Moments after winning big at this years Grammy’s, Sam Smith gave Quddus this exclusive backstage interview. Sam talked about the unrequited love who inspired his now award winning song Stay With Me and how the man reacted when he learned the song was about him.
For some people, it’s just an aesthetic change they want. I’ve had the exact same haircut for the past 8 years and anything for that long would compel most people to change. My latest haircut means more than just a different look though.
Ever since I can remember people have commented on my hair and not just in a casual way. People seemed fascinated with it, as if it was ‘special’ or exotic. Some would almost stare, and many women would even want to touch it. I had my hair long for most of my life and it’s felt like it was a ‘signature look’. Hair is one of the first things seen from an observer’s vantage point, so it makes sense why there’s so much attention given to it. It’s an obsession for a lot of people. Chris Rock made a whole documentary about it.
Hair had become a disproportionately big part of my life, especially considering I chose such an image driven career. I’m sure if I decided to become a scientist I wouldn’t be writing this. When I had it long (as I was hosting on MTV), some people even told me it was my trademark. The irony was that I did absolutely nothing to it. I let it grow like an untamed rainforest. Most civilized human beings do things like cut their hair and comb it. I did neither. At least I washed it!
As I got older and started noticing my older brother Nate balding in his mid 20’s, I started wondering whether my fate would be similar. Our father is bald, but I heard hereditary baldness has more to do with the mother’s side. My uncle and grandfather on my mom’s side gave me hope but I was noticing a widow’s peak. It seemed like a sign that my brother wasn’t the only one balding. I started monitoring my hairline closely.
At 26 years old, when I decided to leave MTV, I also shaved my hair defiantly as if it signified my emancipation from the superficial. The truth is that deep down I still wanted it. I secretly hoped that it would grow back thicker than ever. Especially since there were some who had to do a double take to recognize me without my hair. Part of that had to do with my growing self-consciousness about what my head looked like, and the apprehensive way I started to operate as a result. No longer on MTV, I was searching for proof of what things had changed. Have you noticed how we look for evidence to feed our beliefs and how that tends to lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy? Considering all the attention I received as a VJ on MTV and that extravagant hair, I developed the belief that maybe those were the main reasons why I mattered. It is a slippery slope when we look outside ourselves for validation. Even as I grew my hair back out and got other TV opportunities, that negative mental model still lingered.
The fact that I had moved from New York City to Los Angeles when I left MTV was another ingredient in my shallow soup of contemplation. Never before had I noticed so many people so concerned with outward impressiveness as when I moved to LA. The night life in New York that felt so wild and uninhibited was replaced with parties in Hollywood that felt more like a fashion show where hardly anyone really danced and let loose. I think it’s true that we become a product of our environment and that environment was certainly adding to my issue. I looked into products that claimed to combat baldness and purchased a cold laser that was FDA approved to stimulate hair growth. I used it for a few months until I felt ridiculous dragging it along my scalp for 20 minutes every day. The irony is that I distinctly remember seeing footage of my early days on MTV and noticing I had the same hairline. The difference was that now, it filled me with anxiety.
There’s something about getting older in our society that makes us look for signs of decay. The rat race most of us are caught up in compels us to look for issues where there might not be any. My fixation on my hairline over the last 10 years has been symptomatic of something deeper. I’ve looked at most things over-critically throughout my adult life. Nothing has ever been good enough for complete acceptance. The realizations I’ve had lately have unlocked a different perspective. I realize now that the way we look can actually be a distraction from what really matters. It’s taken up too much of my bandwidth for way too long and it makes this haircut mean more.
As I cut my own hair in my bathroom mirror, I felt more liberated by the minute. The last time I shaved my head it was in defiant resistance to what I had wrapped my identity around. This time, I was inspired to shave my head in complete acceptance. We are all way more than our current physical appearance. That being said, I’m glad I have a fairly well shaped head!
After winning a well deserved Golden Globe for Best Original Song and giving an inspiring acceptance speech, Common and John Legend give us the official video for Glory. If you haven’t seen Selma yet, do yourself a favor and change that asap. This video features some of the films most powerful moments.
The irony of those extremists who shot up Charlie Hebdo is that they’re actually doing a complete disservice to the holy influence they claim to be inspired by and ultimately themselves. Shooting unarmed people unexpectedly is the most cowardly and unholy thing someone can do.
Where is the dignity? Where is the humanity? Where is the honor?
As those shooters scramble through France to escape, the consequences of their actions are already evident. The kind of minds that are capable of those killings don’t experience peace. They’re scrambled and tormented.
Meanwhile, the demonstrations of solidarity through the streets of Paris for those shot makes one thing very clear: cowardly shootings will not stop the freedom of the press or the spirit of those people who support it.
