rhêtorík may be best known for offering up beats as Logic’s DJ on the latter’s Bobby Tarantino Vs. Everybody tour, but the alt-pop artist is quickly forging a path of his own. AltPress partnered with the artist to bring a first look at his new video for “Shelter,” a track inspired by his time as a homeless intern on the streets of New York City. rhêtorík offers up his perspective in his own words, which you can read below.
I hadn’t stayed in a single city for more than 10 days until this past December. Over the past five years, I have slept in McDonald’s, on trains, in airports, on strangers’ floors—you name it, and I’ve probably spent a night there. In these same years I’ve been blessed with opportunity to see the world, but after every trip I never got to truly return “home,” and it’s something I didn’t even realize had taken a toll on me until this past year.
Despite its lyrical specificity, “Shelter” is more than just a song about finding a physical home—it’s a song about finding mental stability through perspective. Before I get into the song, however, here’s an abridged timeline of the events that led to its creation:
It’s 2012, and I’ve just completed an unpaid summer internship with a music magazine in New York City. My sublease has run out, and my bank account is following suit, but my ambition is at an all-time high.
In reality, I have two choices: go back home and spend the remaining two weeks of summer with my parents before heading back to college, or roam the streets of New York City networking by day and figuring it out by night.
It was a no-brainer.
I immediately packed my things and camped out in a 24-hour McDonald’s in the Lower East Side, rotating my nights between a booth near the restroom, the J train and a couple friends’ floors for the remaining weeks of summer. For some reason, the whole situation felt completely normal to me in the moment. I was happily unaware of what it was actually building deep in my psyche.
Fast-forward to 2014. I had just gotten off my second national tour, earning just enough money to afford a shoebox room in a stranger’s apartment in Harlem. It was a tumultuous environment to say the least.
The couple in the room next to me were always in some sort of domestic dispute, and the person across from me was always in the bathroom. (Or so I heard. My social anxiety at the time kept me cooped up inside my room until there was total silence from the other side of the door.)
To add insult to injury, I was only making enough money to survive off $6 every two days. I was a starving touring artist.
Even with this apartment, I found myself resorting back to the train or the floors of studios and friends places just for the simple familiarity of it all. To add insult to injury, I was only making enough money to survive off $6 every two days. I was a starving touring artist.
Every single day was a battle between being thankful for what I did have, and being scared of what I didn’t have.
“Walk the line but I keep on tripping, ‘tween what I have and what I’m missing,” as the lyrics in “Shelter” state.
Everyone needs stability in their life. Even when it feels like the world is spinning around us, we still feel we’re able to survive if our feet are planted firmly on the ground, or we’re at least hanging on to our surroundings by something that won’t come loose. Even the luxury penthouse balcony doesn’t feel comfortable without a railing.
Unfortunately, the railing I’d been holding on to up to that point in my life ended up being a false one. It was someone I pretended to be to get what I wanted—someone who was molded by his surroundings rather than grown from his core. It was fake. It wasn’t stable. It was gone.
I had existential vertigo. I was looking over the edge of my balcony with no railing, scared to death that I might fall at any moment. The world wasn’t spinning around me anymore—it was spinning with me.
I knew something had to change. I had spent years trying to find stability in people, places and things to no avail, so I decided to try a different approach: I decided to search within myself.
The beauty of our reality, I’ve found, is that this safety railing is just a matter of perspective. If you spend your time leaning over a balcony looking down, of course you’re going to constantly think about falling.
If you stand back from the edge—railing or not—your perspective is different. Now all you see is the penthouse balcony. You can finally focus on what you have achieved to get there, and focus on the next task at hand. It’s truly up to you to choose your focal point.
The word “shelter” to me simply means stability and safety from the chaos surrounding me. It means having that one thing to hold on to.
In the video for “Shelter,” I try to personify the power of this perspective and “painting your own reality.” Although I seem to use it to mean a house in the song, the word “shelter” to me simply means stability and safety from the chaos surrounding me. It means having that one thing to hold on to.
At the conclusion of the video you find me with a paintbrush in a blank room. Even as things had gotten better around me in my life, my perspective remained that it was all total chaos and turmoil.
That is why as the video progresses, everything from all the scenes end up in the same room at the same time. I couldn’t separate my experiences anymore—I just packed them all up, labeled them together as “chaos” and threw them all in the same place in my mind.
I want to use art like this to show people that we have the power to shift our lives and reality—for both our benefit and our detriment. It’s our choice.
At 24 years old, I found myself having accomplished things I could have never dreamed of as a kid, but I didn’t feel the least bit fulfilled. I didn’t feel like I was being myself.
From 24 to 25, I took a year of sobriety and reflection, and started to pretend to be the person I always wanted to be until I turned into it. As a kid I had pretended to be something I was not until I turned into it. I was using the exact same method, except now I was using it to my benefit. We all have it in us.
In this life it’s perspective that’s power, not knowledge. I think the statement that “knowledge is power” is paraphrased to really mean “perceived knowledge is power.” “Shelter” is a song about my personal battle with a fragile grasp on my own perspective, and its command over the power I have in my own life.
It’s through songs such as “Shelter,” my EP Behind Closed Doors and everything to follow that I hope people can do more than just find their personal shelter; I hope they find it in themselves to build their own.
“Shelter” is taken from rhêtorík’s latest EP Behind Closed Doors, which is available now. Check out the video for the track below.