5 things I learned about myself while writing a memoir
Today might just be the biggest day of my life. I’m yet to get married or have a kid, and the Clippers can’t seem to make it out of the first round of the NBA playoffs, so for now I’m willing to just settle on “the day my memoir came out” as the most important 24 hours of my existence so far.
It took almost a year of writing and panicking, but Kanye West Owes Me $300 (and other true stories from a white rapper who ALMOST made it big) is now available everywhere books are sold. You see, in the year 2000, when I was just 19 years old, I entered a radio contest and my entire life changed. It was a nightly rap battle, where three to four callers competed against each other in rhyme, hoping to be voted the best of the segment and return the following night to compete all over again. The longest running champion before me lasted about 10 consecutive days. I retired after around 40. That unprecedented run, which remember happened before iPods or satellite radio, turned into a million-dollar recording contract at Interscope Records and an even more personally lucrative publishing deal.
Despite the fact that I was raised in the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley, and basically look like a typical UCB instructor (if he also moonlit as a cool Rabbi at a nearby Hebrew School), I spit fire and was not to be taken lightly. Over a two-year period, in what can only be described as a true fish-out-of-water tale, I recorded songs with will.i.am, Fabolous, Redman, DJ Quik, Mya and others. Along the way, I was offered $50,000 cash from a briefcase by Mack 10, loaned $300 to a young Kanye West, and had a 21st birthday party planned by Mark McGrath (then never saw him again). Then, I watched everything fall apart as quickly as it came together. It’s an insane and emotional story. But I’m going to be very honest with you: It was NOT an easy process.
Every few minutes, while trying to complete a page of words explaining what I’d been through, I’d stare at my dog with a frustrated look on my face and yell, “WHO CARES ABOUT ANY OF THIS SHIT?” I figured since I lived the story, and no one else in the world can tell it, it would flow easily for me or just find itself on the page, but nope – like watching Saved By The Bell: The New Class, it was a painstaking experience I originally had assumed would be fun. But beyond the eventual finished product, another positive result of the process was that I actually learned a lot about myself. Almost like going to a daily, and excruciatingly long, therapy session, I was forced to sit down, face my past, and figure out the best way to convey my feelings about something that at one time felt pretty tragic — and it opened my eyes to a lot of stuff. So I figured now would be a good time to list out the top five things I learned about myself while writing this memoir, when all the dust has settled, in case you’re thinking of becoming a teenage rap battle champion, then writing about almost 20 years later.
I have a better memory than I thought.
When the concept of a memoir first entered my mind, the main concern was remembering everything from my past. Recently my short-term memory, or lack thereof, has me wishing I had Memento-style notes tattooed on my body to help me remember everything that had happened. I was terrified I would sit down to recall the early 2000s and draw a blank, but to my surprise, I actually would make a pretty great key witness because everything just flowed out of me. Sure I utilized photographs, videos, reliable friends, and my mother, who kept EVERYTHING like a very specific hoarder obsessed with obscure underground white rappers, but I was more in tune than I every would’ve expected. It was a pleasant surprise that made the whole process much smoother.
I can find procrastination ANYWHERE.
In high school, I only had to worry about television dragging me away from homework, but nowadays something as little as “What’s my Uber score?” or “Does my sock drawer need organizing?” or “How much money has CT won on MTV Real World Road Rules Challenges?” can drain hours from a proposed start time. Not only do you have to clear your head to begin a day’s work nowadays, you also have to completely clear the path and become a boy in a bubble. It’s not easy and so you know, CT has won just over $130,000, which definitely seems like a better gig than writing a memoir.
I can forget deadlines.
I know this sounds like bullshit, but you’d be surprised what my mind can do. About halfway through the process, my brain just straight up “forgot” when the book was due. For real. And I was totally relaxed about it. This also has happened to me with the movie Cinderella Man. I think I saw it, but I also could be thinking about Million Dollar Baby. I really don’t know at this point. I started talking about the manuscript deadline confusion on my podcast, and eventually, despite insisting that the universe would find a way to keep me on track, my editor unexpectedly shot over an email to politely remind me how many weeks I had left. It was then I realized he listens to my podcast, and in the end, the universe really did tell me what I needed to know.
Your Twitter account is going to become awful.
It’s true. You just have to accept it. For years, I’ve kept my tweets to mostly jokes about how Zsa Zsa Gabor is still alive and how Phil Collins ruined the movie Hook, but now it’s relegated to self promotion and reminders about the memoir. I know people are probably annoyed, but I’ve also tweeted around 25,000 free jokes since 2009, so what’s asking for $20 once? That’s how I live with myself at least. I know it will all slow down come July and I’ll go back to non sequitur bullshit, but until then I’m relentless.
Nothing beats the sense of accomplishment upon completion.
I wouldn’t call my experience writing about myself “enjoyable.” “Self centered?” Yes. “Grueling?” Yes. But not “enjoyable.” It was hard. There were times I just couldn’t imagine it coming together. But in the end, I’m really proud of it. It’s not just jokes and stories about my rap career and a young Kanye West loving the Russell Crowe movie Master and Commander (although it does include those things). It’s about my own emotional journey. It’s about facing adversity in creativity during my attempt to find fame, only to fall down and struggle to regain my footing. I was honest and earnest and I feel my story deserves that. And now I hope you decide to read it.
People have jokingly asked me about a sequel and I genuinely am terrified by the question. I’m still getting over crafting this book. Who knows what I’ll do next, but I do know I learned a lot and, as soon as an idea for a follow-up does hit me, I’ll be ready for it, although much like Saved By The Bell: The New Class, I’m sure it won’t be as good as the original.
You can order my book, Kanye West Owes Me $300, here and put me out of my self-promoting misery.
Jensen Karp is the author of Kanye West Owes me $300, out today.