GUEST EDITORIALS Got something to get off your chest? Email firstname.lastname@example.org The Job of Entertainment
A Punk Rock Approach to Hip-Hop
By Matt Sonzala
Planning For The Future
he NBA has it. The NFL has it. Hollywood actors have it. Hell, even your local garbage man or fast food employee has it. However, if your occupation is Hip Hop artist, you don’t have it.
What is “it,” exactly? I’m talking about a pension fund. A retirement fund, a 401K. Better yet, we Hip Hop artists often lack something as fundamental as healthcare or life insurance. The basic benefits that are offered to nearly every working citizen in the country never reach those of us who call “Hip Hop” our job. For the most part, America doesn’t look at rap as a “real” occupation. They’re regularly bombarded with images of lavish homes, big SUVs, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of jewelry hanging from the necks and wrists of more successful artists. But in reality, hip-hop artists are hustlers on a really tight schedule. We average a career span of 3-5 years, if we’re lucky. After all the records have been recorded and all the advances have been recouped, we still have families to take care of. To society, we’re expendable. Once we’ve stopped entertaining them, we’re flushed from public consciousness. And if you haven’t been wise with your savings, you could very well become another VH1 Behind The Music casualty. Hip-hop is my job. It’s how I put food on my table and clothes on my kids’ backs. I haven’t sold a million records, but I make a comfortable living as an independent artist. I’m blessed. But there are many who pursue this thing called hip-hop while working day jobs. As I’ve learned, this rap game is something that you must be devoted to 24/7 in order to reach your full potential. It’s hard, however, to do that when you’ve got bills to pay. The hometown won’t support you, and promoters are constantly asking for “promos.” You can’t live off hope. But why should we? Why are a couple of former Leaders of the New School working minimum-wage jobs? Why did I once see a legendary artist in the offices of Ichiban Records asking for money to take his daughter to a doctor? How can an artist entertain us for “x” amount of years and then suddenly have nothing to show for it? In Mississippi, we are taking steps to change this reality. Almost a year ago, the Mississippi Artists and Producers Coalition (M.A.P.) was formed in an effort to unite the state’s artists under one umbrella. The goal is to promote Mississippi hip-hop and organize a union. That’s right, folks, I said “union.” In the next three years, M.A.P. hopes to establish an organization that will provide a pension fund for Mississippi emcees. Not only that, but also life insurance, a health and dental plan, and a credit union designed to hold artists’ earnings and offer loans to aspiring entrepreneurs. We currently boast over 100 members throughout the state and have made our mark by organizing our own shows and releasing two compilation albums under the coalition banner. We’re taking our music back! The hip-hop industry is set up to make you famous before it makes you rich. Selfishness and deceit permeate the business, making it hard for the little guy to survive. Labels pimp us. If you’re independent, concert promoters short you while juggling the balls of every rapperof-the-moment. M.A.P. pledges to cut out the middleman. Hopefully, we will create a blueprint for other states to follow suit. You deserve to be compensated for your work, as with any job. You deserve to be able to provide for your family, as with any job. Mississippi has stood up. Now you do the same. - Kamikaze is CEO and artist on OurGlass Entertainment. He is also President and Founder of the M.A.P. Coalition. For more information on the Mississippi Artists and Producers Coalition, please call 601-212-6381 or 601-317-1891 or e-mail us at map_LLC@yahoo.com.
Taking Your Career Into Your Own Hands
on’t be scared off by the title. No one expects you to grab a guitar and a shave your waves into a Mohawk. We’re not suggesting you should abandon your regional sounds in favor of some Limp Bizkitesque bullshit. No, the point of this column is more to teach the ways that you, the rapper, producer, or DJ can take your career into your own hands and thrive. This month we’ll focus on touring as an independent artist. It’s no secret that the bulk of an artists’ money comes from touring. Sure, some rappers live the fast life for a few good years as they ride out a couple of hit singles, but what do they do before and after that peak? Sit on your ass? Sadly, many do. In order to thrive in this business, you have to get out there in front of the people. Young punk rock bands do it all the time, without an ounce of tour support. Take a band like Green Day, for example. You may or may not have ever heard of them, and when they first started in the late 80’s, no one else had ever heard of them either. This trio of guys from the Bay Area in California began putting out their own records with a local indie label called Lookout Records, much like many rappers do today, but what set them apart from the pack was their relentless drive. For ten years they struggled as an independent band, mostly on the road. They had a piece of shit van, one that probably broke down often, and they hit the road consistently playing gigs for next to nothing. As they progressed, the shows started becoming more lucrative, they sold more records, shirts, hats, bumper stickers, and posters, and eventually landed a deal with Warner Bros. With a proven track record both on record and on the road, they were able to write their own ticket when it came time to sign with the majors. Their first release on Warner Bros., Dookie, sold 10 million copies. They had already done their “artist development” before ever coming to the majors, and they had already established relationships with venues not only around the country but around the world. And they did it themselves. In hip-hop, David Banner is a great example of this same process. He traveled around the country, sleeping in his van, surrounded by what seemed like everything he owned. One deep he would ride from his modest home in Jackson, Mississippi to wherever he could work. If the moment called for him, he was there. Performing, producing, doing features, whatever. Unfortunately, many rap artists are raised on MTV, BET, and commercial radio, and only see the glamour and glitz side of the business. I bet you think your career starts and ends with your first and last hit. It’s not true. Last week I had a conversation with Fresh Kid Ice of the 2 Live Crew. If you know your history, you know that 2 Live Crew hasn’t had a hit in over ten years. But if you pay attention, you know that 2 Live Crew (or some combination of 2 Live Crew members) has performed in your town in the past year. And they’ve performed in your town every year since they started. How can they do this? It’s simple. Everyone knows that the basis of this business is relationships. If you don’t get out there and meet people and make things happen, you are not going to thrive. I don’t care if you come from a bustling rap mecca like Houston or Atlanta or a small town like Mobile or Tallahassee. If you don’t get up and go take your music to the people, you are not going to be heard. It takes real determination and stamina. Often, you will lose money on the first few tours. Unlike the dope game, the money is not always fast. It’s no secret that many of us in this game need to develop some patience and get away from the fast money mentality. The real success stories in this game put in time, effort, and often their own money to make their career jump off. It doesn’t take much, and the formula has been proven time and time again. So what are you waiting for? - Matt Sonzala is a freelance writer and photographer for OZONE, Murder Dog, The Source, XXL, and various other publications. He also hosts a weekly radio show, Damage Control, on KPFT FM in Houston, Texas. For more information, visit Matt’s always-entertaining blog at www.houstonsoreal.blogspot.com. OZONE AUGUST 2005
Ozone Mag #37 - Aug 2005