New Interview! How Rapper/Producer Zilla Rocca does life…10 / 17 / 2017
HOW TO DO LIFE
This idea came to me in a meditation. I am constantly trying to find the magical work/life balance formula particularly when it comes to musicians. I find us to be the most interesting case study because We are all juggling a tremendous amount of tasks, are intensely emotional AND most of us hustling a full time job or multiple streams of income in order to feed ourselves invest in our art. Basically we’re (very tired) superhero- hustlers.
It’s nearly impossible to do everything well at the same time while also maintaining a personal life and a self care practice. That being said, from the outside looking in, I have a few friends who “do life” pretty well and I want to know how they do it so I can share it with YOU!
Case Study: Zilla Rocca
I chose my friend Zilla Rocca as my first interview subject because he was the one who inspired this very series! I’m constantly in awe of his ability to consistently create and release (high quality) content, whether it’s dope music (he’s an mc AND producer) or articles (so many articles!) AND he’s a new dad, happy husband, practicing buddhist AND has a full time job.
This brief chat I had with Zilla is full of wisdom and amazing life hacks. I definitely was onto something when I asked him to do this with me!
CC: Hey Zilla! What are your slashes?
ZR: I think about this a lot – we are living in a world of slashes because no one can survive doing one thing anymore. There’s even people on LinkedIn where they’re byline is “Educator/Director/Dream Inspirer/Freelance Cook/Videographer”. It’s pretty silly. I long for the days when Raekwon said his occupation was “Crazy Rhyming”. He wasn’t driving an Uber too. My slashes by default then are husband/father/rapper/producer/writer.
CC: How many hours of sleep do you get on average?
ZR: I learned years ago how important rest is, something that’s really taboo in the world of entertainment, and rap specifically. I get 6-8 hours of sleep every night because I’m an adult and that’s what I need to be good. Years ago, I remember thinking I wasn’t grinding enough, not doing enough, and purposefully made myself do music and my day job on exactly 4 hours of sleep. That was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done because you physically can’t be your best. We all get tricked by Puffy and Kanye and that idea of “grinding while you haters are sleeping!” that somehow sleeping was a sign of weakness and laziness. Those guys are just freaks. I had a rap friend who passed away prematurely talk about that on his hospital bed, how the life of an artist isn’t thought to be one of good health because then it makes you feel like you’re losing your spot to someone else. He was barely over 30 years old. I also think it’s about time management – you should have a system in place that helps you accomplish things while still sleeping like a normal human being.
CC: Where have you had to financially cut corners in order to invest in your career?
ZR: 2016 year was the first year since 2004 where I didn’t directly invest in my career. I had to lose out on the normal adult things people use their money to accomplish – vacations, getting out of debt, buying a house, investing in stocks, etc for 12 years straight. I’ve lost a lot of money doing rap music and I’m paying for those decisions right now. But it’s ok – it lets me know realistically what I do that will make me money versus losing me money, so I make my choices around that now. That means I do less stuff in the public’s eye, but whatever I’m doing isn’t going to hurt my pockets. The only thing I will knowingly lose money for is something that’s just really cool or an experience I wanted to cross off my bucket list. I’ve lost less money since I’ve made those determinations and stuck with them, whereas in the past I thought I needed to be doing everything (paying for merch, paying for my own studio, paying to tour, paying for videos, paying a publicist, etc)
CC: What do you think you’ve sacrificed the most in order to make time for your priorities?
ZR: At this stage in my life, I’ve sacrificed doing rap everyday. From 2005-2016 I did rap almost every single day in some fashion, whether it was making beats, recording, performing, sending out emails to promoters or bloggers, hanging out at shows, etc. I just have less time as an adult with a family and a job to be ciphering outside a show for an hour. But my lack of time lets me trust my instincts and my past workload so that when it’s time to turn the rap machine on, I won’t be this old dusty cornball who is out of touch. I still listen to tons of music, I still give advice to fellow artists when asked, but my rap muscles aren’t as strong as they once were. And I’m ok with that because I’ve been rapping for almost 20 years and I know myself now, so i just do stuff that hide my weaknesses and maximizes my strengths. I’m like my own Gregg Popovich.
CC: What takes top spot on your priorities list?
ZR: My family is obviously #1 now – I like being a husband and a dad more than I ever liked being an artist. When I first started dating my wife, I had just turned 30 and realized she was the first person I wanted to spend time with by far over writing/recording/performing. She made it easy for me to transition to this place I’m in now with our son. Before that, all women came second to music because that’s what I thought would help me make it (more foolishness from Puffy).
