If New York Is ‘The Place Where Stars Are Born,’ Then Consider Pop Artist Renita Cotton Reborn

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

BROOKLYN — It’s one thing for an artist to have work ethic, but when you couple that with an “It” factor, that artist is destined for greatness.

Pop singer and songwriter, Renita Cotton, has both the work ethic and the God-given talent to take her career to great heights, and she’s already off to an impressive start.

Her singing career might have only started a little over a year ago, but there’s something about her stage presence, confidence and pizzazz that leads me to believe she might have told a ‘little white lie’ when I asked her how long she’s been pursuing a singing and songwriting career professionally, in which she responded so modestly, “So, I’d say, professionally, probably about a year and a half I started doing some background work for people.”

I interviewed the young entertainer this past spring, and after spending some time with her on that beautiful day in Brooklyn, I now understand why she’s climbing up the ladder so quickly.

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Renita has that trait most people would kill to have.  Her mix between discipline and the assurance that she has in her ability is immediately evident when you interact with her.

Renita was the perfect featured talent for an interview that was set in one of the busiest and most attractive sites in Brooklyn, NY; Brooklyn Bridge Park.

She came prepared with her exuberance and her stylist, showing me just how seriously she takes the idea of being a walking brand.

She’s a young New Yorker who has figured it out, so to speak, making “the city that never sleeps” work in her favor.  As many of you already know, New York is the place for stars to form and chase their dreams and aspirations from the ground up.  If it wasn’t, then I most certainly wouldn’t be here myself.

Renita’s ability to not only write her own music, but to also do a masterful job of performing it in front of audiences of all sizes, is proof that she’s built for this. And if she ever slips up and let’s that left arm hang too much while on that stage, I’m sure her mother will correct her, maybe saying something like “You know you have that one arm that’s a little dead there.” A comment that Renita would likely respond to by saying, “Well, haha. Thanks mom,” with a slight bit of innocent sarcasm.

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Renita understands the concept of “journey,” but that hasn’t stopped her from carrying herself as if she’s already reached her destination.

It might be hard for some of us to admit it at times, but I think it’s safe to say that in whatever we do, we have to have at least a small chip on our shoulder. That way we’re able to keep our eyes on the prize, understanding that mediocrity is never an option.

Renita’s coming off of a few very successful performances — performances that brought more music lovers along for her journey as an artist with two sides to the story; singing and songwriting.

In hip-hop, there’s a much bigger focus placed on writing your own lyrics, despite the 2015 “beef” between rap stars Drake and Meek Mill, a beef that started over Meek’s disbelief that Drake authors his own lyrics. However, it’s not really considered a big deal if singers elect not to write their own music.

Even the great Beyoncé has ghost writers.  That being said, it’s very rare and absorbing when we come across a Pop artist who is able to both write and perform their own music while also exemplifying a strong stage presence.

That description has Renita written all over it, and her journey has now been added to the Intern Media wall — a wall that includes many other journeys, even some that are still being written.

Checkout my interview with Renita and support her journey as an independent artist in the beloved Big Apple.

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Renita,

It was great hearing your story and being able to share it with my audience.  You have a lot of talent and you’re just at the beginning of your career, but more importantly you have great character.  That’s why there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll do great musically and that you’ll inspire tons of people along the way.  Stay true to yourself and continue to walk around with that exuberance and confidence that you so greatly possess.  I know we joked about the day when reporters will be knocking on your door begging for an interview, but just remember that every joke has a little bit of truth to it! Welcome to the Intern Media family Renita!

Karl Nelson II, Founder of Intern Media

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Marshall “DJ Mars” Thomas: The man behind the art

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

As an artist, Marshall “DJ Mars” Thomas redefines the phrase “triple threat,” impelling the culture from three separate angles; DJ, designer, and author.

As a DJ, Mars has dedicated himself to his craft over the years, having the opportunity to travel internationally performing in one country after the next.

Mars bridges the gap between the musician and the audio engineer. He’s mixed it up on the turntables on the Steve Harvey Morning Show, the Essence Music Festival, on the stage with his good friend and well-known artist Keri Hilson; to name a few.

Mars has completely changed the game as a designer with New Balance, showing his peers that when you dedicate yourself to your craft, the sky is the limit in terms of the doors that can and will open for you. And while he might not have kids walking around with his signature sneakers on like the great Kanye West, one can’t purchase a dope pair of New Balances without respecting the urban culture represented by it. We can thank music moguls like DJ Mars for that.

Mars recently expressed his admiration for the history of the ‘mixtape’ by working with a small team of other invested individuals to publish his first book, The Art Behind The Tape.

In this text, Mars places a focus on the artwork behind mixtape culture and he brings the perspective of top level DJ’s, who paved the way for him, to the forefront of the conversation.

