The first rap I ever wrote won a talent show in summer camp when I was 10 years old. The song was called “We’re Fresh” and it was pretty horrible. Or maybe it was just really elementary. My cousin Dre Knight and I sang the repetitive chorus on stage rocking Hawaiian shirts on our way to victory. We beat a team of older dudes with better bars and flows…later on I found out that they borrowed some of their raps from Big Daddy Kane’s “Just Rhymin’ With Biz.”
At the time we didn’t know where their verses came from so when I heard a young kid spit, “If rap was a game I’d be MVP, most valuable poet on the m-i-c…” I figured we were cooked.
But as fate would have it, originality and the Hawaiian theme must have won over the judges. When we got back to school Dre bragged to everyone about how nice I was at rap.
Unfortunately I had not written another verse after that win, but the rep I had led to me being on the school bus one day with my classmates prompting me to rhyme. This was a very long time ago before a rap song entitled, “The Symphony” hit the mainstream. I don’t even know if it was released yet because my brother was working with Masta Ace and he may have given him an early copy which I dubbed and listened to everyday.
Maybe it was something subconscious in my mind that told me that those guys we beat in that talent show had the right idea. Maybe I felt like it was all about impressing people first, then working on your craft later. That indecision and improvisation inspired me to borrow 8 bars from Big Daddy Kane’s killer closing verse from the aforementioned classic Juice Crew anthem,
“Setting it off, letting it off, beginning,
rough to the ending, you never been in
to move the groove with the smooth rap lord:
like a bottle of juice, rhymes are being poured
down your ear, crisp and clear, as I prepare,
to wear, tear and smear, then I’m outta here…”
The bus went crazy, I was considered great and my legend grew. That night I went home feeling the pressure and decided to write my own rhymes. The only positive thing that came from my thievery was that I actually believed I was good and my only hurdle was that I just hadn’t taken time to write. My first rap won a contest for God’s sake, it’s not like I needed to steal Kane’s verse. That was how I rationalized what I did. It didn’t make sense but it did set off my music career.
Fast forward many years later and I am in the latter part of an independent music journey that started out mainstream and probably has one more undefined chapter left. Recently it came to my attention that a rap artist out of Sacramento took some of my lines and reused them as his own. I had never heard of the guy until it was brought to my attention on Twitter and my response to the news was simple: Not again?!
How Hip-Hop Died Part 1 “The Death Of The DJ”
Every time I write about hip-hop or speak on it lately, I find myself drifting into a world of negativity. And I am not alone. Whenever my brethren and I get together we are reminiscing on the golden era or saying how much we don’t listen to the radio or don’t have any albums we’re looking forward to. Part of it is due to the fact that in those convos there are at least four out of ten people that wish they were on radio or MTV or whatever. The other interesting thing is that even if we were in a golden era right now, we wouldn’t recognize it.
But most of it is credited to an evolution of a genre that has grown up right before our eyes. It started out pure and different, it is one of the only art forms that can be used to address issues, inspire, express, tell stories and also humiliate. It became industrialized and calculated, but it is now making a desperate attempt to return to its roots as a voice of its followers. But is that possible? Is it too late? The answer is not simple, but first we must analyze the question. And that question is: How did it happen? How did hip-hop just become hip? Read the rest of this entry »
For the 2nd week in a row I’m putting up my ramble on Tuesday. Primarily because I partied Sunday night and got a late start and secondly I couldn’t decide if I wanted to promote our radio show on online dating tonight or talk about the most popular topic taking over barber shops, radio shows, basketball courts and chat rooms; the mystery of Mister Cee.
I don’t have an opinion on this hot topic just yet so as I’m writing this maybe I’ll enlighten myself and reach some sort of point for even bringing it up.
Well people ask what I think about the situation all the time and I’ve said everything from “I feel bad for him” to “I think he wanted to get caught.”
I met Mister Cee a long time ago when I was a pre-teen and he was the road manager for Masta Ace. My brother was a part of Ace’s crew and producer for Biggie and I was fortunate enough to go to the studio and quietly hang around folks like Big Daddy Kane, Craig G and a few times there was Calvin Lebrun.
He was cool, humorous and most of all, he was down to earth.
