The Mic Is Open Was Born With a Purpose

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

“What do you do for a living?”

That’s a question that Dabriel Fulton was recently asked.

How did she respond?

She responded like the amazing soul she is.

“I make dreams come true.  I inspire, uplift….I know my purpose in life, and once you know your purpose you can help others unveil theirs!  The key to my success is, I am not greedy.  I love helping us all succeed.”

Coming from a CEO, that’s a very powerful statement and it speaks to why Dabriel is where she is today.  It speaks to why her platform, The Mic Is Open, has been around since 2011 and is better than ever in 2016.

Allow me to breakdown what was said in Dabriel’s quote.

“I make dreams come true.”  Dabriel wants others to experience what she’s experiencing right now; dreams becoming reality.  She’s doing everything in her power to see that happen for other people.

She’s created a platform that’s specifically geared towards emerging artists who are in need of a stage to showcase their talents, which further speaks to Dabriel’s desire to help other people see their “dreams come true.”

“I inspire, uplift….”  Not only does Dabriel inspire those who take part in The Mic Is Open, but she inspires the other creatives like myself who are also emerging in the midst of dreams and aspirations.

To see a young and educated black woman from my hometown of Baltimore creating her own lane and placing a focus on helping others attain success, it doesn’t get anymore inspirational and uplifting than that.

Dabriel says she knows her “purpose in life.”  For a lot of people, it takes them decades to find out what their purpose is in this life. Individuals like Dabriel and myself feel that God has blessed us with knowing our purposes at a young age.

That being said, it’s one thing to know your purpose and it’s another thing to have the courage to walk in that purpose.  Dabriel has that courage.

When she started performing at open mic nights in college, she might not have known that one day she’d be called upon to get on a stage in front of large crowds and host events geared towards providing others with much needed exposure, but she’s accepted that task fearlessly and in turn, she’s inspiring others to walk in their purpose as well.

“The key to my success is, I am not greedy….”  There are individuals and platforms that value money more than they value people and their experiences. That’s what makes Dabriel’s platform so pure though.  Greed isn’t an issue.

Dabriel would much rather someone come and attend her event, have a great time and walk away inspired. She’d rather an artist come and perform at The Mic Is Open and be able to focus on their performance, not the amount of money it costs to perform.

Dabriel ends her answer by saying “I love helping us all succeed.” There are people out there who will step on anybody’s throat to get to the top.  However, I’ve never felt that stepping on people to achieve success is the right answer in life.

Just like famous comedian, Kevin Hart, has alluded to in the past, there’s no reason why we can’t all shine together.  It’s true.  If people spent more time trying to work through their challenges to achieve success and if they came together with others and spent less time hating on one another, we would all be able to experience success together.

Dabriel wants us all to experience success together and I promise you that when you meet her in person, you’ll feel that she genuinely wants to see others happy in their lives and careers just as much as she is today.

Checkout our exclusive interview below and hear directly from Dabriel as she tells me about her recent interview with famous Rapper French Montana for Elle Magazine, her collaboration with Lyft, Saturday’s edition of The Mic Is Open, and more!

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Q.  How excited are you for this Saturday?

A.  I’m super excited.  Just gearing up and getting things ready.  You know I’m a one woman show, so there’s a lot of pressure on me. New people are even hearing about The Mic Is Open.  They’re messaging me on social media, sending me emails, just trying to reach me.

Q.  The last time we were together, you were gearing up for another The Mic Is Open in New York City.  What went well with that one?

A.  With the last event, what went well was I was able to have the venue for that entire day opposed to just being given a certain amount of hours.  The event prior to that one, everyone wasn’t able to get in.  I did make proper movements for the next one though. I booked a larger venue that was more spacious.  The only thing with that is I wanted to have the event at the same place again, but they were like “Oh no.  You have to rent it out for the entire month,” which was crazy.  The venue alone is over $2,000 and then you have a $2,000 deposit.  Things just add up.

Q.  Did the event sell out last time?

A.  Yes it did, which was awesome.  I’m looking forward to that happening again. I’m definitely looking forward to taking the show on the road too.  I’ve really only had the showcase in Baltimore and New York.  My next venture will be LA.

Q.  After having a successful turnout, when you go back to the drawing board to get ready for the next The Mic Is Open, what are some of the things you’re saying to yourself in terms of what you want to accomplish the next time around?

A.  My last event, I spent $8,000.  So, the plan is to spend less and do more, if that’s possible.  Get more sponsors. Get more people.  Get more A&R’s to come out.  Just become bigger and better, but also smarter.  I need to make smarter moves.  So, that’s where I’m at with The Mic Is Open this time around.

Starting off, I didn’t have a budget and that’s very important.  You have to create a budget so you know what you’re working with.  And if you’re financing things for yourself, you definitely have to set some parameters for yourself and for your event.

Q.  Are there any specific qualities you look for when you receive submissions from artists?  If so, what are some of those qualities?

A.  I have requirements.  When people submit, I want to see previous or past performances.  I want to see stage presence.  I want to have a link to your music or your poetry.  I want to give artists multiple opportunities for me to be able to listen.

I more so listen to the lyrics rather than the delivery.

Q.  Last time we spoke, you told me you were going to take a little break to gear up for some other ventures. Did you actually take a break and if you did, what were some of the things you accomplished and learned about yourself during that time?

A.  I know I said I was, but I didn’t haha.  I didn’t get a chance to. Once you do one show, you’re like okay what can I do to make the next one better.  Elle magazine had asked me if I would be able to do an interview with French Montana.

I was like cool.  I figured that would be a way to plug The Mic Is Open. So, we did this interview called Rap Therapy.  It’s going to be in the magazine as well as on their website in the days or weeks to come.

You always have to keep working and grinding until you reach where you want to be. I’m five years into it, but I still haven’t reached even half of what I want to accomplish.

But long story short, nothing happens over night.  I feel as though if I work hard, even harder than I’m working now and just keep pressing forward, I’ll be able to achieve some of the bigger goals I have for myself.

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Q.  Can you talk about your collaboration with Lyft, what it entails and how it came about?

A.  Well, I’m always on my phone and checking emails. An email popped up from someone that appeared to be a manager from Lyft. The person told me they had been following what I’ve been doing and that they thought it was awesome.

They told me they wanted to provide me with their services and partner up.  I emailed them back and the next thing you know, we have a partnership.  Lyft sent us the logos and our own promo codes. I was super excited because having events in New York City, it’s either the train or cab.  Parking is really scarce. Especially, because I’m having this event in Chelsea.  There is no parking.

So, this gives you the opportunity to get to and from your destination and if you want to have some drinks, you can have some and not be worried about it.

Q.  Is this going to be an ongoing partnership?

A.  They actually want to do something even bigger in the future. That’s in the works as well, so I’m looking forward to that.

Q.  Are you thinking about plans for expansion or are you more so focused on just continuously perfecting what’s going on right now and making sure that you’re selling these events out time and time again?

A.  I don’t really focus on selling out.  I just focus on providing a quality experience for the artists and all the guests who attend.  So, when I plan a show, I’m thinking “Okay. How much would I want to pay to get in the show?  What does the show have to offer? Will there be drinks?  What does this ticket include?”

Although you’re always going to have expansion in the back of your head, my focus is on perfecting this one particular event so that I know A, B and C are the moves for each event.  That way, I can follow the same protocol when I get to places like LA and Japan.

We all see the bigger picture, but we have to perfect the smaller picture first to get to the next step.

Q.  When Saturday is concluded and people are out of the venue, what are you hoping that they leave with?

A.  I want people to leave with an experience.  I want you to come to my experience.  I want them to leave saying they “had a great time and was able to interact” with certain people. I want them to say, “Dabriel was really down to earth.”

