The Reason I Retired

I get asked every once in awhile why I discontinued releasing music at the moment. My generic answer is that I need to take a step back or I’m not in love with the hip-hop genre anymore. Those answers are honest but they might be incomplete. The dream I once had as a youngster has changed. Music has changed, its popularity has reached new heights but the characteristics of a star artist with fans and respect are not the same as they were before. I don’t view any of these differences as negative.

 

Well maybe the lack of wordplay and substance can be described as a drop down from what was going on years ago. And possibly hip-hop’s obsession with mollies, combined with the lean-sipping sensation fused with an all-time high of auto-tuned sound alikes could be deemed as a far cry from the golden era.

But for the most part there are new artists creating waves of music that cross genres, leap over stereotypical boundaries and they redefine what rappers sound and look like.

 

So why did I pause my progression? The real question I have been asking myself is what was it all for?

Every time I see someone on television that I was once in close contact with as a colleague or friend, a part of me feels like a failure. Every Instagram post that a former musical “peer” of mine puts up that shows their perseverance stings with a little shot of my dream deferred. Even though I am happy to see Saigon on national TV again, and I was excited for my friend Demetria Lucas as I watched her on Bravo sitting with Andy Cohen, and I want to cheer on every rapper I’ve ever collaborated with that makes strides in their career, I can’t help but miss the days when sleep was the enemy. I think about the times when every day and night was dedicated to what I believed to be my passion. I was an exceptional writer. Words came to me like second nature making me certain that this was what I was meant to do. I felt almost sorry for people that had to work for other people just so they could feed their families. While I marveled at their decision to deny chasing dreams, I simultaneously envied their discipline to be able to get up every day and sacrifice.

 

But three years ago I began to realize that rap was more like a stepping-stone than a destination. I found myself bored with the nightlife, exhausted by the numbers that dictated whether you were buzzing or not, and I was unsure about the grind. It was a grind that used to fuel me as I gained fans slowly by doing live performances and releasing songs that told my story. I envisioned selling out arenas, becoming a household name and making enough money to support a family doing what I loved.

 

But what happens when you don’t even love what you represent anymore? I can tell you that you become a creature of habit and you keep striving for a goal that becomes more and more lofty as you continue to achieve accomplishments. And then one day you acknowledge Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

 

We as rap guys tend to believe that the next mixtape or the next video will change our lives. We have the notion that new fans will emerge from nowhere, and the download numbers will be astronomical, and MTV will do a feature, and whoever the hottest artist is, will tweet about your tape and then personally reach out cosigning and then voila…you’re on the XXL freshmen cover, your videos get hundreds of thousands of views and your Twitter account becomes verified. Sounds like a very different dream from the one I had almost a decade ago to simply get signed to a major label and put out a classic album.

 

The key component to selling music is selling a lifestyle. Fans may like a song and then fall in love with an artist, but lifelong iconic music-makers that last over time become personalities that dress, speak and live a certain way that people either idolize or believe in. MTV doesn’t play videos as much, and sitcoms aren’t as popular, and buying songs are completely optional all because of how the Internet and reality shows have made everyone capable of becoming a star whether they have talent or not. So with that said, you cannot just sit in your bedroom and believe that being good at your craft will be enough. While I was working on my stageshow, Soulja Boy was creating multiple Myspace pages. While I was dropping twelve EPs, Trinidad James was pushing one polarizing visual. The world is different and it makes you question your quest and what all the effort was for.

 

I believe that although 2 Chainz, Macklemore, French Montana, and Rick Ross are all in their thirties, the rap artist close to my age has to be realistic about his vision. And with that said, I sometimes write songs but they aren’t just songs that represent my short-term goals of being the greatest. They don’t reflect my financial woes and my unsung place in the rap world. They embody a broader view of life that encapsulates all that I’ve seen and been through. I would hate to return to the mic and be typecast as a conscious rapper. Maybe hate is a strong word. I guess it’s safer to say, I would hate to be categorized at all. And it might be even more factual for me to voice that I do not care what the response is. At least not from critics and online mags.

 

I never want music to feel like an obligation or a chore. I want to find a middle ground that allows me to tell stories, paint pictures, provoke thought and show off my wordiness directly to the people and have them feel whatever they want. If it happens, I will be grateful, if it doesn’t, life is still great.Image

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8 Comments on “The Reason I Retired”

  1. azizirich says:

    Absolutely beautiful. Regardless of the Entertainment Machine that decides who will break through the glass ceiling, true hip hop fans will always recognize and appreciate the talented storytellers. Know that you are among the greats, and the world has yet to witness all that Sha Stimuli has to offer.

