It took some time to release this project because I went through a lot of mental hurdles putting this one together. Yes, I made it for people to dance to but most importantly, I want this music to inspire others that are going through mental hurdles to keep fighting and to keep pushing. I’ve broken down a couple of times while making some of the music on this project. I found the strength to get back on my feet and finish the work. For a long time, I wasn’t content with my music or my djing. I was seeking perfection, and I got lost in figuring out perfection. I’ve had to maneuver and work differently than I have in the past. It drove me crazy that I didn’t feel the same, but of course, most of my mental issues stem from overthinking about things. It’s all about having faith, not giving into your doubts, and being present. I’m thankful for hip-hop for helping me overcome a lot of my mental struggles. Hip Hop has helped me deal with depression as a teen and the anxiety I’ve been dealing with currently (Shout out to my therapist for helping out as well).
I moved away from my hometown of Boston to Los Angeles. Some of the closest people to me were worried about my decision on moving to LA. I can’t lie, it made feel a certain way that some people didn’t trust my decision. I know Los Angeles can be a tough town to live in, and a good percentage of people that move here tend to get lost. I felt like I needed to prove myself to my family and friends that I could do my thing out there. I needed to grow as a person, and I needed a new adventure in life. I spent three months in Switzerland, and I also visited LA for a couple of weeks just to feel things out on my new adventure. Switzerland was dope, but I knew three months was the most I could do. LA felt right, and everything aligned for that move to happen.
I just finished wrapping up the year playing at the BC One World Finals in Korea, and a lot of people were praising my efforts. Red Bull followed up asking me to curate/create a bunch of new music for the Red Bull catalog, and I needed to finish it within a couple of months. Deep down inside I knew I had to step it up more. The most significant challenge for me was figuring out my new city and reinventing my sound within just a few months. It was a little overwhelming on my part because the year before it was like I had years to build up my playlist and I’ve already built those relationships with people from years before. This time around I had to meet tons of new people and get adjusted to a new life. I had to learn to be more hands-on on the production end, and I had to learn a lot about production within a few months. I met with a bunch of new producers and musicians, to get some help on the project. It was a challenge because most of the guys I had just met when we started working on the Red Bull project. We had no friendship before the project. So it was difficult to make moves at times because we were dealing with business. I could sense the skepticism, and I could sense the trust wasn’t entirely there on both ends. LA is a crazy place with a bunch of people that love to talk the game but aren’t about the game. There wasn’t a lot of people that understood the vision or the music that was appropriate for b-boys either. Creating quality and original music for b-boys is a rarity. I didn’t know what I was doing on the production end, so I felt hopeless about the project in the beginning stages. I didn’t start making any progress until two months before the project’s due date.
There was a lot of uncertainty circling my life around that time. I didn’t know who to trust, and I felt like I was slipping away. I was stressed out about everything, and I didn’t know how to cope with my stress. Trying to adapt to my new life in LA was stressful, so the best way to numb the stress was partying. At that time, I was pretty good at partying. I was known as the party boy and sometimes being a little too into the party lifestyle. I started losing myself. I forgot what my purpose was. I forgot what made me feel good. I was disconnected with life and looking just to cover myself with patches. About six months into the move, I suffered from my first major anxiety attack. I had anxiety attacks for three weeks straight. The last of the anxiety attacks happened right before I was leaving for my summer Europe tour. I was suffering from severe paranoia. I thought I lost my mind forever. The anxiety had taken over my mind, body, and soul. I had never gone through anything like this before. I ended up checking myself into the hospital because I needed help. I wasn’t taking care of myself mentally or physically. I was living life fast, numb, and I wasn’t grounded. I needed a break from everything, and I needed time to get rooted again.
Anxiety attacks take your inner spirit, and it crushes it. It makes you feel and think as though your life is about to end horribly. Your thoughts are dark, and everything in life seems like it’s working against you. You “hallucinate” in your negative thoughts and feelings. You can’t focus on anything but these negative thoughts. You become paranoid in your thoughts because of it. You lose trust in everyone and everything. You question faith. Your confidence is gone, and your drive is gone. Your body becomes vulnerable. Your body is cold, your palms are tingling, your body is sweating, your whole body is shaking uncontrollably, and your mind is racing at 1000 mph. Everything you do seems like it’s 1000 times harder than it was before. The mental exhaustion causes physical fatigue. You become detached and depersonalized because of it. It’s the domino effect of failure. The hardest part of it is feeling connected to yourself for 25 years and then suddenly feeling like you’re in the body of a stranger. It doesn’t hurt you physically, but it’s the most uncomfortable feeling ever. It takes loads of time, effort, and understanding to heal from the torture. Going through anxiety has made me understand that the mind is the most powerful tool you have.
