room I will address it. This is what I am going through in my life and this is what we are all going through so for me there wasn’t really much of an inspiration at the moment to make songs about anything else.”

–Catalyst Bars

If I’m being honest, though, it’s been the string of new Run the Jewels music that has kept me going. DJ Premier has not disappointed, not that that’s a surprise, but damn. This shit hypes me up, with “Ooh LA LA” really getting me going. Every time I hear it, I can’t help but get excited at just how hard it is. It’s catchy and melodic, making you nod your head along to the beat. Hearing those record scratches at the end remind me of just how much I fucking love hip-hop and its ability to take me to a new place, especially because the songs have absolutely nothing to do with the quarantine. Sometimes you just want to be able to escape and not have to be reminded every five minutes of what is happening, which is especially difficult when you’re refreshing your social media all the time only to see posts about the daunting virus circulating around the world. The heavy percussion in “Yankee and the Brave” is exhilarating, making the listener really feel invincible. And that’s a really good feeling when you’ve never felt so helpless before. We were also blessed with two new songs from the deluxe version of Mac Miller’s Circles, titled “Floating” and “Right”. Both songs have a much more melancholy tone to match the rest of the album, although the production and arrangement to “Right” are breathtakingly refreshing. Both had me cuddled up with a glass of wine reflecting on everything that was occurring while still making me feel pleasantly at home and comfortable with the isolation, even if just for a few minutes. As I’ve mentioned before, I have struggled a lot with listening to Mac’s music after his death, especially his posthumous releases. But as of lately, they have provided me with comfort, and both of the most recent releases, especially “Right”, have helped me a lot with coping because despite him not being here to experience what is happening, the lyrics just really really worked to keep me at peace. Masego also released “King’s Rant”, an incredibly empowering anthem about one’s self-worth with gorgeous horns that really contribute to the glorious imagery of royalty. I think it’s pretty fun when artists name drop in their music, especially as Masego uses the song to show the praise that he has rightfully deserved from some of his idols as evidence for his bold claim. The song is mystical and transformative, crossing multiple genres while showcasing his amazing voice. 

The new track “From A Distance” by Markis Precise and Talib Kweli is a fresh take on Markis Precise and Chuuwee’s “For Heaven’s Sake”. It comments on the current social state of the country while touching on politics, which of course is no surprise from the outspoken Talib. I wasn’t able to find online if the title of the track was inspired by the current Quarantine, but if not then that is quite the coincidence. Talib’s music always manages to uplift my spirits, so I was very happy to see that he released a new single. Similarly, I’ve related to a lot of my favorite songs in new ways because of current events. For instance, “Thoughts In Mind” by Apollo Brown, Chris Orrick, and Magestik Legend talks about changing unhealthy habits to cope with trying times, opting for meditation and healthy eating rather than drinking. This is probably what I should be doing, but unfortunately, wine is making everything a bit more fun. I love this song because they talk about how finding internal peace feels as though they’re performing at concerts, equating their music to that same solitude which is so prevalent at the moment. My friend M11son, who I mentioned in my last post, has a beautiful song titled “By Myself”, which features a hypnotic tone resonating with a lot of what I feel internally. This song means a lot to me personally, because it talks about struggling to be comfortable alone while also stressing the importance of finding that comfort with one’s self. He also reiterates that even when we feel alone, we still have others there for us, which is something we need to remember as we have so many people to reach out to in these times of isolation by dialing a phone number or sending a text message. Kid Cudi’s “Solo Dolo” also touched on the loneliness that I’d been feeling, especially when I had been completely alone in my apartment in Philadelphia. I wasn’t scared of the emptiness, but some moments were harder than others and yet some were actually almost therapeutic. Frank Ocean’s “Solo” really helped with those moments that I actually embraced the solitude, playing it loud on my speakers as I danced around my small little home, disinfecting every space in a large t-shirt. Kendrick Lamar’s “Cartoons and Cereal” has transported me back in time, making me feel like a kid during summer break whose friends all went away on trips, leaving me to try and pass this time on my own. I tried to look at Mos Def’s “Oh No” and Beanie Sigel’s “Get That Dough” for inspiration to find other sources of income (not that I was looking to be a drug dealer, I’d be a pretty shitty one; just needed some ideas) after losing my job with all of this mess, but unfortunately, my lack of motivation was a bit more overpowering. Of course, other people have taken a more comedic approach on this as well, adding Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair”, Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” and “Antisocial”, Destiny’s Child’s “Lose My Breath”, Future’s “Mask Off” and many others to poke more literal fun at the whole situation.

I’m so very thankful for every artist that is using their time to create art and share it with the world. I know how difficult it has been for me to create and find inspiration. And I know that for others it is their way of coping, and I really envy those like that. But if you can push through, and even if you can’t, just know that I applaud you. And I understand. I must say, whether for themselves or for the happiness of others, I am seeing more and more art on my timeline. My friends that are usually weighed down by jobs funding their music careers can focus their full attention on their art as ways of de-stressing and it’s amazing. And I’m so proud of every single person in my life. You are strong, and we will prevail and overcome this even if we aren’t feeling it in this very moment. Remember: “there is a light, that shines, special for you and me.” ♥

As always, you have the playlist of all of the songs listed below. Share with your friends to give them something to smile about and make sure you follow the blog to get notifications for everything to come. The other posts can be found in the top right corner, just below this, and the homepage so catch up if you haven’t already!

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