I had a session with an artist named Pell last Friday. I’ve only had five or six collaborative sessions since I’ve been here in LA and all of them were with friends, so I was pretty nervous going into this.
It had been an hour and a half since we were scheduled to start and he still hadn’t shown up. I’ve never met Pell, but his lateness made me assume he was just like the rappers I worked with in high-school: arriving late with a big posse, even bigger blunts, and just not really caring at all.
When he finally arrives, I’m shocked – not because he actually showed up, but because my assumptions about him were so wrong. Pell’s energy is insane. His spirit is so uplifting; his attitude so positive – he’s excited about the session, and even more excited about life. This energy was instantly contagious and it took some pressure off of me. He apologizes for being late, and the only person he brought was his girl.
We talk for about five minutes before heading downstairs to my studio. I play him a few of my songs and a few beats, he plays me some stuff he’s been working on, and after about twenty minutes of breaking the ice we get started.
Without hesitation I said, “Yo Pell, start snapping.” He starts snapping and we’re just dancing to the snaps and getting settled on the tempo. I sit down behind the drums and play a beat to the snaps. I stop and he starts beat boxing something a little different. We go back and forth, each time modifying the beat just a little. No words really, just little affirmations like “ooooh yeah” and “mmhmm.” We’re both dancing the whole time.
We quickly settle on a groove we’re both feeling, so I tell him to hit record and I start playing the drums. We don’t even have a metronome on at this point which is really rare in the crafting of modern music and something I’ve never done. He’s also hollering over the recording, which is normally not desired, but when we listened back it felt so right. What came out of the speakers felt exactly how we were feeling: free, careless and alive.
Without saying much, we start adding more percussion – more of that exciting feeling: shakers, claps, toms, rims, beat boxing, drumming on our bodies, chanting and anything else we could think of. The groove became sloppy in the most graceful way. I do a little engineering and mixing, and voila, we have this amazing drum track and a crazy energy in the room. I hadn’t made music like this in years. I was quickly recalling the feelings that got me into this industry in the first place; the excitement that had been buried under all the pressure I put on myself.
I walk over to my Rhodes to play some emotional chords over our bangin’ drum track when Pell looks at me like “are you sad or something? It’s Friday and we’re feeling this way and you’re playing those sad chords?” He didn’t even have to say it – I felt it. I walked over to the guitar, turned on the amp, started dancing with Pell again and played this two-chord progression that was simple and fun. We look at each other like, “yo, this is dope as fuck” and he immediately starts rapping and writing.
The rest of the session continued in this manner. By the end, we had a fire song, a new friendship, and one hell of a time. These five hours opened me up to so much light.
For most of my life, music has been this intimate, sheltered process that I don’t like other people being involved in. I’m timid and insecure when expressing myself in the studio, so I do it alone. I’m always afraid that I’m not good enough. I receive constant praise for my work, so I’m scared that someone will realize I’m just a poser, that I actually have no idea what I’m doing. I’m winging it every single time and I’m done pretending that it’s any other way.
It’s a reflection of my life; I take it so seriously. When I dance, I’m thinking about how I look instead of just letting go. When I meet a girl I’m attracted to, I’m scared she’s going to realize I don’t know what I’m doing, so I don’t even enjoy it. Fear has become my motivator for life. I don’t want to look like a fool so I work hard to hide it. I’ve traded in a good time for the illusion that I’m perfect.
Pell showed me that perfection is not the goal. He showed me how wonderful life can be when you let go of the outcome and simply enjoy the process. I have my aspirations and dreams, but I don’t want fear to take me there. Life is not a game that we’re trying to win, but a dance we can enjoy.
—October 21, 2015