I’ve accepted that I’m not the same person I was before mid-2014. I had to “shed some skin” to get my life back in order. I’ve learned to embrace life living in the present. I’ve learned how to take a step back and be ok with taking a break occasionally. I’ve accepted that I can’t always be in control over things. I’ve put faith in God to work things out, and I’ve put my trust in him to take control over things I can’t control. Going through anxiety has helped me become a better person. I try my best to do everything in good faith because I know bad habits trigger anxiety. I’ve been sober from alcohol and drugs since this happened. I’ve also been going to therapy every week to keep myself in check. I appreciate the state of “feeling good” more than ever because I know exactly how it feels like to be rock bottom.
It can be difficult being an artist and dealing with anxiety issues. As an artist, we spend a lot of time isolated from people for extended periods. We can also spend a little too much time in front of our computers. Spending a lot of time alone makes you overthink. Overthinking is a cause of anxiety attacks (especially if you’ve experienced anxiety attacks in the past). Life as a working artist is the epitome of living the anti-social life. It’s hard to sacrifice time to enjoy things like nature because our work isn’t necessarily secure. At some point, you have to figure out the balance because you will burn yourself out. In our line of work, the best work we create is the work we do when we’re inspired and when our hearts are in it. We all need the peace of mind and the time to relax to heal.
There are plenty of dancers, musicians, and artist that are going through the same thing I’ve been going through (especially within the hip-hop community). The subject of mental health awareness is a rarity in hip-hop. I feel like people in the hip-hop community don’t like to speak up on it. Talking about your personal feelings can be looked at as “soft” in hip-hop culture. A lot of people that are a part of the culture come from areas of poverty. A lot of people from areas of poverty have the ideology about revealing feelings to others is “soft”. So a lot of people are numb to their true feelings. A lot of people face oppression. You know it’s hard to understand what hard times are when hard times is all you know. Access to education is limited in a lot of cities, with the limitation of knowledge, comes ignorance. It’s important we open more dialogue about mental health awareness in our culture and figure out ways to support those that are going through mental disorders.
The hip-hop community strives off competition and the notion of being the best. There is nothing wrong with bettering oneself or trying to become the best at your craft but mentality this can become toxic after years. You got to learn when competition is healthy and when it’s not healthy. At some point in your career, you got to pass it down, and you got to learn when to let the young heads shine. I’ve seen a lot of older heads suffer from depression because they want to stay at the top. What we do has a higher purpose than just better oneself. At some point, we need to become selfless and give back more. Just think of it this way. A bunch of young kids from the Bronx created hip-hop culture out of nothing. They were dancing, painting, and playing records because it was fun. They didn’t have a lot of options in their life; they made the best out of their situation. They created a platform for kids like myself to be a part of today. They had no idea hip-hop would become a global phenomenon. They had no idea it would uplift generations ahead. You can find b-boys in every country on the planet.
At some point, I will get back into breaking to help the mental healing process. Breaking is a great tool to combat mental disorders such as depression or anxiety. The exercise you get from breaking gets the blood flowing and the endorphins going. You don’t have time to think about what stresses you out when you’re dancing. You’re focused on whatever you need to do on the dance floor, at the moment. It’s important to let loose and just vibe out to the music. Once you learn the connection between your movement and the music, then you will be free within your movement. You have to trust the moment and let the music guide you the same way you put your faith in God’s hands. The dance can be very spiritual if you just break for the enjoyment of breaking. If you’re just in it to compete, then prepare to be disappointed.
I’ve learned to cope with my stress and anxiety better than I have before. I have to thank a lot of my friends that have been incredible support during these times, especially my brothas B. Bravo, Teeko, Stro, and Beto. I have to thank them for putting in the work on these tracks and putting in time with me these last three years. These guys inspire me to be great at my craft, and more importantly, they inspire me to be a great person. On the path to overcoming anxiety, it has helped me understand that there’s a more significant purpose behind my craft. Not only do I dance and play music to let go of negative energy but I also enjoy connecting with the people. There is nothing like taking people on a higher journey through music. There is nothing like helping out others that are going through tough times and dealing with mental disorders. If you can give them the energy to overcome struggles, it’s a great feeling.
The Break Squad – Break Em Off’ is a collaboration EP that consists of producers/musicians such as B. Bravo, Teeko, Stro Elliot, Beto, and myself. I created these original tracks for the b-boys and b-girls with some of my favorite producers. Most of these tracks debuted at the Red Bull event series “Red Bull Bc One” over the past couple of years, and now they’re available to the world. I’ve made a lot of these tracks during my darkest times, and I hope my message through music sheds light on those suffering from mental illnesses.
Purchase here: https://djleanrock.bandcamp.com/album/the-break-squad-break-em-off