Words / James Storlie aka Tubby
Photos / Tubby, Ryan Earp, Cody Liska
"Is there a word for someone who dislikes their own kind?" This was a question I asked my ol' lady the morning I started this piece. The homie, Cody Liska, and I were sitting in my truck the other day, discussing a few things: one being the local rap scene and some of the good and bad involved in it. I remember going off on a marijuana induced diatribe about the fakery that is so prevalent in, not just the local rap scene, but in rap in general – a culture and genre of music so vocal about the necessity of truth and keeping it real. The whole "fake it ‘til you make it" mantra that is so highly quoted and practiced in this world that I've grown to love and obsess over for the last 18 years (at 16 I stole $100 from my mother's wallet and went and copped a sack of what was probably some lame bud and the albums "Ready To Die" and "The Score" and never looked back, son). It has gotten to the point where I, a person who fell very much in love with this hip hop shit, got into it for all the right reasons: the purity, the rawness, the brutal, liberating, and often intimidating truth that is rap music. I have now found myself looking at everything and everyone with a side eye of skepticism and doubt.
There's also another added bonus to that frustration: I'm not just a fan, I'm also a rapper. A very passionate one at that. And I don't say that with the same excitement and enthusiasm as these other 3.5 bajillion kids who have a recording program and microphone from Best Buy, claiming they're "making a movement" on Facebook. I’m very dedicated and overly obsessed, like spent-all-my-money-and-energy-on-pretty-much-nothing-else-but-my-music-for-the-last-17-years obsessed and dedicated. That is, until I had my first child 5 years ago (we'll get to that part later). And I still spend way more time and money in the studio than a normal guy who isn't signed or rich should. So, as the years have come and gone, along with many rappers (good and bad), and new technology has been introduced to us, I've had to sit and witness countless people take a stab at this art form that I've spent the majority of my life studying and perfecting. For every genuine artist I see enter this "game" (Hi, Keezy!), I’ve seen over a dozen come in, show very little effort, passion, and talent and then lie about their product, their passion, their talent, and basically their life. It gets to a point where you just get tired of the fronts. No one likes being lied to.
As a youth I really loved WWF (now known as the WWE), as did many of my friends. Remember when you first found out that it was all an act and none of it was real? Remember, as a young child, finding out Santa wasn't real? I do. After that, I never looked at those things the same way again. The same goes for my relationship with hip-hop.
I've been actively recording and giving out my music for 17 years. I view that time in two periods: before Raw Beatzz and after Raw Beatzz. I met Raw about 5-6 years ago. I can safely say that he completely changed the way I make and critique my music, as well as everyone else's, locally. Raw's talent, not only as a producer, but also as an engineer and songwriter, is incomparable. He stands on a completely different level as far as musical talent is concerned. And I'm not saying this as his friend, I'm saying this as the snobby, critical, douchebag, rap Nazi I'm known to be at times. I call it like I see it, and Raw is the truth. Thanks to him, my music, sonically, is as professional as possible. If I have any say over it, Raw will always mix down my music. He is my Dr. Dre. Many would agree, very few wouldn't.
There is, however, another way I evaluate my music now, which stems from another major change in my life: my children. (Man, just typing that sentence was crazy. I literally had to stop for a second and really read that sentence.) You see, I'm going to "keep it real" (that is what we're talking about, right? I tend to wander off topic. I blame the sativa) and openly say that kids were not in my plans. At 17, I got kicked out of school (for the 3rd time). At that time I had already been rapping my ass off everywhere, getting recognized in my community, and was passionate about making tracks for the girls and the homies. So, I said, "Fuck school" and hung out and rapped with my crew, The Hellrazors. We barely had any money. We were living with several bros in random apartments and living off our girlfriends, or whatever chicks wanted to come kick it and bring us food. But I was happy. I vowed to my friends, and myself, that I would never get married or have a family, that I would just create music and make do with whatever I had. Basically, my plan was to be Snarley Brown. And from 17 to 28, that is exactly what I did. I travelled. I've lived in Fresno, Phoenix, Brooklyn, all over Oregon, as well as visited several other cities. Just making music and living a carefree life with reckless abandon. All while documenting it, via my music, blogs, photos, videos, etc. So, yea, kids were not in any plan. They weren’t even a thought. Now, my youngest is 7 weeks, my oldest is 5-years-old – if you would've told me 5 years and 9 months ago that I'd be a proud, and happy father of two girls, I would've died laughing in your face. Life is crazy, yo! Just how I like my women (hah!).
My music could be considered vulgar to some. Depending on which of my exes you ask, it can be seen as misogynistic and repulsive. It’s definitely not intended for the "Yo Gabba Gabba" demographic. It was even worse when I was younger. I don't even listen to the old Hellrazor stuff these days. It makes me cringe. We (myself and my mentor, Tim Dawg, Rest In Peace) wanted to be Wu-Tang so bad. We would rap about "lyrically decapitating emcees" and pillaging other rap crews and killing everything in our way. Rap fantasy shit. I was 17 and loved all things Shaolin. I was years away from finding myself and my voice as an artist. I never even considered the fact that I may one day have children of my own. And that, perhaps one day, they might decide to listen to it. Shit…
Parenthood changes you. If it doesn't, you may want to look into that. Without even trying to, you become more conscious of the world around you. You do it for your children. You become more conscious of you. Especially when you're a rapper with the mouth of a sailor, the appearance of a Mexican cartel member, and the reputation as a "Patron Boy" (God, I hope my daughters never hear "Pussy & Patron"). One of these days I’ll have some explaining to do. Fortunately, every day, I get to mentally prepare for when that time comes. I already know how I plan to deal with it too – by "keeping it real." If I'm honest with them from the jump, they'll have no reason not to trust me later. I implement that same theory towards my music.
I'm definitely making better music as I continue to grow and find myself as a man, a father, and a responsible adult (I use that term very loosely). I still love making fun songs about "the life" ("Pussy & Patron," "F*cked Up," "Shots"). But over the last few years, I've realized I now prefer making songs about life. No quotation marks. No "the life." Just life. "Slow Down," "For Keeps," "A Kite To Bucket." Those records tend to strike a nerve when I listen to them, and nowadays, that's all I'm really looking for. To feel something real. We all need and desire that. And good music will always do that. Timeless music will always do that. Honest music will always do that. So, with that said, I truly feel that life, age, and most importantly, parenthood has changed me for the better, in every way, including musically. I once worried that having kids, a family, all that shit would make me lose my edge. I really feel like my edge is now sharper than ever. Real life shit will always do that for you as well. It sharpens you.
It'll be interesting to grow old and grey and listen to the songs I created throughout my life. My musical journal entries. I began rapping for the same reasons most rappers did: to be cool. To be down. To express myself in a fresh way. My love for it now is still the same, but my agenda has changed completely. I no longer make music with the mindset of winning the audience over. At this point, I don't really think of the audience at all (no disrespect). I love my supporters and listeners, but now more than ever, I make music for my most important listener: me. My children, whose ears I now have to think about when approaching my songwriting, will definitely be in the back of my mind as I create, but I also have to be the artist that I am and express that art the way I feel is most genuine and honest. How all of that works out? Get at me in about 8-10 years and I'll let you know.
I pray to see my 40's and 50's, and if I'm really lucky, my 60's. Just so I can sit on my porch, load my pipe with some killer chronic and listen to my old jingles. I’ll remember that moment in time and where I was in that place in my life. I want to be able to travel back in time to when things were crazy and beautiful, uncertain and exciting. I know 50-year-old James is going to need to feel that again and that's who I think about when creating my music. If a few other people, including my children, happen to like the music also, well, that's cool too.