Now, taking a step away from his success as an artist, Mars has been able to remain humble throughout a journey that can leave many people’s head in the clouds.

One might ask, ‘How has he been able to pull that off?’ For him, it’s quite simple; by remaining loyal to his family and friends, by living like an everyday person, by finding inspiration in the people and things around him, and by taking pride in fatherhood.

If you were to ask Mars yourself, he’ll tell you that it’s those things that truly make him successful because if the fame was to ever leave, it’s those things that will define him, when it’s all said and done.

Prepare yourselves to get a full introduction and more into the life and career of Marshall “DJ Mars” Thomas. You’ll walk away from this article feeling like you were a fly on the wall for the behind-the-scenes life of ‘Marshall’ while gaining more insight into ‘Mars.’

Q. How have you been able to remain so humble throughout your journey?

A. I think that’s just apart of my character. It’s not a front, haha. You can see through someone’s humility if they were lying. That’s just who I am. In the music industry, that can work for you and work against you at the same time. For me, that’s just who I am naturally.

Q. Is this something that you would say has worked for you or has it worked against you in the music industry?

A. It has worked for me because part of why I get work is due to the fact that people genuinely like me. I’m a likable person. So, it works for me in that sense. I’m easy to get along with. I’m easy to hire. There’s no BS. If I’m supposed to be at the gig at 9:00, I’m there by 8:30. It’s no stress. It’s like what you were able to witness yourself. I don’t roll with an entourage. I may roll with my crew, but I don’t have an entourage. I don’t come in with 20 people. So, like I said, it works for me in that sense. The people I work for really like my personality and I’m easy to get along with. They know what they’re getting when they hire me.

Now, here’s how my humility sometimes works against me. In the industry, arrogance and attitude is like a shiny jacket. People say they don’t like the shiny suits, but part of what they buy into is arrogance and attitude. People might say that they hate it, but they actually like it because it’s something that they can’t be.

As much as people say they hate Kanye, they love him. I don’t give off that vibe though. That’s just not who I am even though I know that it works in my field and people, to some extent, may like me more if I was on some ‘Yo I’m the s***’ — if I wore my resume on my chest. I don’t do that. If I did that maybe it would get me other gigs; who knows. There’s other DJ’s who’s whole brand is arrogance. That’s their brand and it works for them, but that’s not who I am, so I don’t think that would work for me.

Q. Now, we touched on this a little earlier. You don’t travel with an entourage per say, but you do keep close friends around you. The first night we linked up in New York, I was able to hangout with your homies at the Starter Party. They were telling me some things about you and the upbringing you guys had. They told me about what it was like coming up in those times in your community. How important would you say it is to keep those kind of people around you throughout your journey?

A. It’s super important because at the end of the day, when all this shiny s*** is gone, you still want to be able to go back to your people. I have people I can always go back to regardless of anything. I can DJ in a stadium of 100,000 people or in a room of five people and my boys are still going to support me and treat me the same.

And on another note, my level of success as a DJ inspires the friends that I surround myself with. It’s like their level of success in their lives inspires me. One of my homeboys that you met is a cop and his thing is he wants to be apart of the police force because he doesn’t want it to be like all of them against us. He doesn’t want it to feel that way. He’s mentoring kids and giving kids karate lessons.

My other homeboy that was there helps him out with the mentoring. They’re working together to help the kids out here. So, they’re successful in another realm. They are making sure our kids have immediate ground level mentors to follow. So, I’m looking at that like ‘Damn, that is great.’ They are directly effecting kids on a street level. That’s ultra important. I look at their lives and they look at my life and we’re both able to see what we all bring to the global community. It’s dope. So, you never want to lose those people because those are the people that will have my back no matter if I was DJ Mars on stage or DJ Mars in the hood somewhere. They got my back.

Q. On that Thursday night before NBA All-Star Weekend, I watched you do two sets. You set the tone for the rest of the night during your first set and closed the night out in your second set. How does it feel to know that when you’re on stage behind the turntables, you’re the soundtrack in that particular environment for however long your set lasts?

A. To me, one of the attributes of a good DJ is programming. Programming is like being a good orator — someone who can put on great speeches. It’s like Malcolm X. He put word after word after word for great impact. It’s the same thing with records. You have to understand the value of every record that you play. Every record is meant to take you to another place, so depending on where you’re trying to go with the night…like I know chronologically certain parts of the night I gotta go in a certain direction. So, I have to drive those records. I have to pick those records and play them in either a passive way or in an aggressive way to get a type of reaction.