Their impression of me really matters to me.  A lot of people say they don’t care what others think, but I care because I want you to have a lasting impression.  I want you to feel good about the environment.  I want you to feel good about the host, which is me. I want you to feel good about the artist.

The Mic Is Open is a platform for emerging artists to showcase their talent.  It’s a safe place.  When you’re here, you feel loved, you feel excited, you feel welcomed. It’s not a competition.  People who are emailing me are like “So, how much do I have to pay to perform?”

It’s not that kind of show.  You don’t have to pay to perform.  I never want someone to have to pay to showcase their talent.  That’s just not what we do over here.

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Dabz,

It was great interviewing you for a second time now.  I wish you the best tomorrow with another edition of The Mic Is Open.  I know you’ll be great. Thanks for having the courage to be an inspiration to the world and for being a bridge builder for the emerging artists out there today. God is truly working in your life and it’s good to see you embrace the purpose He’s given you.  If you only knew how your story impacts my life….You will always be apart of the Intern Media family.

Karl Nelson II, Founder of Intern Media

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What yaw know about building something from the ‘Ground Up?’

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

During Intern Media Week, you all were exposed to some groundbreaking individuals with quite the level of creativity. That said, it’s only right that my next story highlights a hip-hop group that knows all about both being groundbreaking and creating groundbreaking material.

This particular group of young and talented artists represents what it means to start from ‘the ground up.’

That group is none other than the Ground Up, a hip-hop group that originated in Philadelphia, consisting of two MC’s and a DJ.

I saw them perform up close and personal at their album release party last year and it was beyond an evening well spent. Up until that point, I had only heard a small catalog of their music.

Malakai, one of the MC's part of Ground Up, performing in front of fans at one of their shows.
Malakai, one of the MC’s part of Ground Up, performing in front of fans at one of their shows.

Maybe like most people seem to do, I got caught up in the mainstream world of music, not giving much time to the passionate music on the rise, a sound that’s usually at its most precious stage because it’s only influenced by raw passion for the art.

Well, that night I witnessed years of hard work and dedication blossom right there on that stage at the 8×10 in Downtown Baltimore. Here was a group that likely faced all kinds of adversity early on.

Adversities like having to build a following one performance at a time, attaining the proper resources to put their material out to the public, having to also constantly reinvent themselves to create a lane of their own.

Ground Up has overcome all of these adversities, given where they are today. This is a group that at one point was nothing more than a brilliant best-kept secret, that is before they stepped out there in front of people and showcased their talents as artists in this game.

Ground Up recently tore up the stage at the annual Made In America Festival in Philadelphia, a festival that legendary hip-hop mogul Jay Z developed in recent years.

If you’re not careful, you might be so taken back by the heights that Ground Up has reached to the point where you might become more fixated on where they are today, neglecting what it took them to get here.

Azar, Malakai, Bij Lincs...the originators of Ground Up.
Azar, Malakai, Bij Lincs…the originators of Ground Up.

That’s something that many of us do quite often, but it’s important to take heed to the fact that the title “Ground Up” is more than just the name of a hip-hop group growing at a fast rate, but also a phrase that’s true on its surface.

Ground Up can really look back and say that they did it. They built their group from the ground up and now they’re entering a whole new chapter to their journey as they’ve just dropped a new album Seventeen Eleven and have already hit the road, performing across the country on their tour.

Their success thus far is proof that if you nurture an idea the correct way, the sky isn’t even the limit.

This group doesn’t even realize how they inspired me as a young journalist on the rise when they took the time to talk to me about my craft and about how both music and journalism collide. There were likely those that didn’t buy into their dream until they made it a reality and I am determined to do the same. Much love to Ground Up and what they represent in the world of hip-hop.

Me with a couple members of Ground Up (Azar and Malaria) after their album release party last year in Baltimore at the 8x10.
Me with a couple members of Ground Up (MC’s Azar and Malakai) after their album release party last year in Baltimore at the 8×10.

Intern Media Week: Day 2 – Jonte “Too Tall” Hall, shortest Harlem Globetrotter ever

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

“The smallest player in the prestigious 89-year history of the Globetrotters, the 1.55-metre guard – or five feet two inches in the old language – defied the odds to showcase his talent with the greatest exhibition team on the planet.” ~ Lee Gaskin of The Canberra Times (from a June 2015 interview with Mr. Hall)

Jonte Hall, also known as “Too Tall” as a member of the world-renowned Harlem Globetrotters, experienced what some would call a rough patch, just several years ago. In his late twenties, Hall was working around the clock in pursuit of his dream; to play professional basketball one day.

However, at that time, Hall’s window was not just closing, in the eyes of some it was actually shut as he found himself working overnight shifts, buffing floors at office buildings in Baltimore County.

I don’t say that to degrade anyone that works in that field, but for Mr. Hall, I believe anyone would be able to understand my point just by reading the title of this piece; hence the Harlem Globetrotter reference.

Anyone who’s able to attain such an accomplishment was obviously not meant to spend the rest of their life or career cleaning office buildings.

Nonetheless, that’s what he was forced to do just years ago because like everyone else in America, he had bills.

We’ve all been faced with that reality, right?

That moment when reality sets in and the ways of this world put us in a position where we have to make a choice, it’s either our dreams and aspirations or doing what we have to do to put food on the table. It’s not a fun position to be in and Hall is very much so in touch with that feeling.

At that time in Mr. Hall’s life, I had the rare opportunity to be caught up right in the midst of his setbacks as well as his victories. As a matter of fact, there were some nights when I was the person that my good friend called upon at the end of those late night shifts, when he needed a ride home or just someone to talk to about everyday life issues.

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I still remember those conversations that we had like it was just yesterday when Hall would tell me about his workouts on the vacant floors of those office buildings.

Here’s a guy that would take his lunch or dinner breaks for that matter and spend them on those vacant floors doing basketball drills as well as strength and conditioning workouts. As prize fighter Floyd Mayweather Jr. would put it, that’s that “hard work and dedication!”

I know what you guys are thinking.

What a story, right?

A young African American male from Baltimore, experiencing humbling times several years back, but now has ‘Harlem Globetrotter’ next to his name. That’s definitely a story worthy of radio or television time.

However, while that’s quite the success story, it goes so much deeper than just that. What I just mentioned only scratches the surface for the great life that is Jonte Hall.

Hall, 32, might have come up in a tough environment at a young age, but thanks to a loving mother, a few mentors along the way, and a good head on his shoulders, he didn’t allow himself to be defined by what was going on around him. Instead, he demanded for others to define him by his quality of life.

Hall fell in love with the game of basketball at a young age and as much as some people will try to act as if a sport is not a true passion to have, they’re wrong. Sometimes something as simple as a sport can save one’s life by keeping them focused and out of trouble on the day-to-day.

That’s the reality for many young black males coming up in environments like Baltimore City and surrounding areas where trouble can frequently find you.

That’s something that the game of basketball did for Hall, even in his twenties. While some believed his dream should have been put to rest at a certain point, thank God Hall stayed the course and kept his goal in the forefront of his life.

After all, anyone can decide to hang up their dreams after being hit hard by the hand that society deals us, but it takes a special person to stay the course for that special day when they can now wake up and live their dream.

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That mindset is what catapulted Hall into becoming a member of the Washington Generals, an American exhibition basketball team that you’ll always see on the same court as the Globetrotters, in a losing effort that is, and if you have any knowledge of the Globetrotter history, you’d know that I say that in all fun. The Generals gave Hall his first opportunity to showcase his talents as a basketball player on a national stage and before he knew it, he was signing his contract with one of the most historic basketball platforms in sports history; the Globetrotters of course.

