Birthplace Magazine’s mission is to bring the stories of participants and organizations in the New York-area hip hop universe to a wider audience, not just posting music links and embedding videos, but providing some behind-the-scenes context in a professional, journalistic manner. While we take our roles as storytellers seriously, some tales can also be told by the participants themselves. In is this spirit that we welcome PremRock into the author rolls of this publication, penning the first in a new semi-regular series, NY Hip Hop Diaries, where beginner, upcoming and established artists alike will be given a platform to speak in their own words regarding their experiences with hip hop music and New York City. PremRock (formerly known as Premonition), a New York import who went from sleeping on an air mattress to touring internationally in a few short years, is a perfect example of the type of stories we hope this series will be able to share. Here is a bit of his story:
I used to ride the 1 train to visit before I made the move to the city. Harlem would appear from the tunnel at 125th Street. Every time this happened, dreamlike horns sounded off in my head. Horns that brought to mind an energetic Buckwild beat, circa ‘94. My head would nod to its own fabricated rhythm while I watched the people of the city. I was enthralled and enamored by the energy, and at first, just enjoyed getting lost in its calculated madness. There’s a long, convoluted story of heartbreak that prefaces this point but I’m going to spare you the details and just pay tribute to the city that helped make me.
I became The Great Artistic Cliche: A big fish in a small pond, looking to escape from the traps of my own shortcomings and find greatness. A student of the great ones, I noticed there weren’t too many writers, musicians or great thinkers who didn’t pass through New York at some point in their lives, either as a tenant or a drifter. I always had the feeling I was on a crash course with New York, I just didn’t know it would become my permanent residence.
I spent two restless months in Washington Heights. I lost myself in the poetry and romance of the city, drinking pints or tumblers of Glenlivet at odd hours and carrying my journal, taking in and writing down what I saw. I took the first job that hired me: waiting tables at a new hotel downtown. I had to wake up before 4 a.m. to make it to the morning shift everyday. Looking back this makes me cringe, but at the time I was just content to have a job.
Part of the doubt that crept into my mind when I first lived in the city was that I never really had a real job that my rent depended on. In college, I paid my bills and bought books by being a campus distributor of the student body’s favorite illicit vegetable (sorry Mom and Dad I didn’t actually work two jobs). Sitting on a couch, listening to Little Brother and watching football while earning $800 a week is far from reality. I knew that lifestyle was not an option once I graduated. Supporting myself in that way while getting educated was cool, but I wasn’t going to college to be a professional drug dealer. No judgement from me if that’s what you have to do, but I had to retreat to save my sanity. My escape plan was to flee to the city, but had no idea what to expect from it’s ruthless appearance.
An unforeseen personal event made my transition difficult and my stubbornness prevented me from accepting any help moving after my two months in the Heights ran out. Eventually, I found a sublet in Bushwick that would take me in on New Year’s Day for $650, all I had at the time. I could have planned this much better and after borrowing money from the ex-girlfriend (fellas, talk about a bruise on the ego…), I had to try my damnedest to avoid accepting another handout. I had to move all my possessions on the A train from 163rd Street to 14th Street and the L train over to Jefferson. Twice. On New Year’s Eve. Feeling a bit like a freak, who also hadn’t yet upgraded from a Discman to an iPod, I carried it all and shamefully walked through the various platforms and trekked to my new spot. The entire time I did this, I thought to myself, “I better be telling this story to a journalist someday.”
I spent the next three months in Brooklyn working harder than I ever could have imagined. I scanned Craigslist and Google’d any open mics I could find, all the while never missing a shift at the hotel. In the beginning my gigs were sometimes quite comical, I’d show up to an all folk singer event or a stand-up comedy spot and do my raps, sometimes a capella if they didn’t have a CD player. The crowd sometimes looked at me baffled, but every time I would walk away with a little bit more confidence. Other nights I’d take the G train to Nostrand Avenue, pay $5 just to perform one song with a Fisher-Price Mic, get my props and leave at 1:30 a.m., rising at 4:30 like clockwork.
