TAKEAWAY: Creative success comes both from creating opportunities and capitalizing on those opportunities.
“I had talent. Just displaced talent.”
That is what songwriter/musician Robert “Snughie” Stocks told me about his childhood in a particularly rough neighborhood in southeast Washington, D.C. It was the 1980s, when drug crime and murder was at an all-time high in that part of our nation’s capital. Robert didn’t just survive his childhood — that would be accomplishment enough — he found a path to a rewarding musical career, one he hopes will lead him to become a global humanitarian through his music.
Robert was one of the more than 40 creatives I interviewed this summer on a cross-country trip across the United States. As someone who lives and works in the Washington, D.C., area, Robert was my closest interview. But his childhood home, mere miles from my home now, is another world away.
You can see an excerpt of my interview with him at the bottom of this post. What I learned from Robert is simple to learn but hard to execute — one must make opportunities for oneself, and then make the most of those opportunities.
“Genetically, spiritually, there was always something inside me that knew I was a musician,” he told me. But what avenues were there to escape southeast DC through music? We hear the stories about rappers who become musical success stories after a life of crime, but how many would-be star rappers end up instead in jail or dead?
Robert began writing at an early age. He wrote poetry, which led to songwriting. He kept his head down, focused on his creative pursuits, and found his way to the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, a highly competitive DC arts high school. That was step one — create an opportunity.
He then had to apply himself. For the first time he was challenged by teachers to excel, academically and musically. He was given tremendous opportunities, like being able to sit down with Wynton Marsalis musician to musician.
It’s fair to say Robert made the most of his Duke Ellington experience, and he continues to create opportunities and maximize them. He currently is employed with 3rd Side Productions, a studio in the Maryland suburbs of D.C. He works with aspiring musicians, helping them to write music, perform it, and record it. How did he get this work? He had found his way into a studio project in northern Virginia, and a producer behind the glass, Rob Sharp, liked his stuff. Rob introduced himself to Robert and invited him to join the studio he was about to launch, 3rd Side.
But this wasn’t Robert’s first meeting with Rob. They had met a month earlier at a car wash, just chatting about cars, no understanding that each was pursuing music as a profession. Rob had already seen how personable and engaging Robert was. Could that have helped push him to invite Robert aboard?
Robert calls his partnering with Rob “fate.” I think we make our own fate, and Robert’s positive outreach into his larger world once again created a positive path for himself.
Robert is an inspiring artist, a gentle soul with grand ambition. Someday I’ll be able to say I met him before he became “timeless.”