Since then, he’s been traveling the world with the Globetrotters doing what he loves to do and putting smiles on the faces of thousands in the process.

Hall’s testimony speaks volume to what the Bible says about faith, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Sure, you might fail or better yet fall in the midst of following your dreams, but just like in a real dream, you can also get up, dust yourself off and keep moving onward and upward.

If Hall would have decided to stay where he fell, then his testimony probably wouldn’t have the impact it has today and he wouldn’t be waking up doing what he loves on a daily basis, able to touch lives beyond just his hometown.

I selected Hall for Intern Media Week, not only because he’s like a big brother and close friend, but also because his story deserves to be spread to others. His life is a representation that not every sports figure or celebrity figure changes for the success and the fame.

I’ve known Hall for years now and I can’t lie about the fact that he’s literally the same humble and positive guy that I met when he was an average guy walking the streets of my hometown. Instead of allowing his success to change him, he’s decided to change the perception of those who are famous and successful in the entertainment world.

That said, it’s my honor and privilege to be able to highlight someone that’s been a big brother to me and a supporter of my endeavors. And I’m confident that his story will leave you wanting to know more about this deep and talented brother, Mr. Jonte Hall.

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L. Green: The man, the music, the journey

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

“In my music, I’ve always wanted to give my story, yeah, but my ultimate goal is to spread a message of peace and love. For self and others. I want to show people how I’ve come along to understand and master myself, which has helped me look deeper into spreading that love.” – Lawrence Green (L. Green)

Fans of the entertainment world are often times spoiled by seeing the finishing product of a song, film, or play without being privy to the process — being the time it takes to reach the finish line. By not being plugged in to the process, we become oblivious to how an individual actually reaches the cusp of their greatness.

This applies to everything, not just the entertainment industry. It might be the well-respected grandfather down the street from you who has a certain level of admiration and love from the community and his family, but we didn’t see how he earned that from many years of hard work and extending himself to others. It might be the young college graduate who was able to finish at the top of their class, defying all odds, but we may not have been privy to how they got there; coming up in a broken home with a learning disability.

And even in entertainment, how often do we really see the adversity that a guy like Rapper Big Sean experienced on his quest to success? He’s entitled his work Finally Famous in the past, and rightfully so. However, how many of us actually understand the underlying meaning to that title? We see Big Sean on stage in front of thousands with a big gold chain hanging from his neck and that’s all we see. We don’t always get to see how he got to that point and to be honest, most fans probably don’t care and maybe that’s part of what’s wrong with society today.

The bottom line is the journey or the process for that matter is just something that a lot of us take for granted in many aspects of life and that’s also evident when it comes to high level entertainment.

As I write this piece, wishing that this reality could somehow change, I realize that it’s us that has to change it one step at a time and how do we do that? We do this by searching for more than just what’s on the surface. I guess you can say I’m making strides towards accomplishing that change as a young journalist going through my own share of daily adversity. But when I’m able to provide a platform for a rare individual, that adversity becomes a gift. That gift has led me to write this story on a good friend of mine who has dealt with his share of adversity in life and it just so happens that he’s a talented artist as a Rapper and Poet out of Long Island, NY.

Lawrence Green or L. Green, his artist name, can attest to every word written about the struggle that comes with trying to make it in the entertainment industry and in life in general. As a friend of L. Green’s, I’ve been able to witness, first hand, him trying to find his purpose in this life and after knowing him for almost five years now, I think it’s safe to say that the young New York native has found that purpose. Coming from a family with a history of pursuing music, L. Green wants to continue that legacy and simply build upon it, and he’s off to a good start.

I can think back to when he played a few records for me and another close friend of ours, Andrew Somuah, who happens to be making strides of his own as a journalist for The Source Magazine. Before I heard those records, I had little knowledge about L. Green’s talent as an artist, but I was clear about it that night and it’s crystal clear to me now as he’s embarked on a crusade of his own to build his music career one single at a time, one performance at a time, and by overcoming one adversity at a time.

How has L. Green reached the point where he is today?

He’s just stayed the course along with amping things up a lot in the last several months, which you’ll be able to come to grips with more in the interview that follows. Today, L. Green is consistently working with a band as well as performing as a solo artist, sometimes through poetry and in the form of rap. Nonetheless, L. Green is working hard to get his movement circulating in New York and in outside cities and states. He might not be able to relate to the Big Sean’s of the world at this given time, but I’m sure the Dark Sky Paradise rapper has related to L. Green at some point in the early stages of his career.

I had the opportunity to interview L. Green recently and hear directly from him as to what the journey has been like, what he’s working on today, and his plans as an artist moving forward. Thanks in advance for supporting my movement by reading this story and hopefully it will prompt you to follow my good friend and artist L. Green and pay close attention to his journey as an artist and as a person dealing with the day-to-day trials that we all face.

Anybody can latch onto an artist once they’re known across the states or worldwide, but why not change the game and hop on the L. Green train now. You’ll thank me later, believe me.


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Q. One thing we talked about previously was the musical background in your family. Explain the pride that you take in continuing that legacy?

A. My uncle Lorenzo was apart of a band. He and a couple of my other family members started this band. It was never anything serious. It was always kept at an amateur level. However, I’ve always wanted to take it beyond that and just continue that legacy. I want to spread my message to a much broader audience than just my local audience.

Q. You also mentioned the advice that your cousin gave you some years back. He encouraged you to study music just like you would study anything else. Speak on that. How important was that piece of advice and how important is it to study your craft?

A. Well, you know rap or music in general is a form of art and you have to learn how to improve yourself. You have to master yourself as an artist and one thing he always stressed to me was that just doing it alone is not going to get you to where you want to be or get you better. Sometimes you have to see other people’s success and see what they did to make it. It’s an art, so you have to study it. You have to perfect it. I always kept that in mind man.

Q. Let’s also talk about your poetry background, which started at a young age for you. When you started writing poetry, what was going on in your life at the time? What made you pick up that pin and start to put words on paper? 

A. Normally, you hear people say ‘Well, I was going through this at the time and I had to put something on paper.’ Haha. Honestly, I was a huge Puffy fan and I always admired what he did. So, eventually I just started to try to write rhymes and I never wrote with a rhythm, so when I played it back it was like a poem and then my cousin was like ‘Okay. That’s poetry, but here’s how you rap.’ So, it all started with trying to do what Puffy or Mase was doing at the time.

Q. The whole poetry thing is interesting to me because that’s kind of the basis of Hip Hop. It started out as spoken word. When you think about some of today’s artists, do you feel like they’re keeping that in mind? Are they thinking about poetry or are they just trying to be gimmicky?

A. I feel poetry hasn’t really kept a strong heart in Hip Hop nowadays. At the same time, we do have our poetic artists like a Wale, Common, Kendrick and so on and so fourth. However, as far as the broader spectrum goes, people are just going into the booth and rapping. Rich Homie Quan and Rick Ross are getting caught saying things in their raps and they say ‘Oh, I didn’t know what I was saying. I was just rapping.’ They’re not putting a lot of thought into it and I’m not saying that’s bad. That works for them, but as far as keeping the poetic aspect alive, there’s few artists today that still do that.

Q. Would you be more happy with your career if you were able to look back and say ‘I never made it big, but I was able to create music with substance and develop some type of following and my music really told a story?’ Or would you be willing to downgrade some of your music or your substance just for the purpose of becoming mainstream and getting some type of fame? What’s your thought process on that?

A. I mean, I’m not going to lie. I did fall victim to that one time and it didn’t feel great afterwards. I made a commitment to make a certain type of song that required me to step away from something that I was used to doing. I have to admit that I didn’t like it too much, so if I had a choice, I would be cool with just making good quality music the way I like to explain things from my personal experience. I would be cool with a good following and if I don’t make it big, I’m cool with that if it means me having to dumb down my music to make it appealing.