The pen is and will always be mightier than the sword.
It’s not like I was conscious of it as it was happening but how it worked out turned out to be just what I needed. I mean, it’s not like I had any confusion about New Year’s Eve being something worth planning for but I didn’t make plans anyway. There’s always a bit of defiance that comes up in me around the holidays, considering the conventionalism of it all. This was different though. My lack of planning had less to do with resistance and more to do with discovery. It’s like I wanted to allow for the maximum amount of spontaneity to be available.
One plan occurred to me when I considered actually hosting a party with my friend Angie but when she said she was going to be out of town I went right back to my initial expectations for the “big night”. Intuitively, I may have suspected that attending a 10-day silent meditation course during the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve would probably inform what I would ultimately want to do that night. Sure enough, it did.
This Vipassana meditation course was profound. I didn’t expect to get as much as I got from it since I wasn’t a student this time. Rather than all my time being dedicated solely to meditation, I was busy in the kitchen with the other old students, volunteering by preparing meals for the new students. Even if we weren’t relegated to being completely silent because of our distinction as servers, most of us did manage to respect the instruction to only use “noble speech” purposefully for our roles. Even when it wasn’t so purposeful, since everyone was a meditator, it seemed like anything that was said was gold and no one was obnoxious in the least. The environment was still conducive for deep thought as we all worked on our respective tasks, and brought our full focus to whatever we were doing, it was like meditation in motion.
So much rose to the surface of my awareness throughout this experience. For example, now I seemed to regularly interact with others without the (formerly) ever-present need to be ‘liked’. That’s huge for a recovering people pleaser like me. I also got clearer about why I’ve had that tendency. I realized how much impact the way I was raised had on me. There was such an overbearing, pervasive sense of Catholic guilt emanating from my dad that I felt inherently flawed growing up. My dad always seemed to have a judgmental and angry tone that implied I was wrong. I absorbed that. Any vocal or physical abuse my brother Nate and I incurred from my dad didn’t exactly make us feel safe in the world so I think that’s when I started feeling that the world wasn’t a safe place. Dad clearly didn’t have the benefit of a 10-day Vipassana meditation course. He would’ve had the opportunity to observe his sensations in such a way that they didn’t trigger him to react in such volatile ways. I didn’t realize just how much I had actually inherited from him until I was able to observe just how influential my root sensations were on how I’m being from moment to moment.
Insight like that brings me so much compassion for anyone who doesn’t have that awareness. The way we store abusive and traumatic experiences in our body is very real. It means behavior patterns are constantly being played out from our often traumatized system rather than the wisdom that can come from a calmer mind that isn’t at the mercy of the body’s urges. It’s the mind – matter connection that I can catch in real time now. I can see my cravings and aversions as they spring up. It’s like being able to choose from a new switchboard rather than the same unconscious behavior pattern that would have me go to the bar for a drink even though that really impairs my ability to make the best choices. That became glaringly clear after taking the Vipassana course. My cravings have been the source of most of my misery. I wanted the massive adulation from the TRL crowds that made me feel like I wasn’t as fundamentally flawed as I felt growing up. It occurs to me now that the way I sought out women was a means of subconsciously soothing the deep-rooted feeling that I’m not good enough.
All that was the backdrop for this particular New Year’s Eve but things felt different now. As I drove away from the Staples Center, after watching the Clippers/Knicks game with my friend Scott, his wife Jill and a bunch of their friends, I noticed an urge. It was a pronounced neediness to get to another gathering in order to celebrate New Year’s Eve. It was around 6pm and my friend Preston replied to my text inquiring about the after party he usually hosts after we all hang out on the beach the day leading up to NYE. It turns out this year he and his new girlfriend Alexi were leaving town first thing in the morning so he wasn’t hosting anything. I was sure he would be hosting a party because he always does but a lesson about assumptions is always good too.
Realizing the party was not happening led to an unpleasant sensation. Thankfully, an inspired inner dialogue started that calmed me down. The voice of my blissful Vipassana meditation teacher S.N. Goenka came to mind. His repeated recommendations to remain “equanimous” as sensations come to my attention because inevitably they rise and pass. Remaining equanimous and not allowing those sensations to trigger me, I was actually able to see things as they really were.
The Howard Stern show was playing in my car as I continued to drive away from the game, now going towards my apartment. Howard was interviewing Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. They happened to be talking about how they feel like the world is actually miserable and people occur to them as vampires. I couldn’t help but laugh as I had just come down from craving company on New Year’s Eve like some kind of vampire.
