Humble Beast put it out last week, but I wanted to save it for a time when I'd be able to listen to it all the way through, and what better time than an airplane? (If you've heard it, you know.)
I swear, hip hop is where it's at right now. There are so many amazing rap artists killing their game with more challenging creativity and content than I ever experienced as a kid, especially growing up relatively confined to "Christian" music, and whatever it had to offer in the form of rap or hip hop at the time.
The record is incredible.
Also, there's a sinful egomaniac living inside of me that is always tempted to go more in the direction of discouragement than excitement when something amazing drops. I find myself constantly struggling with measuring my own worth against another's, or my buzz against another's, or my growth against another's. As though worth were found in hashtags and retweets (140 characters up in these streets - some of Jay's Tom Ford for you). Frankly, it's embarrassing to even admit the way my heart will sink in the fear of never being able to measure up to the standards of excellence that the artists I enjoy create. I mean, I didn't have to write this, whatever it’s becoming. But there's another part of me - hopefully a growing part of me - that loves and fights and delights to combat that covetousness by praising and applauding the art that I love and its creators. Showcasing and praying to be a cheerleader instead of a glory-thief (as if I could were capable of stealing glory... that's the insanity of it all). And there seems to be a huge portion of Fly Exam that describes and prescribes itself to that struggle, and I want to say how thankful I am for it - a fellowship of the saints, if you will, from where I am at 30,000 FT up in the air to Chicago to Portland to Vegas to wherever whoever reads this finds yourselves reading it.
I'm literally only one listen through with a lot more listening to do on a record whose word-play is insane, whose satiric and metaphorical content appears to go be miles deep, and whose content goes far beyond what struck me enough to get this out before I touch down in Chicago, but for the time being...
There's a track on Fly Exam named "March 10th and a Third.” It vied for my attention and I saw myself in it - seemingly, the culmination of a man whose journey has brought him to the end of himself after tracks of searching for something to hold onto through pride, and greed, and insecurity, and individuality, and comparisons, and substance, and… etc. An idol factory. A man turning inward on himself.
I see a lot of me in that idolatry. I'll compare and contrast and kill all of my joy while that sin kills me. My version of Braille's "kamikaze" from the same song, perhaps. Now that the record's out, and out for free at that, I feel alright posting a bunch of the lyrics to that track, here (at least, as well as I've been able to transcribe them myself, rewinding the track over and over again):
"I'm so tired of being strong in front of the choir and wretched when I'm alone and I'm jaded, I hate it. I hate my sin. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it... They all think that if there's a K or and M on your followers then that probably mean that I'm famous and these are pre-teens that say this. Try to escape it. I'm not and I don't. I don't wanna be, till the benefits hover in front of me. How am I gonna live up to Humble Beast, when I'm mumbling, tumbling underneath from a tree of the knowledge of good and the evil, deceitful covering up with the public me... Sometimes the grass you thinking is greener is really blue. There's a beast lying beneath at the surface searching for food. There's a reason why wisdom always seems to run from a fool. Sometimes the beast ain't the serpent, it's really you."
It's always a little nerve racking for me to write something based upon another person's context, because I don't want to pull it out of its intended place. For a record like this that explores so many motives, the last thing I want is to presume to know the road that got another human being to the place where he is.
That said, to quote one of Jeremiah's cousins' - John Givez - guest lines, "words weigh a ton," and I believe that the Spirit has used other people - even dudes I don't know, like Jeremiah - to influence my life, in my context, and into my mind as a source of comfort, hope, even repentance that begins there. It has always astounded me when a person's compliment comes as "thank you for writing what I have struggled to put into words" because I know the power of that feeling - when you have heard something that seemed to perfectly describe what you've wanted to hear yourself say for so long.
That happened with March 10th and a Third.
It is a comfort to hear another person say that he is tired of trying to be strong when he knows that Christ has already been strong for him. To hear someone else wrestle with the temptation toward vanity even though he's staring directly into vanity's eyes and knows her name, and the nothing she has to offer. To hear someone else wonder how he is ever going to measure up to who he should be - even who he wants to be - when he knows that because of Jesus that's not even where the yardstick is anymore. It's helpful to hear the analogy of another looking for greener grass, acting like the enemy is the color of the ground he's standing on when we'd both affirm that sin continues to indwell no matter which side of the fence we find ourselves broken here in the Now And Not Yet. Objectively free, subjectively tumbling. Holding on.
Far too much of my time is spent changing colors in my chameleon skin. Or wondering what color I should be in my chameleon mind, while the devil plays advocate and I fail to land anywhere. And there are idols everywhere. Most of that one is probably called "fear of man", and I've wrestled with how to articulate it, so I'm thankful for those who seem to be able to.
At this point, I’m on my third flight of the day, almost to Albany, New York for a couple of days of shows. During the last flight, an amazing poet who I had the privilege of performing alongside at this year’s Canvas IV event - Jamaica West - tweeted some of my lyrics: “…and now I shout ‘TRANSPARENCY’ but I miss every single one of my secrets” followed by a thought of her own, “when writing gets difficult to be vulnerable, I always hear these words in my head, and then try again. It’s hard.” I wasn’t sure if I was going to post any of these thoughts about Fly Exam - they seem so jumbled and rushed - but Jamaica said that she was reminded of what she posted while listening to the same lyrics in the same song that led me to this novella. So I decided to go for all of it, thinking that our tweet-convo was the hyphenated culmination of a bunch of similar thoughts inspired by the record - or, they were from me, anyway. And maybe they’re somebody else’s, too. So I wondered:
“Isn’t it weird that vulnerability is often what we / other people love in poetry & yet the more people we know are gonna hear it, the more difficult it feels like it can become to maintain that vulnerability, because now there’s some false semblance of an image to uphold? Been thinking about that listening to Jgivens’ record today… ‘I’m so tired of being strong in front of the choir…’ - gosh that lyric kills me. I gotta remember that the choir’s not my identity… i say let’s keep giving them our secrets.”
I'm thankful for the kindness of God toward me in the form of art that bleeds honesty and pleads it of me, leading me toward repentance, where it is not mere obligation that bogs down but desire that lifts up into a place I long for - an exhortation that Jeremiah goes on to give:
"So stay more submitted, take your repentance like way more seriously than mere confession. And scream out 'mayday' with more intentions to change the traditions. Stay more in spirit. Wait for what you say the Spirit can prove. That mentioned, pray for Jgivens - a name that I pray you do."
I know we've never met and this is all coming like a fountain after a few listens in one day, but thanks for this record, man. Thanks for your humility. There's a lot more I can relate to - that green 10 to 2 joint and a desire for complacency, envying the cubicle. I know there's a lot more I'll discover, but it's been a great listen thus far. Thanks for putting it out there, and thanks for putting it out there that you need prayer from whoever hears it. If I've skewed all context then just let it be mine, and whoever reads this can pray for me, too. I think this is an important album for audiences, and equally important for other artists with audiences (which depending upon what you do, means folks like me, you, or, I guess, that pre-teen girl with seven trillion YouTube subscribers.)
For what it's worth, whoever is screaming "they say these seat cushions can be used as jetpacks?!" at the end of the record made me laugh out loud next to whatever dude I'm jamming next to on the plane. I think he jumped it scared him so much.
Finally landing. Nine-ish-hour-long thought explosion.