In Music

The Audacity of Curtiss King

For those in the know, it’s a name we couldn’t escape if we tried to. In fact, some of us have tried to. The name has been unfriended and unfollowed, even blocked. It’s been the butt of jokes and the reason for rolling eyes and shaking heads. The name is also listed in the production credits for songs by Kendrick Lamar, Ab Soul, E-40, and a slew of others. It’s been billed at major festivals and on a nationwide 50-something city tour with Murs. Most recently, it found a nice little place for itself on the iTunes charts, grabbing the #4 spot in the top 100 selling rap albums in the country – right under YG and A Tribe Called Quest and just above Drake and J Cole. The owner of the name continues to be a lot of things. A producer, a rapper, a consultant, a teacher, a motivator, a husband and stepfather, a cartoon character whose personality is just as vibrant as his wardrobe. But more than anything, he’s a first-rate example of someone who, time and time again, absolutely refuses to rest until his seemingly unrealistic goals come to fruition. His name is Curtiss King, and he simply will not go away.

Before 2012 I knew Curtiss as one of the hosts of The Common Ground, a weekly hip hop event held at The Vibe just outside of downtown Riverside. His name would occasionally pop up next to my own on flyers for various shows throughout Southern California – some in Long Beach, some in Hollywood, some in San Diego. But it wasn’t until his tireless – and successful – 97 day campaign for a slot at Paid Dues 2012 that he officially landed on my radar. All of a sudden, here was this loud-in-more-ways-than-one light skinned cat from the IE pumping out video after video of assorted rappers and producers giving reasons Curtiss King deserved to perform at Paid Dues. 99 motherfucking videos, each one requiring careful planning, filming, editing, exporting, uploading, proper tagging, and sharing. For 3 months, you couldn’t come within 2 clicks of a social media platform without being told to vote for Curtiss. If you weren’t hearing about his campaign you were hearing complaints from people who were sick to death of hearing about his campaign – which sparked your curiosity enough to look into his campaign if you hadn’t already. Shit got so out of hand that Murs himself pleaded with the people to stop Twitter-bombing him with demands to bring the guy who called himself “Baby Sinbad” to his festival stage.

My thought process evolved quickly as an outside observer, not unlike that of most people who were paying attention. At first, I admittedly wrote him off as just another local rapper with pipe dreams, chalking his flamboyant nature up to arrogance and his tactics up to desperation. I wasn’t annoyed by him as much as I was almost embarrassed for him, but it wasn’t long before the embarrassment I felt turned into a strange form of admiration. If nothing else, I was impressed by his persistence, and I soon found myself actually mulling over the possibility in my head. This dude was really going for it, and he was doing so without remorse or apology, not to mention without taking a break. There’s also the fact that his music just so happened to be amazing. I was no longer writing him off, no longer embarrassed for him. Just like that, I began cheering him on. The morning Murs announced the official line-up via Livestream, I left work to watch it in my car. I’d watched it every year prior, but this time was different. When Curtiss King’s name was read, in the company of everyone from Wu-Tang to Three-Six Mafia, it truly felt like a win for all of us, and the feeling was anything but short-lived.

That was just about 5 years ago. 5 years, several albums, countless shows, fans, contracts, managers, and something of a midlife crisis, one that ultimately gave way to rebirth, have since passed. The intimate details of Curtiss King’s journey thus far, while noteworthy as they are intriguing, will be told in time and told with more eloquence and more accuracy than my abilities would allow. I’ve no doubt that his story will find its place in history, but frankly, that’s someone else’s job. I’m only here to propose a question, and in doing so, present what I believe could very well be the only logical answer. First, the question:

Why do so many people hate Curtiss King?

