I'm shutting down Artistic Manifesto. This is why.
I created my music discovery platform, Artistic Manifesto, when I was a 19 year old cadet at the United States Military Academy. September 24th, 2009. I had no idea what I was doing with my life on that day, but in retrospect I can say that creating AM has changed my life in more ways than I can articulate.
Artistic Manifesto motivated me to study social media as a means of sparking change and providing value to attract like-minded people, before I even knew what I wanted to do with my life. After almost nine years of channeling my passions into the brand that I created, I’m coming to terms with the fact that it’s time to move on.
I’m done with Artistic Manifesto.
I started to understand that it was time to let go in 2016. I’m finally accepting this as 2018 begins to unfold. I knew it was time to move on for years, but was terrified of separating myself from a brand that I’ve put so much love, energy, and effort into. It’s been almost a decade. I’m not scared anymore.
Leaving my job in July 2016 was the most important decision I’ve made in the 28 years that I’ve spent on this Earth. It also put me in a position where I had no choice but to get incredibly clear about my goals, for the sake of my own survival. Letting go of my safety net forced me to come to terms with the fact that I can’t afford to waste time working on projects that I’m no longer passionate about.
Artistic Manifesto was always meant to be a passion project.
Fun fact: my Twitter username was @Yo_MCC_Raps from 2009 until about 2013. I thought it was a clever play on Yo! MTV Raps, an iconic MTV show that pushed hip-hop culture forward in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
It just made everyone think that I was a rapper.
I was still in that phase when I created a free blogspot website on September 24th, 2009.
There was no business plan or strategy in place when I decided to start blogging. I just jumped in, head first. My most powerful tools were curiosity and consistency.
Curiosity. I was always searching for new sounds instead of asking my friends what they were listening to. Social media platforms became tools to find like-minded people from all over the world, instead of opportunities to see what the people I knew in real life were up to. I followed my passions, and let them take me into uncharted territory.
Consistency. I made Artistic Manifesto a part of my daily routine. I made space for it when I was a military cadet, college student, employee, and entrepreneur. Were there more immediately beneficial ways that I could have spent my time during each of those periods? Absolutely, but I’m happy with what I built. I'm thankful for the people who saw fit to join me on my journey. I'm proud of what our cumulative efforts created over all those years.
We stood for something.
We stood out because of our unwavering commitment to sharing the music that we’re passionate about. Not the music that publicists want us to share. Not the music that our friends want us to support. Not the music that was supposed to be the next big thing.
We coupled that passion for uncompromising music curation with powerful narratives and descriptive music analysis. It became a calling card and distinguishing factor. A number of artists who had been featured prominently on some of the biggest platforms in the world still respected us because of our principles.
We built a reputation that attracted writers from around the world. Virginia. New York. Cali. Atlanta. Boston. Florida. Seattle. North Carolina. Houston. Hawaii. London. Canada. Lagos, Nigeria. Melbourne, Australia. Sweden. Writers became friends, and friends became community.
A number of our contributors began to find themselves as writers through the platform, guidance, and encouragement that we gave them. I’m proud of the fact that we gave a lot of talented artists coverage they deserved, regardless of their popularity. I never told one of my writers that we couldn’t cover an artist because they didn’t have enough buzz or critical acclaim. I’m proud of the impact we’ve had and the stories that we’ve made space for.
Some of my most unforgettable life moments happened due to Artistic Manifesto.
I’ll never forget hearing Phife Dawg’s voice on the phone when I called him in July 2011. I e-mailed his tour DJ, and to my surprise he replied back with Phife’s cell phone number, followed by a smiley face. This was the pre-emoji era, so it was just a :). I was terrified to call one of my idols, but eventually I got over my nerves and pressed the button. His voice sounded the same way it did on "Scenario." At this point, I was in the middle of West Point summer training. I was gearing up for my senior year as West Point cadet.
I’ll never forget hearing Jhene Aiko’s laugh during our November 2011 phone interview. It was between classes during the first semester of my senior year at West Point. I had been listening to her Sailing Souls project for months, and was convinced that she’d be a household name within a few years. I was coming to terms with the fact that I would be a full time Army Officer in less than a year - or so I thought.
I’ll never forget hearing Chuck D’s thoughts firsthand during our June 2012 conversation. He was in the middle of a long road trip, so our twenty minute phone interview time slot turned into an hour long exploration of his perspective on hip-hop’s present state, his keys to success, and much more. At this point, I was trying to find my way after being expelled from West Point for disciplinary reasons.
I’ll never forget filming a cypher in my mother’s basement when I came back home to Woodbridge, Virginia in the summer of 2012. A high school friend of mine named Ahad agreed to handle the videography. I decided to print out a picture of Jay-Z, sheet by sheet, and tape it to the wall for “aesthetic purposes.”
