Red eyes, red eyes. Eyelids up before the orange sunrise.
Sleepless nights spent chasing dreams. Long hard days you’ll never redeem.
Fake a smile, give a greeting, a grin. Screaming inside for your shift to just end.
Thinking ahead to the words that you’ll write. Can’t wait to get home and pick up the mic.
The clock moves slow and you itch for the pen,
but when it’s all over you clock out, head home, and clock back in.
Making up for lost time, you chase a dream with a head start.
Awake late into the night you sharpen your art.
The clock moves fast and you’re still behind the prize.
Wake up the next day with red eyes, red eyes.
Eyelids up before the orange sunrise.
Chris Patrick, the man with two first names, works two under-appreciated jobs. Uniformed member of the retail workers’ army by day, but charismatic beat slashing rapper by night. The only thing that could make songs about fighting for lofty goals in the face of mounting obstacles like “Dreams” better is knowing the conditions they were crafted under. Success in a career producing an artistic product is inherently tied to the passion of the artist in a world that pressures us into valuing jobs centered around more tangible commodities. Paying off student loans working a job that doesn’t even utilize his bachelor’s degree was an active choice the 24-year-old made in order to devote himself to music.
It’s the little things that keep the passion-driven emcee going: small victories like a particularly meaningful connection on Twitter, medium sized things like linking with J.I.D or recognition from Deante’ Hitchcock, and seriously huge steps like landing his song “Swish” on NBA 2K21. His accomplishments are magnified by the limited time, money, publicity, and room for self-care they were earned under. Working one job to afford living and another to hit the goals you live for means there’s no off time.
Keep moving forward
From the outside looking in, Patrick’s well managed social media presence and professionally executed videos and releases appear to be the well-oiled approach of an industry vet with a seasoned marketing strategy. After all, you don’t land a song on the NBA 2K21 soundtrack by chance. But what’s really happening in East Orange, NJ happens in the cramped spaces between dead time spent stocking shelves and pointing potentially deadly virus-carrying customers to the store restrooms.
Patrick’s weekly routine is a very familiar one to me. As a part-time writer and full-time server, time spent at work feels like wasted potential and time spent chasing your dream never feels like enough. The cyclical purgatory of putting in the hours on and off the clock while waiting for the moment you can support yourself on the passion alone is mentally and physically taxing. The morning of our conversation, Patrick tells me he leapt out of bed, suddenly gripped by the fear that he had overslept the interview. That relatable manifestation of anxiety cuts through the liminal waking state because we spend so much of our time awake prioritizing our next check, our next project, or our next big move. Even at rest our minds and bodies are compelled by the demands we place on them.
There’s no orientation for independent artists quickly swept into the industry lifestyle, only expectations. Fail to meet expectations and, even worse than the harsh reprimands of the professional world, your work would just go unnoticed, unimpactful… forgettable. Balancing the pressures of his passion and need for financial stability is something Patrick had to learn. His favorite method of decompressing is to become immersed in the extraordinary stories of single-player video games like “Final Fantasy” or “The Witcher 3.”
If I gotta hop on Call of Duty after living in a competitive world, it’s like, damn, I’m frying my brain a little bit. So I like to play the single player games because I really get lost into a lot of what’s going on. I feel like I’m in my own world and I don’t got to really deal with too many outside forces.” – Chris Patrick for CentralSauce (2020)
Already competing in enough aspects of his life, he’s resolved to getting dunked on in 2K if it means his intellectual property soundtracks the dunking. But in a single player game it’s not about beating someone else, it’s about continuing to overcome the challenges and witness the growth of the characters. It’s never wasted time if you keep moving forward. This is the mentality that keeps Patrick grounded to his growing music career while working with 40 hours a week less than he would like to. It’s about progression, not competition.
Hit the ground running
The urge to compete is something that’s loomed over Patrick from the very start. As a high school and college track athlete, the required mentality was already in place. The first time he picked up the mic in an official capacity was when he entered a school talent show at Rider University in 2016 for the chance to win the $500 prize. His motivation? To get his long-time girlfriend the anniversary gift he felt she deserved. That little spark would end up changing the direction of his life.
