As a five year old in 1987, my heroes were my father, Mr. T and Run DMC. Naturally, the coolest among them were Run, Jam Master Jay, and DMC. My big sister Dara would run to get me any time MTV and BET played one of their videos. At that age, Run DMC’s “Walk this Way” video featuring Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith was the closest I could get to a rap concert. Their performance during the “Walk this Way” video captured my imagination, mind, and heart. I felt then, as I do now, that witnessing an epic rap performance is one of the greatest loves of all.
As a hip-hop fan I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced great shows: Jay-Z, at the height of his success from “Big Pimping”, with Joe Louis Arena rapping every lyric with him, KRS-One at the Pyramid Club in NYC–where the basement floor shook from the crowd jumping throughout “South Bronx” and “Step into the World”–and Big Daddy Kane at the Shelter, where he passed the microphone to me and Finale to rap along with him for “Warm it up Kane”. Those performances stand out amongst the commercially successful hip-hop artists I’ve seen, but my favorite performers all are artists based in Detroit. Proof (RIP) was the best performer I’ve ever seen. He selected my favorite acts to join him on his Iron Fist record label: Kaunn, Supa Emcee, and the Woof Pac (Moe Dirdee, Hostyle, and J-Kidd). Leaf Erickson, Nick Speed, Jigsaw & the SSP, Quest McCody, Phat Kat, Danny Brown, and Royce 5’9 are all great acts to see perform, and they’ve been kept on their toes by a roster of hungry young acts that are amazing: Royce Fann, Early Mac, Clear Soul Forces, Milla Boy, Steven B the Great, and Kafre.
Personally, I’ve challenged myself over time to be able to perform with any band, any music, and in any venue. It’s been a journey of highs and lows. My best performances are when I prepare myself to share my joy and creativity through hip-hop with an audience. To achieve my goal of reaching an experiential performance, I’ve developed a process. As I prepare for my performance tonight with Alex White and the Family (a jazz band led by drummer Alex White, featuring bassist Ben Rolston, pianist Michael Jellick, and saxophonist Rafael Statin), I will share this process with you.
Tonight I’ll be performing at the Jam Handy in Detroit’s New Center District (2900 E. Grand BLVD Detroit, MI 48202 between I-75 and Woodward at 8PM).
So as I prepare for my Mind Fusion performance with Alex White and the Family, I welcome you into my process of readying myself for a rap show:
8:00 AM – Wake Up and Rap Along:
Rap music utilizes a variety of ways to deliver, annunciate, and slur words. I find rapping along with Notorious BIG and/or Ice Cube strengthens my abilities more than most. This morning I’ll rap along with “Victory”, “Everyday Struggle”, and “Respect”, performed by the Notorious BIG.
9:00AM – Breathe Easy Tea:
I like to drink a cup of “Breathe Easy Tea” to open my diaphragm. I’ve found this really adds to the mix of tonality I can use while performing.
10:00 AM – Man in the Mirror:
Next, I’ll freestyle to the bathroom mirror for 10 – 15 minutes non-stop (freestyle rap is the improvisational style of performing hip-hop vocals). Performing in front of a mirror is the best practice to create an awareness of the words, gestures, and demeanor I carry during my performance. I believe this is the most important step to prepare for any show!
11:00 AM – Miles to Run:
That being done, I’ll head to the Olympic track at Northwestern HS (where I graduated class of 2001), on Detroit’s Westside and run two miles. The cardio helps build my endurance to complete a show with the same spirit in which I begin.
12:00PM – Power Lifting:
Bench press, curl, push-ups, chin-ups, and pull-ups all are great exercises that keep my heart rate active and deliver better results from my two mile run.
1:00PM – Rock Em’ Sock Em’:
Along with weights, my home gym has a heavy bag and a speed bag. I find the heavy bag to be a great way to calm down my thought process and focus in physically. Resting my mind builds my confidence and spirit to perform.
2:00PM – Reading is FUNdamental:
Reading after going rounds with my heavy bag is a form of mediation for me. It’s one of the best ways I relax to be prepared for whatever I could face in life. Currently I’m reading Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel. It’s a biography about the life of Dr. Seuss, born Ted Giesel. I enjoy autobiographies and biographies most for pleasure reading. It helps me to relate to the life’s journey of people I am interested in. Dr. Seuss developed an ability to deliver poignant messages to people of all ages with only a few easily understood words. I find that to be one of the most skillful talents anyone can develop, so I am enamored with Dr. Seuss.
3:00PM – Power Nap:
A power nap of 20 – 30 minutes finally closes out the calm before my show.
4:00PM – Listen to my Love:
Having refreshed my mind, I’ll play my music and listen. I listen for the errors and improvisations. The process of recording music is an art form of many steps. During the process of creating the lyrics in mind, writing the lyrics to paper, recording the lyrics, and mixing the music, much of the original intentions change. As the author of my words, I try to rewind this process to the inception of the song and grab that spirit. As part of my process to make my performances as experiential as possible, I think of the audience, venue, and microphone as an incubator. In order to hatch something that’s great, I must be in the spirit of the creation, and not the result. For this show, I’ll listen to my songs “Old School Chevy” & “I Oh My” from my 2009 album release Notes of an Artist and Activist (both songs are available on i-Tunes and Amazon, visit the sites and add to your song catalog and give me some money).
5:00PM – Make Notes:
Now focused, I’ll jot down a series of notes to start lyrics, speak with the audience, and have fun.
6:00PM – Look Good, Feel Good, All Good:
Hall of Fame NFL Cornerback Deion Sanders was one of my childhood idols. Following his career was easy. His charismatic attitude engaged me. Years ago he stated before games he’d lay out his uniform, football gear, and accessories on the locker room floor before all big games. I loved the concept and have followed suit for my wardrobe before every big performance I have.
7:00PM – Mic Check One Two … One Two:
Arrive at the Jam Handy for a quick sound check.
8:00PM – It’s Showtime!!!