-By Jontae Grace
[The following essay is my entry into Nipsey Hussle’s “Marathon Story” project. He asked his fans to write an essay detailing their creative pursuits, so he could share them with the general public.]
Nipsey Hussle once said in an interview, “Everyone who owns their situation – Jay-Z, Birdman, etc., they had to take the long way.” He didn’t know that he was speaking directly to me, but nearly every word he’s spoken about the music business, I have found useful in the publishing industry. It is an antiquated, exploitative system ripe for a new business model, and I see the gaps in which I can insert myself. And while I don’t plan on reinventing the wheel single-handedly, I do plan to carve out a thriving career for myself, on my own terms.
I am 27-year old essayist who – like Neighborhood Nip – believes in my talent, individuality and ability to control my career by learning the business and putting my own resources behind my dream. I write essays on issues of Black Relationships, from the perspective of a young inner-city male who has done a lot, and seen even more in my life. I view my work as a form of social activism – because strong relationships create strong families, strong communities, and eventually a strong race. Thus, I am dedicating myself to helping our people, one-thousand words at a time.
My marathon is similar in many ways. Working my way into an industry dominated by a handful of major corporations? Check. Refusing to accept a contract that pays pennies on the dollar for my intellectual property? Check. Building my audience organically through my pen instead of mass (read: fake) marketing? Check. I know that people choose what they want to rock with, not corporations. And my goal is to write the flyest content I can, while actually helping people’s lives and relationships.
Although I hold a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Oregon, I started from the bottom like everyone else. I’ve been homeless, hopeless, jobless, penniless and every other –less you can name, and this all happened AFTER college. I know how easy it is to want to give up on life when you have nothing going for you, and live in a haze of pills, drank and smoke. I know how it feels to have everyone doubting you except your woman. But I have a desire to help at least one person find their way before I checkout of this life.
Things get hectic when you have a vision that no one else can see, because no one believes it until it becomes real. Meanwhile, the bills still need to be paid, baby moms is growing more and more difficult, and the cost of living is rising faster than wages. Like Jay-Z once said, “the stress’ll take a young nigga, give ‘em a old face.” It’s real out here mayne, from the block to the cubicle. We’re all tryna come up.
I can’t see myself working at a desk for the next 40 years for some nameless, faceless company. I want my life to mean more, and the only way is through my pen.
Even though writing is a solitary activity, publishing is a business of relationships. Relationships with industry contacts willing to work on a project, media personalities who will share their platform, and most importantly: readers who see enough value in your work to make a purchase. For the last four years, I have been taking my message directly to the people, and one by one my audience is growing. Using the tools available to everyone, I have carved out a space for people to read dope relationship content almost anywhere.
I started my own website “My $0.02” (http://jontaegrace.com) on WordPress in 2012, and the blog has received over 20,000 hits with no promo and all-original content. Everything on the site has been written by me, and I now have over seventy full-length essays posted. In 2013 I joined Single Black Male (www.singleblackmale.org) as a guest contributor to expand my online footprint. Realizing the power of mobile web, I have also created my own free app for readers to access my work on their Android devices, available in the Google Play Store (named My $0.02). The puzzle is nowhere near complete, but I feel like I have the edges almost finished. Now, I am gearing up to take the next step: putting a book on shelves.
Self-publishing is the literary equivalent of being an independent hip-hop artist. It is tough to get started, but if you stay consistent, work hard and make a meaningful contribution to the culture, you will catch fire. Right now I am saving my money from my day job to start my own publishing imprint, “My $0.02 Publications.” I am taking the time to learn all aspects of the business – from writing, editing, design, printing, distribution and promotion. My goal is to offer high-quality reading that empowers the reader to take control of their romantic relationships.
I am not in my victory lap by any means. I still have a lot to learn and a lot of work ahead of me. My debut publication, “Young Black Male: Selected Essays on Relationships” is currently in editing, and is slated for an end of year release. But my foundation is solid, and I’m ready to take flight. If it weren’t for Nipsey Hussle, and the game he spills in interviews and music, my marathon might have easily been cut short. Thanks Nip, I wish you success and nothing less on your future.