Clearly, we had no idea what we were doing. Miraculously, people still showed up. Tyler Wrighteous. Ja-p. Era Hardaway. Terra. Jay2Vivid. KidStyles. Joey Moon came all the way from Delaware. For the very first time, I was able to meet some of the people I had been writing about.
I'll never forget meeting Lupe Fiasco in July 2012. We stood in line on the top floor of a D.C. night club, waiting for our turn to talk to a living legend. Lasers had dropped earlier that year, but I still had The Cool and Food & Liquor on heavy rotation. Our interview was ridiculously short, and didn't touch on any groundbreaking revelations.
Before I walked away to make room for the next journalist, I gave Lupe an Artistic Manifesto tank top. At the time, our logo was an astronaut with Air Jordans. He seemed genuinely interested, as he lowered his shades to look me in the eyes and ask, "what is this?" I proceeded to give him a brief rundown. "Let's get a picture," he said. I was more than happy to oblige.
I'll never forget the rebirth of Artistic Manifesto in April 2014. At this point, I had been blogging actively for five years. I was ready to take the brand to the next level, and knew that we needed to give our audience a better user experience. I budgeted tightly to pay our developer to create a custom template that suited our needs, and had many late night calls with my strategy team, Kyle and Wallace. For some reason, these guys saw fit to believe in me.
Their digital marketing expertise was critical for our expansion. Up until that point, I was the only person posting content to the site on a daily basis. People would come and go at their leisure, but consistency was our weakness. The relaunch sparked a renaissance of sorts. In the months that followed, I saw my solo efforts multiply. For the first time, I had a team of editors. Darren, Marc, and I spearheaded a more consistent, methodical approach to content that sparked some of the team's most impactful content to date.
I’ll never forget meeting Artistic Manifesto writers from all over the country for the first time in May 2016. Up until that point, I only knew the majority of the team through email, phone calls, and our infamous group chat. Then... there was Views From The Grits. I teamed up with a friend of mine named Britt to throw a Drake-themed brunch party in D.C., and our group chat assembled like Voltron to turn up together. That's exactly what we did. We brunched. We partied. We broke bottles. We saw Future and Jhene Aiko at Broccoli City Festival. We turned internet camaraderie into real life friendships.
I don’t know what it feels like to be an adult without Artistic Manifesto. Choosing to let go of it completely is equal parts empowering and terrifying. That being said, I know I have no other choice. I’ve been in the game too long. Familiarity is a crutch. It can also lead to contempt and complacency. If I’m not careful, this game will turn me into a man who would be too pessimistic to offer even a word of encouragement to the passionate, imaginative, 19-year-old version of me.
I need peace of mind. Every single method of communication that I use is spammed by publicists, artists, and artist managers. Texts. Calls. Emails. Tweets. DMs. This happens every single day. To say that I’m tired would be the understatement of the century. My fatigue is exacerbated by the restrictions that I’ve imposed upon myself.
I’ve come to a point where it feels like the time I spend working on Artistic Manifesto limits my creativity, as opposed to empowering it. It's my time to let go, for the greater good. Artistic Manifesto was never about me. I never wanted it to be. I’m certain that I’m done being a music blogger, but I’m open to letting someone who has retained that passion carry out Artistic Manifesto's mission - to share music for the eclectic, selective hip-hop lover.
The core tenets of what I did to make Artistic Manifesto valuable and noteworthy are integral parts of my life. I’ll always be passionate about music discovery, and will continue to use my platforms, talents, and influence to advocate for incredible displays of artistry.
What does that look like? I don’t know yet.
I have to make space for new possibilities, first. I have to give myself grace as I transition. It would unreasonable for me to seek immediate answers when I’ve been locked into one creative endeavor for almost nine years. I’m going to give myself time before creating my next big “thing.”
In the meantime, I’ll be going back to basics.
I’m still focused on sharing great music with the world and using my words to share powerful stories. I’m becoming more agile with my methods. I’m allowing myself to focus on the things that I love, free of politics and 24 hour news cycles.
I curate a playlist called Clark Strikes 12 that pushes me to constantly discover new music while rediscovering old favorites. Every week, I select 12 songs and put them on a playlist via Apple Music and Spotify. Here’s the catch: I can’t use any artist twice. As of the publishing date of this article, I’m twelve weeks deep into this playlist series. I’ve used 144 different artists on my playlists. I have no other choice but to keep an ear to the streets for different artists as the series progresses.
I also write one article per week on my personal website - the one that you're on right now. Sometimes I talk about what my entrepreneurial journey has taught me. Other times, I expand upon the sentiments that I’m not brave enough to express in face to face conversations. Sometimes I focus on helping people navigate social media marketing effectively. Soon, I'll be incorporating my passion for music discovery into my writing as well. If you want to keep up with my writing and music curation, be sure to join my email list.
This isn’t goodbye.
This is just the beginning.
To everyone who's ever contributed to Artistic Manifesto, helped spread the word, or visited the site, thank you so much for being a part of this journey. I’m sure I’ll see you all soon - just in a different space.