Number two is myself – eating right, going to the gym, having a spiritual purpose. I’ve been a practicing Buddhist since 2011 and it really helped me calm down and be ok with letting go of things. It’s been harder to keep up my practice but the work I put it in before have kept me sane — I now have the tools to navigate stressful situations. That was a big decision as well, because back then I made that time a hard lined thing – no one could book me, or have me rap in person anytime I had a class at the Buddhist center. Everything in my life was off limits during that set time each week. It’s important to do that and say no to things in order to put your well being first.
CC: How do you make decisions based on those priorities? I assume you say no to a lot more now that you’re a parent?
ZR: Yeah I only say yes to things that 1) are exciting or interesting 2) will make me money or not cost me anything and 3) can be done on a date that doesn’t conflict with family. I just had to turn down a show because it was the same day as a wedding. Other times, I’ve turned down shows because there’s other family stuff scheduled (lots and lots of kids birthday parties, I’ll tell you). In the past, I’d be afraid that if I said no to things, nothing would come next. But now I know that I’ve worked hard for a long time, I’ve made music I consider to be not-wack, and have developed enough respectful relationships with awesome people literally around the world that more unexpected stuff will come to me in the future…and it usually does. It just takes longer, but I’m more patient now and occupied with other things, so I’m more grateful when people think of me now. When I was rapping all the time, I expected all of this shit all of the time and was pretty annoyed or angry when it didn’t happen.
CC: What’s your definition of self care and what does it look like in your life?
ZR: I’ve touched on this a few times already because I’m long winded and don’t look ahead on email questions so I apologize for being redundant here. After applying myself so much to music, all day and night, for years and years, my life wasn’t balanced. I was a shitty person because rap was my only refuge, but rap also doesn’t attract the most wizened people who have all their issues sorted out. I saw a therapist when I was 25, and then off and on for a few more years. That was a great experience. But that didn’t feel the void, plus it was expensive. So in 2011 I went to a meditation event a Buddhist center near my house and my entire life changed after that. Everything the teacher said about suffering was my life to the “T” at that time. So I became a student of the practice, just like becoming a student of rap, and started spending time around people who had the same intentions, except they didn’t know who DJ Premier was. Now I try to meditate a few times a week just to keep that balance up. I listen to buddhist podcasts, but I also read a lot about leadership, about parenting, about history, about politics. I also eat better solely because of my wife and have lost over 30lbs the past 2 years. My wife takes self care very seriously too so she keeps me inspired.
CC: What keeps you up at night?
ZR: Nothing – I’m up everyday at 5:30a and completely crash every night around 10-10:30pm. I spend about 2 hours a day commuting. And I love sleeping so the only thing that would keep me up at night is if I ate something that gave me wild heartburn, like a pepperoni pizza with buffalo wings and beer.
CC: What keeps you from throwing in the towel on this (very challenging!) music career thing?
ZR: Just being more grateful about things I wouldn’t quantify as success when I was younger. The reason I know you, or Curly Castro, or Small Pro, or Elucid, or Blockhead, or Blueprint or anyone else I’ve befriended over the years is because one day, as very young people, we all chose to love this and do it for real. I don’t care anymore about blog coverage, or how many people are on my mailing list, or how old I’m getting in relation to where my career should have been compared to someone else. I just really enjoy things unrelated to that. One thing I absolutely love is coming to New York now literally just to hear billy woods speak. His actual voice, his phrasing, his stories and observations are completely opposite to me but they’re so damn funny and brilliant! There’s no other reason in the world someone like him would be friends with someone like me without rap music! Dude is a brilliant writer from Africa and I worked at a pizza place in South Philly for 15 years and we text each other about sports or argue about Nas. When i was 25 I would have hated on him because he gets press at outlets that never cover me – think about how stupid that is. But now I get to be friends with him forever.
CC: What do you think were some of your biggest time/money/energy wasters from when you were starting out in your career? How do you do things differently now?
ZR: I wasted time plotting and planning everything. A plan is just a list of things that won’t happen. It’s good to be organized – i’ve always been extremely hard working, professional and organized because I like structure. But in music, almost no one is like that. That administrative mind wouldn’t be there along with “rapping off the dome with ease”. I wasted so much time reading and studying other people who were successful and trying to take pieces of what they did to replicate it. That was a waste because whatever they did only worked one time ever…just for them. Now I just trust my instincts and my confidence to complete things and align with people who will do what I want. I also wasted so much money mailing out CDs and shit to defunct labels/promoters/booking agents. I wasted money being in producer conferences to hobknob with industry people. I wasted energy surrounding myself with highly toxic people who honestly didn’t like the same shit I did — if I love Edan and you love Beanie Sigel, it’s probably not a good match.