Years later I ran into the world famous DJ here and there and we spoke about music.
He didn’t remember me but of course he acknowledged my brother, my grind and offered to help me out with my struggles to be heard.
One time at Hot 97 we spoke about the starving artists wanting their songs played at parties while the DJ is focused on keeping the party popping. I understood that point.
Another time at a video shoot, I eavesdropped on a convo he was having about New York rappers always rapping about the industry they don’t get love in, while Southern artists were having fun on records. I got that one too.
What does any of this have to do with his recent scenario?
It brings me to the moment in time where I heard Cee was arrested for being in a car exposed with a man. And I wasn’t surprised. Not that I saw him do anything like that but because I heard stories about him waiting outside of gay clubs and his prior arrests.
I brushed off these tales like I do most of the homosexual stories I hear about industry folks even though I figured anything was possible.
But once the police report was confirmed, plenty of questions arose. Will he confess? Will he continue to DJ? Who will hire him? And most importantly why is it an issue? The industry of music is one where there are plenty of men behind the scenes that secretly sleep with men in order to get further in their careers or because they simply like to.
This same business publicly condemns those who like the same sex and that fact is highlighted by our use of “pause” and “no homo” when we use phrases that double as statements with gay undertone.
So is the hip-hop legendary DJ wrong for his indiscretion or for his public show or is he under scrutiny for not addressing his supporters with a statement?
I say the latter, sure it’s your personal life and yeah you don’t owe anyone an explanation but if you’ve ever said “pause,” or alluded to the fact that “gay” was negative, and then you get caught receiving oral sex from a man, then I think it misleads people. As a public figure, one might feel he should let people know if the accusations are true, especially after his colleague Funkmaster Flex has boldly defended him.
As the line between personal lives and business cross, the listeners are continuing to tune into Hot 97 FM and they may even get a broader audience that’s waiting for a confession.
But what happens with Calvin? Will this just go away like Wayne’s smooch with Baby? Cee can’t put out a hot album and make us forget, similar to what Rick Ross did to his correction officer employment fiasco. R. Kelly was able to sing his way back in our hearts after we watched him urinate on a young woman.
But it was a woman, Ross had a job and Wayne kissed his…father? Oh well, this wasn’t on camera and Mister Cee doesn’t necessarily need record sales to survive.
But let’s think about the next step in this situation. Cee may choose silence, keep his job, endure the jokes and rapper punchlines that will suggest that he’s a man-lover and cleverly include “the finisher” and “going in” (especially in battle raps), but then one day he’ll most likely get disc jockey work again.
He may continue to deny the charges and claim he was alone in the vehicle, that the hip-hop cops are framing him and that the accusations made by Wendy Williams in 2007 were false.
Or things might change.
Maybe Mister Cee could admit that he is indeed attracted to men that dress like women or simply men that are men. Lil B’s ass-raping threats may become acceptable, homo rappers might surface and others will gradually come out, execs will defend him, he’ll DJ for Lady Gaga, gay people will start saying “play” instead of “pause” and homosexuality will really become what “Black” was during the Civil Rights movement.
Charlamagne said, “The hip-hop community, and black culture in general, is homophobic for no good reason; and this wouldn’t even be an issue if he could be who he was, comfortably, without people judging him.”
Some of us appreciate the homophobia that keeps artists’ lives personal and fear that curtain opening. Some of us would probably retire if gay became ok in the hood and behind the mic. But this is an ever-changing world we are in and in this moment, the hip-hop community could change with one arrest of one DJ and allegedly one young man. Stay tuned to see if The Finisher is finished or if he started a revolution.
What do you think he should do?
So the last few weeks, I recorded my thoughts in front of a camera instead of writing them and I received extraordinary responses. I kind of contemplated making video rambles permanent, if not for the folks that hit me saying they missed actually reading words in their own voice. Either way, I’m just thankful that I get any kind of comment about what I do outside of rapping.
I never read comments on my music online. Why you ask? Because once I record something and I’ve decided to put it out there to the world, it is what it is. Sure I could learn what people like or dislike for next time or take what someone says as constructive but no thank you. One “please die” comment and my day is ruined. One guy hit me on Twitter and told me he followed me just so he could say he “unfollowed” me because I suck so bad and need a new hobby. It was hard not to respond and spark a back and forth about who he was a fan of and then inquire what he does for a living and find some way to insult his existence but I left it alone.
