A Quick MLK Reminder

On this Martin Luther King Day, most of us are celebrating an extended weekend. More important than the weekend is the reason today is a holiday. Today, we remember a champion of the Civil Rights Movemen, a leader who fought against segregation and bigotry. We’ve come a long way since his time, but the battle is far from over. Let us remember the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the leadership of other champions during the Civil Rights Movement.

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Thanksgiving Reflections

As I’m at the tail end of my work shift as a direct care counselor, having stemmed the tide of residents cursing staff out at random and a slew of dirty grown-man diapers and clean wipes, I do wish I were with my family this day. On the other hand, I’ve had time to reflect on what I’m thankful for. In spite of working a job that pushes the limits of my patience and sanity, and in spite of a socio-political climate that’s pushed most of us in the states at wit’s end, I’m finding myself taking moments to reflect on the small things that can actually say I’m blessed to have.

I’m thankful that even though my job as a direct care counselor is difficult, and the employer that I work for is frustrating, it allows me to have something to pay the bills, keep me fed, and able to be self-sufficient to a fault.

I’m thankful that even though I still live at home with my parents, I still have a roof over my head, and I can contribute to their well-being financially. 

I’m thankful that I don’t have a gym membership yet. I’ve trained harder in the comfort of my own bedroom than I ever could in a Planet Fitness or some other gym chain.

I’m thankful for being in a city with options. Even with the dividing line between the haves and have-nots widening in New York, I’m finding more opportunities to take advantage of now than I did 10 years ago.

I’m thankful for being single. Although the loneliness can get to me at times, it’s allowed me a lot more time to understand myself and what I need, and it’s given me more time to pursue my interests than being in a relationship would.

I’m thankful that at 34, even though I’m seen as “too old” for some things, I’m young enough for a fresh start.

And I’m thankful to be alive, most of all.

Starting From Scratch

The past few months have been almost like a breaking of a creative plateau for me with music. I had been dabbling with producing EDM/house music for some time, but now I’ve gone from dabbling to actually making legit compositions. What’s funny is that I’m doing it with the bare minimum of equipment: a refurbished laptop I purchased for $200, a budget tablet I purchased for $40, and software that didn’t even put a dent in my wallet.

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A shot of part of a composition I’m working on using Caustic.

For over a decade, I’ve been doing hip-hop instrumentals on my laptop. For copyright reasons, I never released them for commercial purposes. My beats were sample-based, and I’ve heard about the high price tags of sample clearance in recent years. However, along with the hip-hop instrumentals, I had started dabbling in dance music, most notably trance and house. I was able to use the same production program on my laptop that I used for producing hip-hop beats, Linux MultiMedia Studio, or LMMS for short. Using the program’s stock instrument sounds, and even importing drum and instrument wav files of my own, I was able to churn out a few rough drafts to upload to my SoundCloud profile. It got some positive feedback. Yet I felt I could do much better. Also, I could only spend so much time on my laptop at time.

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Using the PCMSynth plugin on Caustic.

My luck turned around when I purchased my first tablet a year ago, an iRulu X7 tablet, for $45. (I also purchased a compatible case with built-in keyboard for $7.99.)  Being that the tablet was an Android tablet, running on the KitKat OS, I had access to Google Play and all of it’s apps. Finding the right production app was a trial-by-error process. I went through drum machine apps that were garbage that I ended up deleting. I tried G-Stomper, but the interface was too hard to learn. In the end, I settled on a popular production app that would not only help me make music, but challenge me as a composer and musician:
Caustic.

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Using the soundboard.

What first caught my eye was the keyboard interface. I was teaching myself piano, so I gravitated towards playing different chords on Caustic rather than just programming them. It was like playing a portable piano on my tablet. Once I started importing different sounds through Google Play, that’s when I truly began to experiment, using different sounds and filters, playing harmonies before I programmed them, and combining them with drums. I was finally making the music I was aching to create.

The past three months was a prime time for me. Being that my 7 inch tablet and case are as portable as can be, I’m able to work on my music anywhere. And I mean ANYWHERE. I’m able to touch up drum patterns coming home from work. I’m able to play melodies on my lunch break at work. I even took my tablet with me on Thanksgiving weekend to show my cousins what I’d been working on. On top of that, I went from having four rough drafts on my SoundCloud account to having an album’s worth of material that I’m ready to master and copyright.

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Putting the final touches on a project in Magix Music Studio.

I’m sharing this not to brag, but to let people know that you don’t need to bleed your pocket to make good music, and even if your options are limited, you can do some damn good work. Along with my laptop and tablet being on the cheap side, the programs I’ve used cost a fraction of what most expensive music programs cost. My mastering program, Magix Music Studio, only cost me $60 on sale at a Best Buy before tax. Caustic on my tablet only cost me $10 on Google Play, if I remember correctly. And the first program I used, LMMS? That program was FREE. And no, it’s not pirated. It was made as a free Linux-based alternative to FL Studio (aka Fruity Loops). So whenever a peer told me that I needed a more expensive program that cost anywhere from $200 to $600 and up, I’d look them dead in the eye and tell them, “What for? I’m making magic with the stuff I’m using now!”

