I'm constantly toiling with whether or not my music matters. Hell, I'm constantly toiling with whether or not art, in general, matters. But...it does. I just need to keep filling myself with inspiration to remind myself. I recently listened to a wonderful episode of Joe Rogan's podcast featuring Dr. Cornell West. One of his most pithy quotes from that appearance stated “This is why the arts are so crucial. Because it’s in the music and the arts where the breakdown of white supremacy begins to take place.” Over and over again, Dr. West gave specific examples of how artists free the souls of others with the magic of their craft and his sentiments really helped to keep me motivated. Another moment of clarity for me was reached when Dr. West was asked how he felt about the fact that despite his book, Race Matters (written ten years ago), we still haven't seen significant change with the issues he discussed. His response was simply that if only a handful of people were positively affected by his words, then he's been successful.
As artists we naturally want to reach people; and so many of us crave attention and positive reinforcement from people. We want to be successful! This is perfectly reasonable, especially if you want to use your craft to pay your bills. I just think that we have to be open to different measures of success and we have to remember how important one life is. If a song of mine inspires one child to make quality music or gives solace to one audience member, I’ve done my job. That's not to suggest that we should settle and not meet our own expectations for success, but we must always maintain a proper perspective and keep thankfulness in our hearts. Are you here to touch lives as an artist or are you here to buy a Bentley?
Inasmuch as I want and need to pay my bills, and inasmuch as I am seeking a certain degree of mainstream success, I've gotta remember the countless quality artists who have died penniless, yet transformed countless lives in positive ways. No...I ain’t finna die broke and homeless. We're supposed to learn from the mistakes of those who came before us, BUT we've gotta always remember what matters most. It's hard to think real art matters when you turn on the radio or go to YouTube to be swamped by a tsunami of soulless sound waves. But it's OUR job as artists to keep the wick burning, understanding that we do have the power to create change with quality art. On one hand, it's hard to stand out, but on the other hand we're totally free and can do so independently with modern technology.
We are the artists. We are the rebels. We are the courageous. We break rules and create miracles. We cannot become so frustrated that we quit and lose hope. If WE lose hope, who else will light up the world? If things get dark, it's OUR responsibility to be the light. The smallest of flames in the darkest of caves can be the ones that matter most. It's the tiny flicker of hope that cannot die because that tiny flame has the potential to become an explosion of inspiration for the world to see. If Nina Simone can do it. If Sam Cooke did it. If Robert Johnson and Ray Charkes and Stevie Wonder can work hard and cut through their struggles, SO CAN WE. The shoulders we stand on command that we press forward. If you're frustrated, that's fine. Sit with it...let it burn—and then work. Work your ass off and meet your own standards, and do not quit. Keep creating because the world needs your individual contribution, even if you don’t receive the blessing of knowing exactly what your role has been. In the grand scheme of things, rest assured that YOUR ART MATTERS.