5 things artists and fighters taught me

Some of the best career advice I’ve learned has come from people who flip words for a living, flip people on their heads, or flip their bodies for profit. In my former life as a freelancer, I interviewed artists, fighters and the occasional adult film star. Here are 5 of the best pieces of advice on success, getting ahead and taking control of your destiny. 

Phonte (Artist, Foreign Exchange Music)

Has your definition of “making it” in the industry changed?

 I’ve learned to not let other people’s expectations get me down. I’ve stayed the same. I think back to when I was working in a call center making $11 an hour. When we were working on The Listening, I remember saying and praying, “If I can just make $11 an hour rapping so I don’t have to back to this call center, I’m happy.” If I can just pay my bills. I got to that point and I’ve made way more than $11 an hour rapping. The problems I dealt with earlier in my career was me basing my work on other people’s expectations. You could sell 90,000 records. In your mind, you’re thinking 90,000 people, got damn! If it was 90,000 people in my yard, it’d be some s**t. To the label, they look at you like you failed. I don’t need to sell 90,000 records to pay my mortgage. I can sell 9,000 or 900 and pay mine. It’s y’all that need all this extra s**t.

Always base success on what you want. If you drive a Honda Accord, be happy driving the Accord. When people come to you and say, “You’ve got money, why don’t you get a Maybach or a Benz?”  F**k y’all, I’m happy with my Accord. I’ve learned to give less of a f**k about people’s opinions.

Christopher “Play” Martin (Artist, Educator)

On letting failure almost crush a dream

This may come as a surprise, but I was the one that didn’t want to do the films when they were brought to me. I was outvoted on that. It’s Kid and Play, but it was a whole lot of people that don’t get the shine. We had a rule where majority rules. I was outvoted. The reason I didn’t want to do it was because Run-DMC’s movie flopped, who were Kid and Play to think we could do what Run-DMC couldn’t? Krush Groove was a box office disappointment. I didn’t want that potential failure to cripple the recording career we had.

Immortal Technique (Artist, Viper Records)

On contributions that matter

 If you have not invented anything new or done anything radically different than what you were doing before, you are stagnant.

Any money that you might make is useless unless you put it to something constructive and most people spend it on liabilities. Cars that are worth half as soon as they’re rolled off the lot. Jewelry, that boat that is firewood as soon as a hurricane comes.

Vanessa Blue (Adult film star, director)

On realizing she could make her own movies after seeing those around her drop the ball

I didn’t like the way the owners of the company would talk to you. Everybody in California believes there’s a certain body image that a woman needs to display in order to be viable or be on a box cover. We know now with all of today’s niches, that’s not true. Back then every thing was about being skinny, being lighter, not being so dark, not being so ghetto.  Being a black girl, if you don’t have the immediate connections when you walk in, you’ll be relegated to ghetto product. You’ll never get out of it because you won’t know how to get out of it. You’ll get half your rate, you’ll get crappy work, you’ll get crappy sets. No one will care about anything. Literally, it’s a situation where there’s a mattress in the corner. The director comes in, tells the camera guy what to shoot, how many positions, and the director leaves the room. He goes out and smokes a blunt or talks on the phone or whatever he’s doing and the camera man is left to run the scene. How on earth can anybody care?

I didn’t like it. I said, “Okay, a monkey could direct better than half the people I see and they’re making more than me and I’m the one giving up my body.

Jon Jones (UFC light heavyweight champion)

On the importance of continuing to learn. 

I’m at a very low skill level. Think about it. Taekwondo: there’s a lifetime of studying different techniques. Even wrestling; Russians build  their whole lives around wrestling. There’s so many techniques. Then you talk abou scratching the surface — there  is no surface.

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