I’m fine with doing me and having my small following, even if it’s just 20 people. I actually recently performed with a band I was working with and a rock band was on after us, who has a huge following in the DMV. So, I’m watching them perform and they were going hard. I looked back and there was just one guy with me at the bar, but if you saw them performing you would think they were performing at Madison Square Garden.

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Q. You’ve talked about your days in the schoolyard, putting together freestyles and songs with your friends. What was fun about that? What do you miss about that and what do you think it did for you as an artist today?

A. I was just having fun at the time to be honest with you. We were just having the shortest battles. I’m talking two bars or two lines, but it was the best feeling ever. It was fun. You were with your friends and there was no judgment. It was just yaw and how I refer back to those moments today is whenever I’m dealing with a song or doing anything musically, it reminds me not to think so hard and just have fun with it and that’s how you produce your best work. That’s with anything. Sports, music, anything. The less you think about it, the better you do. Going back to my school days in the schoolyard and making fun songs, it just reminds me not to think about things so much.

Q. You’ve recently released some singles. How many and how did they come about?

A. The first single I released was ‘Don’t Play It’ featured by my producer Jarred AllStar. I walked into the studio one day and he was like ‘Hey, I need you to get on this track.’ I listened to the beat and it was raw. He worked on the hook and I came up with my verses. It was actually only meant for me to have one verse at first, but then after we did it, he told me that I could have the third verse, so I went in. That was my goal for that. My next single is going to describe a past experience I had with a female who I’m trying to express an interest in and she has that guard up. She wants to pursue interest, but that guard is stopping her from it. I’m pretty sure a lot of people can relate and I just want to share my experience. That’s what came out when I went to the studio.

Q. Let’s talk about your manager Shawn Haynes. How did he help you get things going again with your music? 

A. First off, shoutout to Space Age Music and Shawn Haynes. I was actually introduced to him through a friend. I was actually looking for a new studio and my friend took me to a studio where Shawn was recording. I was meeting a producer who was always a friend of my friend and I heard this beat that he was working on, which happened to be Shawn Haynes’ song. We chopped it up for a bit and he gave me a chance to show what I was able to do from a rap standpoint.

Whenever I’m presented with those kinds of opportunites, I try to slaughter it. He liked what I did and saw what I could do. It’s been magic since then. I’ve been on shows and have performed at Magnet, a club in New York that we’ve consistently performed at. It’s in El Monte, Long Island. We’re actually about to go to LA too. He knew someone who knew someone in California and they came to New York for a video shoot and I was able to connect with him.

Q. If you weren’t a rapper, what aspect of the music industry would you want to work in and why?

A. I really would want to work in Artists and Repertoire (A&R). I feel like I have a good eye for talent. Sometimes I can piece together certain types of talent and it may not even involve me. I just feel like I have a good eye for that. I would love to do that. That wouldn’t even be a job. That would be me getting up to do something that I love to do.

Q. We’ve talked about what a good shoot looks like and what a bad one looks like. What’s a successful video shoot in your opinion? 

A. I feel like it’s all about creativity and stepping outside of the ordinary. For instance, it was this one song I had. It wasn’t like I had full control of what the video was going to entail. That’s the reason I didn’t do the video, but it was something typical like bring the girls in the club and just have them dance. It was simple, basic and something you’ll usually see on WorldStar or YouTube. I feel like when a video has substance and it’s more than just a girl sitting in a chair or a drug dealing or murder scene, I feel like that makes a good video.

I feel like Kanye is one of the most rare artists ever. Like his ‘Dark Fantasy’ video; it took me a few times to watch and understand it, but there was a scene of him driving a car and then a Phoenix flew out of the sky. If you look at that, it looks like a Phoenix coming out of the sky haha. But what it was saying and what he was saying is that when he had the car crash, he was reborn. It was just the way he did it. It made you think. He’s so different in a lot of ways compared to other artists.

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Rapper Kenton Dunson looks to defy all odds as a true ‘Outlier’ in Hip Hop

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

When I came out with “Kenton Dunson: A True ‘Outlier’ in the Evolution that is Hip Hop,” the rapper out of Maryland was working on maybe the biggest project of his music career thus far; Outlier, which will drop this month. I was able to catch up with the “outlier” himself at his album release party in May where he showcased several songs from the new album at the 8×10 in downtown Baltimore.

Outlier couldn’t have been a more perfect title for Dunson’s newest album as it is a good representation of him not only as an artist, but as a person too. The term “outlier” refers to “a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set.” Dunson’s music exemplifies this definition. His music has one of the most unique sounds I’ve heard in recent years. That’s what jump-started our dialogue.

The beautiful thing about talent is it sparks dialogue, but when you get to see who the person is behind their art, that’s what establishes real content.

Dunson’s music, his oneness with his audience and his passion for mastering his craft is why I’m finding myself writing this story — a story that has combined the talent of a young journalist on the rise and a young artist looking to create a lane of his own. This is the story you might not typically get when typing an artists’ name into a search engine. I guess in a way, this collaboration is also an outlier in its own right.

Dunson says that he’s striving to create a similarity between he and a few of the big names in the hip hop industry today; guys like Kanye West, Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Don’t get the wrong idea though, Dunson does not want to be these guys nor does he want to make the same kind of music as them. Dunson simply admires the fact that they were each able to make “mainstream” what they desired for it to be.

Kanye made the mixture of hip hop and fashion mainstream. As Dunson would say, Drake made being a black rapper from the suburbs mainstream. Kendrick made storytelling and an intellectual-style of rap mainstream again.

This is the impact and the wave that Dunson looks to create as his own man in this industry. The jury is still out on what exactly Dunson’s “mainstream” will look like, but I would have to take a wild guess and say that it would involve him being an outlier, standing out from what’s considered the norm and to be honest with you, he’s got the talent and the discipline to do it.

I’ve referred to Kenton as a “dope” artist in the past. I know that in our society today that’s become the cool thing to say and many people have their own definition for what “dope” actually is. For me though, “dope” is all about being different, having substance and being for the people. That’s why Kenton is dope. His music is different because it stands out from the rest. His art — which is also his music — contains substance and he’s for the people.

How do I know this?

There are not many artists who embrace the “underground” way of doing things and I’m not talking about in terms of music. I’m not the conventional type of journalist. I’m going to search for the unknown, the message that lies between the lines. Dunson has embraced my style of journalism, but I’m not surprised.

Why?

It’s because he strives to do the same in his music. His location, the company he surrounds himself with and his bourbon are all elements in his developmental process when it comes to making good music. Dunson’s the kind of artist that also searches for the unknown between the lines of his lyrics when thinking about what he wants to convey to the people.

Now you see why he couldn’t have picked a better title for his newest project and when you go to pick up this new sound — which you will because you long for music with substance — you’ll too see why Outlier is more than a title or a term; it should be the way we live out our careers and our lives.

After all, Dunson always reminds us that “we are all outliers,” right?

Checkout the interview I did with Dunson just moments before he took the stage in front of a packed crowd at the 8×10 in Downtown Baltimore the night of his album release party.

Q. How long have you been a full-time artist now?

A. Since 2010. February 2010, I quit my job at T. Rowe Price as an Investment Advisor. So, ever since then man.”

Q. Since you’ve done that, what would you say has been the biggest challenge as a full-time artist?

A. Well, of course you deal with the financial and like losing your apartment, losing your car. You know, it’s all a domino effect. Losing a lot of material things, but gaining a lot of artistic freedom I guess.

Q. How has that changed your perspective on life?

A. I guess it simplifies life like what’s important to you. If you can really make it through it and tough it out, you’re meant to do it. It just makes life a little more simple and helps you focus on what’s important and why did you do it.

