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?!
There are many phrases and terms that become trendy in hip-hop. There was a time when everyone was “representing,” then they “kept it real” for a few years. For the last few years, it has been about “buzz,” then there’s the ever-popular “movement,” and we can’t forget “swagger.”
In the offices behind the artists, the words have been the same for a while now. The public is getting more and more hip to those terms: marketing, image, and branding. What the hell is a brand? Everyone will tell you that you need marketing, you should identify your target audience and demographic, and then establish your brand. It sounds like a lot more work than just writing and recording a song. Well the most successful artists in music had work put in on marketing their look. Read the rest of this entry »