“I’ve lost a lot of sleep to dreams. And I do not miss them yet. I wouldn’t wish them on the worst of enemies.”
Those are lyrics musician Aaron Livingston sung on the chorus of “Sleep,” a song by Philadelphia hip-hop band The Roots from their 2011 album, “Undun.” Almost ten years since its release, some of those words rang true for music artists at a Belleville, New Jersey open mic showcase.
March 6, a trio of visual artists from Newark and Elizabeth, New Jersey, the Freedom Fighters, presented Dream Building, a 12-artist open mic and art vending fair. The Freedom Fighters hosted music artists, like 8aint Jame8 (pronounced “Saint James”), FirstNameDane, Kid Pro, Outliiiers, Sir General, S.O.T.M, Yaladysprospect, Young Benny and guitarist Elijah Wong, who took stage at Disabled American Veterans Hall.
This is just another day in the life of a hungry underground artist. It’s a necessary offering–how they make connections, expose people to their music and grow their creative talent network.
New Jersey rapper S.O.T.M sees open mic events as vital to the career of a music artist. He said, “Stuff like this is very important. I didn’t know 85 percent of this room today. Over here, now people know me, and now people will follow me. It’s super important; it’s like the lifeline.”
The life of a dream building recording artist doesn’t go without its financial demands.
“You got to, like, make sacrifices when you’re investing in yourself,” S.O.T.M said. “I literally just started building my own in-home studio, so I can save some money realistically because this s*** costs.”
Money is necessary for artistic output, but it is not the only thing a recording artist has to give up.
For rapper Yaladysprospect, he endured “lack of sleep,” working in overdrive and doing so with limited finances. Artists FirstNameDane, Sir General and Kid Pro said they surrendered time and personal relationships.
“Time is the biggest luxury. I’ve had to skip out on doing certain things with friends and doing all that and really locking in on and honing in onto my craft and putting in that 10,000 hours,” said FirstNameDane.
Sir General evenly accepted what it costs to invest in his dream. “Losing friends, taking time away from my family–you know. When I was in college, I went to school for music. It comes with the territory. You just got to charge it to the game,” the Bloomfield College alumnus said.
Kid Pro experienced similar forfeiture. “Time with friends, time with family, time with my kids, my wifey. I’ve sacrificed time with them, watching them grow and adapting … to chase my dream, which is doing this music thing.”
What connected these artists together was not just the things they go without. It was also about the people who are there with them. Dream Building artists acknowledged the women in their lives who sustain the artistry.
8aint Jame8 quotes the love of his life and fellow recording artist, LB the Great. “It’s okay to fall, it’s okay to lose, it’s okay to win,'” he said. “Women are powerful. … They’ve made me into a powerful man.”
Producer Yosonova, who described his music as “Soulful, melodic … old school with a twist,” said his mom was a central influence in developing his craft. “Mom got me digging in the records as a kid. I’m making records, chopping the same ones she used to listen to growing up,” he said.
His partner Kid Pro, of their January 2021 collaborative album, “KidNova,” also acknowledged his contributors. After mentioning his mother, grandmother and wife, Kid Pro recognized his executive producer, Sade, and creative content director, Nina. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be who the f— I am. You get all the inspiration, all motivation from women. Bar none,” he said.
The Freedom Fighters and Dream Building also come inspired by a woman. Citing her advocacy work for the Newark Water Coalition, VQ of the Freedom Fighters shared what sparked it all.
“I was always an activist in my community, working with the Newark Water Coalition, and I came to them [Vision and Freedom] with the idea of combining art activism and entertainment and providing a platform for creatives,” she said.
Visual artist Freedom praised his late grandmother who encouraged him to honor his passion for art. “She was the rock. … She supported my dreams–whatever I did.”
As for the Freedom Fighters and their dreams, VQ revealed that the group is working with the Newark Water Coalition to eventually operate their own event space.
The Freedom Fighters gave creators some special instructions.
Graphic designer Vision urged budding recording artists to establish their roots locally and emphasized the importance of networking. “The network is your net worth,” he said, stating it as vital for growth.
VQ is of the “just do it” mentality. “Just create. Create. No shame, no fear, no doubt–just create. If you love it and it moves you, do it,” VQ said.
Freedom, a 6-year United States Marine Corps veteran turned commissioned artist, made clear his assignment for other artists: “Follow your dreams. Follow your dreams.”