Q. What do you have planned for the fans tonight with your set?

A. Being that it’s the Outlier first listen and pre-release party, I’m playing six new joints. Never played them before. They’ve been living in the studio. So, six of the tracks that are going to make Outlier, I’m doing live tonight in its purest form. So, I hope I remember all the words haha.

Q. Now, you have Progressions, you have Creative Destruction I and II, you got the Investment and now you have Outlier. Where does Outlier rank among those? 

A. They’re all separate entities. They’re different periods of my life. Even though they all dropped within the last four or five years, they definitely live on their own. So, I can’t really rank them. I respect each of them as kind of a stepping stone.

I really appreciate each project for what it is, but I’ll say Outlier is really a combination of everything that I’ve learned over the whole time and what I’ve wanted to say. I feel like I’m finally at a place where I know what I represent and I know what I want people to take away from me at the end of the day. So, it’s definitely a combination of those past four projects.

Q. Now, you’ve actually been quoted saying that in terms of Outlier, this album is your best work and most important work up to date. What do you mean when you say that?

A. When you’re a full-time artist, no one knows what goes on behind closed doors when it’s studio time and when you’re recording that album in the closet. This right here is the moment where I got to do some soul searching. I got to figure out what do you want to say? Okay, it’s wide open. You’ve got a million hits on a song. You got this. You got that. What do you want to say right now?

I made this album like everything depends on it. I probably made 40 or 50 songs. 10 make the project. So, I’ve never taken this much care to a process. Some people say that’s being a perfectionist. Nah, I just really want to deliver something that can live on.

Q. What’s next for you man?

A. Man, it’s Outlier season. We’re in Baltimore tonight. This is going to be the first listen for people. June is the month man and I’m dropping a single called “Tremendous.” I don’t really consider it a single, meaning it’s like made for radio or anything like that.

It’s going to be the intro to Outlier and I’m going to drop it next week. So, it’s Outlier season. We’re just really trying to make sure that anything we drop right now reaches the most people possible and that message just spreads. It’s Outlier season and after that we’re hoping to get on the road for sure.

Q. You talked about the soul searching you’ve done in this time putting together this project. What’s something new you learned about yourself in this process man?

A. I learned that I’m not scared to delete a dope line even if it’s the sickest bar. I’m not afraid to delete them if it doesn’t meet the purpose of the song. There’s a lot of people that can freestyle real dope, but I really learned that I am becoming a songwriter and I’m not afraid to bring up stuff that has affected me in my life.

I’m really putting it all out there right now. So, I learned that I’m gradually opening up. I heard Kanye say the other day that as an artist your job is to get away with as much as you can get away with and I finally felt like with this Outlier period, I let it go.

I’ve learned a lot about myself. It’s like a cathodic process. It’s really helped me get over a lot of stuff I didn’t understand growing up and when you hear it on the track, it’s like ‘damn I really released that.’ I can move on, so I learned that art is my true calling, it’s my truest expression and I think a lot of people are going to relate to it for that simple fact.

To stay tuned for more blog features, follow my blog karlsinternmedia. Make sure you also subscribe to my YouTube channel while you’re checking out the feature. Most importantly, stay tuned to Kenton Dunson’s movement by visiting dunsonmusic.com and pickup his new album Outlier. Follow him on Instagram @kentondunson. 

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Kenton Dunson: Full Interview in ‘Limbo.’ I call it the ‘Tease.’

by Karl Nelson II, InternMedia

“People relate to honesty and my music has become more and more honest. I can’t help it. It was a song that needed to happen for me. It re-established a tone for me so now there is nowhere but up! So it was a fresh springboard for me in terms of the upcoming music and message!”

This is what Kenton Dunson had to say during our interview in regard to his biggest single, “Broke Ass Dope Ass Rapper,” which dropped last summer.

That single took Dunson to new heights as an artist. Why? Well, sounds like a relatable title to me. How many of you would agree?

Think about it for a second. “Broke Ass Dope Ass Rapper.”

If you think, for one second, that the only dope artists are the ones we hear about on the radio or see on television, you can think again because that is so far from true that it’s not even funny. Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of dope rappers out there right now, but following that passion has demanded a lot of sacrifice. We must, at times, remember that for every one artist who makes it to mainstream, there are hundreds of good artists who don’t – they are usually referred to as ‘Underground Artists.’

When Dunson made that single that’s exactly where he was at the time. He was truly starting from the bottom, “from poverty, to college, to the corporate world and back to the struggle for the sake of my passion.”

It’s that journey that makes Dunson’s music so compelling and relatable to the average listener.

You might be one of the dopest artists out there, but people don’t see the two or three hustles you have on the side to stay afloat while you do your music. You might be one of the most talented basketball players in the area, but no one is watching the countless hours you’re putting in outside of games and practices in order to be in a position to make that big check.

We have teachers out here who are responsible for some of the most important parts of our educational makeup, but they’re not taking home six-figure salaries.

Even right now, I’m writing to you guys after hours of entertaining other work which allows me to do what I love right here and now without stress. However, at the same time, I’m far from rich or well known.

I know it’s someone who is going to read this and be able to relate right away.

I think that’s what makes Dunson and his music such a good fit for the people. He has a real story that a lot of us can grab onto and feel the correlation.

What makes him special is he’s willing to, as he would put it, “struggle” for the sake of his passion, which is making great music.

“I have seen so many walks of life and my music reflects a broad experience,” Dunson said during our recent interview.

If you are a fan of music — not mainstream. I’m talking about soulful and honest music then Kenton Dunson is your guy.

In the limbo of a blog feature that is going to provide you with our full interview, check out the link below and hear for yourself — that feel good music that so many of us long for.

http://dunsonmusic.com/

Rich Westerlund: Men’s Basketball Head Coach at Crossroads College in Minnesota. Looking back on my Unsung blog features from 2014.

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

Back in early November, I had the great opportunity to do a story on my friend and basketball coach at Crossroads College, Coach Rich Westerlund. This came as a blessing because I hadn’t known Rich for that long. I met Rich while working Five Star Baltimore’s basketball camp for two summers.

Not only is Rich a very talented young basketball coach and basketball minded individual, but he’s also a great guy and I respect the character that he has exemplified in my time knowing him, which made this story even more of an honor.

When I interviewed Rich, he shared with me the ups and downs of his coaching career. It just so happens that the ups carry a lot of weight in Rich’s case. He’s found himself in the history books on a couple different occasions. The first came in the beginning of his coaching career when he became the youngest high school basketball coach in the country. The second came when he took the job as head coach at Crossroads College. It was there that he found himself in the history books again as the youngest college basketball coach in the country.

Both of those great moments share a common denominator. They both started off with their share of stresses and adversities. However, the great thing about Rich’s story is that he and his team prevailed in the end in both cases.

How ironic is it that Rich and his team find themselves in another tough circumstance in his second season as head coach? I won’t “sugar coat” the fact that both Rich and his team aren’t having the success this season that they had in the second half of last season as they went on to win a championship after an 0-13 start.

They are experiencing some of the same rough times that they did in the beginning of last season, but that won’t stop them from fighting. If it’s one thing that Rich has instilled in his guys, it’s a mentality of fighting – fighting through the hard workouts, the tough losses, the post-game speeches and the naysayers.

This is why I have all of the confidence in the world in Coach Rich and the Crossroads Men’s Basketball squad that they will leave this season better than they entered it. After all, greatness is not defined by those who respond well during the “ups,” but it’s defined by those who respond well during the “downs.” I have confidence that Rich and the Crossroads College Basketball Program are the kind of individuals that take pride in their attitude and mentality in the midst of the “downs.”