The first party that night, I came on at midnight. It’s party time. I knew I had to play records quick and fast…get in and get out for maximum impact. For the end of the night, it’s the end of the night. For me to try to replicate what I did at the beginning of the night wouldn’t make sense. It’s the end of the night, the night is winding down and it’s time for people to go; literally. The club is ready to shutdown, so you play records that wind people down because you have to take people’s mind to a different place.

It’s problematic when the club ends and everybody is still crunk to death at 4 a.m. You know? That’s how stuff happens. So, you have to just calm people down. You have to remind them that they have responsibilities in the morning. Sometimes you want people to leave out thinking, ‘You know what? It is kind of late and I need to get up for work in the morning.’ So, you play records that fit the mood for the direction you want people to go in and that’s basically what I do as a DJ. I design a set and it’s always on the fly. I design a set that directs the mood that I want people to go in. My midnight set is different than my late night set because I have different objectives.

Q. I witnessed that at Stage 48 as well. It was fun watching you. Your set was a little over two hours. You seemed to enjoy being one of the first guys in there. I watched your patience as people walked in, hesitated to the dance floor and then eventually made their way to the dance floor and had a great time. People were loving the records you were playing. It was cool watching all of that unfold.

A. Yeah, man. You just gotta play your position. Not every night, am I the headliner and I’m cool with that because some nights that’s just the position that you have to play. That Saturday night, my job was to warm up the crowd. It was to get you in the mood knowing that the party was going to elevate as the night continued. It wasn’t my job to get people all the way there. It wasn’t my job to play all the bangers. My job was to get you out of your jacket, get you to the bar, get you one or two drinks and then get the guys talking to the girls, so that they could get the courage to drag them to the dance floor. So, when the next DJ comes in, all he’s got to do is hit the home run. I just have to get the party to first base. I pretty much set the next DJ up.

You saw how the night went. Every DJ was hitting it out the park, but imagine if I was whack and nobody was on the dance floor, then it would have made everybody’s job harder.

Q. Let’s talk about the importance of building relationships. It seems like you’ve built a lot of relationships over the years with people in the industry and those outside of the industry. The Friday I met up with you at Sony was a cool time because those were people in the music industry in some form or fashion and you pretty much met with them off the strength of relationship. How important would you say it is to build relationships in business and in life in general?

A. I wouldn’t be where I am if relationships hadn’t occurred. I get the gigs I get because I have access to people. I can call and say ‘Hey, what do you guys have going on out there this weekend?’ There’s information I can get because I have relationships with people. Nobody does this alone. I don’t care who you are. There’s nobody out here winning by themselves. They just don’t do it. For me, it’s paramount that we maintain those relationships. That’s all we have. If I can’t walk through a door that’s closed, then what am I? You know what I mean? It’s the relationships that keep things going and keep the doors opening that allows me to continue to work.

Q. We were talking about this after the Beats By Dre Party, which was really dope by the way. We had just left there and as we were walking to the subway, you were talking about how you leave those types of events and those types of weekends very inspired. What is it about those types of weekends, events, and encounters that leave you inspired and able to take something new back to ATL with you?

A. I try to find success in everything. We’ll start with the DJ’s. I look at the other DJ’s and I’m like ‘Damn, this DJ is from where?’ I’ll give you a real life example. There’s a DJ that I spun with that Thursday before All-Star Weekend. He was from Cleveland. That means he impressed somebody so much that they flew him from Cleveland to New York to do this party. So, I’m like ‘Damn, I need to pay attention to his movement because his movement is working.’ Someone saw it fit for him to be spinning at the same party where I was, so let me study him because there’s a grain of success in his movement that has put him here. I’m saying to myself, ‘Let me pay attention to the grain of this guy.’

Now, let’s talk about the Beats By Dre situation. I’m looking at that brand and what they’re doing and how they’re positioning themselves in the market. That weekend, they had the super tough brownstone that was super sweet, the headphones displayed were super sweet, and the atmosphere was super sweet. So, I’m like ‘Okay. The brand is positioning themselves in a certain way. Let me just study what’s going on at this event.’

I take bits and pieces of everybody’s success that I encountered over the weekend and I say ‘Okay. Now, what can I pull from them that will make my situation better?’ Whether it’s a brand, a DJ or a party; whatever the case may be. I look at everything and look at what won and think about how I can include that specific thing into my movement. So, that’s what inspires me, viewing the success of all of these different things because all of them play a role and if you do it right, then you can learn something from everything that you involve yourself in.

For me, it’s not just about DJing. It’s about how I’m perceived out here. You look at the Beats By Dre Party, which was basically a showcase of what they have coming in the future. Maybe I can do something like that to highlight what I have going on. So, I look at everybody’s movement and think about what I can do to have my movement moving in a good direction.

Q. That’s funny to me because you were lounging and just having a great time, but you were also paying close attention to the details of that party. You were working.