For every common insecurity that comes hardwired in the brains of regular humans, artists have at least five. Regular people worry about their health, their physical appearance, their money, their relationships, their future. Artists worry about the same things, in addition to: Am I really talented? Funny? Inspiring? Am I doing it right? Should I keep doing it? If I stopped, would anyone even notice? Do they think I’ve already stopped? Do they think about me at all? I should tweet more. Should I start wearing hats? Am I really an artist? Or am I just a fraud? Are my parents ashamed of me? Are my kids? Do regular people ever think about these things? Do other artists? Should I kill myself or put on some coffee? Whereas the majority of people go their whole life never having one of those thoughts enter their mind, an artist will run the entire gauntlet and ponder every one of those thoughts all within the time they require to take a shit. Artists are fragile people, if only internally. But they’re also prideful people, and insecurity is to pride what something I can’t think of is to something else I can’t think of that isn’t at all compatible with the first thing I couldn’t think of. The point is, if you’re in constant conflict with your inner-self and completely clueless as to where you’re heading in life, your ego isn’t exactly built to withstand a newsfeed fucking filled to the brim with videos of some guy telling you where he’s going, why he deserves to be there, and how you can get there too. The tricky word in that last sentence is “going.” It implies that work still needs to be done, and insecure people don’t like to be told they have work to do, especially by others who are still working themselves.

Traditionally, we love the guy on top (pause). We’ll let you show us your penthouse, your pool, your cars and expensive gadgets, your trophies and your degrees, and you’ll have our undivided attention as you list off the reasons you deserve to have what you have and the steps you took toward procuring it all. What we don’t want is to listen to the bellhop or the janitor tell us about their goal to one day live in the penthouse. They want what we want, and if they don’t have it yet, why would we take their advice on how to get it? And why do they deserve it? We know we deserve it, but we would never come out and say we deserve it. Furthermore, if they get it before we get it, there might not be anything left for us. This is called “Crab Mentality,” and the art world is rife with it. We all want out of the bucket, but what makes you so smart? So special? What makes you think you have what it takes? Only once it’s been rewarded is ambition truly respected.

Curtiss King is slowly but surely making a new name for himself – not to mention a career – by being the crab who managed to get halfway up the side of the bucket only to stop and try to teach the rest of the crabs everything he learned on his way up. When giving interviews, he’s more likely to discuss his exercise regimen and the self-help books he’s read than he is to tell tour stories or explain his creative process. His if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach to marketing himself as his most valuable commodity has proved successful. He’s overwhelming and he’s relentless, the squeaky wheel out for that grease. He knows where he’s going, he knows why he deserves to be there, and he’s extending an open invitation to whoever would follow. And therein lies the issue. It’s not that people don’t like to follow, it’s that people don’t like to be aware that they’re following, and they definitely don’t like other people to be aware that they’re following. Rather than just choosing not to follow, they’ll actually resent you for even offering to lead, as if doing so intrinsically suggests they need a leader. Wars have been fought over that very ideology, none that I can name, but it’s probably happened. In the words of the meme generation; it’s not that deep, fam.

But really, it just might be that deep. The internet is like a magnifying glass held over the human condition. It brings out the best and the worst of us. More often than not, however, it’s the worst of us that garners the most attention. Soon it becomes the standard. It fucks up our processor, skewing – almost reversing – the way we react to things. The same person who won’t so much as bat an eye while consuming bloody street fight videos online will be genuinely disgusted by someone who chooses to go vegan. We’ll ‘like’ 100 status updates about being hungover the day after a holiday, but show us a single post about trying to give up alcohol and we’ll scoff at it. We share barely funny memes about bacon but turn our noses up at the ones about exercise. These are all traits of crabs in a bucket. We all want out of the bucket, and observing the steadfast effort put forth by others forces us to examine the lack of effort we put forth ourselves. That’s the golden moment in which we’re presented with a choice. We can either choose to see our shortcomings in the success of others and be crippled by it, or we can graciously take a page from their playbook and start making shit happen for ourselves. Curtiss King constantly makes it rain pages from the great tome that is his playbook. He believes in the power of paying it forward. He believes in the power of believing. More than anything, he challenges us to take a long, hard look at the limits we place on ourselves, both as artists and as people. So if you hate Curtiss King, it’s probably just you.

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