I’m pushing for them to prevail and I encourage those who read this article to do the same. 2014 is no longer here, but a sketch of 2015 is only in the making.

Chiésa Mason: Professional Dancer. Guest Artist with Eisenhower Dance. Dance Instructor in Maryland. Looking back on my Unsung blog features from 2014.

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

“Without uttering a word, we tell a story or send a message through our bodies. To pull emotions from someone just by moving your body is beautiful to me.”

These were Chiésa’s exact words some months ago when she touched on the beauty of telling a story through the art of dance in an interview with me. We are often accustomed to witnessing the best stories being told through words. That’s technically what I do as a writer, but if there is one thing that I find even more impressive than that, it’s watching a flawless dancer tell their story without having to utter a single word.

Chiésa finds excitement in this aspect of her career. While some dancers might not jump at the opportunity to get on a stage in front of large audiences, Chiésa enjoys performing. “The thrill I get before going on stage and sharing my talent is one of the most amazing feelings in the world!”

Chiésa will have the opportunity to experience such a thrill once again come February, as she’ll be performing on a southern tour with Eisenhower Dance – the same company she was under contract with last season.

While she’s in training for her guest appearance with Eisenhower Dance, Chiésa is also teaching dance to aspiring professional dancers at a charter school in Baltimore as well as at two local dance studios.

Going into a new year, Chiésa knows what she wants and is moving without hesitation to go get it. In a society where strong men are glorified, women like Chiésa serve as a reminder to everyone that there are tons of strong and talented women out there impacting those around them as well as the world at large.

When asked about her 2014 experience, she simply said “I am very happy with my accomplishments and success this past year!” Stay tuned for what Chiésa has up her sleeve for 2015 as she looks to walk into this new year with some momentum of her own.

D.J. Lil Mic: Paying homage to one of the best D.J.’s to ever do it. 15+ years as the soundtrack for the music scene in Baltimore and across many states and countries.

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

DJ’s provide the soundtrack for the environment and for the people within that environment. A good DJ can change your current emotion at any given moment with the scratching of a record.

A lot of people place their main focus on the performer (the singer, dancer and rapper), but the performance isn’t much of a performance without the soundtrack. That’s what a good DJ provides. They make sure everything is on one accord with what’s being played, whether it’s a party or a performance.

DJ Lil Mic embodies what being a true mixmaster is all about. When Lil Mic is on the turntables, you’re in for a treat.

DJ Lil Mic has been a prominent mixmaster in Baltimore and beyond for over 15 years now. He’s performed with some of the country’s most talented artists, which includes the likes of MC Lyte, Raheim Devaughn, Mario, Mya, Jazmin Sullivan, Marsa Ambrosius and Cee Lo Green.

Lil Mic’s been mixing since he was nine years old and playing records since he was 18 months. One might say that he was maybe destined to be a DJ, but he says that DJ’ing is something that chose him, not the other way around.

He found joy in working with technology, speakers, gaming and sound equipment at an early age. It’s these things that made mixing second nature to him.

Lil Mic is currently pulling double duty as a radio DJ and club DJ. He DJ’s for the educated listener, providing them with a sound that goes beyond the norm. He takes his crowds back to their high school, middle school and elementary school days with music you haven’t heard in some time.

He goes by the motto, “It’s not what you play, but how you play it.” That’s what makes Lil Mic one of the hottest DJ’s out there. Oh yeah and how can I forget about the spiffiness of Lil Mic when he walks on the scene to DJ. He comes suited and booted every time with a suit and the famous bow tie. Now, here’s a man who takes his craft serious making DJ’ing a gentlemen’s game.

It was my pleasure to chop it up with one of the best to ever do it, DJ Lil Mic.

Q. What’s the transition been like for you, going from a locally known D.J. to having a presence that reaches far beyond your local community?

A. It’s kind of weird, honestly. Some people don’t know who I am and then some people do know who I am. I think it’s because I wear a few hats. I try to keep it as humble as possible because at any given moment, you can be absorbing that shine realizing that God gave you that opportunity and gave you the light and at any given moment, he can just snatch it away. So, I try to remain as mellow as possible and I tell these cats that you can do whatever you want to do if you work hard and stay disciplined.

Q. Who played a major role in you getting to where you are today?

A. My parents supported me. I remember the last time I was carrying pounds of records. I’m talking about 80 pounds of records. I was going to St. Louis to DJ. My mother dropped me off at the curb at the airport. I had a lot of luggage and the cases of my records were in some of my luggage. Some of my records fell into the street. My mother parked and got out the car to help me maneuver all of my records.

My parents supported me and I was both a drummer and a DJ as a kid. You’re talking about two of the loudest things a kid could do, I did. It got to the point that when I got to Morgan, I had to make a decision. I asked myself, ‘Alright, are you going to be a drummer or a DJ?’ Clearly, DJ’ing was making me the most money and had the most prestige at the moment. DJ Quicksilver played the drums as well. I can name you a lot of DJ’s that are musicians first, so when they play and how they play is very rhythmic and melodic.

Q. Did you ever think about trying to become a rapper or a producer first?

A. Hell no (laughs). Sike nah. Yeah, I did produce at one point and I’ll probably get back into it, but it’s just like you can’t serve two different gods. You can’t be the best producer and the best DJ. You can be a great producer and the best DJ or the best producer and a great DJ, but can’t be the best at each.

Q. So, what do you say about an artist like Kanye West who has produced his own albums in the past and rapped on them?

A. I think he’s a better producer than he is a rapper. I think he’s a great rapper, but when he’s on, he’s on and when he’s off, his material can come off as really weird. What I do like about him though, is the fact that as an artist he’s not concerned about what people think. He’s going to do what he wants to do. He’s so far out on another level, so I understand what he’s doing in that sense. I’m not mad at him, but at the same time I’m not a fan of that style.

Q. It’s clear that you chose to master the turntables and allow everything else to fall into place. Do you feel like these young D.J.’s are taking the same “masterful” approach today?

A. Well, I feel like a lot of these new cats aren’t paying their dues. Earlier, I mentioned Quicksilver. Me and ‘Quick’ used to sit down and draw turntables. Yes, draw them. Before we had the DJ’s turntable, we would draw them. We visualized what we were going to become one day. There’s no visualization these days. There’s no process. These kids just get money and go out and buy the equipment. Some don’t even do that. Some go use an iPad or something and then they’re just bedroom DJ’s with a name and everything.

We actually went through different DJ names. The guy who named me ‘Lil Mic’ is like a big brother to me. He’s actually my lawyer. I was actually ‘DJ Micky’ at the time. I changed my DJ name, as you should because you have to mature to get to where you want to be. Before you tell people that you’re a DJ, you should be good. However, there’s a lot of people that just jump out and say ‘Yeah, I’m DJ such and such’ and they’re whack, but if you play the right record at the right time, then it doesn’t even matter because there are so many other things going on. Back in the day, you could be in the park, but if the DJ was rocking, it was a party. The DJ is the essence of Hip Hop. The DJ is the original MC that controls the party and brings that energy. I feel like a lot of that has been lost today.

Q. Now, you started off with an internship with WEAA 88.9, right?

A. I started off DJ’ing in the house doing neighborhood stuff, but I used to sneak out of my parents’ house and hangout with the older guys over there and then they just gave me a shot. So, it really wasn’t the proper internship because clearly I was in middle school and these were college students. I was doing this for about a year and a half and then they were like ‘Okay. We gotta tell your mother yo.’ I was leaving the house and leaving the door unlocked in the middle of the night. Between midnight, 1am and 5 in the morning, I would leave the door unlocked. My parents wouldn’t know I was gone and it wasn’t safe.