On the other side of that craving now, I brought my attention to my breath flow and noticed as it slowed down, along with a sense of peace washing over me. What’s the big deal anyway? I’m surrounded by amazing friends all year round, now that I’m faced with a night where I didn’t make solid plans with any of them, that reality ought to make me miserable? Absolutely not. In fact, Scott even made a point of inviting me to join him and his friends, who are all married with kids, for a dinner and get together they were having after the Clippers game.
As I continued to drive to my apartment, I considered joining them but something else came to mind then. What would it be like to actually spend New Year’s Eve alone? I’ve never done it but coming off a 10-day meditation experience where it became clear that I actually enjoy my own company now, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to see just how far I’ve come. On the other hand though, I’m also aware of how much of a lone ranger complex I’ve had too. It’s like I’ve swung between co-dependency and defiant disconnection.
Once I got back to my apartment, I put out a few texts to friends about what they were doing and they responded about parties that didn’t quite evoke a desire in me to join them. As the evening was ripening and the clock said 9pm, I sat in the lotus position and meditated for 30 minutes. As I sat there, what came to mind wasn’t a vampire-like need for people at all, instead it was an immense gratitude for the people in my life.
Coming out of my meditation, I felt compelled to text everyone who came to mind with a few reasons why they mattered to me in 2014 and about how excited I am for more in 2015. It was amazing. I sat there blissfully texting for almost 2 hours. My cousins in Toronto, my brother and his wife in DC, one of my best friends Sean in New York, among others, all got showered by the waterfall of my loving texts. Next thing I knew, it was 11:30pm and I could not have felt more fulfilled. I’ve never been the type to send out a lot of texts on holidays. When I get them I usually suspect them to be a mass text, I’d politely reply but I was hardly ever the initiator of that kind of thing. I like this new version of me though. Way more prone to sentimentality.
I contently put my phone down and turned on the TV to see the countdown shows. After a few minutes of watching Carson Daly and a panel of commentating celebrities, I got bored, turned it to PBS for Charlie Rose and there he was interviewing Bill Murray. Yup, just Bill Murray, Charlie Rose and me on New Year’s Eve will be just fine.
One Republic reached a new level of rotation in my ipod in 2014. Their song I Lived magically manages to sum up my year in 4 minutes. I faced some of my biggest fears and discovered an entirely new experience of life on the other side. My year started with diving deeper into a relationship than I ever had. After a year of us dating and finding myself opening up to love for the first time in my life, it felt like skydiving. Terrifying and exhilarating at the same damn time. We were drunk in love and decided to move in together at the beginning of the year. After 4 months of living together we got sober and decided to part ways. We both grew so much within our relationship that we out grew it. We realized we wanted something else. It was actually beautiful and the way we broke up was a testament to how much we had grown. No drama. The opposite of a reality show. We honored each other and what we had. Our love has made a graceful transition to friendship. I count it as one of the most transformational experiences of my life.
Later in the year, I faced another kind of fear when I actually went skydiving. I’ve thought about skydiving for years but my fear had me in a headlock about it until this year. It seemed like a metaphor for what’s been happening across the board in my life. Now I’m finding the courage to jump out of the comfort zone and into the open sky of what’s possible beyond my fear. When I jumped out of that plane at 18,000 feet, every bit of my logical mind was going haywire. When was logic exciting though? I’ve let logic and convention jam me up in the past but this year marked a turning point when I realized what life can actually be. A free fall unbound by the past and by fear. A leap of faith where the journey is such a thrill it makes the outcome irrelevant. Basically, I learned how to live. It’s a new plane to take flight from in 2015.
What kind of jump are you going to make?
Rather than performing a song off his freshly released album 2014 Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole used the Late Show stage to perform a song called Be Free that he released in light of the recent deaths involving police brutality. Those who heard the first version of Be Free will notice a brand new unreleased verse at the 2:28 mark with some potent thoughts about Barack Obama’s presidency too. It’s a song for the gap in racial relations happening in this country right now.
Industry projections have J. Cole’s new album set to debut No. 1 on Billboard next week. Estimated to sell 320-350k copies opening week, it would be the biggest opening week for a rap album in 2014. It’s inspiring to see a hip hop artist with such a socially relevant voice making this kind of impact.
This is photo from a “Die In” protest for Eric Garner in NYC’s Grand Central Station. An example of what gives me hope.
When tragedy strikes and people of all races and backgrounds respond in thoughtful solidarity. We are all in this together. Fear and seperation is the illusion but the truth is we’re all in this together.
Photo credit: Brent Staples
In 2014, Quddus began contributing as a special guest correspondent for The Insider on CBS. These are the highlights from his time on the show so far. The video includes his moments with some of the biggest stars in entertainment like Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Brown, Academy Award winning director Peter Jackson and the legendary Stevie Wonder.