  2. Gremlin says:

    I think you UN-retired yourself with that barrel brothers verse and that’s not even mentioning the Nino Bless cut!!!
    I think it’s clear you have a lot to give to the fans, maybe doing what your doing now is working for you, finding that middle ground (should be the title for the new album btw! jk) where you can produce music in order to satisfy yourself and fans is the challenge. As long as your happy that’s the main thing right!? As long as your not Pat Ewing looking back at that lay-up!
    Thanks for all the great music, we will be here waiting for the new stuff and thankful for all the old stuff.

  3. Matt says:

    Great read, Sha. As someone who’s been a big fan since ’05, it’s great to read your perspective on why you fell back from music. I hope that your recent features with Willie the Kid, Nino Bless and the Barrel Brothers might signal your return though.

    When mentioning your musical peers, I can’t help but draw comparisons to Willie and Skyzoo. Five years ago, you and Sky both released your debut albums, and Willie was still under the shadow of the Aphilliates and being the little brother of La the Darkman. Since then, Willie has established himself and become one of my new favorite MCs by putting out a handful of stellar projects a year; and Sky has probably had the best 5 year run of any MC in any time period ever as far as building a catalogue that matches quantity with quality.

    And then there’s Sha, my favorite artist of 2009. My Soul To Keep is one of my all-time favorite albums, and was criminally slept on. Overtime was a dope little project to follow up on it, and Unusung was a good project but didn’t seem as polished, it was more of a mixtape-album. And then the Rent Tape EPs, some were great, others felt rushed and lackluster – mostly due to subpar production. The bars have never been an issue. Certainly though, it’s evident that somewhere along the way, you lost the passion you once had.

    I’m saying all this to say, I’m still a fan, and I hope that you continue your craft. I bought physical copies of MSTK, Overtime, and Unsung, your book, and downloads of the rent tapes. I don’t support many artists, but your words have always connected with me in a way that very few rappers have.

    As a fan, what I would most love to see from you is a proper follow-up to My Soul To Keep. Or to see you do a collabo album with a noteworthy underground producer, someone whose talent behind the boards matches your talent in the booth; someone like Apollo Brown, Oddisee, Antman Wonder, Marco Polo, Exile, Black Milk, Audible Doctor, Ayatollah, Khrysis, Buckwild, etc. The rent tape you did with Focus… was a great glimpse of the quality you’re capable of with great production backing you (though to be honest, I wasn’t loving a lot of Focus’ singing on the hooks).

    Don’t get caught up on all the bullshit in pop rap music. There’s a lane for adult contemporary hip-hop, for fans of the thinking man’s rapper, which I think you fit in. You’ll probably never blow up and have a #1 album, but with carefully crafted projects over quality production, you can come back to music and find love and support from fans that allows you to make an honest living do what you love(d). Last year, Oddisee put out an album called Tangible Dream that I think conveyed this notion perfectly.

    I get that it’s not that easy though. It’s a lot of grinding, and you’ve already done so much and have since lost some of your momentum. You have a life outside of just being a rapper guy; being an MC isn’t the be-all and end-all to what you want out of life. Maybe you don’t want to be on the road touring all the damn time just to get some bread and slowly build a fanbase. Recording with the producers I mentioned requires having working relationships with them and being able to coordinate schedules to put the work in together. And I’m sure there’s much, much more to it than that once politics and money gets involved.

    And like you said, you don’t want music to feel like a chore. Dreams change, and if the music isn’t where your heart is, you should focus your energies on whatever makes you happy.

    Regardless of whether you stay retired, or just pop up for the odd feature, or make a triumphant return to rap music that eclipses the comeback Sean P pulled off over the last decade, thanks for the music. At the very least, it’s made me chuckle over clever lines; but at other times, it has helped guide me through rough times and has influenced my own way of thinking. I wish you much success and happiness in your future endeavors, whatever they might be.

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  5. I dont like the word hate either but if you still have love for the music then why stop and what is next on the agenda.

  6. […] too long since Sha Stimuli graced these pages, but the Brooklyn spitter has broke free from his retirement, if only for a brief moment, to absolutely destroy BET’s weekly segment, The Backroom. […]

  7. Quaz says:

    Come back dude, more of this

    Love from Australia


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