CC: What are some of your get-shit-done and stay sane life hacks?
ZR: There’s no real trick I have besides being disciplined. And that comes earlier in your life. I’ve never met more lazy people in my life until I started doing rap heavily. I grew up around people that all worked 40-80 hours a week, that started businesses, that had multiple jobs. And that’s how I was because that’s all I knew. One of my closest friends works high up the ladder in the music industry now and said the same thing: “All of these motherfuckers do is smoke weed, bum around the studio, and steal other people’s ideas. They’re lazy as shit.” Everything I’ve accomplished in my life was born out of grinding it out, day after day, year after year. I’m willing to do that. I’ve cleaned toilets, lifted furniture, cut meat, delivered packages. I was working 2-3 jobs all through college. And now I write for websites while I write my next album while I work a dayjob and have a family. The multi-tasking has been an everyday thing forever so it’s easy for me to handle a big workload. Other people just can’t do that in music because they can’t do that for themselves in their daily lives. None of us indie artists really get credit for our work ethic.
CC: Is there a question I haven’t asked you that you’d like to answer that pertains to how you do life?
ZR: Ok I just thought of a trick – it’s like how doctors do triage in the ER. They break down every situation in 3: Now, Delay, Avoid.
Now–something that needs immediate attention
Delay–something that should be handled but isn’t pressing
Avoid–something that might be resolved on its own or isn’t worth your time at the moment
I really do life this way. Most shit falls under “Delay” – getting a new toilet for my spare bathroom (not incredibly urgent but should be done), picking up protein powder for lunch, check some random rapper’s album for the first time ever, etc
“Avoid”: self explanatory. I avoid more shit than ever, including things that will annoy me and serve no purpose beyond that (arguing about rap on twitter with people who won’t bend for example).
“Now” – that’s for tight deadlines for freelance work, a paid opportunity I want to confirm, picking up my son at daycare, etc
After all of the Now stuff is completed, I take care of the Delay stuff, and then once that’s done, I check back on the Avoid stuff just in case something changed and it becomes more important.
Ok that’s it!
For more Zilla Rocca, check him out on the interwebs:
Adam’s World Vid Pick: Corina Corina – My Baaad09 / 14 / 2017
I think this song is just another perspective of the female experience that people aren’t used to hearing. It’s not exactly a positive perspective, but it’s an honest one, and I think honesty is always empowering – for women – and informative – for men.
I hope everyone of all genders appreciates someone who is straightforward and self-assured.
As far as my male listeners, I think our culture conditions men to feel very entitled to women’s feelings, generosity, and our bodies. I hope that on some level they can understand that sometimes we don’t actually need them, we’re not waiting for them to call, and that many women do whatever the fuck they want and don’t make any apologies for it.
THE KATIE GIRL FACTOR07 / 21 / 2017
Katie Girl: An unusual woman whom men don’t choose over less interesting and less difficult women. (Urban Dictionary)
What do Carrie from Sex and the City, Khadijah from Living Single and Beyonce all have in common?
Like most American women, I’ve related to quite a few of the dating scenarios on HBO’s hit show, Sex and the City. The four central characters follow the same modern American female archetypes as shows like Living Single and The Golden Girls did before them. Since my early 20s, I’ve always thought of myself as a hybrid between Carrie and Samantha (or Khadijah and Regine, Dorothy and Blanche): creative and free spirited while at the same time unapologetically ambitious and a little flamboyant.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the “Ex and the City” episode I was a junior in college. In that episode the show’s central character, Carrie has a realization about her longtime tumultuous relationship with the love of her life, Mr. Big and its demise.
While Carrie and her three best friends sit in a bar, Mr. Big is celebrating his engagement to Natasha, a simple, seemingly perfect straight haired woman he has chosen to marry over Carrie. Miranda, her straight shooting lawyer friend brings up a concept from the classic Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford movie, The Way We Were (1973).
In the film, Streisand plays Katie- a loud, opinionated, complex curly haired woman whom Robert Redford’s Hubbell falls in love with but ultimately leaves her to marry a “simple,” safer woman. Carrie realized she was a Katie girl being left by Mr. Big, her version of Hubble.
