Troy Donald Jamerson, better known as rapper Pharoahe Monch, has been the definition of a hard-working artist. He grinds. He gets up after he’s been knocked down. He never quits. He’s had bad deals, hit songs train-wrecked by executives who cut corners, and his own challenges to grow and effectively change with the times.
Despite the struggles, he’s always found work and kept moving forward. One of his biggest lessons came from a job he did with Puff Daddy. It was work for a project that wasn’t even his own. This is going to resonate with any creator or creative contributor.
Diddy, as he was calling himself at the time, wanted Pharoahe to ghost-write some lyrics for him. Puff had previously (and somewhat contentiously) said, “Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks.” He paid for the best and had a reputation for being demanding. Pharoahe was a living legend Puff knew from the early 90s. Since he wanted to go back to basics while making something future-forward, Pharoahe was an obvious choice.
Pharoahe said in an interview that he remembers working crazy hard. He’d prepare an entire verse only to have Diddy come in and say, “Maybe the last few lines are usable. Keep them and make another.”* This happened again and again on the project, and it was all in the name of upping the quality. He didn’t want a couple of great lines out of a great rapper, he wanted all the great rhymes, rhyme schemes, and references he could muster.
The output of the experience included the track, “The Future.” The lesson for Pharoahe, after being made to work that hard on a single song for someone else’s project, was that he was never going to work any less hard than he did on that song for himself. Read that last sentence again and think about.
Pharoahe realized if somebody else could get that much out of him, he could get at least as much out of himself. He swore he’d never work less hard than that on anything ever again. For the rest of us, if we’ve ever busted out butt’s on someone else’s project or for someone else’s company, why would we work any less hard on our own thing?
Don’t just put the work in, put your best work in. Learn what standards the very best in your industry or craft or art form uphold, and then see how you can meet or beat them for yourself. Your work deserves your best effort.
*Want more? Listen to Pharoahe Monch’s interview on the Questlove Supreme podcast.
And, in case you’re curious: