“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so intense.”

That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it’s the truth I received from my wife a few weeks ago. We were driving home on Interstate 78 in New Jersey, reflecting on my conversation with Beleaf Melanin after the Dream Junkies show at William Paterson University.

“You really talked down about yourself.”

Well, welcome to me. I can riddle this page with excuses about the lack of sleep I got the night before the show, but there’s no evidence on this planet to prove my words that night were any different from my usual thoughts about myself. The only evidence one could offer would likely confirm my low self-esteem.

As I gushed to Beleaf about how much his work on the Beleaf in Fatherhood series meant to me (and this site), I had a hard time plugging my own writing. My wife eventually butted in and told him about this series. Am I ever thankful for her.

Boy, you are something special and you got a gift, you better believe in yourself

Those are the opening lines of “Black Sugar,” the second track on Beleaf’s debut album, Red Pills + Black Sugar. I’ve grappled with finding a way to say that those words are similar to what’s been said to me. I don’t want to sound conceited about my writing, especially because I fear that you’ll be scratching your head in bewilderment, thinking my writing is anything but special. That bout of insecurity is a perfect microcosm of my experience as a writer.

Throughout my life, I’ve failed to understand how or why God would use me to do anything. This is mostly attributed to my lukewarm faith and indifference toward knowing God more deeply. It really came to a head during my fight with depression after college. My idea of a perfect world included my calling and vocation being one in the same. You know how they tell you in college that’s not usually the case? They’re right, and they probably live through it the same way that you will.

I kept applying for jobs that I thought would fill the chasms where my sense of purpose should be. God closed all of those doors and left that chasm open. I was beyond frustrated, but with all of my health issues and financial distresses, I eventually realized that I just needed to find any job. Watching the people I graduated with make something of their lives while I sat at home, unwilling to get out of bed, was a waste of God’s many gifts.

They’re developing careers and I’m getting to know the Jesus
Still had no idea one day He would call me out of the bleachers

My personal bleachers have been jobs that have offered Nancy and I just enough money to get by. Or at least that’s what I’ve always considered to be my bleachers. I wrote a while back about how this site is something God has steered me toward and encouraged me to create. It turns out that my bleachers were my growing faith and understanding. Sadly, I sat on those excuses (“I don’t know God that well yet” or “I’m struggling with sins, so I can’t offer any help”) long after I should have been out on the field myself.

One of my favorite interviews I’ve ever seen is one of Louisiana rapper Dee-1 on SiriusXM’s Sway in the Morning. Dee-1 has a penchant for telling God’s truth in his interviews, and that particular conversation moved me in ways I’m still trying to comprehend. Throughout it, he talked about his struggles with depression, understanding God’s calling, and his habit of blocking his own blessings. He specifically cited an opportunity he had to participate in a BET cypher. Leading up to it, he couldn’t come up with the lines he felt he needed to say in order to make people happy. Dee-1 wound up depressed about the end result of his part of the cypher even though other people were impressed by his performance.

His words echoed my own experiences. I’ve spent a lot of time getting in my own way, and more specifically, getting in God’s way. I yearn so badly to be a part of His Kingdom, but I find far too many excuses to avoid it.

A few weeks ago, I posed a rhetorical question to the rest of the staff here at Imperfect Collective. I asked if they thought the internet was a help or a hindrance to creativity. I’ve been reading a lot about social media and other mediated forms of communication, and I had asked myself that question on a personal level, as well. My conclusion was that the pervasiveness of social media in my own life had a negative effect on my creativity and productivity, notably regarding this site.

Further than that, though, was a reminder that the issue holding up my creativity is me, not the internet. Through Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and the like, I follow and absorb only the information I want to and only the people or organizations I agree with. My scope of the world, while able to be much larger than ever before, is frighteningly narrow. I rarely challenge my own beliefs or view others opinions with a truly open mind. That’s easy to blame on the culture of constant-connectivity, but it’s the same thing that happens outside of those mediated contexts. When I was in school, I hung out with people who were of the same views. At work, my deepest conversations are on things which the other person and I see similarly. So what’s the constant in those situations? Me.

Absorbing only stuff I already believe (or is at the very least predicated on things I already believe) quickly becomes a waste of time. How can I ever grow if I only ever stick to the corner of things I’m comfortable with? And how will I ever understand that there is value to my thoughts if everything I think or say is merely an echo to everyone around me?

Toward the end of “Black Sugar,” Beleaf confidently blurts out, “I am Black Sugar, that’s me!” That line is short and understated, but carries a lot more meaning than just six quick words. In the context of the album, it’s a powerful message of confidence in the identity that God has blessed him with. It’s an excellent ending to the verbalization of the struggle to find God’s plan for yourself. It’s taken me a long time to grasp the concept of placing my self-confidence in God. God trusts me to be a part of His plan. That’s no small thing. If he has confidence in me to do what He asks, then I should have that same confidence.

Going back to that interview with Dee-1, he mentioned that he was trying to please others when writing his part of the BET cypher. All too often, I make that same mistake in my writing. He mentioned that it took him much longer to write his bars than it normally would. I had to laugh as I re-watched that interview today because I have been working on this post for around a month, and nothing had really come of it until tonight, when I finally prayed and asked God to work through me in these words. Funny enough, I scrapped most of what I had already come up with, and 1200 words later, here we are. Just as I’ve always known, God’s using me for something.


Just a quick note on that Dee-1 interview: This past week, he was featured on Sway in the Morning‘s live broadcast from SXSW in Austin, TX. After performing a couple of his songs, Dee-1 told everyone in attendance that the interview I mentioned above changed his life. He admitted to everyone in attendance that he had been contemplating suicide, and Sway’s words to him about having a higher purpose gave him new hope.

Note #2: Beleaf and his group Dream Junkies put out a new album, Good Religion, last month. Pick it up on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, or grab a physical copy straight from Kings Dream Entertainment.

6 thoughts on “Depth of Hip Hop, Part Two: “Black Sugar””

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