The process was humbling but, at last, things started to change. I would get fliers at the Nostrand Ave. event and met folks like L.I.F.E. Long who’d invite me to whatever showcase he had going on. Even if it was in Newark and I had to give up sleep that night, I was going. There were no excuses anymore.
The more events I attended, the more people I met. Hitting up spots like EOW (End of the Weak) and the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe, at the time hosted by Homeboy Sandman, I met folks that would become my musical peers over the next couple of years. Whether we were ciphering out front or performing onstage, there was a sense of community and I felt I started to belong to it.
I would go to Sin Sin for Freestyle Mondays with about $6 in my pocket, $5 for a beer and $1 to tip the band, and hone my freestyle and battle skills with some of the dopest MCs in the city, which many of whom I now call friends.
Now… Some folks think I possess some level of confidence and at times, cockiness when they first meet me. This could not be further from the truth in those days. I usually did my song, pulled down my Phillies hat, and shyly sipped my beer, waiting for approval, be it a head nod or a mumbled, “good job.”
As time moved on, my confidence grew. I began writing songs, not just freestyling, and even though I still slept on an air mattress (for a solid year straight. Try bringing a self-respecting girl home to that!), I had gained a bit of stride. I was a sponge at events, studying live performances and methods of crowd interaction, stepping up my networking ability and making some good friends in the process.
At this time I moved to a somewhat permanent location in the Lower East Side. I used to sip a beer and sit on my fire escape, soaking in the idyllic scenery of 200-year-old tenement buildings, mixed in with brand new organic cafes. This, at times, was how I always pictured New York. Waking up for work no matter how little sleep I got became routine. I would lay there for about two minutes every single morning and remind myself why I was there and why skipping out was not an option. I even climbed the ranks at the hotel restaurant, moving up to a front desk position. You may not believe it, but I don’t think I called out or was late once during these times. I worked like my music depended on it. And actually… it did.
There are countless people to thank during this period who do not even realize how small actions made a huge difference in my transformation. Reflecting now from my apartment, I’ve since released two studio albums, worked with a label and coordinated two tours across Europe and beyond. I have the tendency to jump right into things with little to no previous knowledge. I’m a dreamer who answers only to passion. It’s been an incredible ride.
From stage diving with Warren Britt, to BK brainstorm sessions with Jesse Abraham on how we can make a difference. From writing a song with no electricity with Dyalekt, to EOW ciphers with OISD and Kalil Kash, to going four rounds of battle with Rabbi Darkside only to lose the war of attrition to one of the best. From never beating Chaz Kangas at Sin Sin (sigh), to exchanging business cards with Willie Green at Bondfire, not knowing we’d work on two albums together and set fires across the globe in the coming years, watching countless burgeoning talents gain their stride in humbling settings just like I did, going from paying $10 to perform one song to getting dinner, unlimited beers, hotels, train rides and $300 for a set in the Czech Republic. All the while, learning valuable life lessons, meeting some beautiful women and writing some damn good songs.
I take these beginning years in New York City with me everywhere I go. I’ve come a long way since that kid on the train moving his life’s possessions, sleeping on an air mattress and getting heated when his Discman ran out of AAs.
This is a memoir of sorts, but it’s really meant to be a thank you letter. A thank you to one of the greatest cities in the world for helping mold me. A thank you to all the people who saw what was inside of me when others didn’t. A thank you for the tough love it gave me in the beginning. A thank you for making this exterior a little tougher and this mind a little wiser. I have a lot of plans and am taking a lot of risks in the next year, but I’m not worried or afraid of any of it. Because… Well, you know what they say right? If you can make it here…..
And I kind of feel like… I already have.
Visit PremRock online at www.PlanetPremRock.com
Want to contribute to Birthplace Magazine’s NY Hip Hop Diaries? Contact [email protected]