DJ Lean Rock: "Music and B-Boying saved my life"

What inspired you to write this article?

I was in the moment. I wasn't trying to think too hard on it and I just put my heart on the pen. It was a reflection of my journey these past 3 years. Writing about something personal like this actually helps me heal. I know it can make difference in other's lives too. I might not be able to pinpoint the person my story could help but I know it will inspire someone out there. I'm tired of being silent about my mental struggles. I want others that struggle with mental illnesses to know that they're not alone. I've lost some people in my life due to mental illnesses, and I'm tired of it. I wish I were pushing my story out there years ago. I don't want people to feel ashamed about their mental health. We all need help and we all should feel that love. We all face tough obstacles in life, but we can still achieve great things in life. I made the music on this "Break Em Off" EP during some of my toughest times, and I'm still here pushing. I'm as hungry as ever.

What would you say that are the most challenging threats that an artist/creator face when put under a lot of pressure?

I think it's different for everyone. We all handle life differently. Expectations and execution are the most challenging things for me when I'm under pressure. I think the more you accomplish as an artist the higher the expectations are. I mean this could totally be a misconception, but this is just what I feel sometimes. I'm sure most of it is just me being inside my head, but I feel like people are expecting the best from me. I sense these expectations from peers, family, fans, etc. I grew up around legends and I come from a family with a deep history in hip-hop culture. I always felt the need to carry the torch and do great things for the culture. I grew up around honorable people that have high standards when it came to art. While I love what I do, there's a part of me that wants to make my family and my people proud. I'm the hardest critic on myself and I know I could always do better. I'm learning that it really comes down to understanding balancing time in your life and knowing your limits. It's great to push your limits sometimes, but sometimes over pushing the limits can break you down. You have to take breaks for your sanity. I've been burnt out a few times in my life and it sucks. Burning out sets you back even further with work. It's so important to take care of yourself mentally before you do anything that requires strenuous mental or physical work. Over working does not lead to longevity. Hard work needs to be smart work too. I execute more efficiently when I'm in the right groove and in a positive environment. I like to feel great about what I'm doing and I like to feel great about myself. I perform at my highest level when I'm feeling high off life. One challenge I've dealt with growing up, is gaining confidence. My "infant" hip-hop years began at the end of the "no easy props" era (the 1990s). It was rough to hear the things I used to hear, but deep down I knew it was all love. It was real. It was tough love. You had to turn a "diss" into motivation to get better. Some people didn't care if I was a kid. I had to show and prove. It pushed me to get better but at the same time it made me feel insecure at times. It was important not to obsess over what people said and turn it into something that breaks my spirit. This kind of thinking leads you to a dark hole. You had to learn to turn the negative feelings into something postivie. You know, everyone wants to the best they can be. Everyone wants to feel loved and accepted. Whenever someone puts your art down, it stings. It stings because you know you put your heart into it. Everyone wants to be the best they can be, but the reality is that you're not always going to be at your best. There is always room for improvement no matter how good you are. There are going to be some battles that you will lose. You have to be humble about your craft. Be mindful of your weaknesses but never let them break you. Work on them and stay consistent with your craft. Sometimes we all need to recharge and look in other places out of the norm to gather new inspiration. We can't always do the same things the same way. We all want to accomplish as much as we can with our time on this planet but the reality is we have to enjoy the process first.

How Hip-Hop has helped you deal with depression?

Hip-Hop has allowed me to strive for something. It's given me the drive to accomplish things in my life. It's helped me meet amazing people and see amazing places. Music and dance is therapy. Not to sound corny, but I can honestly say music and b-boying saved my life, especially during a portion of my teen years. I was really depressed my sophomore year of high school and I gave up on everything (except for hip-hop). Hip-hop was one of the few things that carried me through this tough time. It gave me life. It kept me afloat and it was the only thing that was consistently brought me happiness. I started to travel globally with dancing and I felt a shift of energy. Most of the kids I grew up with never made it out of the neighborhood, while I was getting to travel the globe with something that I loved. I was able to gain experiences that a lot of people never get to experience. That feeling alone made me feel really great about myself and gave me something to take pride in.

You mention how bad overthinking is. What can we do not to overthink too much? [After when we link to the article]

I think the best thing you can do is step back and check in on yourself. The more stress and the more anger you feel the harder it is for you to think straight or focus. I think once you understand that notion, then you have a little more control over your emotions and thoughts. My therapist tells me you should look at your mood like a thermometer. The numbers on that thermometer range from 1-10. So a 1 is super mellow/chill vibe, while a 10 is pure rage. She says you should always try your best to keep yourself below a 5. Once you pass that number 5, it's easier to lose control over your thoughts and be less mindful of what you say to others. Your brain pretty much functions as a caveman's brain functions when you're angry or upset. Humans have evolved into to more logical and complicated creatures but when it comes to things like anger we still kind of function like caveman. This is why people freak out or lose it when they're angry or upset. I think it's good to also recognize that you can't just stop thinking. You can change the way you think but you're always going to have thoughts. You have to learn ways to keep yourself calm and then it's easier to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed. I mean we need our brains to function in life. Meditation is key (Honestly, I need meditate more too). I'm not an expert on meditation but I suggest researching on it. I use this app called Headspace. It guides me through meditation. It's all about trying to stay present, do the things that you enjoy in your life, and be around people that have a positive energy/spirit. It's always great to improve your life through healthy life choices (eating healthy food, exercise, etc). If you don't sleep or eat well then chances are you will make poor life choices. Don't be so hard on yourself, and appreciate all of your blessings in life.

Can you share with us some details on what you're working on lately? What can we expect from Lean Rock next year?

I've been working on this Be Twn The Brks mixtape for about 3 years (on and off). This will be my next official mix release and then I will be full throttle with releasing music again. So yeah, that means expect more mixes and songs. I had to take a break from making mixes. I had to learn a lot of new things about in music production and I also had to become a better person. I needed more clarity in my life before I could move forward. I want to feel good while I make mixes and music. I've had time to reflect on mixes that I've made, and most of the mixes I didn't like are the ones I didn't spend much time on. As some people say, there's no rush to making good music. This Be Twn the Brks mix is a reflection of my journey and a dedication to my brotha Mex (R.I.P). It's going to be something that I know my brotha Mex would have been proud of. I'm just trying to find the balance between the old and the new. While time moves forward, I try my best to honor the past. I want to keep the essence alive but I also want to push the limits. I want to release music with theme and meaning. I'm not just releasing things for the hell of it anymore. There is a story behind everything I do. I will be pushing a mental health awareness campaign this year with Paulskee, and we hope to do great things with it. I hope we can inspire others and I hope others share their stories too. So you can expect a more inspired Lean Rock this year.

Read the article Breakin' Taboo here.