Jesse Jae Proto, a graduate of our creative writing internship program, shares his thoughts on his journey from battle rapper to copywriter.
As I pulled my car into the Digital Surgeons’ parking lot across from the old New Haven bus depot, the only thought that came to mind was — what am I doing here? I must have drove passed this building a million times, never once thinking I would step foot inside. I had no idea what to expect. But I have always been passionate about writing. My hope was that I would learn the tricks of the trade from industry professionals.
My writing experience has always revolved around some kind of music-based intervention finding its way into my life. Whether it was back in high school when local bands would recruit me to write graphic horror verses for their new death-metal projects or more recently when I managed to become a top contender in iBattle Worldwide’s premier rap battle league, I have always looked for new opportunities to write.
I am drawn to constructing intricate rhyme schemes chock full of dense wordplay, gripping references, and witty punch lines. I then deliver my content in an acapella performance. If I am successful, the crowd roars with an applause.
Now, you are probably thinking that none of this has anything to do with marketing. Yep, I am aware of that. So why did I even come here in the first place? Simple, because… why not? There is always more to learn. We can never truly know ourselves or what we’re capable of unless we push ourselves outside our comfort zones and leave behind the safety blanket of everything we’ve grown used to.
Catching my eye as I walked into the Digital Surgeons’ building for the first time, the welcome mat had an embellished design of a key on it, as does my hand. Keys have always been a symbol of luck for me. I have one permanently inked on my knuckle and wear one on a chain around my neck. This was a good sign. Atop the staircase was a door leading to an open area full of workspaces, one being the Digital Surgeons office. It smelled fresh like renovation and change.
Since I had no in the experience in the professional world of digital marketing, it felt daunting. I honestly wasn't sure whether it was the right place for a battle rapper. Still, I decided to stick around and find out.
On first impression, everyone seemed really cool, like, really cool. The office felt more like some type of art studio space or LAN gaming loft than a digital marketing firm. This can’t be a place of business. There are action figures and posters everywhere. It's too cool.
There is a keg in the kitchen… a keg... in the kitchen.
Once that initial feeling of “wait, where am I?” subsided, I began to explore and become familiar with my new habitat. Everyone was friendly and helpful. I quickly became partial to working in a space dubbed as the Batcave. The walls, which were lined with business roadmaps and weekly outlines led up to a tall sloped factory ceiling. Large industrial style windows covered the northern wall, steeping the room in ambient light. Remnants of old piping still hung in their place, giving off the vibe that this building had come a long way from what it once was. I too would look back someday and see how far I’ve come.
After getting my feet wet and diving into what makes Digital Surgeons unique, I learned quickly that professionalism can be anything you want it to be, as long as it’s professional. This idea has stuck with me since my first day and will carry over through the rest of my life. I was actually worried I might not be taken seriously because of my non-traditional background in writing. I was wrong. In fact, I came to realize that the same psychology behind invoking reactions from a crowd of battle rap fans is used in effective marketing strategy. No matter what the context might be, there is a human on the receiving end of your words that will react accordingly based on your intention and your ability to convey that message. The only differences are the subject matter and the voice used to deliver it.
It took me a little while to get used to the format and tone copywriting requires. But soon I caught on and was enjoying the experience of writing in a new, challenging way. I learned a lot very quickly thanks to the mentoring of Jason Rose and James Dowd. The shift in style from dense, wordplay-heavy strings of reference-laden punchlines that I was familiar with, to the precision of copywriting forever changed the way I translate myself. I often took pride in obscurity, ensuring that even the most seasoned ears within my niche would still need to dig into my writing to truly understand the entire meaning behind a double entendre. But now, I embrace the effectiveness of simplicity. Words contain a certain power with which we can entice, persuade, and rouse others to feel and react.
Yes, words are only letters, and letters are only symbols. But symbols are forged in heart and meaning.
Unlike battle rap, copywriting requires a higher level of digestibility. I no longer find myself slaving over words held underneath a microscope to no end. Syllables don't matter, and rhyme and rhythm hold no limits over what you can and can't say. What matters are the actual ideas and words that make a reader want to continue reading. I was no longer writing ideas to be delivered aloud, but instead to be read, in their rawest form. This was very different from what I had grown used to, one where the most effective sentence is short, sweet, and to the point. I like that.
Thoughts, when translated into writing, are only as effective as their writer’s intent. It's the meaning behind the words that give them power. A conversational style is effective in ensuring the reader will stay engaged and the actual purpose of an article is understood, but not all concepts are translated with ease. Ideas often sound most natural when free-flowing directly from the nexus of the moment, but the ability to translate a concise stream of consciousness directly from thoughtspace into words is one that requires nurturing and dedication. The space between a thought and the words it becomes is so delicate and time sensitive, that if ideas are mulled for too long before they’re extracted, they risk getting lost. That nature, to a writer, is gospel.
The most important thing I’ve learned during my time at Digital Surgeons is to never let your background dictate what you can and can't do. There is no limit to what you're capable of and there will always be more to learn. If a battle rapper can break into the digital marketing world, anything is possible. Never doubt yourself.
Digital Surgeons has catalyzed my metamorphosis as a writer, an artist, and as a professional. A cocoon of ink and blood has been breached nib first, quill in hand, pointed towards the future.
Thank you, Digital Surgeons!
Jesse Jae Proto
Interested in embarking on an internship at Digital Surgeons? Apply here.