A. Yeah and the ill thing is…I’m not sure if you knew this, but the two dudes that we were talking to, for the most part, went to school with me. So, I’m looking at these guys like ‘Man, these are dudes I went to college with and they are the head of this big movement and inspiration during NBA All-Star Weekend.’ I’m sitting there galvanized by their success. I just pay attention. You have to.

Q. What position do those guys hold with Beats By Dre? I was paying attention to the fact that one of your boys was giving us the tour of the brownstone showing us around and showing us some of the new products.

A. He was the one who deals with professional athletes. If you see Richard Sherman walk into the Seahawks’ stadium with a pair of Beats on, my boy gave those to him. So, when you look at ESPN and you see athletes walking into their arena, my homeboys job is to make sure that those highly visible athletes have headphones. Now, my other boy Omar Johnson oversees everything.

Q. Let’s transition man. Let’s talk about your son. You appear to be a great father. You were talking about him a lot, which is expected of a father who cares for his child, obviously. How has him coming into this world impacted your life and how important do you feel it is as a father to care for your child? Especially, in a world where we don’t see a father and son together a lot of the time.

A. I mean, for one it’s my job, haha. I can’t even say it any other way man. I brought him here, so I gotta take care of him. I don’t even have a longer answer to that other than it’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do.

Q. Sometimes I feel like men, especially black men, don’t get the credit they deserve when they’re actually being great fathers. Contrary to what’s put online and on television, there’s actually a lot of great fathers out here too.

A. Exactly. You know what’s funny man? I know more good fathers than ‘dead beat’ dads. I may know one or two bad fathers out of all the fathers I know. Obviously, there’s some bad fathers out there, but I happen to know a whole lot of good ones and I’m happy about that.

Q. When we were at the Starters Party, you mentioned the irony of being at that party and the fact that you consider you and your crew to be the original Starters. What do you mean by that?

A. In junior high, between ‘85 and ’89, is when Starter jackets were real hot in the streets between Public Enemy and N.W.A rocking them real heavy at the time. Starter jackets were the jacket of choice in the winter time. Me and my crew…that was our thing. We rocked more Starter jackets than anybody around us in our junior high school. That’s what we rocked. So, the irony was that two of my boys from those times I’m referring to were with me at that party. It kind of meant something to us because that’s what we rocked as kids. Yo, we used to get two or three different Starter jackets per winter. You couldn’t mess with our crew because we had all of them. All the flavors, we had them. That was us, haha.

Q. Yeah, you guys were talking about all the different Starter jackets — some of which people weren’t even rocking at the time. You guys had the exclusive stuff.

A. Yeah, man. Notre Dame, LSU…we had it all. That was our thing…to rock different jackets. Most people had the staples. They had the Raiders or the New York Giants or the Chicago Bulls. We made sure we got the teams that weren’t necessarily the most popular teams, but were tough at the same time. We were on Starter jackets heavy in those times.

Q. What’s interesting is my generation gets a lot of inspiration from the fashion back in your days. That speaks to how important your generation was to fashion and to hip-hop. That’s pretty cool man.

I’m going to switch gears now. I wanted to focus on DJ Mars the person first. That was crucial given the time I spent with you. Now, I want to ask you some questions about you as an artist.

Before I get to that though, I want to say something. I feel like there’s a lot of ‘Karl Nelsons’ out there, meaning there are a lot of people out here grinding like I am right now. My cousin put us in contact. I hopped on the bus that Thursday after work. It’s a no brainer because I knew that this would be a great opportunity to be around greatness and to be around something out of the ordinary. There’s a lot of young people out here doing the same thing because they’re trying to establish themselves and accomplish their goals.

Two things: if you feel like you have a responsibility to those people, what does that responsibility look like? The second question is what’s your million dollar piece of advice to a person, such as myself, when it comes to this?

A. Let me kind of reframe the question for you. Let’s say you said to me, ‘Why did you let me hang around you?’ It’s because I felt like I didn’t get to where I’m at by myself. What I got from you when you first reached out was like you were trying to take this opportunity to put yourself in a different position later on. So, I’m like ‘Even though this is a different field, he sounds like me 20 years ago. Like ‘Yo, let me do this party because I need to show my skills.’ It was the same energy.

I looked at it like someone helped me, so I want to return the favor. You weren’t on the BS. You were like ‘This is what I’m doing yo. Let me rock with you.’ It was no BS. It was straight up. I felt like I was you several years ago. Someone helped me, so why not return the favor? I didn’t get here just because I’m DJ Mars. I got here because someone believed I was DJ Mars.

Q. Exactly. It’s like Shelley. She saw something in me enough to put herself on the line and be that point of contact. That takes me to the second part of my question. You said that I reminded you of yourself 20 years. What’s something that you felt like you had to do to get from where you were 20 years ago to a place where you were established and found your next step?

