Thriving in the Music Industry with Curtiss King
Curtiss King is a music producer, Hip Hop artist, and is a go-to for many who seek advice on the music industry - to name a few. With over ten thousand subscribers on his YouTube channel (Curtiss King TV) where he shares some insight on topics such as "When is the best time to drop your album?" and credits with artists like Ab Soul, E-40, Kendrick Lamar and MURS, Curtiss has learned how to thrive as an underdog in the dope yet harsh industry of music.
His aspirations go beyond making music and being known for his credits though, Curtiss aspires to be a motivational speaker and an inspiration for those who desire to make it in the industry, yet have little to nothing to start their journey with. As someone who's struggled and faced a lot of adversities himself to be where he is today, Curtiss shares with us his rock bottom experience after a project falls through, what kept him motivated and more!
First off, I want to talk about your Jubilee Year album. I saw you were giving away some of your products/services for those that purchased this album so you can make it on the top of the iTunes chart and prove a point. It made it to top 4. Which is super dope! What point were you trying to prove?
A lot of people associate the name Curtiss King (for those who don’t know who I am) as the guy that produced for Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Murs, & E-40 - aka: the producer guy. People really know me for my credits, sometimes not realizing that I’ve been an artist a lot longer than I’ve been a producer.
But it was my goal to change that narrative in 2016. For me this whole year has been mostly dedicated to giving back to other artists and producers. Namely, artists and producers that are going through the same obstacles that I did when I was younger and without the proper resources. I also wanted to make a statement to the more popular artists that have turned their back on the up and comers. Many of these artists know exactly who I am and I know a lot of them thought I was crazy or wasting my time spreading my knowledge, but I knew better. I knew that the two most common traits you see in the most successful human beings are gratitude and a giving heart. Especially giving! Giving is a prerequisite to success. It’s not just a nice thing to do, it’s a requirement. In 2016 I chose to show the power of giving your value and how high it can take you. I set my sights on the top ten Hip Hop charts because besides it being a highly coveted achievement in my industry, I personally never accomplished it. The highest I ever charted on iTunes was 42. But I did it. We did it. Number four Hip Hop album in the country! More importantly, I didn’t have to do it with any major features or extensive media coverage. Just the people and I. I showed my peers that there is an alternative route to the success they want in life as a Hip Hop artist.
On your Twitter bio you have Hip Hop Artist, Music producer, consultant and Luminary. Define Luminary.
A luminary is one who motivates and inspires. We are all luminaries. Anybody that uses their voice, uses their time, their energy, and insight to motivate and uplift others is a luminary. Taking it a step further, to illuminate literally means to light up, correct? Well I always try my best to spread my light and electrify every conversation I have. I always want people to walk away feeling like they got something they didn’t have before they met me. Everyday I feel my body and mind up with information and energy that keeps me going. So it’s only natural I spread it. Being a motivator, being somebody who inspires is something that I’ve done most of my career
What would you say is what attracts people to your journey?
I think that I’m not afraid to disclose the ugly parts of my journey. When you hear about your favorite singer or rapper talk about their come up story, they tend to brush briefly over the ugly parts. Most of them will tell the people tidbits of their struggle story and spread other parts of it sporadically through their music. However, there was a part of me that always felt like more should be told about one’s journey from tragedy to triumph. It’s important that the listeners know that they are not alone in what they’re going through. They want and need to hear about the ugliest ordeals so that they can realize every story isn’t a fairytale rise. So to answer your question, I think that people relate to my authenticity and fearlessness when I open up about my insecurities and unedited realities. I think it’s the same way people looked at Kanye West in the beginning. People loved his unapologetic way of expressing his story. People felt like they were witnessing the come up of a real person just like them. People just love seeing the underdog win and for most of my career I’ve played that role. But now they’ve seen my triumphant rise and I think they see a part of themselves in every step of the journey.
You have credits with Kendrick Lamar (back when he was K-Dot), Ab-Soul, E-40 and MURS. How would you say your mentality or music career altered since then? Was it something that phased you in some kind of way?