After winning the competition, if he had ever considered his victory a one-time shot in the dark, doubts were quickly put aside when just a month later the opportunity arose for him to open for Travis Scott at the local stop of the Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight tour. With hardly any recorded music to his two first names, he rushed from track practice to center-stage with barely time to wipe the sweat from his brow before perspiring it afresh under the stage lighting. The whole series of events is such a rush and a blur that looking back, one of the only things he remembers is being told very intensely not to walk through Travis Scott’s cowboy doors. If his life were a sitcom, surely the amateur rapper at his first big break would have mistakenly stumbled through the signature stage prop Fresh Prince style and found himself at an unmagnanimous star’s ire.
Chris Patrick performs at the finale of The R Factor talent show (2016).
Chris Patrick opening for Travis Scott on the Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight tour (2016)
Riding the motivational kickstart of his slingshot into the life of an artist, Patrick continued to make music while working towards a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration at Rider. When he began school he was studying biology with an abstract expectation of becoming a doctor. It wasn’t until incurring a growing student debt that Patrick realized that dream wasn’t his. He switched to healthcare administration as he became increasingly educated about the racial lines of disparity in affordable medical treatments. When his career in music is said and done he still hopes to aid in finding a solution for why people in communities of his own aren’t able to receive life-saving care without entering quality-of-life-crippling debts.
The difficulties of balancing life as a student athlete can already be demanding, but throw in the serious pursuit of a music career alongside the pursuit of athletic and academic ones and things get even tighter. A bit of luck and a bit of manifestation saw to it that he would get some of the guidance he needed.
At Philadelphia’s 2017 Made in America festival, Patrick was determined to link up with J.I.D, a rapper who had inspired him with his fierce technical delivery and intense writing. When he saw J.I.D walking to the stage before the show, he opted not to blow up his spot, for which he was rewarded with the rapper’s appreciation after the set. In the conversation, Patrick learned the importance of being yourself all the way through. Making it as a rapper wasn’t about putting on a braggadocios image and fronting like you had it all, but rather giving the people something to connect to.
I feel sometimes I got to present myself in the way that Drake, J Cole and Kendrick were. But you got to take into consideration that’s the finished product. If you move like the finished product before you even started the adventure, nobody’s gonna even pay attention to you because you’re going to be moving in a way that’s outside the realms of reality.” – Chris Patrick for CentralSauce (2020)
A few months later, Patrick met up with J.I.D again on tour and, in true J Cole to Jay Z fashion, made sure to pass along a mixtape. At this second meeting, the East Atlanta playboy solidified Patrick’s confidence by telling him the key to making it was to be consistent. Be yourself, put in the work, and at the end of the day you’ll keep moving forward, marking that progression. The mantra gave him the needed energy to finish out college while making music, and the playbook to pursue his passion post graduation.
Following the sensible path, after graduating Patrick got a job using his degree working in a hospital. But between the long days behind a desk, something still wasn’t clicking. His conversations with J.I.D and the early rush of his success continued to fuel a sense that he was meant to invest his time and skills into something bigger. He tells me: “One day I was at my desk just crying. I was like, yo, like, I need to pursue something that I love, something that I’m confident in.” But in order to follow through on that compulsion he had to make some changes.
It was first hearing J.I.D’s “151 Rum,” that had finally caused him to break down at his hospital desk. The track about feeding a hunger to grow beyond your environment shook something loose, compelling him to make the change. I had a similar reaction to Patrick’s “Dreams” — the reason I decided to reach out to him and do the interview for this profile. Patrick tells me the track was crafted late at night after a particularly frustrating day at his consistently frustrating job. It was under the exact same circumstances that I first heard the song (as well as wrote most of these words). It’s easy to see how the rapper values the sui generis ability of music to unlock inner truths we force to remain dormant as a way to cope with the patterns of repetition we become complicit with for security.
Working the retail job meant Patrick had more flexibility with a schedule he could bend around his music career. It allowed him to travel across the country to California and record a cypher about Pokémon that would land almost 2 million views on YouTube. Small victories like that mean everything in the early stages. When you’re paying off student loans with a minimum wage job you need reassurement in yourself that the risks you’ve taken are worth it. He put a lot of pressure on himself to succeed to the point that he started to burn out from the work. At one point he even completely cut out his video game hobby, thinking that he couldn’t afford the time to decompress in the lifestyle he signed up for.