A. One thing I did was perfected…well, not perfected. I’m still in the process of perfecting my craft, but I’m a student of the game. I’m always down to learn. There was stuff early on that I didn’t know, but I was like ‘I’m going to know it.’ I didn’t stop.

Some people stop and they give up. I didn’t do that. I kept going. Even when people stop believing in me, I believe in myself. I can’t say it any other way. You have to believe in yourself even when people don’t, because they will not believe in you at some point. Not everybody, but some won’t and the ones who don’t believe are going to be loud and proud about not believing in you, so what I did was work on protecting my craft. I kept the belief that whoever the greatest is, I can be on that level with them. Greater than or not, I believe that I can at least be on the level of whoever the greatest is.

Q. I focused on you as a person because I believe that people out there and those who will read this interview need to know about DJ Mars the guy — your everyday kind of person. I feel like people love someone who they can relate to. Let’s talk about your artistry though.

There’s three parts to it. You’re the established DJ. You’re the author of your own book and on top of that you’re a designer. You’ve been working with New Balance and collaborating with them on some cool kicks for sometime now. First, let’s talk about you as an author. You’re the author of The Art Behind the Tape. When did you sit down and say, ‘I want to be the author of my own book?’

A. Well, I knew that there were a few stories in hip-hop that a lot of people weren’t paying attention to. I kind of knew that there weren’t too many books written on the history of mixtape culture. I was like well ‘I can write it. It’s a need for it in the market, so let me do that.’ As an insider in the culture, I knew I had a leg up on most people because I could call Kid Capri and say here’s what I’m doing; let’s schedule an interview. My database allotted me a ton of access.

I had already knew a lot of the research because I had lived the culture. When Capri made his early tapes, I was buying them. I was apart of the culture from an inside perspective, which helped me write the book and then, like I said, I just knew that it needed to be done, so I just did it.

Q. Can you tell me about your fellow authors and the role they played in making the book a success?

A. It was three of them; Maurice Garland, Tai Saint-Louis, and DJibril Ndiaye. That’s who helped tie up all the loose ends. We set down and were like ‘Okay. Here are the interviews that we have and need to get done. Let’s go do them.’ Once the interviews were done, some of them edited. Some of them did the press releases. So, it was a collective effort.

The book is an historical piece. It’s history because it’s one of the first ones told from an inside perspective. The accuracy is impeccable. If one comes after this, it was inspired by mine.

Q. How long have you been collaborating with well-known sneaker groups to design New Balances?

A. For the past 5 years now. I’ve designed two pairs of sneakers with them and have been working on a web-based campaign with them as well.

Q. Tell me about your last major sneaker collab?

A. We released a new shoe at the same time that my book was published. The sneaker was sold at the New Balance store in New York. We also sent a copy of the book to top level DJ’s who were featured in the book as a thank you to them for being apart of our project.

Q. I watched a video where you named your top five pairs of New Balances. I love the fact that your #1 pair was purchased in Baltimore, by the way, haha. You have a huge collection of New Balances. You weren’t rocking with the New Balances like that when we were in New York, which wasn’t a surprise given the ‘hawk’ was out, haha. If the weather would have been better, what three pairs of New Balances would have made the cut?

A. Haha. Yeah, man that was a different type of cold. Let’s see…I would have had to go with the 990’s, a pair of 550‘s, and a pair of 710’s.

Q. I’ve seen footage of your mixes on the Morning Show for one of the best comedians to ever do it — Steve Harvey. Tell me about that. What brought you to the Steve Harvey Morning Show?

A. Steve saw me on stage at the Essence Music Festival about five years ago. I was performing with Keri Hilson. I had a break and he actually approached me and was like ‘Man, I want to hire you for some of my events.’ When I DJed at one of his events, I rocked it. After the event, I told him that I wanted to DJ on his morning show and the rest has been history man.

Q. You’ve traveled the world as a DJ. This is shown in your video — “Around the World in 60 seconds.” What city that you’ve DJed in has had the biggest affect on your outlook on life and why?

A. Every city and every country offers something different, but I would have to say that Africa and Japan have had the biggest affect on me. Africa is so different than how most people in the states perceive it and the evolution of technology in Japan is just crazy to me.

Q. In basketball, a coach that I have a lot of respect for always tells our players that there’s a difference between loving to play and having a love for the game. Which one do you identify with as a DJ and why? Do you love doing it or have you found that you have a love for it?

A. I love doing it. It’s such a rush that you get controlling the crowd. I love it man. Music is powerful man and I’ve been able to play more of it than some people have listened to in their lifetime. I grew up on hip-hop. If it wasn’t for hip-hop music, I probably wouldn’t be a DJ.