I don’t think working with them phased me at all. I’ve always been grateful to have worked with the titans of my industry. However, working with the entities that represent some of these artists gave me a harsh reality of what it truly meant to have those credits. There are so many producers out there with a ridiculous resume but the general public doesn’t know them. I see it all the time when I’m on Twitter. What it made me realize was that there are two types of placements: one placement that can change your life financially and another that’s merely a stepping stone closer to your game changer.
On your site you mentioned being a 12 year “DIY artist.” What kept you motivated all those years?
What kept me motivated was having a strong, strong why. Your why is literally going to be the fuel that pushes your dreams forward. In the beginning I just wanted to be able to buy my Mom the house of her dreams and have her quit her job. That was my number one goal initially. That why drove me to become a better rapper, producer, and businessman. As time went on and as I matured, that dream was joined by more and more goals. Goals such as wanting to motivate thousands of my peers through public speaking. What kept me motivated? Always keeping my mind and sights on the bigger picture. To be honest, there have been some really challenging times of poverty where the big picture was very bleak and I didn’t know if I was going to make it. But, that is just reality. Reality can make you happy, sad, and a little/a lot a bit crazy! But an artist or producer needs that edge of crazy to drive them. To be able to look at your life when there is no money in your pocket, no car outside your apartment and to think, “Someway, somehow I’m still going to be able to make millions at this.” You gotta be a little off, you know? But I did it. There’s an African proverb that says, “If you take care of the enemy inside, the enemy on the outside can’t hurt you.” I really had to make sure I focused on my mental health - my excitement and my bigger picture at all times.
What’s an experience where you felt just complete, utter disappointment or grief as an artist?
There was a point in time in 2011, where basically for three months straight I was producing three beats a day and I wasn’t employed or generating consistent income. I would make a little bit sending emails to rappers looking to buy beats, but not enough. There was one popular rapper I was working with heavily at the time that I was hoping would bring me my big break. I had sent him about 80 beats over the prior three months for an album that was going to be a huge deal! Mind you I put my entire faith into that project because my car had just got repossessed, my family had just got evicted, I was staying on my friends couch. One day I got a call from my manager at the time that he wasn’t going to do the album anymore.
Now the next part of this story is going to sound crazy as crazy can sound. As soon as I got off the phone I had to use the restroom but there was no toilet paper. Even worse, I couldn’t afford to buy new toilet paper. There was a liquor store across the street from me but I couldn’t even go to the liquor store because if the apartment manager there saw me and saw that I was staying at that apartment, everybody in that spot would be evicted. So most times I literally felt like a prisoner in my own apartment. The only other option I had was to use the notebook paper that I wrote my lyrics on. The thought alone was completely humiliating. I then unwisely decided to log on to my Facebook. Now, just to give you an idea of how mentally weak I allowed my circumstances to make me, I saw an article about the song “Friday” by Rebecca Black and how people were committing suicide after listening to that song too many times. It sounds so ridiculous now as I tell you this, but as I was reading the article it started feeling like it was my reality. The article said things like, “Due to the subliminal messaging of the song, many young adults have been ending their lives.” Mind you, as I was reading this I started hearing the song in my head and I thought for certain that I was losing my mind. I kept reading the article for some odd reason and towards the end of it, I did lose it. I got up, and started pacing the room like a maniac because I could not get the song out of my head.
What I didn’t realize was that I was having a nervous breakdown. In the midst of my pacing the apartment, I opened up the front door and looked over the balcony. Our apartment was on the second floor. As I looked over the balcony and “Friday” repeatedly looped in my head, I decided to jump off. I stepped backwards into my doorway, took about 14 steps back with tears in my eyes. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that something caught my eye in the corner of the room. It was a big polaroid picture of my younger sister smiling cheek to cheek. I saw that picture, saw her eyes looking at me and I stopped. I closed the door and I slept for the next eight hours. A few days later a friend told me that that article was a fake.
How’d you overcome that?
By sleeping! What I needed most in that situation was a good sleep. What I needed was to get outside of my own head because I was an extreme over-thinker. At that point in time, that was my biggest problem. I was overthinking the situation about the album getting canceled. I seriously thought this album was going to change my life but that was my fault for putting so much faith into something that was out of my control.
