Los Angeles, 1997, Rap Olympics—an annual, nationwide battle rap competition. An unsigned and very hungry Eminem has made it to the finals. He’s one win away from ‘making it.’ Years of honing his craft, obsessing over every rhyme, dreaming about being in this position … eating, sleeping, and drinking hip-hop 24/7 for as long as he can remember … it all comes down to this moment.
The beat starts. Em’ grips the mic.
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy … “There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti” ... (you know the song).
And what happens? Eminem loses. Yes, arguably one of the greatest MCs of all time loses. He’s dejected, can’t believe it.
On his way out the door, a young PA asks him for a demo tape. Em’ tosses it to the kid without even looking at him. He’s done, just ready to go home and be depressed; his career over before it started because he didn’t ‘win.’
But as it turns out, Eminem’s career was just getting started. See, that PA that asked for the demo tape, he worked for Interscope Records and got it to Dr. Dre. And the rest, as they say, is history.
And the rapper who bested Emimem in the finals? He was never to be heard from again.
How could this happen? How could the person who didn’t win the contest have a bigger career than the person who did? And what does this say about talent contests and competitions?
Yes, I’ve wanted to win every contest I’ve ever entered. Matter of fact, I’ve never entered a contest I didn’t fully expect to win. My ego, I guess. I mean, who grows up saying they want to be vice principal?
Everyone wants to win every contest, book every audition, get every job, etc. But in reality, that’s not possible. And when you don’t win, Eminem has shown us that it doesn’t mean that you weren’t good enough. It doesn’t even mean that person ahead of you was better. Just means it wasn’t your time. And even though I’m sure winning a contest is instant gratification, I’d much rather have a thriving career.
The trick is to do your best to stay positive despite all the punches you’re inevitably going to take along your journey.
And trust me, you’re going to need every bit of positivity when trying to break into Hollywood—The Most “No’ist” Place on Earth. Seriously, these motherfuckers greenlit Leprechaun 5: In the Hood but won’t even read your shit.
So, what I (at least try to) do to stay positive is a little something I picked up from a good friend many years ago called a ‘Feel Good’ folder. Doesn’t matter if you write, direct, paint, if you’re in a band … there’s going to come a time where you’re going to let people read/watch/listen to your work.
And then you’re probably going to ask, “What’d you think?”
Some may love, some may like, some may hate. Regardless, if someone gives you a glowing compliment, do your best to save it and put it in your Feel Good folder, which is a place of accrued positive vibes about your work.
I typically send my work out to my circle via email, so I’ll have their responses in cyberspace as opposed to a text that I could accidently delete. This way, all I have to do is forward any raving emails about my work to a specific folder that I have access to night and day. I even sometimes print out coverage notes and keep them in manila folders so I can thumb through them while I’m in bed, like I’m reading a good book.
Your positive feedback doesn’t have to be articulate, like some Harvard dissertation. I’ve been inspired by feedback as simple as: “That part was really funny,” or “You really do so-and-so well,” or “I didn’t see X, Y, Z coming, and it really worked!” I’ve even lifted positive feedback from a mostly negative review. A person could’ve said “A and B didn’t work for me, but C was amazing!” And you know what I’m going to hang onto? Correct: the stuff they said about C.
Again, you have to find something, anything to latch onto—anything to keep you going.
I also try not to be too biased on where the good vibes come from. Yes, a pat on the back from Spielberg probably carries more weight than your cousin Ray-Ray, but hey—props are props. They can serve as beacons in the night, lighting up the darkness of constant rejection, especially when you’re not just hearing “no,” you’re hearing “hell, no.”
The Feel Good folder reminds you that you do good work—Fuck Hollywood! You don’t need their approval anyway; you have Ray-Ray on your side.
I also find more Feel Good in a person’s failures vs. their successes. Think of any successful person you admire, regardless of field. I can all but guarantee they’ve had failures, disappointments, setbacks … it lets you know you’re not alone. It lets you know your idols are mere mortals, just like you, not gods. You prick ‘em, they bleed.
The only difference between you and them is they weathered the storm. In boxing, know what’s more important than your ability to throw a punch? Your ability to take one.
So, there it is, you are now armed with the power of Feel Good. Keep your folder close as you release your art into the world and share your voice. Give no fucks and have an iron jaw.
In short, do you.
And as people read/watch/listen to your work, remember, their opinions are just that—opinions. No one knows how far you can go, not even you. And if someone doesn’t like or respond to your work—bless ‘em—K.I.M. (Keep It Moving).
Because honestly, at the end of the day, who are you creating for anyway—them? Or you?
And who knows—maybe you get lucky, win a contest. Or, maybe, just maybe, you get really lucky and lose in the finals— and go on to become the next Eminem.