Q. You mentioned earlier that you’re still working to master your art, but you’re obviously a successful DJ by this point. You’re an iconic audio engineer, you’ve been designing sneakers for years now and you’ve even explored other parts of yourself as an author. With that being said, if you were doing none of those three things I just named, given your other interests, what would your career path be?

A. I would be involved with the entertainment industry. I’d most likely be working with content creation in developing TV shows. In college, I studied Communications with a focus in Radio, TV and Films at Clark Atlanta University.

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Kenton Dunson: A True ‘Outlier’ in the Evolution that is Hip Hop

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

Hip-Hop was built on storytelling. Not just any kind of storytelling though — I’m talking about compelling stories with substance. In recent years, hip-hop or at least mainstream hip-hop has taken the form of less guts and more glory. There is less attention placed on the dynamics of lyrics and more focus placed on making ‘hits,’ which has resulted in a lot of ‘one-hit wonders’ like a Trinidad James or even a Bobby Shmurda who’s signature ‘hat toss’ went viral in just minutes after it was released to the public.

Hip-Hop has appeared to become more about making the next major ‘club’ banger when it used to be about rapping from within, sharing your struggles and your life with the hip-hop audience. After all, isn’t that why we love rappers like Jay Z? Jay might have watered down his music since his “Reasonable Doubt” and “Blueprint” days, but he still aims to give you his emotions and his perspective through his music. That’s what the legendary rappers like The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Nas, and DMX prided themselves on.

Today, we’re able to get a taste of that old hip-hop sound thanks to artists like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake. These artists pride themselves on being lyrical in their music, but sometimes it can look lonely for those guys. Then, you have your underground rappers like Big K.R.I.T., Dom Kennedy, and Bun B. These artists are lyricists in their own right.

The point that I’m trying to make here is that hip-hop was built on substance and today it’s substance that it lacks and that can be depressing for true hip-hop fans. This is why it’s always special when one comes across a new artist who also takes pride in making music that exemplifies substance and takes on the old school storytelling approach. That’s who Kenton Dunson is and that’s why his music is worth listening to and supporting.

The “everyday subjects and sentiments” expressed in Dunson’s music comes from his journey, which consists of “poverty, to college, to the corporate world and back to the struggle.” It’s this journey that gives Dunson an authentic compelling story for his listeners.

I encourage you to dive right into our interview and find out for yourself why Kenton Dunson is one of the future pieces of hip-hop history.

Q. What did you learn about yourself during your transition from a career in finance to a career in hip-hop?

A. During my time in finance, one of the most important concepts I had to grasp was risk and reward. After a few months as a struggling full-time artist, I learned that risk definitely comes with a consequence. The fact that the instability and turbulence didn’t scare me back into a corporate job taught me that I am unconditionally diligent and dedicated to my vision.

Q. What was it like recording “Creative Destruction?” What went well and what did you realize had to be better for your next project?

A. Recording ‘Creative Destruction’ was a wild time. I shut all forms of contact off, grew a beard, drank a lot of whiskey and created without limitation. It was amazing…the first time I started flowing without writing my lyrics down…taught me a lot about the importance of expression within your lyrics. After awhile, I felt I could use better hook writing and song structure, so that came later in my music.

Q. Your latest mixtape “The Investment” received over 100,000 downloads. Did you ever see yourself being able to reach so many people with your music that soon in your career?

A. I didn’t aim for a specific number with ‘The Investment,’ but I knew that it would hit a good wave based on the success of the first single from that project, ‘Count On It.’ There are billions of people in the world, so even though 100k was a great achievement, there’s a lot of room for growth!

Q. What is it about your music that you believe attracts so many people to you as an artist?

A. I think it’s the everyday subjects and sentiments that I attack with my music. Hip-Hop is growing up. The audience is more sophisticated, more educated and well versed than it has ever been. Being someone who comes from poverty, to college, to the corporate world and back to the struggle for the sake of my passion, I have seen so many walks of life. My music reflects a broad experience.

Q. Watching you perform at the 8×10 and observing the love you received from the audience, I think it’s safe to say that you have that ‘it’ factor as a young hip-hop artist. What’s helped you develop such a great level of comfort and confidence on the stage?

A. Playing music for crowds for so long. I’ve been in front of audiences playing instruments since I can remember. Whether it was 11 years old playing drums at church, singing and free styling at family parties, DJing or performing at frat parties and local bars…I always hit the switch and put on a performance whenever the opportunity arises.

Q. What was it like being featured in XXL Magazine?

A. First off, I want to thank the fans because they voted me into that situation through a contest that XXL held. Working with the XXL staff was awesome. It’s the pinnacle for hip-hop publications and their history alone made being featured such a milestone for me.

