One of my favorite things to do in college, one of the things I miss most of all, was to sit and talk with other art school students. We'd talk about our craft, about the things we did, we would ponder and pontificate. It was incredible. I still get to have those conversations, but I have gotten older and there is a certain bit of wonder that is gone from them, less pondering, more pontificating. When you are a younger artist, you haven't clogged your mind with the opinions of others as much, you are just doing what you love. Raymond Johnson is doing what he loves.
Ray makes beats. I couldn't be happier as he talks about it, the joy he gets from working with rappers mixing their lyrics with his music, layering sounds and crafting a final track. I'm a hip hop head from way back in the day, so his kind of work has always fascinated me. We spent a while talking about hip hop, about its rich history and its continued growth, about how people love a beat. Both of us get excited about Dr Dre, find inspiration in the number of times he had to rise up in his career and start over. We are amazed at the artist who found their start under his guidance, he is an elder statesman of the craft. We talk back and forth about hip hop and music in general for a while. Ray and I ruminate on jazz and how all artists should be able to tell you the music, books, viasual and performing art they like.
I tell Ray that I love jazz for the improvisation, the long runs taken by musicians in performance. I tell him I love hip hop because of its nature. Hip hop is an art form that took previously existing art and found even more art within it, it is collaboration ad construction in one, a rising of the old into the new.
This is when our conversation shifts.
I am an older artist, having seen some road. Ray is younger, he has built some incredible skills in music and he is also an aspiring screenwriter, but he is still young. He is vibrant, excited, the world is open to him. Ray will conquer the world, he will show us all something wonderful, of that I have complete faith. I think back to Goethe, telling us that people will rise to whatever you expect them to, and I start to consider my words carefully. What can I say to a young man at the early parts of his road? I think back to one of my least favorite quotes, the one always said to me as a writer (often by people who don't write or create). I think about how I had to rise above it and I say to him what I can think of.
"There is nothing new under the sun, except how you tell it."
It is the one truth I feel qualified to share, the truth thar your voice is yours and has never existed before you. It is the sum of your experiences, your loves, losses, smiles, cries and the collection of treasures gathered by your senses. Ray smiles, it's a great smile, a hungry smile. The smile of someone eager to adventure, to see the world and to find his voice.
"That's beautiful. I loike that." He tells me, taking out a notebook and writing down the words and, just like that, I have impacted someone, inspired them. I am not used to it.
Ray tells me about his goals in music and in writing for film. He has been absent from writing for a while so he is reading books on the craft of screenwriting, building back up his skills. Writing for Ray is an organic process, he gathers his thoughts and works through them by putting pen to paper, writing until he knows where he is going. Ray jumps into the deep end of the ocean and comes out with a treasure. He is not afraid of failure, of experimenting. it is how he has built his skills as a music producer. It's a process he knows is far from over. Courage is how Ray finds knowledge and he finds his courage by loving what he does.
Ray is from a small town in South Carolina. He came here to Charleston to learn, to grow, to see new things and find something for himself, something only he knows. In a year he will venture on to Atlanta, a bigger city with new voices, new people, new sights. He writes down some quotes from me and a book recommendation. I'm just honored to be a part of his adventure, even if I'm just a stop on the tour.
Ray wants to challenge how you think. He wants to show you what he can do; how he sees and hears the world. Ray is a young artist, but I am certain we will see him many times. He is eager and he is not afraid. When we are those things how can we fail.
I know I will spend more time with Ray, we will talk more and learn from each other. Him from my road and me from his enthusiasm and joy. Even after Ray goes to Atlanta, I am sure our paths will cross again and we will pick up right where we left off. Perhaps the most magical thing about this young man is he has learned that just because we are separated doesnt mean it is over, it's just a pause. A moment to be returned to when next we meet.
Favorite Dinosaur: T-Rex
Why: He's big and he's the boss