It was once again a conversation with J.I.D that pulled Patrick back down to Earth. When J.I.D came through New Jersey on tour with Logic, he hooked Patrick and his friend THRD up with tickets to the show and told them to kick it on the tour bus with him. He put them onto game about how moving smarter rather than harder could make success inevitable with the right mindset. Patrick had the realization: “That’s what drives a lot of people to that point where they feel like they’re not good enough, almost because there’s an anxiety and a level of guilt behind taking a breather.” It helped him reassess his approach, learn how to slow things down and get the maximum out of each project by creating moments that would last, rather than racing to always have the most fresh content.
Patrick links his meetings with J.I.D back to the character progression that he loves about single player games. Each time he’s met J.I.D he’s learned something and used to it to grow before the next meeting. It’s like playing a Pokémon game and constantly running into your rival. As long as you level up between battles, the only time it really matters is when you face off at the top, in the Elite Four. Although with Patrick’s remix of J.I.D’s “Big Black Truck” he might’ve gotten an early one-up on him, catching his rival by surprise on Route 25.
Even if each step forward is small, they all contribute to the larger goal. Every time Patrick receives a little recognition on Twitter, whether from large hip-hop discussion accounts or even Deante’ Hitchcock, it’s a sign he’s reaching people and they’re connecting with his music.
I was lucky enough to see one such moment for myself when Patrick’s eyes lit up in the middle of answering a question about his social media strategy. A brief glance at a notification on his phone and I could see his mind shoot off to another place entirely. It’s how I imagine I myself looked at my server job when the idea for the connection to this story popped into my head — gears turning behind the scenes, desperate not to lose hold of the inspiration amid requests for a filet cooked medium rare, wait medium well.
The secret ingredient
It would be easy to look at the way Patrick has balanced his life and grinded the way to his position and give him all the flowers of his success, but there’s another secret to his advancement. At the very end of our interview when I asked him if we missed anything significant, he didn’t miss a beat when shouting out the support of his long-time girlfriend. Not only has he tirelessly refined his mentality and his craft but he’s surrounded himself with people who truly believe in him and not only push him to succeed but actively contribute to that goal.
Not everybody has that support system. Regardless of what it is: music or whatever, just find a support system because that support system is going to champion you and make you great. Even if you suck, they gon’ tell you you suck. Cuz my support system be telling me I suck when I suck, and it makes you great.” – Chris Patrick for CentralSauce (2020)
His well executed social media presence and lasting impact can be attributed to the committed team behind the scenes. The recorded music is only a piece of the process. While Patrick works with producers and writes and records the music, his friends are brainstorming promotion strategies, getting in contact with the distributors, securing video shoots, and more. Even when forced to deal with the difficulties of COVID safety, his parents chipped in to set up the scene for the “Dreams” music video. Shout out to momma Patrick for the superb ambient lighting.
With the full picture of everything it has taken to put him in the spot he’s at now, it’s impossible to underestimate the rapper’s potential. If he’s capable of star power as a side hustle, and motivating genuine passion even from the people around him, imagine what he’ll do when his talents are fully realized. But if I know anything about Chris Patrick, I know when that well-deserved moment does come he’ll roll through it confidently like he has every other step along the path. He’ll be looking ahead to the next mountain to climb with the openness and flexibility to adapt to new challenges and, most importantly, grow with them. For now, the only ceiling in his life is the lofty rafters of the retail building where his dreams float through the work day, waiting for him to pull them down and make them reality.
Speak what you want into existence, and then work behind what you spoke and I swear it’s gonna happen. It’s gonna happen hundred percent. The world is based on energies and it all works around what you put into it. If you put positive energy into it, you get positive energy back out. You put negative energy into it… you know, it’s gonna follow you the way you put it out there. So put that positive energy into what you speak on and it’ll literally take you anywhere you want to go in this world.” – Chris Patrick for CentralSauce (2020)
Thanks for reading! You can follow Chris Patrick on Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date with new releases. You can follow the author, Brandon Hill, on Twitter and subscribe to his weekly newsletter for writing and podcasting updates.