Q. You’ve worked with the likes of John Legend, Lupe Fiasco, Chrisette Michele, Yo Gotti, Ne-Yo and Wale. What were those experiences like for you and what did you learn from working with these artists?

A. The experiences were all different. John was the first to give me a shot at working together. His work ethic is incredible. The Phatboiz are a production team that produced his hit ‘Tonight.’ They brought me into that situation and at first I just observed. It’s inspiring to see artists at that level work like they are not complacent. He told me to trust my talents and abilities and to keep sharpening my skills no matter what.

Chrisette Michele was surprisingly a fan of mine before we worked together. Her creative approach is more abstract in a way, which reminds me of myself. Everything she says and does is artistic, haha. Shooting the video with her was an experience in itself. She validated my approach, which is to engulf yourself in every aspect of your work, from song, to visual, to performance.

I didn’t get the opportunity to sit in with Yo Gotti, Ne-Yo and Wale. That was a production credit that came about from Phatboiz playing my stuff for Ne-Yo. It traveled through the channels from that point. I got a call one day that it suddenly made the album. That’s an example of how a lot of placements happen these days.

Q. “Broke Ass Dope Ass Rapper” is a pretty self-explanatory title for your most recent single, but it has seemed to become a popular theme for your music. How important of a role did this single play in preparing your following for your up and coming album?

A. 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 to go but up! So it was a fresh springboard for me in terms of the upcoming music and message!

Q. Speaking of your next project; Outlier is dropping this spring. How excited are you for this next release and what should fans expect from this project?

A. I’m excited for Outlier, the most important project of my life! It’s taken a lot longer than I wanted due to some creative redirection. I got to a place where it sounded way too similar to what other artists are already doing. So instead of rushing the material, I took a step back to really make sure the project was exactly what the title says it is.

Q. What’s something that the average fan doesn’t know about you outside of what you do as an artist?

A. I didn’t even mean to rap. I just wanted to produce music. But when I was a college kid selling beats over the internet, people would send back the songs after they put the vocals on it and I never felt they did the beats justice. I then started rapping and performing the songs at college parties that I DJed.

Q. Talk about your versatility as both a rapper and a producer. How have you been able to balance the two?

A. It’s a challenge sometimes to balance the two, but it’s a fun balance. Most tracks that I produce for artists start as a track I wanted for myself, but throughout a session or two, I figured that it might be better to store in the production catalog. I only rap over tracks I absolutely feel. So if I am in a production session and I start standing up and mumbling a cadence or something, it’s most likely going to become one of my own songs.

Q. Outside of your music, what’s something you enjoy doing in your free time?

A. I don’t have free time quite yet, but I’m fortunate that I get to travel because traveling is something I’ve always wanted to experience. Every town I hit, I like to find the local record stores and whiskey spots. I’m a huge Bourbon fan.

Q. Knowing what you know now, if you weren’t an artist, what career path would you pursue and why?

A. I still follow the stock markets and economy, so If it wasn’t this, I would be right back in the same office, ha!

Q. What do you hope to accomplish with Outlier and where do you want it to take your music career next?

A. I plan to make every artist say ‘Damn, why didn’t I think of that?’ I want it to take not only myself but the entire genre to new heights in terms of message, expression and creativity. But the people won’t have to wait too long for new music; the Outlier album is dropping on May 5th!

You can checkout Kenton Dunson’s music and more at dunsonmusic.com. 

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/

Aubree Brown: Professional Dancer with Ailey II. Dance Instructor. Model. Looking back on my Unsung blog features from 2014.

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

I was able to cover a story on my lady and best friend back in mid-November. At the time, the stunning Ms. Brown was just returning home to New York City after a month long tour with Ailey II. During the tour, she had the opportunity to grace the stage with her fellow Ailey II dancers in places like Canada, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Jamaica and a slew of other great places.

In Aubree’s brief bio on her social media account, she typed in that 2014 was going to be her year and that it was. Aubree traveled the world doing what she loves, met some influential people, connected with new professional dancers, and she touched even more lives with the stories that she tells when performing under the bright lights in her leotard with her eye-catching fashionable natural look.

Before the countdown to the New Year, I asked Aubree what she was hoping to accomplish in 2015. Her response included goals for her dance career of course, new doors that her dance career will open and something huge that she says she can feel is in her path for the near future.

I’ll withhold the details for your sake. Instead of spoiling the surprise, I’ll let Aubree’s success and inspirational journey speak for itself in 2015.

What’s next for the Ailey II dancer you might ask? She’ll be leaving the country on Monday to travel once again performing throughout Germany and France. When she returns to the states in February, she’ll be hitting different stages throughout New York and preparing for Ailey II’s New York season that will take place at the Joyce Theater in March.

