‘Til I saw a demon smile at me
and tell me I can do it.
He said “If I get some
Bitches in a Buick,
Then write a song about it
I could live off ‘a music.”
Tried it, but I was better
Off left dead, ‘cause I was
Saying what everybody else said.
I get the most bread; I get the most hos; but that’s mediocre, and I want mo’!
From “I Want Mo’”
Maybe you know J-Bush as the husky but indomitably cheerful Preservation Pub barback and doorman with the coast-to-coast grin, or maybe you know him as the talented rapper/spoken word artist who co-fronts the Theorizts, the Plunderphonics, and a handful of other local hip-hop acts with an irrepressible, roof-raising energy.
But for all of his happy, contagious charm, Bush found himself at an unsettling crossroads—perched on the cusp of fatherhood, and the fate of the Theorizt hanging in a painful and uncertain limbo—when he decided, of a winter afternoon, that he wanted mo’.
With his first child on the way, Bush didn’t want to let his creative side be subsumed by the responsibilities of parenthood, and life. “I’ve been recording these new solo projects, and a goal of mine is to be able to tour as a solo artist,” he says. “But I realized my writing isn’t as potent as I’d like it to be. I’d taken kind of a hiatus from writing. That’s where the idea came from.”
“The idea” being something called the 30/16 Challenge, a sort of Facebook-based call-to-arms wherein Bush issued a challenge—to himself, and to whomever else would take up the gauntlet—to write 16-bar verse, every day for a month.
The idea was seeded by Bush’s delvings into inspirational and self-help literature, specifically that of Earl Nightingale, a speaker and writer who rose to prominence in the mid-20th century, and who turned one of his books, The Strangest Secret, into an award-winning spoken-word LP.
“I’d been reading and listening to Nightingale for a while,” Bush says. “And one of the things he talks about I how to become successful at whatever it is that you’re doing. He talks about developing positive habits that move you toward your goal. And one of the things he talks about is that you have to do something for 30 days straight if you want to make it a habit.
“I wanted to be a better writer. And I wanted to make writing a habit, not something I do just when I need to. That’s when I created the 30/16 Challenge for myself. Then I thought, to prevent myself from not sticking to it, I’d stick it online, so other artists would join me in the process.”
The response to the Official 30/16 Challenge has been gratifying, says Bush, with more than 200 artists, from several states and a couple continents have taken part in at least a few days of Challenge.
Every day, participating artists are supposed to write a 16-bar verse, record it and stick it up on the 30/16 Facebook page. “It’s been cool to see how artists have grown from hearing each other rap,” Bush says. “I’ve grown just by feeling more comfortable writing by myself. The first few days, I went through a lot of dirt that came up. Now I feel like I can do anything or say anything.
“I try to do a lot of inspirational lyrics. But sometimes I have my braggadocio days, like I’m a dope MC, check out the rhymes. One day, I had to do laundry with my girlfriend, so I did one about being in the laundry room all day, and how it sucked not having a washing machine. I didn’t have anything to talk about, but I still wanted to write.
“When you sit down to do a verse, it can be as complex as the moon and stars, or as simple as washing clothes.”
Bush says the Challenge made for a fertile creative environment, with dozens of other artists posting their verse online every day. One of his favorite local artists in the Challenge is an MC named Spook: “I’ve been so impressed with his consistency… Every Sunday, he does something about his spiritual beliefs. His style is like a battle rapper, real aggressive and direct. But he does it in a way that really connects with the listener.”
Another standout is former New Yorker Bobby Fuego, whom Bush lauds for “his lyrical ability, his complex wordplay.”
“On the third day, he told a whole story about all of the artists who were part of the challenge,” Bush says. “He’s great at creating narratives. And he’s also helped me with the administrative aspects of the Challenge.”
And that’s just a very short list of Bush’s favorites—there are others, too, like Cali’s sPeZLoAkS and Sean Moonshine and Cassius Chase… “West Coast-style guys; all three of them are phenomenal.”
Now, with the Challenge drawing to a close, Bush will host a 30/16 Challege awards ceremony Feb. 5 at Scruffy City Hall, featuring D.J. Wiggs, the Good Guy Collective and others. Bush also plans to skype in some of the out-of-town artists for the show.
If all goes well, look for the Official 30/16 Challenge to become a hip-hop mainstay, locally and otherwise. “I’m going to do it every year now, around the same time,” Bush enthuses. “I want to grow this thing.”
The Official 30/16 Challenge Awards Ceremony will be held Thursday, Jan. 5 at 10 p.m. at Scruffy City Hall with D.J. Wiggs, the Good Guy Collective and others.