This true-life story is a repost from our sister site, Our Life Logs®
This is the story of Chris "F.A.B.L.E." Horace as captured by the team at Our Life Logs. The following is brought to you in partnership with Guitars Over Guns, and organization that aims to change the lives of disadvantaged students through music and strong, consistent mentorship. We hope you check them out!
The Lyrics That Opened the Door
Detroit, Michigan. 1998. I was sent into the world by a struggling, drug-addicted mother. She couldn’t keep me, and I don’t know if she put up a fight. Either way, my story didn’t continue with her or anyone from my biological family. It continued with a single black man who was a lawyer who specialized in child and neglect cases and had seen the worst of the worst. As the equation goes, you mix in his social worker friend and you got yourself an adoption.
After all that, Dad took me to Lansing to live with him. A single father adopting a kid was pretty much unheard of, but he made it work. And honestly, I never wanted or sought the affection I couldn’t have in those early years. He had a busy work schedule, of course, but he gave as much love as two parents.
Still, my upbringing was interesting. My extended family always did their best to make me feel loved, and yet, I was always aware of the slight differences between us. Knowing, but not knowing why. My grandpa, however, took such a liking to me, and, honestly, he had a hand in my story—but I’m getting ahead of myself.
At age five, we moved to Chicago to take care of my Grandma (my adopted grandma—or rather, the only grandma I ever really knew) who was dying of cancer and to support my grandfather and disabled uncle.
And that’s where we stayed for the rest of my childhood. Chicago.
By the second grade in my Baptist elementary school, I started looking around at the two-parent households, like wow, I stand out. I started asking my dad questions. The older I got, the more details he gave. I knew as early as the fourth grade that my mother was a drug addict who didn’t want me and that my biological father had passed away.
My father had told me in the early days before my adoption, my mom was still arranging visits with the social worker. But then one week, she stopped showing. No one heard from her again. As years went by, the not knowing kind of messed with my head. It made me angry.
That kind of perspective changes the way you go about your school day. How you introduce yourself. How you compare yourself to the students around you. But by that age, my adoptive family had lost a lot of family, including my grandma, so I’d become jaded to a lot of things going on in my life. It didn’t take long for me to lean towards facts, science, and what could be explained.
When it came to school, I was a bright kid, but I wasn’t very motivated. It wasn’t that I was lazy. I just wasn’t passionate about anything other than music. So, when my family would get on me about my grades, I’d say something like, “I’m a musician. The highest I gotta count to is 4.” But my grandpa never doubted that I was capable. He always supported me in all that I did and was convinced that I’d be a great musician one day.
My musical journey began in the second grade. I learned how to play piano at an after-school program for fun, and played all through elementary. Music allowed me to drift away from reality.
In middle school, I learned how to play the trumpet after encouragement from my grandpa and my dad. I picked it up exceptionally well, and by my freshman year, I was at the same level as a senior. Can I say that I was really good? Well, I’m going to because it was true. So good that I thought I was too good for some lame high school band.
I started lessons at the Merit School of Music. I’ll admit I got a little cocky, but once I got into that program, I was put in my place. For the first time, I wasn’t the best player. I was surrounded by kids much younger and much better than me. I remember thinking, Well, this is insulting. So, what could I do but practice? It was in this period that I saw just how motivated I could get when I was passionate about something.
Determined to go somewhere with music, I attended Vandercook College of Music in Chicago to become a music teacher. I felt a gap between being a player and working on music, so it felt like the right program. But after just a year, my financial aid fell through (my dad was always a proponent of not getting in debt), so I had no choice but to settle for music programs in local community colleges.
They didn’t compare. Not by a long shot. This setback stalled the drive I once had. I felt like I was just drifting through my days, only picking up the trumpet when necessary. I thought that maybe I should just give up music and any dreams attached to it. Then I met Re@l.
I’d meet up with friends on campus here and there, and through those friends, I met Re@l, a guy who loved to rap and was a mentor for the Guitars Over Guns Organization (GOGO). It was an after-school program that helped keep kids off the street and taught them music among other life lessons. While in college, I’d been playing around, making rap demos on my phone, just for fun. After I showed Re@l a few tracks that I’d created messing around with beats, Re@l said they had potential. He brought me to a community studio space called Haven that was created by GOGO, where they could properly record my songs for a demo. Before that, I interviewed with the studio head. I made sure to answer well enough so they wouldn’t know I was actually a jerk. It worked.
Guitars Over Guns ended up playing a bigger role in my musical journey than I ever expected. Being around such supportive and passionate people, I was hooked. Music was alive again.
Through them, I also realized just how white-washed my musical journey had been. Every lesson I’d ever sat through always had me playing symphonies from old white guys…and it showed. I wanted to change what influenced me so that my sound was true to me and the lives that came before mine. I was now able to embrace hip hop and explore the art of my culture.
For the next couple of years, I started rapping in local venues. I started writing songs and pulling from my own experiences—or, the ones I would let myself explore. Because when I sat down and thought about what I wanted my music to say, I trailed back to the uncertainty with my biological family. Yeah, I know. My father was great. My grandpa supported anything I wanted to do. And yet, there were still moments I felt disconnected. Like they had something I never really got. I decided it was time to search for my biological family.
The only searchable information I had was my mom’s name. I started combing through websites and opened a million tabs. Finally, I found a match on an inmate registry. There was her name, spelled the exact same way, and next to it was the word, “deceased.” Wow. Really? The shock was quickly replaced by anger. I was angry at her. Angry at my dad. At anything near me. She was dead. It didn’t matter if I wanted to read her the riot act or meet her over a cup of coffee. I wasn’t getting any closure. And I was furious.