Also, I had to remind myself of the things that are most important. When you have gratitude, you don’t have room to be angry or worried about a thing. When I woke up from my breakdown I immediately felt overwhelmingly grateful, even though I didn’t have any money. I was grateful that I had my life, thankful I had my family, thankful I had people that loved me. And I was also thankful for the way that made me feel. Having that gratitude helped me keep pushing through that situation. But honestly the biggest cure was probably that eight hour nap.
What character traits would you say someone needs to thrive in the music industry?
You gotta have a thick skin. You have to have the ability not to take things personal and realize that the industry is filled with a lot of hurt people, even the ones that look shiny on the outside. A lot of them are hurt on the inside. When I look at Kid Cudi, or at Kanye West, or people outside the music industry like Martin Lawrence who have dealt with very public battles with their mental health it makes me think. I often refer to what Dave Chappelle said in that interview about these strong men in Hollywood breaking down. How and why are the strongest men in this industry being broken down so hard? Is it because the industry is full of people who have been hurt at one point in time and therefore they hurt each other? I would say you definitely need to know who you are and that’s a lifelong journey for some people. I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do but I am saying that you need to know who you are or someone else will define it for you. You need to be confident about your goals and always write them down. You have to approach the industry with the attitude that success is inevitable if you stay on course and aligned with your goals.
Most artists come into this industry not knowing who they are and then they get told who they are. My advice is - know yourself and your expectations before you enter or one day you’ll find success in a life that you wish you could escape.
What would you say is your greatest accomplishment thus far?
Honestly, being now that I’m 13 going on 14 years doing this my proudest accomplishment is not even music related, but it’s me regaining my confidence. After all of the stuff that I’ve fought through I could have easily been a lunatic or a guy that blames the world for his every problem. But the fact that I was able to reclaim my confidence and my sense of humor, the fact that here I am at 31 turning 32 next year and I’m filled with more energy now than I’ve ever had in my life… I’m proud of that. I’m turning this Curtiss King guy into an indestructible mental, physical, and spiritual masterpiece everyday.
What advice would you give to somebody who’s trying to become a producer or a rapper? Some initial “starting your journey” advice.
I would encourage them to study. I would encourage them to do the complete opposite of what they think their peers are doing because their peers are not going to give them the full story. So I would tell them to study those that came before them so that they won’t repeat their mistakes. Although the internet changed the game and many rules changed, it doesn’t matter, you still win the same way, you still grow a fanbase the same way - one person at a time. I would say really work on yourself as an individual, work on your confidence and make sure you wire your brain to think of abundance over scarcity. We come into this industry and we are bombarded with different people telling us all the things that we don’t have or haven’t accomplished. But I’m here to tell you that there’s more to winning than vanity statistics on your Instagram and Twitter. Resist the need to go on these wild goose chases that have nothing to do with your true goal. Establish your number one goal and remind yourself daily of it. I can’t even stress the importance of figuring that out early enough.
What’s your number one goal right now?
My number one goal is to strengthen my muscle called gratitude. The more grateful you are, the more things come to you that you’ll be grateful for. I think grateful people tend to think in abundance and are therefore blessed with more to be grateful for. I remind myself of this every morning.
You know what’s crazy, Jocelyn? People look at football players getting pumped up every Sunday before the game starts. We watch our teams huddle up and we can actually feel their energy from our living room as we chant, “Oh! Oh! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” But let someone inside that same house get pumped up before they go to work, and they’ll label that human being as “crazy.” And I’m like really? They are the crazy one?
So now to combat that narrow way of thinking I treat every morning like it’s a game day. Every morning is a game day. Every morning I get up and listen to music that fills me up, I drink water, I eat a good salad and I jump on the trampoline. It gets my system going, it gets my blood flowing. Some mornings I’ll just start clapping at 5am while I blast Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” in the house. I treat everyday like it’s game day because I know there’s powers out there that are like linemen trying to stop me from succeeding and I can’t allow that to happen.
What are the three biggest lessons you’ve learned in your life so far?
Attitude equals altitude is one. Two is what you focus on is reality, even when it’s not reality (that’s a Tony Robbins quote) and third, gratitude and giving are literally how you attract everything you want in life.
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