Q. That’s inspirational to guys like myself. People who are trying to get a head start in their career and really trying to get that first big break. Was it easy for you to get that first break? During your internship, was there any point when you asked yourself, ‘Man, what am I doing?’

A. My motivation was never money. Even now, I’m just blessed to be able to do what I do and make money doing it, but my motivation was never money.

Q. Yeah, you talk about how you don’t even look at your work as an accomplishment, but more so as a blessing.

A. Yeah, to be able to do what you love to do and make a living doing it is just great. And sometimes I’m annoyed by certain things and might not be in the mood, but when you think about all the other things you could be doing and you’re just playing records for people and they’re having a great time, even though you done put 20 – 30 years into it, it’s still that ‘wow’ factor. You’re making people happy. You’re making them smile.

Q. You’ve been a prominent D.J. on the Baltimore music scene for over 15 years. What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

A. I would have to say that the biggest obstacle would have to be myself. Anybody in the game has goals that you set and I feel like the only one who can hinder you from your goal is yourself. I always describe it in terms of sunlight. There’s enough sunlight and sunshine to shine on everybody. So, what God has for you is not going to block me and what he has for me is not going to block you. The only person that is going to block you from reaching your goals is yourself. There are certain things that you’re used to doing, but in order to get to the next level you have to change and re-discipline yourself in order to elevate yourself.

Q. What would you say is the major difference between today’s era of D.J.’s compared to your era?

A. I think the difference between DJ’s of my era and new DJ’s are we grew up with great music. Now, good music is scarce and you have to look for it because there’s an abundance of bullshit. Let’s take ‘Cupid Shuffle’ as an example. That’s a great record, but Cupid is going to be a one-hit wonder. I’d be very surprised if Cupid had another record where as let’s say when Rob Base ‘It Takes Two’ came out in ’86, that record lasted like two or three years. That was still a big record two or three years later. So, now, a classic may come out, but it doesn’t get its length of run the way it should because there’s so many records coming out at a fast pace. And of course the radio is still beating you in the head, playing the same twenty records over and over again.

It’s hard to really feel the impact of a record because after one is released another one comes right out. You know how back in the day an artist would do an album and then take two, three or four years before coming out with another album. Now, like Rick Ross has been out for like six or seven years, but it seems like he’s a veteran hip-hop artist because he drops another album every 12 to 18 months. In between those 12 to 18 months, he’s dropping a mixtape, which is like an album. So, it makes you feel like he’s been in the game for a long time, but Rick Ross has been in the game less than 10 years.

Q. That makes me think about Kendrick Lamar and admire him more because a lot of people have been giving him a hard time due to the fact that he hasn’t come out with another album yet. It seems he’s just taking his time to make sure he puts out quality.

A. Absolutely. I think you have to live your life and have something to talk about. Kendrick’s album was a concept album, but we haven’t had any strong west coast albums like that in a long time. Lyrically, Kendrick is up there. I say top 20 or top 30. I say that because people will be so quick to say, ‘Yo. Top five. Top three.’ You know people will give you the whole Jay-Z, Eminem, and Nas spiel. They might throw Andree 3000 in there, but you’re forgetting The Canes, Rakim, and Caresse. You’re forgetting a whole list of MC’s that, in their day, were the best. Even Funky Dividends from Three Times Dope out of Philly.

There are people lyrically from that era that you have to put in the top 20 or top 30 and then add on to that list, but Kendrick is up there. I mean even Big K.R.I.T. I’m a Big K.R.I.T. fan. His albums are okay, but his mixtapes are incredible. People’s mixtapes are like albums now. I think you need to take your time and do your process. There’s enough garbage music out there that when you come out it’s like ‘Man that’s all I’m listening to.’

It depends on what you’re listening to music for. Are you listening to it for thought? Are you listening to it for enjoyment? Is it something to help you turn up in the club? Turn up records aren’t records to me. Turn up records are not house records. Those are specific club records. Club music is for the club. You shouldn’t be in the car trying to eat somebody’s heart (laughs). That’s not for that. So, I just feel like certain music has its place and even some of Kendrick’s records aren’t party records. They’re thoughtful records. While there are other records out like that that can play at a party, the vast majority of records out now are just promoting sex, drugs, and foolishness.

While hip-hop used to be informative and educational, and there is still some education and information, it’s just camouflaged. Bad has gotten worse. Big has gotten bigger and dumb has gotten dumber. But, on the other hand, intelligent has gotten more intelligent. It’s just scarcer now because it’s camouflaged by the foolishness. So, you’ve got your Kendrick’s. You’ve got your Andre’s. You’ve got your Drake’s, even though he sometimes sprinkles in some bullshit too. Drake’s like the most emotional rapper ever. Even Lil Wayne’s got some gems for you, but he got his teeth taken out and all diamonds in his mouth now. When you look at Wayne, clearly you have to look past all the bullshit, but it’s very hard for us as humans to look past all of that.

I believe everybody has something great to share, but do you camouflage it or do you make it very easy to get to? Sometimes too much is literally too much. Instead of art imitating life, it’s like life is imitating art. There can only be one rapper, but there can be 40 or 50 people behind-the-scenes helping support the art and even change it.

Q. You preach education a lot. It’s something that you value as a Mixmaster, a musical educator and as a father. Tell me about that.

A. Let me tell you about the school system. School was not originally designed for education and then our school system was not designed for entrepreneurship. It’s designed to put you back in the workforce to work for somebody else forever. While it’s very blatant, there are a lot of things that aren’t blatant. There are a lot of things that are secrets and we’ll never get to the bottom of the knowledge because it wasn’t designed for us to have it. I don’t mean us as black people, but us as in poor. Rich and poor. Educated and not educated.

The biggest library in the world is the Vatican and they have the power to take books out of circulation. That’s powerful. And now when we don’t even look in books and we just Wikipedia or Google it, it doesn’t even matter. We don’t even have to have books. We just listen to what we’re told so quickly and believe it. Instead of doing our own research and asking questions, we believe what we’re told. We’re taught to say yes and agree and nod rather than to ask why and then when you ask why, you look it up and you figure it out. If you ask greater questions, then you’ll get those answers.

Q. Music is very influential. As we’ve both said, it’s the soundtrack to life in a lot of ways. It’s no secret that some of the music out here today doesn’t contain the most clean or positive messages. As a music mogul, what do you think about the state of our music and how it plays into the lives of our young people?

A. I do think that parents should educate the children on what’s right and what’s wrong because the songs are meant to enjoy. When I play ‘turn up’ records, I’m playing those records for people who go to the club and they literally turn up in the club. They’re not going to necessarily come outside of the club and just fight somebody. The problem is when we play those ignorant records for people who live that ignorant life or have that ignorant mind frame. When you play ‘Knuck if you Buck’ or ‘Dreams and Nightmares.’

Back in the day, before ‘Dreams and Nightmares,’ we had Mob Deep’s ‘Shook Once.’ That was a really aggressive record. That was the most insightful record of the day. You also had Slick Rick’s ‘Hey Young Girl,’ you had very intelligent, strong, positive-message records. You had ‘Self Destruction.’ You just had people who knew the balance of art. Albums back then had ‘Parental Advisory’ on them. That’s crazy. In fact, when I met MC Lyte for the first time, I’m like ‘Yo you’re like one of my favorite artists, but my father wouldn’t let me buy your album when I was younger because it said Parental Advisory.’ And then I found myself DJ’ing for her and she’s now one of my good friends. When your life comes full circle like that, it’s crazy.

Q. Do you think artists should take that into consideration? That younger generation that wants to hear some Hip-Hop and wants to hear some good music. I know when I was younger my parents weren’t letting me rock with any of that kind of music.