“Ladies, I am having an epiphany. The world is made of two types of women…the ”simple” girls and the ”Katie” girls. I’m a ”Katie” girl!”
Although I was too young to understand the gravity of the Katie Girl factor at the time, the concept stuck with me for years. Little pieces of the story’s arc have found their way into most of my relationships over the past decade. I’ve met quite a bit of conflict within relationships for being outgoing and extreme in my thinking. I don’t fit neatly into a conventional heterosexual monogamous relationship model as I am queer, polyamorous and defy a lot of gender norms as a woman. Appearance-wise, I’m tall, heavily tattooed and have wild, thick wavy hair that I’ve worn just about every possible way. I’ve been a bartender and a musician for my entire adult life which lends itself to a lot of drinking, social interaction, late nights and meeting new people. I love being me and I’ve always naturally drawn soon-to be lovers in with the excitement within my world.
They love it all until it becomes too much for them.
This real life Katie Girl archetype isn’t just a theme for the Carries of the world, nor is it unique to being a professional heterosexual white women in pre-911 New York City. Complicated women being rejected and misunderstood by their partners is just as applicable today and across all cultures. In my experience, it isn’t limited to heterosexual relationships either, I have had a nearly identical experience with both male and female partners in the past. To find a modern day example of a Katie Girl, I had to look no farther than Queen Bey herself. She draws on her own experience of it over and over on her instant classic, Lemonade. In “Don’t hurt yourself,” my personal favorite song on the album, Beyonce says to her cheating husband, “’Til I realize I’m just too much for you.” I found this line to be instantly relatable. Unfortunately, even Beyonce has been rejected for taking up too much space.
Although I can relate to all these women, I’ve never seen myself as a one dimensional character. I have always been aware of the nuances and complexities that go along with being a human. Yes, I’m a boisterous, tattooed, heavy drinking queer woman but I know that there is more to me than that. I’m also a yoga practitioner who loves to read, adores my family, loves animals and still sleeps with a Teddy bear. I am all of these things at once and perhaps most of all, I am a woman who thrives on connection and deeply desires to be loved.
Maybe my extreme personality, lifestyle and appearance have always overshadowed the softer parts of myself. I’ve often been in relationships that started out fun and exciting until my partner has discovered that I will not shrink to be smaller or compromise my identity to make them feel secure. I’ve had the experience in relationships where I’ve wholeheartedly believed we could build a future together only to discover that my lover has never seen me as marriage material. During the final heated conversations leading to some of my most painful breakups, I’ve been told things such as “I never saw myself ending up with an artist,” “I can’t accept your sexuality, it means you’re going to have to sleep with someone else one day,” “I’m not just gonna stay home with kids while you’re on tour.” …You get the idea.
As a real life Katie girl, I fully embody my eccentricities and present myself as authentically as I can from the very beginning of a romantic connection. I don’t see myself as a victim. I realize that being with a woman who is complicated and large in personality isn’t always easy but like any other woman, Katie girls want nothing more than to be seen and fully accepted.
“Katie Girl” The Song
I wrote the song “Katie Girl” after the most painful breakup I’ve ever been through. Defeated and heartbroken, I felt rejected for all the qualities that make up who I am. The partner who I had been fully committed to had found me to be hard to love. In the song I vented my frustration about this being the demise of some of my other past relationships along with my anger and disappointment about it.
Much to my delight, although the song is heavy in content and feel, it has resonated with many of my listeners over the years. There are a lot of Katie girls out there who feel as if their wild hair, large personalities, and even larger ambitions have been seen as a threat to the people they’ve fallen in love with. These are qualities that no Carrie, Katie or any other woman should ever be apologetic for. As Warsan Shire, the woman who gave poetry to Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ said best, “women like her cannot be contained.”
Watch the Katie Girl official music video HERE
How I Learned to be HUMBLE. As an Indie Artist05 / 10 / 2017
Although I’m not famous and haven’t made much profit as a musician (yet), my career has been pretty cool so far. I’ve worked extremely hard for every opportunity I’ve had and I remain grateful for every triumph, large or small.
Being a musician is a hard path to be on and naturally I get discouraged at times. I’m not motivated by outsider validation or money which is probably why I’ve never once thought about quitting. Even after all these years of working my ass off and seeing very little external results, I’m in this for life. What continues to drive me after all these years is the strong core belief that I was put here on earth to be an artist. I’ve always known exactly what I want to spend my life doing.