This is an opinionated business, you can’t win ’em all, blah blah blah, long story short, I have concluded that I’m not the best at receiving bad criticism. I come from an era where we listened to music, read the credits and wondered what the artist meant or what their life was like. And I didn’t get that info until I saw them on a Video Music Box interview, or Soul Train, or Arsenio or something. Even though I may have wanted to tell Big Daddy Kane that his love songs were out of place via Myspace, or go on Facebook and ask Rakim why he didn’t smile or use inflections in his voice, or maybe even read a Tupac Tweet, I couldn’t because those things didn’t exist, and I survived.
Nowadays people take their opinions and force them on others but that’s not enough, they find the human being that they have the opinion about and inform them as well. “Hey you, I’m not a hater but if you were to discontinue life, I wouldn’t be mad.” How does one respond to that? I’m not opposed to criticism; I think it can be very helpful. In the studio, tell me what you think about my verse…if I send you a song and I say, “I’m working on this, how can I improve it?” feel free to chime in with your advice. Or if I wrote a piece, tell me what I can do to get my point across more efficiently. But I find myself similar to a singer that only croons in church because I know no one’s gonna boo from the pews. You never hear “Hallelujah he stopped singing, thank you Jesus it’s over.” Church has the protective artistic shield that boosts your confidence, and I am admitting that I need that love.
The reason I’m not a good receiver of critiques is not because I think I’m perfect, it’s actually quite the contrary. I believe that I have thought of everything wrong or faulty possible with each writing, song, video or whatever content I put out and when someone says something negative I cringe because I knew they were gonna say that. Why didn’t I correct it then? Ah and here we have the ever elusive point. Perfection is not my mission…expression is. I am not interested in trying to improve as an artist as much as I want to get better as a person…so on both paths, I make mistakes. Or maybe a better way to put it would be that I make moves that aren’t universally accepted. And that is fine.
I know you know a few people that are chasing dreams you wish they wouldn’t chase, but you don’t know how to tell them. Or maybe you’re one of those people that aren’t getting the hints. Let’s say someone plays you a song or sends you a Youtube link and asks, “What did you think?” Here are some good responses incase you draw a blank. And if you’re the rap guy wall-posting and link spreading, maybe you should be aware when your homie hits you with one of these. I get ’em all the time…
1.“What did you think?” Turn it back around on them, they’ll have to do a quick self-analysis then you follow with, “Me too, I feel the same way.”
2.“How long did that take you?” Time is always a good tactic. Artists love to tell you about how long something took to create.
3.“I like the beat.”
4.“I didn’t like the beat.” Always blame the beat…unless they did the beat. Then you’re on your own.
5.“Reminds of this Jay-Z song, or was it Eminem, I can’t remember which song though.” All he’ll hear are the letters J, Z, and M; you’re off the hook.
6.“I like this more that the last one.” Hopefully there’s a last one, improvement is big for artists.
7.”Aight!!” This only works for email. It’s hard to read a yelling “aight,” looks like, “alright you’re doing your thing,” but it could really mean, “Alright that’s enough.” CAPS are optional.
8.”I have to listen again, I heard it on computer speakers.” This only works if it’s not an in-person listen but it buys time. Then you implement whichever one you like.
9.”You got some shyt!” This can be perceived as a positive or negative if stated correctly. I got caught with this one once or twice. I said, “Thank you” when I should’ve been saying, “Eff you.”
10.”I like it, it’s hot.” Everyone knows that if you ask someone if they like something, if he or she has to tell you they like it…then they don’t like it. People hunt you down to give you feedback if they’re feeling something but most of us don’t get the hint. I give CDs out all the time, and when someone doesn’t say anything about it, I know I’ve got work to do.
Then there’s the truth. The sugarcoated truth, the hurtful truth, the compliment sandwich truth, I’ve received ’em all and dished them all out. And honestly my day has been brightened and my career has progressed simply because I took note of other people’s opinions…so maybe criticism and comments aren’t all bad, feel free to leave yours.