#GohJoGoal: February – Completed

Quick backstory: I’m not the New Year’s “resolutions” type. I think it’s pretty silly to use the changing of the calendar to start half-assedly working towards some arbitrary goal, especially one that is year long. I’d rather set more reasonable attainable goals in shorter time spans and spread them out consistently throughout the year.

That’s what I thought, anyway. Until I realized I wasn’t doing it.

Instead, I found myself spending more time daydreaming about doing those goals and the perceived benefits of them, rather than actually, y’know, doing them (sound familiar?).

That’s when I found myself this year, very ironically, setting a goal for myself for 2016. My goal? Set goals.

Each month I’m trying to do something different and new, something that challenges me to get outside of my comfort zone. I want to try to drop bad habits, and also develop new good ones. I also don’t want to try to do it all at once, so 1-2 goals each month is the right number to keep me focused.

I wanted to start easy, so my January goal was only two weeks, and that was to not eat meat. Excluding all meats except seafood, I ate a pescatarian diet each day for 14 days. I’m not trying to be vegetarian any time soon (I constantly get distracted by the thought of a steak dinner at Beef & Bottle), but I knew I had developed a mentality where meat had to be not only present in every meal, but the feature of each meal too. My 14 days as a pescatarian helped me shake that mentality just a bit. It forced me to consider meals (both at restaurants and at home) that did not have beef, pork, chicken or turkey. That was a slight-but-noticeable change in the planning and preparation of meals that had become entrenched and automatic. While I haven’t made it a point to avoid meat in the time since, I have been able to appreciate significantly more meals based on greens and grains.

That brings us to February. My goal last month was a daily one, and a two-sided goal at that. I decided to meditate for at least ten minutes each day, while also not having a single drink of alcohol the entire month of February. Meditation is something that I’ve wanted to make a consistent practice for a while now, and just never made myself do it. To compliment that, not having any alcohol would allow myself to make the most of my clarity-driven mission.

I’ll tackle my assessment from each sub-goal and then as a whole. Context: Yes, I completed each goal.

I have never thought I had a problem with alcohol. I don’t mean that with any sense of irony, exaggeration, or pretension. I’ve just never been the type of person who felt the need to push it to the limit when it came to drinking.

Not that I haven’t done my part to help sustain the prevalence of booze. I went to a big state college for five years, lived in a frat for two of them, burned my meager paychecks at the uptown bars (RIP Dixie’s) when I moved to Charlotte, and have been a huge fan of the more recent craft beer explosion.

But again, these challenges are all about taking me out of my routine.

If have any problem with alcohol, it’s that I’m too quick to drink just because that’s what everyone does at the places I hang out (familiar, again?). Just like eating meat, drinking booze at the bars / a networking event / a sporting event / at the airport / at home / basically everywhere except work has become just something I do, because that’s what I do.

February would have its challenges, too. Right away, the Super Bowl was a huge test. I would be watching it at a friend’s house where I would likely be the only person not drinking. Initially, I thought I would give myself a pass for that day because seriously, the local football squadron was playing the big game! After a week of not drinking, however, making it through the game was relatively easy. Full disclosure:

Not one person even asked me about it.

I suppose the most awkward feeling I had was when I would be at a place like Hattie’s, the Birdsong patio or Legion Brewery for #instabeerup and someone would ask my why I’m not drinking. It’s a question that’s tough to answer without looking self-righteous, but the answer that I always gave is the same answer I’m writing here: To challenge myself and step outside my comfort zone.

More so than not drinking, meditation for ten minutes everyday I felt made a tangible impact on me. This is something I’ve always wanted to make a habit, but it’s always been so hard to keep it consistent. I would do a few minutes for a day or two, forget to do it for a day, then be done. I would attempt the same feat a few months later to similar results. In February, I had not only done a ten minute session each day, but by the end of the month, I was finding pockets of ten, fifteen minutes to meditate. After a morning shower, at lunch, after work and before bed were the most popular times for me.

After of month of building a meditation habit, I feel that it’s something that still takes a long time to really feel the full effects of, but in the short time I did I felt that it was a great way to take a mental break from an easily cluttered day. Especially working in social media, information comes fast and it’s absolutely necessary to be able to take mental breaks and sort through everything that’s coming at you.

I’m looking forward to continuing to grow with meditation and mindfulness, I have a feeling there’s a long path ahead. As nor not drinking, well, I like having a quality local craft beer, or a glass of bourbon, whiskey or scotch, I won’t lie. And a night filled with one, two or a few of those, and some good company can make for a fun night. I won’t be cutting that off any time soon, but I will continue to be more conscious about drinking when I really don’t want to, or feel is necessary.

First Listen: Anderson .Paak – “Malibu”

Throughout his entire career, Dr. Dre has been many things (revolutionary producer, acceptable rapper, tenuous business man and more), but what’s the one thing that he has probably excelled at the most for the longest duration? Having an impeccable ear for talent. His list of protégés reads like a first-ballot hip-hop Hall of Fame list: Snoop Doggy Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game and the list goes on.

