Wax, a popular rapper has this song called “We Can’t All Be Hero’s” and it’s awesome and I’m going to talk about it and what it means for a generation of creators.
This song is about how most people who become bloggers, athletes, musicians or other unique talents rarely make it. and its written by a mildly successful musician, at least to those who don’t actively follow Wax, he isn’t as visible as an artist like Drake or Logic that are household names, Wax can survive as an artist on his music but he doesn’t enjoy a luxurious lifestyle. The album “Continue” where the song appears comes off a turbulent time for Wax after a separation from Label Def Jam. (Note I am extrapolating this I don’t know Wax’s income)
The album as a whole seems to bounce between 2 repeating themes, Meaningfulness in art and meaningless in art. Basically, should you pursue art? I’ll wrap up with an overview of what this means but for now lets focus on the most comprehensive song on the album: “We Can’t All be Heroes”.
This song sets the stakes for pursuing passion. While the beginning of the album pitches the best case scenario, this song pitches the worst, focusing on the possible outcomes of pursuing passion in ways that can damage your body, your mental health and your life as seen through relationships.
This song pitches the vision for a larger life and talent as a curse that drags you down and becomes addicting in itself, passion in this case is irrational like love but without the societal acceptance of love. There isn’t another human on the end of this attention that benefits: it’s just lost effort if you fail.
The first verse discusses his own failures and how the monotony of art has dragged down his enjoyment of it. Anyone who has failed at learning the guitar or writes for a career can tell you how the realism of consistency taints the dreamer’s need for constant stimulation and growth. Rap is exciting, but perfecting rap is as tedious as any normal job.
“I should get an office gig, but I can’t because I’m over here dreaming”
The song goes on and we associate with 2 different characters. We hear the tale of some kid who grew up playing basketball and ends up having a failed career as a college level athlete. He gets injured and the dream dies. He comes home without the skills to pick up somewhere else and his relationships crumble as he becomes addicted to pain killers in his depression. Wax goes into the detail of this person’s life and it feels compelling.
in the interlude Wax discusses how life is hard enough without us complicating it, pleading us yet again to realize the dangers of pursuing our passions.
The third verse is even more extreme; we connect with many young women who moved to Hollywood trying to become actresses. As the situation becomes dire, for a single individual now, she becomes addicted to drugs and “on the corner”. It’s explained in a very rational way and by the end of the verse we associate with an old woman by a bus stop screaming to herself “Stop Fucking with me!” This is horrifying imagery because of how Wax starts with a simple thought that many of us have been pitched growing up: “Move to LA and pursue art”. and then he drags us down there to see the shocking reality of our greatest fantasies ending in something that we find appalling in day to day life. The song makes us feel hopelessness and that maybe our artistic “fears” of a stable job and nuclear family are, in actuality, the dramatically better options. As artists we feel attacked, especially those of us who are sensitive because of our sheltered upbringing where we don’t associate with homeless or addicted but then Wax shows us that this optimistic thinking can lead to failure and eventually madness.
I think any artist, or not even artist, just anyone who took a risk at an opportunity cost, has lived a scenario that was further damaged as a result of the risk. Humans take risks and as a result we create largely horrible experiences in our individual lives and largely beneficial creations in the macrocosm that is humanity. We play the lottery so one guy can win.
So what now according to Wax should we do when we get these impulses to live life in a fuller way? Go sit in a cubical and cook hot dogs on the weekend right?
I think this might have a part two where I will discuss the conclusion Wax draws in the album and the argument he proposes to this song.