One semester, I took a music class on Hip-Hop History when I was still taking general ed classes at Skyline College. We learned about the origins of hip-hop, how it came to be, and who were the ones to pave the way for future rappers. It was a really interesting class, so much so that it didn’t feel like the typical college course – dragged out and boring. We watched music videos and listened to a lot of artists I didn’t even know existed.
It’s crazy to say, given I felt like my college experience was so fucking long, but college just seems like highlights now when I look back. Of course, I remember what it was like doing the day to day things that got me to where I am today, but for the most part, my college days could be summed up by core memories from particular stages. Sitting in the back of my hip-hop class that day was definitely a core memory moment. I forgot what the lesson was even about that day, but my professor’s response was something that stuck with me. In the middle of the lecture, a guy in my classes raised his hand. I didn’t bother to look who was talking.
I don’t remember his exact question, but it was something along the lines of, “How do I get my work noticed?”
To which my professor asked, “What do you do?”
“I…I rap,” he said sheepishly.
Now, before that reply, I didn’t really care what was being asked or what the professor’s answer was. If I had to guess, I was probably looking at the clock, patiently waiting for class to end, or trippin’ about what I had to do after, or thinking about what I was going to eat for lunch, or dreading the 1 hour bus ride back home. But when I heard, “I rap,” my head turned so fast to the left of me to try to identify said rapper.
My eyes finally found the culprit. From what I remember – and just a reminder that this was probably 6 years ago, if not more – he was a very thin white guy, probably no taller than 5’3, with glasses, mustache goatee facial hair going on, and may or may not have had a beanie on. If “…” was a scenario, it would be this one. Not to be rude or in any way funny – he just didn’t look like the type to rap, or even listen to hip-hop for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a good chance that he was good at rapping, he just didn’t seem like the type. My classmates were probably thinking the same thing, hence the momentary silence in the room.
The professor took a moment, pondering on how to reply, her eyebrows lowered, as if in deep thought. I was at the edge of my seat – was she going to rip this poor rapper to shreds, ask him to play one of his songs, or give encouraging advice? “Well, do the people around you know what you do? Do the people in your hood know about your music?” She said not verbatim.
“…No…” He said lacking self-confidence.
“Well how do you expect other people to know you’re a rapper when the people in your area don’t even know?” She said matter of fact. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, promote yourself, pass out your CD’s on the street, let people know what you do.”
Again, these were not the words verbatim, but it was the gist. And that shit hit me hard, as if Miley Cyrus came in with her wrecking ball and all. The rapper shook his head smiling, embarrassedly taking the advice. It seemed that he had an “Ah-hah” moment and was probably thinking, “Well shit, she’s right, I’m not promoting myself.”
I used to feel really cringe back in the day when I would try to promote my early writing on social media. I would overthink that nobody cared, they probably thought my posts were annoying, and people would soon unfollow if all I posted were writing posts. To be honest, maybe there were some truths to what I was thinking. But I came to terms with knowing that what I choose to post is not for everyone, and not everyone will be into it, and that’s okay.
Especially for creatives, promoting yourself to the public can seem awkward, intimidating, and at times overbearing. But if you’re not going to promote yourself, how do you expect others to? In this day and age, the saying, “Closed mouths don’t get fed,” has never been more true. The fact of the matter is, if you’re not claiming your craft on social media, real life, and to those that know you, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
What my professor said that day really stuck with me, and it was her advice to Mr. Rapper that continues to keep me unapologetically promoting myself time after time again. Because it’s true – how do you expect other people to know what you do if you’re not the one promoting yourself? How do you expect to reach a larger audience when the people in your hood don’t even know what you do? How can people discover your work when you’re not even putting yourself publicly out there? Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to promote your work, it all starts with you.