Sometimes I don’t write a lot
I know some folks call that writer’s block
I just call it my process
It comes out when it’s ready to I guess
-Brother Ali, Writer’s Block
In the process of writing the album Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, Brother Ali travelled to Seattle to record with producer Jake One. However, while trying to write the album, Ali reached a point where he wasn’t able to write the song he wanted to write. In a situation where he would typically be at home and wait on being able to write the perfect song, he found himself in a Seattle apartment, with money being spent on rent and recording time. Through the process of trying to write his way out of writer’s block, he wrote a song about writer’s block.
“Writer’s Block” was literally me being like, “I can’t write the song I want to write so let me write a song about not being able to write the song.” – Brother Ali, interview with Andres Tardio, hiphopdx.com
When I find an artist I connect with, I’ll do almost anything I can to support them (I mean, within my means). I’ll buy all their CDs, go to their concerts, watch all their videos, look for any scrap of an interview that I can watch or read. I’ll go to great lengths to learn about their creative process and try to glean what I can from their experience. As I connect more deeply with the artist, I’ll find that what they’re doing is in some way connected to what I wish I could do. I find that they are able to express ideas that I’ve found difficulty expressing, often in a something that I wish I’d made first.
Brother Ali is one such artist. The first I remember hearing of Brother Ali was the day that his last album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, was released. My professor got a copy of the album from a student who’d been late to the previous class because he was buying the album. For me, rap has been a hit-or-miss genre in terms of finding artists or songs I like; Brother Ali was most certainly a hit.
Over the next couple months, I listened to the album multiple times on YouTube, as well as many other songs and interviews by Brother Ali, before purchasing the album while home on winter break. I found that I connected deeply with many of the messages in his songs, even though I came at the issues with a different lens. Many of the songs expressed feelings I wished I could verbalize in a similar manner.
One song that was not on the album, or any album, that I connected with was Writer’s Block. In many ways, this song speaks about how I approach difficulties in things that I try to write. I returned to this song tonight as I was trying to overcome my own writer’s block, and I still find it incredibly indicative of my process almost five years after first hearing it. It’s actually fairly difficult not to quote the entire song here to help explain my feelings on the song or the topic, but switch any references about songwriting for blog writing and the song is almost exactly how I feel when trying to write.
I wanna write a line that’s in your head all day
Songs that make you say you never felt that way
Look I’m trying to give myself goosebumps okay?
Find the truth inside me and put it on display
It’s difficult not to think of what I try to do while writing as attempting to “give myself goosebumps.” I feel like I have something to say, and I want for what I say to be impactful and have meaning. I want what I write to be better than good. If I’ve learned anything from the last year, it’s how much nonsense is created in the name of making money rather than in the name of informing or inspiring or causing people to think more deeply. Much of why I talk about my own stories (other than because I have some desire to talk about myself) is because I have come to recognize that we can connect more deeply to others through storytelling, and in some way my stories or my experiences can help me connect with other people. At the same time, having spent a lengthy amount of time thinking very deeply about a specific subject matter has led to my desire to help others understand the depth of different issues and their connection to these issues.
Up late hummin’
Pace around the hotel the words ain’t comin’
Wrote a little something threw it away “f*** it!”
Have an artist freak out moment start buggin’
What consistently holds me back from discussing different things could be thought of as a Goldilocks syndrome – I want what I say to be just right. In order to connect with as many people as possible, what can I write that people will take the time to read and is not only the best thing I could write, but the best thing that could be written about what I want to discuss? An incredibly lofty goal, to be sure, which is why I have difficulty creating those “just right” posts.
The thing that keeps me writing now is that I feel I don’t have the time or resources to not be writing. Here I am writing about writer’s block while trying to come up with perfect posts about other things with life going on amidst all of this. At this point I don’t know where my confidence is that what I’ll create in the future will be what I want it to be – perhaps a concern for many different creators. I guess it’ll come out when it’s ready.
I ain’t trying to be difficult or no s***
It just hurts too bad for me to force it
Italicized lyrics, where not cited, come from Writer’s Block. If you couldn’t tell, Brother Ali does use explicit language.