You Only Die Once Update 7-4

Happy 4th of July!

I just received the art for the promotional poster for my concept rap album You Only Die Once from Jennifer Prentice, who is an awesome illustrator and an old friend of mine. She did all of the hard work: all I did was add the movie credits. Some of the money I’m raising will go to pay her for her services, as well as bringing more illustrators I know aboard for some more cool art.


The lovely lady pictured with me is Nyima Funk, a ridiculously talented actress and comedienne I met during my freshman year of college. Her credits include starring roles on “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?”, “Key & Peele,” “Wild ‘N Out” and “Undercover Cupid.” She has graciously agreed to be “Cast” in my story as Agent 69, a secret agent sent from MI-5 to back up Agent 008 ½ in his mission to recover a stolen Neutron Bomb.

This image is available as a poster to everyone who contributes at least $20 to the campaign, and they’ll receive it along with the illustrated chapbook and three bonus songs.

I’m also going to have this available on YODO-related merch, so if you’d like to see this image on a T-shirt or coffee mug, that will be available also.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what type of role Agent 69 plays in my story, she is a major part of the song “Find Out,” which I’m giving you a sneak peek of…right now.

Like what you hear? Then PREORDER THE ALBUM! You can contribute as little as $5 to get your copy reserved at the link below.

Mood Music

Got something on my mind I need to get your input on.

You all know I’m a huge music buff. I listen to just about everything, but one my biggest loves is intellectual or “backpack” hip-hop. and over the past few months, a few of my favorite artists have released new material I’ve been peeping.

First of all, Comedian Donald Glover (from community and 30 rock) moonlights as the rapper Childish Gambino, and he’s actually pretty good. he released a concept album called “Because the Internet” which is about the confusion in his personal life and how we all have been negatively affected by the internet. Good stuff.

I’m also a big fan of underground rap legend Pharoahe Monch, and he released an album called PTSD which is actually kind of self-explanatory. It’s a concept album about depression and its causes.

The third album I picked up is from Royce Da 5’9, Joe Budden, Crooked I and Joel Ortiz, collectively known as the battle rap supergroup Slaughterhouse. It was a free album called House Rules which is a preview of their upcoming major album. but on House Rules they talked a lot about their personal struggles like losing family members to cancer and being so po’ you can’t afford the o and the r.

And the latest album i grabbed is by by my favorite rap group, The Roots. Their album is called “and then you shoot your cousin.” and it’s another concept album about dumb rap cliches and the sad, hopeless people who live by them.

Real cheery stuff, right?

Well, I didn’t think anything of the subject matter at the time, I just liked the music. I was listening to these albums on heavy rotation for the past couple of months, especially the Roots album. it’s musically brilliant and the songs haunt you. I mean, they REALLY haunt you. right now I’ve got the melodies and lyrics of a few of the songs stuck in my head. And therein lies the problem.

I just had a dream of trying to commit suicide. Believe me, guys, i have absolutely NO desire to kill myself. yeah, there’s a lot of crap in my life I wish would improve, but things could be a ton worse. I have a beautiful, loving wife, a job, a house and two cars, family that supports me through thick and thin, and great friends like you all who give me reasons to smile. I like myself, and I like my life. but in my dream, I’m literally wrestling with myself mentally, telling myself the only way my family will be safe is if i died. this dream bothered me for the rest of the day. I wondered why would I have these thoughts even subconsciously.

I had to take a serious look at the music i was listening to. Specifically these four albums, which I had been listening to more than anything else as of late. it’s basically a whole lot of sad songs about sad people leading sad lives. everyone in these songs is miserable, and I’m wondering if that has somehow filtered into my mind and made me miserable too.

Am I offbase with this? is this music really affecting my mood that much or am i overanalysing things? either way, i think I’m going to take those albums off of my playlist for a while and listen to some more positive, uplifting music. doesn’t necessarily have to be gospel, but some of that will be on the menu too. Any suggestions?

