Two years ago, local rapper Alwa Gordon was finishing a therapy session when he broke down in tears. He’d started therapy because of a toxic romantic relationship that—no matter his intentions—he couldn’t seem to leave. His unresolved need for love and approval was too great.
On this one particular day, all the pain and strife of never feeling good enough for anyone came rushing up. But he remembered something his therapist told him: “You’re doing the best you can, and that’s enough.”
“That really helped me. It’s something I carry forward to this day when I feel those same negative thought patterns,” Gordon says. “You deserve to be loved. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s alright.”
The moment was transformative, the beginning of his journey to create a real sense of self-esteem and to build healthy relationships. Last year, for the first time in his life, he entered into a relationship founded on friendship, not intense emotions. He realized that all the love he’d been chasing in the past was identical to this new feeling he’d been fostering himself: self-love. Now he was capable of sharing love with a person without constantly trying to get the other person to prove they love him.
In the midst of this epiphany, he wrote “Loving Yourself,” which is the most honest and vulnerable track Gordon has ever recorded—and one of the best of his 10-plus year career. He released the song earlier this month.
“I knew that I didn’t value myself. I said, ‘This has to stop,’” Gordon says. “When you become a better person, everything in your life becomes better. It’s allowed me to be more open and vulnerable in my music. I don’t think I could make a song like ‘Loving Yourself’ a couple years ago, without going to therapy.”
The song was supposed to land on his next album, which likely would have been released back in April. He recorded the track in March. He’d taken time off of his busy live performance schedule to record the album. In addition to “Loving Yourself,” there were also some lighthearted tunes in the mix. As quarantine continued and social unrest followed, he decided to wait on putting out the album, instead cherry-picking songs to release as singles.
“A lot of the music I was going to put on the album, it didn’t really reflect the times,” Gordon says. “I didn’t feel like dropping party music. It didn’t seem relevant anymore.”
While “Loving Yourself” focuses on Gordon’s internal journey, he also drops some politically poignant lines that seem particularly relevant right now, like“Cops send you to heaven/I’m praying he don’t choose us/So don’t tell me about no freedom.” These lines draw from common themes that Gordon frequently discusses, but they also directly connect to his internal journey. When you’re Black in America, he says, your sense of self-worth is constantly under attack.
“America seems to constantly remind minorities that they don’t matter. It’s something that can weigh on you,” Gordon says. “I have to work to remind myself that I belong. You’re allowed to exist here. It can be challenging to constantly remind yourself that when the world around you doesn’t give you that same energy. And still love myself through it.”
Gordon also talks about his childhood on the album, providing some insight as to where much his struggle stemmed from. “I was 15 before I ever slept on beds,” he raps in one verse, a true statement.
“My dad had found a way for us to live in a back of an 18-wheeler truck, at an RV station here in Santa Cruz,” Gordon says. “All the kids from summer camp walked by, making fun of the family that lived in the RV park. I’m 12. It feels shameful. Maybe I’m not worthy.”
Gordon plans to write and release more songs. He has a new one called “City on Lockdown.” As for his album, he sees no reason to release it for the time being, but he might assemble an EP out of the singles he’s currently releasing.
“I don’t want to drop something that isn’t meaningful. I want to say things that are going to be important,” Gordon says. “People are losing jobs. People are dying. People are marching in the street. And I want to talk about how cool I am? Now is not the time for that.”
For more information on Gordon, check out: instagram.com/alwagordon.