One year ago, my business partner and I came up with a fun idea as we were starting our hip-hop motivational work:
What if we did a motivational blog post and recorded a rap video each week to inspire students and adults to live happier, more fulfilled lives?
We started filming in my living room with an iPhone and turned the TV into a teleprompter for me to read the lyrics while I rapped.
Blank wall background. Not looking at the camera. Plain grey t-shirt. Recorded live directly to my ProTools rig. Actually, you can watch it for yourself:
After a couple of videos, we decided it was more effective if I looked at the camera while filming. And that led to an additional challenge: I was going to have to memorize every rap to perform it all live in one take.
We added some background décor. We learned that photos on the walls were too reflective, so we went for some candles and some camels. We featured my hip-hop books on the bookshelf. There was even a thermostat featured in the videos because it was the only wall with decent natural lighting.
Coming up on the new year in 2015, we decided to change up the scenery and film in a new outdoor location every week. My wife gave me an awesome camera (Nikon D5300) as a Christmas present, so now we could film with professional quality.
Filming outdoors meant that I would need to do a studio recording of each track and perform it live at each new location. My business partner also learned about videography to be able to set up the shots with great framing and ensure focus and lighting were good.
Additionally, I now needed to perform each rap like a music video rather than merely doing a live recording like the previous videos. Here was the first video we shot outdoors at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco:
Honestly, I look back at these older videos and cringe a bit. The writing and concept of the songs is solid, but I feel like I was still in the process of finding a delivery and performance that was natural for me. Fortunately, I had a lot of opportunities to practice as we were writing, recording, and filming every week!
Then one day, inspired by reading Brené Brown’s amazing book on shame, vulnerability, and empowerment called Daring Greatly, I wrote a rap about the defenses we use to protect ourselves but which often keep us from deeply connecting with people in meaningful ways. I remixed a new Madeon song called “Beings” for the instrumental, which was unusual for me because I rarely rap over EDM-style tracks.
The next day, Brené posted the rap on her Twitter and Facebook pages, and the video went viral:
The irony is that my business partner and I didn’t actually think this was our best video! We were filming in Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley, and we hadn’t been able to find a great location to film. We chose the fence because it was a pun (“defenses” – groan) and it was the most interesting piece of scenery we could find. There was a guy flying a remote-controlled airplane overhead the entire time, and it was incredibly hot.
All of which just goes to show that appearances are not always the determining factor in what ends up being successful!
This brings us to the present, and the final video that you saw at the beginning of the post. After filming this video, I wanted to take a moment to share some lessons that I learned through this process:
1. Consistent practice is the key to mastery. Deciding to release a video every Thursday was an amazing opportunity to produce motivational music and blog posts every week. Even when we were traveling for a month, we pre-recorded 4 videos in advance, which was a marathon of writing, recording, memorizing, filming, and editing. As you can probably see over the course of watching the videos, my delivery and video production quality improved significantly over the course of a year. I learned what makes an effective blog post, how to structure raps for maximum effectiveness and memorization, and the art of embodying the message even while performing 75 takes of the same song in a row.
2. A dream without a deadline is just a dream. Knowing that we were committed to releasing a video every Thursday made us prioritize the release, even when we were incredibly busy or didn’t feel like doing one that week. Even though we only had a few people watching the early videos, we knew that we had to stick to the schedule to fulfill our promise to our readers and viewers.
3. You have to be patient with yourself. Some days when we were filming, I wouldn’t have quite memorized the song before we started. This usually meant that I would make it almost to the end before forgetting the last couple of lines. This process could be excruciating when we were doing endless takes due to my mistakes. My business partner was incredibly patient and supportive as she set up the camera for each take, and I had to learn to forgive myself immediately for messing up the take. Every take had to be new for me, and if I was beating myself up about the previous take, I wouldn’t be focused and fully present to deliver a great performance in the next take.
4. Don’t quit when things are frustrating and difficult. Quit when you’ve fulfilled a promise to yourself. After releasing several of the motivational rap videos, I became frustrated by the relatively low view counts. If I had quit when we only had a few hundred views, we would never have reached all of the people that we have today, as the videos have collectively reached over 10,000 views. Now that we’ve fulfilled our commitment to producing a year of motivational rap videos, I feel confident moving on to our next projects.
5. Putting your work out into the world is a great way to create opportunities. It’s easy to judge ourselves and feel like our work isn’t good enough. If we hadn’t started with video #1, we would have never made it to where we are today. Along the way, numerous people reached out to us about scheduling motivational hip-hop assemblies for their schools and leadership workshops for their students. If we had allowed our self-criticism to overwhelm us, we never would have made those connections or had the opportunity to support those students. Once your work or art is a “minimal viable product,” consider releasing it as a way of building momentum. We no longer live in a world that is waiting for years between releases (perhaps with the exception of Dr. Dre), so start building your long tail today!
6. Have fun in everything you do. This project has been a blast! I get to rap over my favorite instrumentals and share motivational thoughts with the world. My business partner and I get to film in beautiful locations around the Bay Area (we chose a new location for every outdoor shot). We bought some awesome shirts since I wore a different t-shirt for every video (with the exception of a couple of videos, like those with Star Wars references where I wore the Yoda shirt). We got to interact with one of our heroes, Brené Brown. And we laughed at countless outtakes that were purely ridiculous (for example, see the end of this video):
So what’s next for us? My business partner and I are starting a new podcast called Motivational Millennial where we interview inspiring members of the Millennial generation who are living with a sense of purpose. We’re also running a personal development company that does workshops, speeches, and retreats to help people find their sense of purpose and live more fulfilling lives at work and at home. And I’m continuing to do speaking engagements at schools and universities around the country, including the following stops this fall:
San Francisco, CA
Santa Rosa, CA
New York City, NY
Granite Falls, NC
If you’re interested in working with us on any of these projects, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org - I’d love to hear from you!
The new motivational hip-hop album “Remix Your Reality” is also in the works, along with an accompanying book. I’ll be continuing to post weekly motivational thoughts and resources on this blog, although I’m going to put the rap videos on hiatus.
For a complete playlist of all of the motivational rap videos in order, you can click here.
It has been a true pleasure sharing this journey with you, and I am so thankful for your support along the way! I’m excited for the next chapter of projects ahead, and I hope to connect with you as the adventure continues.
Don’t Forget To Be Awesome,