Think Happy Thoughts While Catching Hell


Black folks have been catching hell since we’ve been in this country, and we keep catching hell today. There’s a perpetual pressure and need for black folks to find a way to balance our mental anguish and rage—born of micro-aggressions, aggressions, and disrespect—with positivity in order to function. Thank God (love) black folks have mastered this skill. Otherwise, we’d be consumed by hate.

There’s a dope track “Think Happy Thoughts” by Denmark Vessey (video below) that is one of the best acts of black love in Hip Hop history. It’s insanely relevant and timely too. The collective black psyche is traumatized, from the poorest among us raising babies in public housing to our most accomplished whose kids attend Montessori schools, we keep seeing people that look just like us shot dead by civil servants sworn to protect us. “Think Happy Thoughts” is a guided meditation to help heal and root out the infectious thoughts born from this state of affairs… and deafening silence from so many of our “friends.”

The lyrics, production, and video are A+, and are something all hu(e)mans need to see, hear, and feel. We can’t prevent all instances of racial and social injustice, but we can prevent it from defining our reality. Since all actions are first thoughts, a happy and productive future requires us to “Think Happy Thoughts.”


Everyday Struggles: Hip Hop’s New Counter Culture

Before the Deal

[Originally published on July 4, 2016]


Welcome back to Music for the Rest of Us—an exploration of dope music made with artistic integrity. If you missed the first edition, you can read it here. [LINK TO INTRO PIECE:] In short, this column is dedicated to music that’s about something more than just the turn up.

I just finished listening to Mark Battle’s new release: Before the Deal (BTD). If you aren’t familiar with Mark Battles, he’s a dope MC out of Indianapolis that makes music you’ll want to add to your rotation, as opposed to listening to it once then forgetting it’s on your phone. His latest project, BTD, happily met my expectations. My first intro to Battles was his mixtape Shelter Food which instantly made me a fan of his casual, less is more, flow. A lot of cats who try to say something worth listening to either spend too much time using random words plucked from the dictionary, or they rap fast whilst saying nothing.

Yay or Nay? In BTD, Battles presents a self-portrait, giving a glimpse into what he prioritizes, what drives him, and what it means to be the master of your destiny as an MC in 2016. In a nutshell, this album is all about perseverance and drive in the face of slim odds. The beats aren’t earth-shattering, even though there are a few gems that’ll have you nodding your head. If you like to put an album on, press play, and let it take you on a journey, you should definitely give this album a listen. It’s a definite Yay!

BTD is about the battle, no pun intended, of being a Black man from humble beginnings. This isn’t anything new, but what’s refreshing is it outlines what it takes to win in today’s Hip Hop without being a wack stereotype. Cats have been lying on wax about their millions for a minute. And even for the few who rode those lies to actually making millions, their hyperbole does nothing for youngstas in the trap… other than ensuring they remain in the trap.

Who is the enemy in this battle? In the second track on the album, “This is Me,” Battles gives notice that he recognizes game and is prepared for the fight. He sees what awaits him on the path to stardom: lies, rumors, betrayal, and pressure to make ignorant music. The beauty of being an indie artist is you make music that you feel. That authenticity builds your following but then at some point non-artists will tell you what you need to say, wear, and be in order to be successful. It’s like Chapelle Show seasons one and two when Chapelle had creative control (wildly successful) vs. season three when other people tried to force their way into the creative process (epic fail). Battles has a clear voice as an artist, and if you try to add artificial flavors to it, he’s not trying to deal with you.

Why fight the battle? This album isn’t about bottles and fly whips and other things thousandaires spend their money on—to the amusement of the truly wealthy. BTD gives you a glimpse of the odds Battles faced, from being a young father, to the soul crushing economic conditions of the inner city, to the ever-present dark side of the hood that consumes too many lives. In understanding the scarcity that comes in a market-based economy, Battles gives zero fucks about people who don’t have his or his fam’s best interest in mind. “No Love” is two proverbial middle fingers to any and everyone he sees as being on the other side, obstructing his family’s well-being. His family will not live trapped in poverty. Not on his watch.

What Does Success Look Like?  On the track “Wit It,” Battles indulges in classic Hip Hop braggadocio, articulating his appreciation of his own greatness. To avoid the champagne and fancy car clichés, he stays more high level and talks about the mentality of being great. He gets a bit more tangible in his definition of success on “Grounded.” This track is a two minute and sixteen second mission statement that can be synopsized like so: I’m here to make money to open doors for my family, not to get caught up with groupies and fame.

Like all art, there is plenty to critique—including Battles embracing being non-committal romantically, yet desiring to have something meaningful with women. But beyond the nitpicking, there’s so much good in this album for heads to enjoy.

Regular But Not Ordinary

The Regulars

Regular, defined as done or happening frequently.

There’s a new project out by The Regulars (Otayo Dubb and Tahaj the First) that clearly demonstrates these dudes are in the lab refining their skills, regularly. It’s evident in their flow, their mastery of the beat, word play, and content.

So instead of the corny minstrel show of materialism/make believe “rap,” Otayo and Tahaj take you on a ride, masterfully bringing to life what real Hip Hop heads can connect with. Check out their hella dope new single!


Talib Kweli performing live in Seattle, July 2012

I’m a Hip Hop head. I’ve been one since elementary school, back when I’d sneak and listen to my big brother’s Straight Outta Compton tape. I loved how real the lyrics were. The stories these dudes told actually happened in my Los Angeles neighborhood. Regardless of how anyone feels about them, they are great examples of artists who created with an authentic voice, and this authenticity propelled them to icon status.

Then music changed. Content began to be churned out that was profane, but it wasn’t profound. At the same time, though, more artists started going indie so they could be free to create the music they wanted—not giving a damn about what would sell. This indie trend accelerated further with the digital age. On a personal level, I know a gang of my homies produced dope music in their homes.

That’s when the seed of Vaytus was planted in my mind. I didn’t want to be one of those dudes who griped about how dope music was back in the day. Hot music was still being made and people wanted to listen to it. So if the radio and the mainstream wanted to push a particular sound, let them do their thing. We can build our own lane.

Welcome to Vaytus. We’re about the love of music, and helping great indie artists who create for the love be able to reach more listeners.

Aniefre Essien,
Vaytus Founder/CEO

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