A couple weeks back, The Life and Rhymes staff had the opportunity to interview an individual we aspire to be like as writers, Shea Serrano. We had no idea that this would come together in the way it did, but we took a chance in asking for some advice, and we were rewarded because of it. If you never ask for an opportunity, how will you ever know if you’ll receive it or not?
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”- Wayne Gretzky
Regardless of where we are in our careers, we should always seek guidance from the people who are doing the damn thing—and Shea Serrano is doing the damn thing. If you’ve been living under a rock for the couple years or so and don’t know who he is—shame on you. Shea Serrano is a New York Times Best Selling Author of the infamous book, “The Rap Year Book”. In his book, Shea takes his readers all the way back to when rap music/culture started and offers a timeline of the most iconic songs of each year to date since 1979. However, that is not the reason why we look up to Shea…
Shea Serrano has become a staple in the Houston community. Shea continuously finds ways to give back to the culture and the community—whether he is secretly raising money through his FOH army (a massive twitter following that supports anything Shea related)to give free haircuts to kids going back to school or just making himself accessible to other writers/authors to reach out and ask him questions about his career.
Each of The Life and Rhymes staff members had the opportunity to ask a question to the leader of the FOH army, and you’ll find that interview below:
Alyssa Vega: How did you stay positive when you were first starting out as a writer, and what advice would you give others trying to do the same?
Shea: I wish I had a happy and sweet answer for you here, Alyssa. I wish I could tell you how there was always someone out there who was nice to me or would help me when I was feeling mad, upset, or sad that I wasn’t getting the sort of answers and responses that I wanted (or any responses at all, for that matter). The truth of it is, though: I didn’t. Nobody who’s out there cares about your feelings, your dreams, or your aspirations, so you can’t expect anyone to act like they do. It’s a tough game, so if you’re asking me how to stay positive, I’m telling you that there’s no reason for you to expect yourself to stay positive. Allow yourself to be angry, and allow yourself to hurt. That’s fine. It’s part of the process. Just don’t allow yourself to quit. That’s not fine. That’s how you lose.
Jasmin Ramos: Can you describe a moment or experience that made you realize that you had a gift with writing and led you to want to pursue it as more than just a hobby?
Shea: I don’t think I have a gift for writing. There are people like that out there, I’m sure, but I’m not one of those people. I was really bad when I started. I just kept practicing and practicing and tried to get less and less bad. The thing that led me to pursue writing was necessity. I wasn’t making enough money as a teacher to take care of my family, so something had to be done. I decided on being a writer because none of the places I was applying to for part-time work would hire me because I already had a full-time job. I needed something I can do in my down time. I just started calling newspapers in Houston and emailing them and shit. They ignored me at first, but I knew they couldn’t ignore me forever.
Rosie Polio: How do you feel about where you are in your career?
Shea: I feel great. I’m able to pay for all the things I need to pay for as a father and husband. That’s basically all I need from a job. So it’s very fortunate then that I’m able to do so in a way that is fun and allows for me to live the kind of lifestyle that I’d like to live.
Derrick Marrow: What is the one piece of advice/tip/rule that writers always receive that you think we should ignore?
Shea: I don’t know. I’m not sure what people are telling you. As a general thing, I’d say just ignore whatever doesn’t feel right to you.
Matt Arrant: Why is rap music your choice of topic? Why not classical or another genre?
Shea: It was a business decision, mostly. I mean, I grew up passively listening to rap music—so I was comfortable with it—but I chose to write about it because I noticed the Houston Press didn’t really have any rap coverage, so I knew there was an empty space there for me to fill. I figured if I could make myself into ‘the Houston rap guy’ then I’d always be able to get work, you know what I’m saying. It’s the same reason I started writing about sports. I saw a space there that I could fill in. That’s always a good play to make.
Issac Prado: Shea, as a musician myself and now an aspiring writer, I want to know how you differentiate your taste in music with your writing. What makes the two different and/or how do you end up infusing the two together?
Shea: They aren’t different. The things I like are the things I write about as being good and the things I don’t like are the things I don’t write about because I think they’re bad.
Laura Quinton: Do you think culture has affected your career in any way? If so, how?
Shea: I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking me. Do you mean my culture? Like, being a Mexican? Because if so, then I think it has affected it in a bunch of stuff. I’m reading these questions from y’all, and I’m seeing all these Hispanic names, and it makes me real happy. I want y’all to know that there’s an immediate and intrinsic value in your being a Latino writer. Your voices are needed, so lean into that. Don’t let people use them and take them without paying you for it. Fuck that writing for free bullshit. Beyond that, don’t let them pigeonhole into you just doing the Latino version of everything. Fuck that, too. Your culture should help influence your ideas, your thoughts, and your writing, but it shouldn’t become the only thing that people need from you.
Daniel Q.: If you could only listen to 3 rap albums for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Shea: Bone Thugs, E. 1999 Eternal
Kanye, 808s & Heartbreak
UGK, Ridin’ Dirty
To find out more about Shea Serrano, follow him on Twitter