So, if you’re aching to make music, but you’re on a tight budget, take heart, and remember my story. If I can do it, you can do it. As for my album, after I finish mastering all of my tracks, I’ll be ready to distribute my first album. If you’re curious about my work thus far, come check out my SoundCloud profile.

https://m.soundcloud.com/5g-the-elemental

Going Semi-Vegan

As of today, it’s been 10 days since I’ve gone semi-vegan. It’s rare to hear someone refer themselves as semi-vegan, because in this day and age, either a person is vegan or they’re not. I use the term semi-vegan because while my diet is mostly plant-based, I’ll allow myself some leeway with animal-based proteins. I estimate that my plant-to-animal ratio is about 9 to 1. That way, I can stay committed to eating fruits, vegetables, and legumes without kicking myself when I eat something like fish or eggs on rare occasions.

My primary protein comes mostly from kidney beans, which I’ve developed a great fondness for. Along with being a great source of protein and fiber, they’re able to fill you up without weighing you down. My favorite method of preparing kidney beans is to simmer them in tomato sauce, then mix them with my favorite veggie pasta. The pasta itself is a rotini made from pureed broccoli and zucchini. It hits the spot every time.

I’ve found that since I had drastically decreased my intake of red meat in favor of legumes and vegetables, my health has improved greatly in only over a week. When I weighed myself four days in, my weight had dropped 3 pounds, from 285 to 282. When I weighed myself today, I dropped another 3 pounds, from 282 to 279. I had lost 6 pounds in 10 days. This is because of a combination of my diet changes, combined with my increased frequency of exercising. I went from relying only on strength training to combining strength training, core workouts, and cardio in the form of kickboxing. I’m recovering a lot faster from my workouts, facing less fatigue, and getting more rest at night. I can honestly say it’s a direct result of my increased consumption of plant-based foods.

After this test run, I’m definitely staying the course. This won’t be a seasonal “beach body” thing like most people adopt. This is a lifestyle change. I’ve felt stronger and healthier in one week than I have the past two years. While I doubt I’ll ever be 100% vegan, I’m happy with the diet and lifestyle changes I’ve made so far. After losing 6 pounds in 10 days naturally, I know I’m on the right track.

Don’t Be Discouraged

Do you have someone in your life who’s a constant naysayer? Someone who shoots your dreams down whenever you share them? I’ve had quite a few people like that in my life, especially in my family.  When I had dreams of becoming a radio DJ, they were shot down. When I wanted to be a professional photographer, they shot those dreams down too.  I remember when I first started writing rap lyrics in high school. My mom went through my stuff and found them.  My father crumpled up and threw out the pieces of paper right before my eyes. Lately, my older cousin had been the cause of my self-doubt, shooting down whatever plans I have for myself in the future. Funny, he tells me “don’t sell yourself short”, but that’s all he ever does.

I watched a clip from The Pursuit of Happyness yesterday that made me think of all the people who have tried to crush my dreams or stand in my way. It was the scene where Will and Jaden were talking about Jaden wanting to be a basketball player. Will starts to tell Jaden that it’s a silly dream, but stops short when he realizes that he had been told the same thing all his life. Then he proceeds to tell Jaden not to let anybody crush his dreams, to go for it, no matter what they say. This spoke to me.

It hurts when the people you grew up with, people in your own family, crush your dreams, thinking they know what’s best for you. I’ve gotten more support and encouragement from people who weren’t related to me by blood than I ever did from my own family. Sometimes, you have to be your own motivator, your own cheerleader.  You have to push on when those close to you call you a fool, even though you know what you’re doing. Believe in yourself, even if the rest of the world doesn’t believe in you.

In A Slump

As my birthday is two weeks away, I realize that I’ll be alone again. Three years of lonely birthdays. As I see Facebook pics of friends at the bar living it up, I realize that no one will be there for me. My closest friends have moved away or have schedules that conflict with mine, and all I’ll receive are a flood of Facebook posts that are only there because the app advised it. Is this the cost of adulthood, or am I the only one going through this? I miss the days of being able to see my friends on a Saturday, watching kung fu movies or listening to Frank Zappa together. And meeting new friends in this city isn’t as easy as you’d think. At least in the Bronx. I have people telling me to go to Harlem or Manhattan, but where? It’s not exactly a bargain to go around Manhattan, and most people in midtown probably wouldn’t feel comfortable hanging out with a 6’2″, 285lbs Black man from the South Bronx. It’s a frustrating thing to think about. I miss my friends.