A. I believe it’s the responsibility of the parent. I shouldn’t have to change my art because you’re ignorant enough to allow your kids to listen to what’s not for them. My art is life. I teach from the standpoint of the life lessons that I learned that I want to impart, but I’m only giving you the tip of the iceberg. You need to dig deep down below the surface and figure it out. So, I teach from the standpoint of life skills and music. A lot of the life skills impact how you play the music.

If my crowd of individuals is 35 – 60, I’m not going to play French Montana’s ‘Pop That.’ Like a lawyer, doctor, speechwriter, and an actor, you have to survey your audience. Your audience relies on you to know what they need. It’s a leadership role. It’s a powerful role. I feel like a DJ can start a fight and a DJ can also end a fight. A DJ can send you home with a shorty and a DJ can breakup your relationship. A DJ can also make your relationship. Think about how many wedding receptions you’ve gone to where everything was great, but the DJ was whack. What you remember is the DJ being whack. Nobody cares about the ceremony because you’re married now. People want to know if there was a party. A DJ makes you feel good. A DJ plays on your emotions, but guides you to the right place because a lot of us don’t look at the role music plays for us. Music is in us. That’s something that can’t be taken away from us.

Q. In your career, you’ve traveled the world with some well-known artists. Name a few. What was it like working closely with them?

A. I would say the first person I consistently traveled and worked with is Raheem Devaughn. I’ve been working with him since the beginning of his career. I also worked with Jasmine Sullivan in the second part of her career when ‘Need You Bad’ came out. She’s a great person and super talented. I’ve worked with Cee Lo Green. He’s a wild character and also super talented. I’ve worked with Mya who is super talented and has a lot of energy on stage and even though she doesn’t have a lot of prominent records out in America right now, internationally she’s still heavy. I’ve done some work with Marsha Ambrosius, MC Lyte, Mario and CJ Hilton.

Q. What do you admire the most about these particular artists?

A. Well, almost everyone that I just named has either been nominated or has won a Grammy aside from CJ. CJ is new, but to have worked with a bunch of Grammy-winning and Grammy-nominated artists, it’s powerful. I was in LA with Jasmine when she was nominated for five Grammys on her first album. For your first major release to have five Grammy nominations is a major accomplishment. To have been apart of that run and that momentum was very strong. It was a great feeling.

Q. Rapper and Entrepreneur, 50 Cent, was on one of your first mixtapes when you started out. He’s respected as an overall business mogul and for having a record- breaking album early in his career, but he catches flack for his music today. What are your thoughts on 50?

A. 50 understood that this rap thing was not going to last forever. And 50’s not a timeless rapper. LL Cool J is timeless. Big Daddy Kane is timeless. Rakim’s music is timeless. Andree 3000 is timeless. Bun B is timeless. I can name timeless rappers all around the world. Regardless of what coast you are from or what country you’re from, there are timeless rappers. I don’t think 50 is timeless. ‘In the Club’ was hot at the time. ‘Wingster’ was hot at the time. ‘Made You Look’ was another record that was hot at that particular time. Mob Deep has some timeless material. There are timeless rappers and 50’s not one of them, but he made enough money at the time and he’s a businessman.

Q. What makes D.J. Lil Mic a “heavyweight” in terms of the caliber of D.J.’s in Baltimore?

A. I always say that eagles fly alone. Do you want to be amongst the elite? Do you want to hang with everybody and be mediocre or do you want to do what nobody else is willing to do and be the best? Because when you’re the best, you’re by yourself. You’re the one who’s willing to do the most work when everybody else is doing the least work. You might have a lot of people who have 95’s, but there’s only one magna cum laude or summa cum laude. You have to be willing to say, this is what I’m willing to do to get to the next level. Personally, I was at a place where I was willing to do that. Then you get to a level of success and realize you have to do the same thing all over again to get to the next level up. That was me and still is to this day.

Q. What makes you a special breed?

A. I think I’m special because God made me special. My process is a little different. Nas has a record on his last album that talks about the process. Sometimes the journey is better than the destination. Who I am and the things that my parents did. You know church, school and band and all of that, that’s made me have a greater appreciation. A lot of people have that Bughatti and Bentley frame of mind. So, when I come in with the ’66 Lincoln Continental frame of mind, which is the classic frame of mind, it’s like wow. That’s like when I DJ. I wear suits when I DJ. I’ve always been into branding. I had a logo 20 years ago. I had a mixtape. I had a website in ’98. Dudes barely had email accounts back then. I had mixtapes in high school. I had freestyles from guys like 50 Cent. Before 50 got shot, I got a freestyle with him.

My mom would front me the money and I would sell tapes in school. It was underground hip-hop at the time. Cats would buy the tapes. I would have them selling up and down the east coast. I remember when I got my license. I remember the first time I went to New York to buy records. I didn’t even have enough money to get home as far as toll money goes. We were dedicated man. I have good childhood friends who really supported me and are still friends of mine to this day and friends for life.

Nowadays, one guy can walk into a party and set up to DJ, but back in my day you had eight or nine guys walking in the party with all of this equipment. It was a learning thing for us. I have students now that are very dedicated to each other and stick with each other. They went to the same elementary school, but are now in different high schools. They understand that they are still very young in their DJ’ing and because I’ve explained to them the process, they don’t take it lightly. When they have the party rocking, they love it and when they mess up, they’re hard on themselves, as they should be. Music is the soundtrack to life. It’s the universal language. So, when you understand the weight of being a Mixmaster, understanding that you can hold the sound that impacts someone’s life, it’s major.

Will Smith has said that when you’re doing something, you shouldn’t have a plan B you should only have a plan A because plan B will get in the way of plan A. He said ‘The difference between me and someone else is not my talent. It’s my undying discipline and my work ethic.’ He said ‘While the other man is sleeping, I’m working. While the other man is eating, I’m working.’ So, I’m playing this over and over again in the car trying to feed my mind that energy.

Q. What’s your message to D.J.’s and people in general who are pursuing their passions?

A. I’d say never give up. Even if you have to slow up your pace just to get back on track, that’s cool. I’m not saying kill yourself, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. As people, we have to figure out if we want to contribute to people’s lives or if we’re going to be takers or simply consumers. No one can be all of one or the other. Individuals like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy were motivated by their communities needs. The question becomes, ‘What is your ultimate goal?’ I feel like Jay-Z is probably the most notable hip-hop figure today. He could have every kid in the streets reading books. I don’t know if he’s doing that though and if he is we’re surely not hearing much about it. I’m not knocking Jay, but I’m saying that powerful artists like he and Beyoncé could be that influence. I know Jay has the S Carter Foundation, but when you sow that seed in your community, you would think that one would become even more popular.

Q. As a D.J., what adversity do you hope to never come across?

A. War scares me the most because nobody goes to the club when there’s war. The 1920’s was the era of the Big Band. What happened to the Big Band? World War I happened. World War I killed the Big Band because everybody had to go to the army. Elvis was one of the major artists in the army. So, you go from having a band of 30 people to Miles Davis and just a few other artists.

Q. Who are some of the D.J.’s from back in the day that were inspiration to you and your artistry?

A. You had the Mally Malls, the Red Alerts, P Rock, Jazzy Jeff, my man DJ B, Jay-Skee from Philly, and Irin from DC. These guys aren’t too much older than me, but I used to listen to them at a very inspirational point of my life. I listened to this Jazzy Jeff mixtape during that transition from high school to college and it changed my life. What he was doing was called multi-tracking. It just changed my whole focus on how I could do things. But, I was a student of everybody like Primo. I was a big fan of Premier who’s like a big brother to me from Brooklyn. It’s crazy to meet these people after watching them on Rap City and on videos and all of that and then when you meet them and it’s love, it’s like wow.