Why I Love Concept Albums

I FINALLY got my hands on the major label debut of Kendrick Lamar.  At first, I didn’t want to believe that any of this “New Generation” of MC would be as high quality as the guys I grew up listening to. And by High Quality I mean deep, thoughtful and complex lyrics over something other than Southern Trap beats or Urban pop. I even scoffed at the possibility of K. Lamar besting out my favorite rap group (The Roots) for the best Rap album Grammy. But then, somebody sent me one of Kendrick’s mixtape tracks (Rigamortis) and I was blown away. It’s one thing to hear an MC rap double-time over a slow beat. Just about every rapper does it, and with the exact same cadence and delivery style, too. But Kendrick not only rapped double-time over an uptempo beat (something I haven’t heard done since the 1990s), but later on in the song he kicked into a higher gear and seemed to rap triple-time. All the while, he’s lacing the tracks with the clever metaphors that I prefer to hear in my rappers. This guy was everything I liked about Hip-Hop, and immediately earned my respect.

Flash forward about a year, and I finally get around to buying his Aftermath Debut, “Good Kid, m.A.A.d.City.” I wasn’t really interested in the album, although I respect K. Lamar. I just wasn’t trying to buy a lot of new hip-hop from artists I don’t trust. But I was transporting one of the kids in the children’s center I work at, and his song “Swimming Pools” came on, and the kid explained that it seemed like a song about getting drunk in the club, it was actually an ANTI-drinking song. That piqued my interests, so I looked up the song on, and sure enough, the boy was right. What clinched it though was the notes saying this was part of a larger narrative chronicling the growth of Kendrick as a person. That was the clincher: I HAD to get a listen to this album.

I admit it: I’m a sucker for concept albums. Even in this single-dominated music world. I absolutely love it when an artist takes the time to craft together a cohesive, thematic music project where every song is interconnected and all of the parts combine to make a greater whole. Most of my favorite concept albums are stories, with each song being a chapter. I think this takes a lot of thought and planning, and not every artist can pull it off. And the better ones are really engaging, with a LOT of layers to them. I eat that stuff up.

After hearing K. Lamar’s CD all the way through a few times, and looking up the lyrics on Rap Genius, I am thoroughly impressed by the depth of the lyrics. The beats aren’t half-bad, either. This is honestly, the best rap album I’ve heard, well, since “Undun,” which – you guessed it – is another concept album, this time by The Roots.

So, here’s my list (in no particular order) of my favorite concept albums:

  1. Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, by Kendrick Lamar
  2. Undun, by The Roots
  3. 12 reasons to die, by Ghostface Killah
  4. American Gangster, by Jay-Z
  5. Black Materia, by Random
  6. Disposable arts, by Masta Ace
  7. The Long, Hot Summer, by Masta Ace
  8. Castlevania: Nocturna, by Random
  9. Language Arts, vols. 1-3, by Random
  10. 4-Eva In a Day, by Big K.R.I.T.T.


and yeah, I’ve got a lot of Random on this list. So what? He makes good concept albums.

This makes me wonder if I will, or could ever make a cohesive, album-long narrative. I think I could, but it would have to be a subject matter that I’d be totally engaged with enough to write 13 songs totally about it. It’s not impossible, after all, I do have a 3-song trilogy written that tells the story of me and a ladyfriend I was interested in courting. But 3 songs is NOT a full length album. I thought about making a concept album about my favorite video game (Zelda) in the same vein as Random’s video game albums, and I thought about doing a full album chronicling the adventures of my super spy alter ego, James Quan 008 ½. And of course, I could just tell MY story, about the things I experienced growing up in my own “MadCity” of Flint, MI (to quote DJ Quik, “It’s Jus Like Compton.”). but I don’t know. Right now, my schedule is so hectic I have no idea when I’ll get in the studio to record “The Third One,” much less a concept album after that. Oh well, c’est la guerre.