My Fall Rewind: An Ode to Self-Care 34-“Focus”

When Fabolous Sport blew up, those in tune with New York’s mixtape circuit knew Joe Budden was on deck. As one third of the Triangle Offense, he was a fixture and favorite on DJ Clue tapes. One could argue Clue had the greatest incubator and farm system in hip hop history. If Nas, JAY-Z, B.I.G., DMX, and almost anyone considered the “who’s who” in east coast rap lore garnered their buzz in the 90’s, Fab ushered in the new millennium, Joey was a sure thing to jump off from this institution.

“Pump it Up” was a smash and his nod to New Jersey’s club scene, “Fire” set after-proms ablaze in 2003; they were great songs. I can’t speak for anywhere else, but in New York, “Focus” was the shit.

Even if you do not know any of the words, you knew the beat. The heavy bass, some claps, what sounds like syncopated clangs of bottles against metal gates, and after a pause, the “Whoo” was stuck in your head because it was the accompaniment to the one level of Def Jam Vendetta, which took forever to beat.

“Focus” sounds like everything New York was in my senior year of high school: tall “5-for-$20” icy-white tee-shirts which draped to just above the knee, xxxl throwback jerseys with the complimentary hat (also oversized), velour sweatsuits, sweat bands lopsidedly crisscrossed with du-rags, shiny jeans, Baby Phat anything, and Love Spell spray from Victoria’s Secret. I can’t help but cringe and laugh at how my peers and I expressed our youthful angst. We have become our parents who in retrospect, did and do have a similar response to the styles of their formative years. But back in the day, you couldn’t tell us we didn’t look fresh phat jiggy good. 

I do not remember much about my senior year of high school; almost everything after football season was a blur. 50 Cent released Get Rich or Die Tryin’, I drove all three blocks to and from school; and as a gesture of “I’m leaving here the same way I came in,” on the last day of school, I wore the same outfit from my first day of ninth grade. There were lots of fun times at Baldwin Senior High School between 1999 and 2003. I felt the world-my world-was much larger than 841 Ethel T Kloberg Drive; so I didn’t get too caught up in the day-to-day drama and such. I did indulge; but for the most part, all I wanted to do was hang with my friends, flirt with some girls, rap, and get out of Long Island. For lack of a better expression, I was focused.

As of yesterday, in my therapy session, I realized a pattern which perhaps persisted since my teenage years. When I set my sights on something, it all but takes intervention from the divine to deter me. I zero in and toil away, with my nose to the ground until I am distracted by an outside source or God gives me a blatant “no.”

This level of concentration is one of my best assets, but it is also a great liability. Such focus makes for a sharp picture and depth of field. However, it requires a small aperture. In other words, to function at a high level almost always means one does not let in enough light. For example, every day I write one of these essays takes hours to put 1,000 words together with elaborate detail and insight; but I have lots of other work I could and need to do; and often it falls to the wayside until the very last minute.

On the other hand, those who open their aperture have whatever is right in front of them with crisp attention; but their background is an abstract blur. They have let more life into their lives and the shallower depth of field creates a stark contrast to their proverbial core subjects, and it makes for a beautiful picture.

How good is it to see and capture intense detail with a darker perspective? What good is a picture with vivid color but most of it is obscured? In the moment, none of us are aware we do either. For it is not until we look back at our class photos and think “If I wore that long ass tee with the pair of shorts I’m currently wearing, it would look like I don’t have pants on! We looked square goofy wiggity-wack ridiculous!”

I am not sorry for who I was or how I spent my high school years. If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t. But it would be kinda nice, to relive the time with my friends without a care other than school and girls, again, for one day. In a way, I get to do so for the next four years. When my nephew concludes the same three-block walk, I know how his whole day went. They may be different, but when I see his friends, I was well acquainted with whomever the same kid was 20 years ago. And one day, they too will look back at the clothes they wore, the colloquialisms of their time, and themselves, only to laugh at their poor decisions with a different kind of clarity.

I guess the answer to my questions from two paragraphs ago is both are fine. In the moment, we have our tribe of like-minded and differed individuals who create balance. The other answer would be time gives both the proper resolution. You can edit a dark picture in post-production and/or your brain will fill in the gaps from the blur. Either way, you will always end up with the same picture.

If time is the answer to all the above, one could say the same for Joe Budden. He may not have become the household name of an emcee as his peer, Fabolous did. But he did become the star many of us knew he would when we first heard his first single, “Focus.”

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