This article isn’t for the perfect. You know, those people who just naturally seem to have it all together? Yeah, I’m not talking to them. Today, I’m talking to the fuck-ups. This conversation is for those who have made mistakes more than once, struggle with choices that “should’ve been easy” and went against better judgment when they “should’ve known better.” I am one of you. But don’t worry, I have a feeling there’s a whole lot more of us out than there are of them.
I spoke once before about Frank Ocean and being true to who you are, then we spoke about Nas and #TheUniversalTax, and today, I’d like to talk to you about failure and a young woman named K’La. But before I get into her story, raise your hand if you’ve ever had a dream that didn’t quite work out. Keep your hand raised if that situation left you lost. Like I said, there’s more of us than them.
In 2009 Gary, Indiana was far from popping. The blue-collar town was wrought with drugs, gangs and violence. And for K’La, it was becoming a hopeless situation. At 21, with two young girls whose father was in prison, K’La had a decision to make. She’d been exposed to entertainment early, having acted in a small indie film The Ballad of Sadie Hawkins, but her true passion was music. K’La could rap. But the music industry in Gary isn’t exactly all that, so she made a decision: in order to pursue her dreams and make a better life for herself and her daughters, she would have to leave.
Only her deeply religious family didn’t see it that way. “They were not for it at all. My brother tried to park his car in front of my dad’s so he couldn’t take me (to the airport).” But K’La was determined, and packed up her 3- and 4-year-old and moved to Atlanta to pursue her music career.
Now, raise your hand if you’ve got a pretty good idea of what happened next…
Things in Atlanta weren’t as easy as K’La anticipated. “In a city like Atlanta, everyone has a hustle and they all claim they can help you. Regular people say they have labels but don’t,” she says. “You have to be very careful.” And K’La learned the hard way just how real it could get.
Within a year, she and her two young daughters were homeless, and that’s when K’La had to make another tough decision: would she abandon her dreams and retreat back to Gary, or figure out how to make it work? “I’ve always had a very close relationship with my daughters. One of the most difficult things for me was [the decision to] send them back.”
With her children safely back in Gary, it was far from party time. While sleeping on friends’ couches and sharing motel rooms with her friend Shayna, K’La became more focused than ever. “I became aggressive business-wise. It was difficult to leave them but, if anything, it gave me more drive. If they were going to grow up without me there everyday, it was going to have to be worth it.”
K’La’s sacrifice paid off one night when she showed up at a party. She was there to network (and eat free food) when she had a chance encounter with Producer/A&R Anthony Tate. “I had never met anyone like her, I knew right there she was going to be a star. But it just made me more protective of her, she was instant little sister.”
With a manager in place, K’La began recording her well-received debut mixtape, featuring the track “All Your Luv,” which contained a Lauryn Hill sample. “When it came time to clear the sample, we sent the song to Ms. Hill, and everyone kept telling us that she doesn’t clear anything,” Anthony says proudly, “But she cleared this, easy.”
Her journey is far from over, but that isn’t my point. K’La could’ve given up two years ago–separated from her daughters, bouncing from couch to couch in a foreign city hundreds of miles from home. She could’ve listened to her naysayers, criticizing her decisions, but then where would she be?
Today we’re sitting in the 7th floor conference room at Def Jam, where K’La is now signed. She’s here promoting her new single “Blame” featuring Nas. “I am a young, single mother. I was never supposed to be here.”
How many of us can say the same thing about ourselves? After becoming homeless with her children, K’La could’ve proclaimed her mission a failure, being “reality checked” by those who didn’t see the vision. How many times have our loved ones said “just come home” or “maybe you should try something else” or even “what makes you think this is going to work?” How many of us have let our dreams become sidelined by failure?
K’La saw her failure just for what it was: a gift. Often when things don’t go as planned, what’s really happening is an opportunity for growth. A door must close in order to force you to figure out how to open a new one. Failure is simply the process of stripping away what doesn’t work. It’s learning who you are, in real time.
“I believed the vision I had for my music. When nobody else believed, I believed.”
There is no greater gift and better fuel than that.–JasFly