When my dad came home that day, I exploded. When he tried to understand what was bothering me, I asked him, “Did you know?” When he looked at me in confusion I spit out, “My mom. I found her online. She’s dead.” My father just stared at me for a moment, his brow furrowed. “That can’t be right,” was all he said before leaving the room to make a call.
The call was to his social worker friend, the one who helped him adopt me all those years ago. With his access, the two of them tracked down information about my biological family for me.
Finally, they handed me what they believed to be the phone number of my older sister. The ball was in my court.
I dialed my sister’s number, thinking it’d be another dead end. And then...she picked up. Together with my dad, we explained the situation. When we were finished, my sister said in awe, “Oh my god, we have been looking for you 20 years.” Through her, we learned the truth. My mother was alive.
In April 2018, I went with my dad and our social worker friend back to Detroit to meet my paternal grandmother, my 11 other siblings, and my mother.
I brought flowers for my paternal grandma and mother on the day we met. When I gave them the flowers, my grandmother broke down, wailing with all her happy tears while my mother remained stoic. Actually, stoic is the best way to describe her. Or perhaps, uninterested. While I was surrounded by the love and friendliness of my many other family members, establishing connections quickly, I couldn’t quite form one with my mom. When she spoke, it was with a tell-it-like-it-is attitude (much like mine, I now see) without any sign of guilt for giving me up all those years ago. She felt like she did what she had to do.
I left that day glad to meet her, but still unresolved.
When I returned to my music back in Chicago, I had tremendous pools of emotion from that weekend that was aching to flow out. So, I grabbed a pen and wrote it all down in the form of songs. Those songs are what became my album Middle School Days. The album was all about how years can pass and you can still feel those helpless feelings that you had as a little kid as you step into adulthood. Those bad feelings can still linger. I told stories of my frustrations, my pain, and (of course) my mom, a painted picture of my life. It all came out into those songs. Such is art.
I didn’t write these songs for anyone but myself, but when I released them online, the response I received was insane. So many people could relate to or felt inspired by the lyrics. It was in that moment that I realized just how much my music can influence the lives of others. I started really feeling like I could do music the rest of my life.
About six months after dropping Middle School Days, I decided to have a show where I’d perform the whole album. As the show was creeping closer, I got a call from my sister who said that all my siblings wanted to come to see the show. By then, I knew they had listened to the album and understood what I had gone through, so I was thrilled that they wanted to come. But my eyes widened when my sister told me that my mom was going. I thought back on all the lyrics, all the references to her, and about how much this album had ripped open my chest for everyone to see inside my heart. Knowing that my mom would hear it all both scared me and exhilarated me—and to be honest, it wasn’t very flattering. I decided to take a page from my mother’s book of telling it like it is, so I told my sister, “That would be great.”
The day of my show came and I was both elated and incredibly terrified. Never before had I ever really cared what anyone had to say about my songs. But with my mom, I was. I wanted her to think it was good and I didn’t understand why.
• • •
The show was going well and the crowd was really receptive. But then, it was time for that song. The one that calls out my mom. The one that is a little too truthful. The one that probably hurt the most. Backstage, I’d told myself that I’d find my mom and just look the other way. A great plan. But when the song began, I couldn’t help it. I locked eyes with her and I kept eye contact as I rapped the lyrics about the trauma she had caused me. It was the most liberating moment of my performance.
After the show, I approached my family. My chest constricted as I waited to see how my mom would react. To my surprise, she pulled me into a tight hug. After the shock of the gesture wore off, I hugged her back, and as I held her, I could feel all the tension exit my body. I finally felt like I had that closure I’d been seeking. Not everyone gets that.
So, then what?
I’ll admit that it’s a lot harder to write music when you have already written about all the bad that’s happened to you. At first, I worried that I had nothing left. When most of your life is lived in between crap situations, they feel like home. I realized didn’t want to do that anymore. If it came down to good content for songwriting or my happiness, I chose to be happy.
And so, I kept writing. And through mentoring kids and spending time with other musicians through Guitars Over Guns, I was able to pivot and find a new direction. I could now play my music without the traumas of my life limiting me. I was free to do whatever I wanted.
We cannot be afraid to unpack what needs to be faced. The mess is proof that you’ve been affected and owning that can help you move forward. Today, I pursue music with a lighter heart, and while I may not know all the answers from my mom, I feel better getting those painful feelings out into the open. I’m free to pursue whatever life has waiting for me.
This is the story of Chris "F.A.B.L.E." Horace
Chris currently resides in the West Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. From a young age, Chris knew he was adopted but didn’t fully go searching for his biological family until he was in his early 20s. A musician all his life, Chris used music as a therapeutic device to cope with the negative feelings surrounding his background. Once he faced those demons, he was finally able to move forward and pursue music with his traumatic past dragging behind him. In his spare time, Chris loves playing fighting games such as Street Fighter and Apex Legends, engaging in photography and cinematography, and helping produce music videos. He also dubs himself a cheesecake addict. Beyond these hobbies, Chris also loves to draw and skateboard. Chris’ stage name, F.A.B.L.E., is an acronym which stands for Finally, A Black Life Explained. It is a testament to his study and passion of sharing the deep history of the Black community in America.
Chris cites his adoptive grandfather as one of the biggest supporters in his musical career. Sadly, Chris lost his grandfather to COVID-19 in January 2021. In his grief, he has turned to music to cope once again, and he hopes his grandfather is proud of what he has achieved.
Chris is featured on the first-ever Guitars Over Guns album “The Rain May Be Pouring” which is comprised of original music from the mentors, students, and alumni of the organization. The album defines the feeling and impact of 2020.
You can listen to F.A.B.L.E.’s music at any of the links below.
Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker