Staff Columnist

Ashes to Ashes: Not Throwin' Away My Shot

Among the many far-fetched hopes I had as a high schooler about my future, perhaps the one I’ve buried furthest into the deep recesses of my subconscious was my dream to become a world-renowned rapper.

My love of hip-hop started as it does for many West Coast Asian kids — Will Smith and the opening title sequence of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” It was one of those shows that would run all-day on television. I’d sit for hours on the couch marathoning episodes during winter vacations and spring breaks.

If you asked me today to recount a plot line from the series, I wouldn’t be able to do it. What I would be able to do is rap, word for word, the first minute or so of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s song.

I don’t purport to be well-versed in hip-hop culture. If anything, I realize my appreciation for it is surface level at best. Still, I was (and am) a frequent listener of celebrated and distinguished musicians like Jay-Z, Tupac and Kanye. There’s excitement in listening to rappers with good flow spit a verse, and being able to imitate them was an exercise of my own language and skill. As a teenager, I spent many hours in my room studying lyrics in an attempt to learn how to craft my own, and learning breathing techniques (when I probably should have been studying…). Rapping takes practice. It’s a skill like any other.

But rap gets a bad rep. The one time I brought up enjoying the genre to my dad, I was scolded in front of my friends, who all took my dad’s side (so much for being MY friends). To them, the music was the gateway to a dangerous way of life — a completely unfounded assumption (and a racist stereotype). I never brought it up again. I didn’t talk about it with anyone. I’d listen to it quietly in my room and whisper lyrics to myself. But it didn’t stop me from fantasizing about becoming an Asian American hip-hop legend.

As someone who grew up in an era where instant stardom via the internet was becoming more and more common, I was enticed by the idea of being the underdog musician, rising up through the ranks with “new” social media platforms like YouTube or SoundCloud. I went as far as recording self-written raps on my computer. For one song, I also tried to make an accompanying music video. I only ever showed one person a thirty-second clip of the MV. That person laughed so hard during the viewing that milk came out of their nose. All of it was very bad — something I am able to say now that I have the time and space to be able to look at it objectively.

I gave up on my aspirations around my junior year of high school when I had to start getting serious about getting into college and had less time to be messing around with iMovie and Guitar Band. I don’t think my dreams of fame will ever be completely revived but I felt a small spark reignite when Broadway mega-success “Hamilton” hit stages in 2015.

Suddenly everyone around me was happily rapping about our country’s Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War. I listened to that soundtrack everyday for over a year. I sang it in the shower, in the car, with my friends and sometimes even with strangers on the street. The first time I rapped “My Shot” nearly flawlessly for my college dorm-mates, I was met with surprised and shocked applause. It was awesome.

Anyway, I’m sure it’s ill-advised for me to abandon journalism to pursue a career in music (considering my complete lack of talent) but who knows? Maybe the dream isn’t dead and I’ve just got to take my shot.