Despite a soul-sucking decade-plus long wait and counting for Dre’s theoretical next album Detox, his ability to find engaging new artists is still as sharp as ever, as evidenced by Malibu the second LP from LA singer, rapper, drummer and producer Anderson .Paak.

Malibu is a mix of many things stylistically: hip-hop, R&B, jazz, soul, funk and disco, each gently contributing to the flow of the album while graciously not dominating it. This swirling mix of sounds is rooted in a storyline uniting the narrative of the album, .Paak’s story of growing up in the chaotic and unforgiving LA streets. “Your moms’ in prison / your father need a new kidney / your family’s splitting / rivalries between siblings / if cash ain’t king it’s damn sure the incentive”, .Paak raps on “The Season | Carry Me”. The tone of the album, however, is anything but a bummer. There’s ample energy and flair for the duration, but .Paak does an excellent job of grounding it in a self-aware story.

.Paak, of Black and Korean descent, is a drummer by trade. Everything on Malibu is based around the percussion and rhythm, which is smooth, has a good bounce and sets the tone for the swagged-out feel of the album. It’s hard to put on this record and not want to nod your head (as Dre used to say) to many of the lush grooves here. As mentioned above, several styles are represented here, and .Paak blends them masterfully. Each genre is the result of a deep working knowledge and respect for that sound, but .Paak’s ability to make each bend to the will of his persona and story is what makes this album good. .Paak – the stylized “.” in his name, according to him, represents the “details”, which are what got him to where he is – is clearly knowledgeable about each of the styles he wants to use.

The opening track, “The Bird”, quickly establishes a smooth feel, as .Paak gently croons about his fractured family dynamic over a mid-tempo drum, piano and guitar line with a welcomed saxophone solo line on top. “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” pushes the tempo dial up, however, with a bouncy two-step beat and decadent drum-fill chorus.

Malibu starts trying on different sonic outfits at this point. “The Waters” sound like a cut off of a D’Angelo album with a smoky bassline, hazy drums, and a rapid-fire lyrical flow backed up by a soulful harmony section. The obligatory radio-ready track is next, but it hardly feels like it. “The Season | Carry Me” is a twofer, with the first track produced by Raleigh-based soul sample master 9th Wonder, and the latter a Callum Conner work, both are beat-heavy hip-hop tracks that play perfectly off one another.

via youtube.com

.Paak is assisted by some heavy hip-hop names (no doubt the benefit of working with Dre) such as producers 9th Wonder, Madlib and Hi-Tek; and rappers Schoolboy Q, The (aforementioned) Game, Talib Kweli and North Carolina’s own Rapsody, but the album is clearly .Paak’s. His style of vocally singing and rapping while hitting each point in between sounds fresh through the full listen. His voice is slightly raspy and nasal, but easily conveys the cool tone of the album. The lyrics are tight and the hooks are constructed out of some very catchy melodies.

“Put Me Thru” has a heavy rock and jazz influence, with a clean, funky guitar sound in the verse, which transforms into a distortion-filled force during the chorus. “Am I Wrong” is a take on a dance song, reminiscent of the feel on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. “Without You” goes back to hip-hop roots and features a heartbroken Rapsody rhyming over a boom-bap beat.

The album isn’t without it’s flaws. Some of the tracks could easily have been left off, sounding more like half-baked song ideas, rather than fully-fledged songs. “Parking Lot”, “Lite Weight” and “Water Fall (Interluuube)”, while evidence of a solid element or two to build on, don’t go anywhere after that. Adding to that is that all three of those tracks surround an otherwise healthy song (“Room in Here”), drowning out that track’s energy ever so slightly.

.Paak makes up for it with the next two tracks, which really drive the second half of the album. “Your Prime” features a staccato flow that could have been a feature on To Pimp a Butterfly. Ironically, “Come Down” is similar to the filler songs I mentioned before, but instead of half-baked beats, this song is anchored by a spectacular, ill-mannered and boastful bass line that would make Bootsy Collins bashful. However, there’s not much more to the song besides the bass line and a two quick verse/chorus exchanges.

The album closes with the ambitious but clumsy “Silicon Valley”, and the nostalgia-fueled sunny-day vibes of “Celebrate” and “The Dreamer”. It’s at this point in the album, however, that the strain from the less-than-necessary tracks take their toll. As an entertainer of any kind, you always want to leave the audience wanting more and these tracks rob Malibu of that feeling in the long run.

Overall, Malibu is essential listening in this young year. A fresh sound from a fresh name, one that honors the magic of the past, while taking the sound into the future. From rapping to singing and even producing a few of the tracks on this album, Anderson .Paak shows that he has the talent and the ambition to build a name off of. Dr. Dre, meanwhile, continues his streak of finding diamonds in the rough.