Detroit artists share lessons learned from 2013
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
“My biggest takeaway (of 2013) is to see challenges as opportunities,” Insite the Riot, a Detroit hip hop emcee, activist and motivator told the Michigan Citizen. “Like for real, I had a lot of roadblocks this year and within the year my perspective is kind of skewed, but I was able to recognize those challenges as opportunities for me to try new things and learn some things about myself.”
The roadblocks and challenges the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan faced in 2013 have given many people a non-stop assault of learning opportunities, to an extreme that could exhaust the strongest of people.
The city’s music and arts community, as exemplified by Insite the Riot and her testimony, represent people in the heart of this struggle. They are friends, family and neighbors with big dreams and often times few resources to operate, and many are simply fighting to keep pace when each year brings dramatic changes in the idea of what it means to be a professional artist.
The lessons these artists have learned in 2013 can be a valuable starting point on which people can reflect during this season of the new year, a chance to consider how those lessons can be applied in 2014.
“It’s been a big transition year,» said Cecilia Sharp, founder of the Urban Stringz Youth Orchestra, «and just being open for one another and the changes that are to come, and no matter whether they are good or bad, being able to learn from your experiences and just grow and mature and evolve into the person that you’re supposed to be. Just get stronger and bigger and do the work that you’re meant to do.»
With the city’s takeover by the state and the appointed emergency manager, in addition to new businesses, money and people coming into some of the neighborhoods, transition has been a key theme for Detroit throughout 2013. This evolution of the city will almost surely be more dramatic in 2014.
Despite what happens in local politics and economics, the real comeback story of the city will take place in the hearts and minds of each person as individuals. True “solutionaries” like Grace Lee Boggs understand that securing these two personal spaces give one the strength to make the change wished to be seen in the world.
“You can do anything you set your mind to,” says Mudd of the Detroit hip hop group 5 ELA. “It just takes the right type of energy, the right type of patience and the right type of application. Once you actually focus, it has to come to you by law of attraction. How it comes to you — depending upon that law of attraction — depends on you. A lot of times people get in their own ways, as far as progress. (They) know the right thing to do, and then don’t do it because of whatever fear, intimidation, or (they) didn’t take that advice because (they) didn’t like the person that delivered the message.»
Passing judgement is a common mistake for people, especially in times of stress. Judgement can cloud the mind with unreal conditions and force someone to reject the lessons that others have to offer. The conditions people create in their own minds for themselves become rules more powerful than any outside law or police force.
Having the courage to break those rules becomes essential. The lesson from Detroit artists is that one has to look inward to rediscover those terms we set within ourselves, then enact outwardly. How that inspires the creative process is evidenced in an artist’s final product.
«I think the one thing that I’ve gotten this year is the whole fearlessness to break the rules,» said Mic Write, poet and hip hop emcee with the group Cold Men Young. «I’ve seen how artists have gone about their products this year, whether it be indie artists or major artists or different types of artists, not just music. I’ve seen a lot of people taking risks with that, and so I think the idea is to break the rules that have once been established, to take risks and do things your own way with no regrets — and to have fun with it.”
And there can be no fun without the company of people, so the final lesson is to be careful of those we select for our inner circle. The goal is to accept people for who they are and have the wisdom to cut people off when they offer only negativity.
“I learned this year to cut off selfish people who think only of themselves,” says Beej Gordy Brooks, hip hop emcee and member of the crew 31 Flavaz. “And I have learned to help people more, but not get taken advantage of. Keep God first, and work with people who are for you and not against you. Peace and love, staying sucker free.”