The overnight success story is rare and is almost never the recipe for longevity. There are no guarantees in this industry and a “big break” won’t sustain a whole career. We’ve seen time and again that artists looking to make a quick buck by hopping on a trend never create music that stands the test of time. Those who have built a legacy are the ones who created timeless music and had their finger on the pulse of something original and fresh. Even that is never a guarantee because guarantees simply don’t exist in this industry.
I know that it doesn’t matter how hard I work or how talented I am, I learned a long time ago that nobody owes me shit. It may sound harsh but learning that lesson early on has kept my expectations realistic and given me an incredible amount of self reliance and humility. I’ve worked alongside plenty of artists who had some level of success early on and have gone on to having to be in the trenches with the rest of us who have never caught a big break. I admire their humility (sometimes, at least) but it’s gotta be hard to sleep on floors once you’ve slept in a hotel room. As crazy as it sounds, I think my slow burn has kept me from getting used to any special treatment. When I do get to sleep in a hotel room or am given anything other than well drinks and PBR, I’m thrilled!
We’re not doctors, teachers or lawyers. There is no surefire credential or internship that will land us in a prestigious position. You can’t google the standard salary for a musician and then walk into a job interview and ask for it. We don’t get raises after a probationary period and we damn sure don’t get health insurance or a 401k. For most of us, our success is all about luck, determination and timing. We could spend the whole arc of our careers chasing fame and fortune and never attain it. This is a real fear for almost all of us and it’s not an unfounded one. We are quite literally gambling years of our lives. Because of the high risk involved, it is especially important that we don’t take the small things for granted our put our lives on pause while we wait for something to happen. That is the most dangerous gamble of all: missing out on experiencing our careers entirely while waiting for the phone to ring.
Like most young singers, I spent my early days hoping I would get discovered, sign a record deal and make millions of dollars. Instead of my fancy record record deal, I went to college. After receiving a degree in music I had a long series of career opportunities that didn’t pan out. I spent my early 20s becoming anorexic and then spending years battling with it and recovering from it. I got into a toxic relationship, and then another one. In my mid 20s I moved to New York City spent four years leading a funk a band that didn’t go anywhere before I finally found some direction. My point is, life happens, shit takes time and even then it often doesn’t work out. Some of us take longer to learn our lessons and find our groove than others. I always knew I had a unique voice and it took me years to develop my signature sound. By the time I decided to reinvent myself as an indie solo artist named Corina Corina, I was already in my 30s. In pop culture years for a woman, that’s ancient.
So there I was, finally writing honest songs that were very true to who I was, pulling from the soul, hip-hop, blues and pop influences that had inspired me throughout my life. Perhaps it was my age or the fact that I had been through so much, but once I arrived to the place I was searching for, I knew I didn’t have time to waste. I was hungry. I was tired of making excuses and getting distracted like I had in my 20s. It was my time.
My debut album, The Eargasm was a great first effort. I felt like my whole life had lead up to this moment, I put everything I had into it’s release and after a few positive blog reviews and a hugely successful release show in Brooklyn, everyone else moved on. I was devastated. I had been waiting for this moment my whole life and I thought everyone else was waiting as well. It quickly became apparent that they weren’t. Even my closest friends and family may not have listened to the album more than once. I wasn’t picked up by a record label or “discovered.”
I didn’t have what I thought I’d always wanted. What I did have was my own album. Every song was written by me and the artwork and packaging were beautiful. Once in awhile someone would download my album or sing along to a song at a live show. If I had hit the big time my first time out, these may have felt like little things. But for me, there were no little things. Now, as I gear up to complete my third album and begin my life over again in NYC, I vow to you all, my ride or dies, that no matter what happens in my career, I will never miss the little things.
ADIOS BARBIE: THE FEMME DATING DILEMMA04 / 06 / 2017
For most of my adult life I’ve been seen as a femme: a feminine-presenting queer cis woman. I share my frustrations with others about our invisibility as queer women in our heteronormative culture. The only times I’ve felt visible within a queer couple is I’ve had a more masculine-presenting female partner. This type of coupling has its own hardships but in most cases, we’ve been seen by outsiders, as a couple. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case when I’m with another femme.
After 15 years of dating as a queer woman, I’ve become hyper-aware of the attention femme couples attract within our misogynistic society. I’m not entirely proud to admit that in my early years of dating I didn’t question the microaggressions and oversexualization I experienced. I accepted the catcalling, objectifying and blatant disrespect as the norm. I had never experienced anything different. I don’t have all answers but I can begin a dialog and commit to exposing this behavior.