Aubree is a special breed as both an extremely talented dancer and a kind-hearted human being. I believe it’s that combination that is going to continue to propel her to new heights not only in 2015, but for years to come.

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.

Marcellas Hill: CEO of Marcellas Hill Productions. Music Video Director. Choreographer. Producer. Style Icon. Supermodel. Looking back on my Unsung blog features from 2014.

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

When I did a story on my college friend Marcellas Hill earlier this year, he had just directed what was a sold out premiere entertainment showcase for his production company (Marcellas Hill Productions) – a showcase that went by the name of Model Behavior.

Model Behavior was an artistry showcase that highlighted all forms of the performing arts and also gave Marcellas’ peers an opportunity to showcase their talents in the areas of production, make-up artistry, modeling, dance and many other areas. The showcase was a success and it came as no surprise to me considering Marcellas’ experience directing multiple shows.

Marcellas directed his first show at just 15 years of age and now he’s 23 with over 15 shows on his resume. When I think about this guy, I think about successful people in the entertainment industry like Tyler Perry who started literally from the bottom with all odds against him. However, if you look at Mr. Perry’s career today, you can see that he didn’t let his circumstances determine his destiny. He now has his own production studio campus in Atlanta, GA.

Mr. Hill has the ability to be just as great. You might ask, how can I say this with such confidence? It’s simple. How many people do you know that have directed one show in a lifetime? Well, Marcellas has had a hand in directing more than 15 shows and he’s not even 25 yet.

Since our interview some months back, Marcellas has reaped the benefits of a successful premiere entertainment showcase that reached an audience of roughly 800 attendees and received some incredible reviews according to Mr. Hill himself. “It was a great start to launching my company and building my brand/legacy.”

Model Behavior has opened up several doors for Marcellas. Shortly after his showcase, Marcellas was hired by BET Networks in order to “render creative services for a sizzle reel and to assist with the production of their premiere inaugural fashion week showcase, BET on Fashion.” BET on Fashion was showcased at the Espace Lounge in New York City and included the likes of Elle Varner, Chudney Ross, and Deborah Lee.

After Marcellas returned from New York, he got right back to work, working on a show for the Operation Renewed Hope Foundation that was geared towards raising awareness for homeless veterans. The show was successfully showcased at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City and Sarah Fraser hosted it. Attendees included the Governor of Virginia and Miss America.

Marcellas and his team are currently working on a project and trailers for it have surfaced on his social media platforms. He plans to reveal more details about the project in the days to come.

Marcellas was in a “takeover” type of mode in 2014 and what’s scary is he isn’t letting up as he walks into a new year. “Ultimately, my goal in 2015 is to establish a strong online presence and following through social media. I really want people to recognize my brand when people hear ‘Marcellas Hill Productions.’ I have big expectations for the New Year. Time will reveal my goals because I plan to publicly accomplish them.”

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.

Robert Balthazar: Music Producer. CEO. Businessman. Looking back on my Unsung blog features from 2014.

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

Rob has been a good friend of mine since my early college days and I’ve had the opportunity to witness his growth as both a businessman and a music producer for several years now. I had the opportunity to interview him earlier this year and talk about his success as a producer and his most recent endeavors as the starter of a mobile technology company, Handxom, as well as the growth of his personal fitness program for college students, FITT Experience.

Rob, who also goes by the name of Savage Beats when he’s in the studio, has worked with successful artists, such as Soulja Boy, Flo Rida, and Chris Brown. These are opportunities that came about due to Rob’s work ethic and his hunger to be successful and leave his mark on the music industry. Well, consider that sharpie already being put to work on that piece of paper because Rob is off to a great start and doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

From a music standpoint, Rob is getting ready for album placements provided by Atlantic records. He’s also “ghost producing” for a lot of your favorite artists and producers. As if he isn’t busy enough with new music endeavors, Rob is also working closely with one of our college friends, Antonio Rouse, who goes by the name of “Hugo Black” when he’s on the mic. Rob and Antonio will be forming a production duo in the future.

From a business standpoint, Rob and his business partner with Handxom are working on securing markets like the Caribbean and Asia. In 2014, they sold over 1 million dollars worth of merchandise in the Caribbean. Handxom’s numbers are looking great and Rob says that they have plans to set up shop in the US very soon. According to Rob, “things are looking great for 2015 and I can’t wait for all that it will bring.”

Rob has always been someone who’s believed in moving in silence. He doesn’t boast much and he doesn’t believe in chasing the money, but chasing the innovation instead. Rob is about walking the path of success while remaining humble. However, don’t take his humility for weakness. He’s fearless in the art of music and confident in the world of business.

When your desire to be successful exceeds your fear of failing, the future is bright for you and that is what my brother Rob exemplifies in his music and his business endeavors.

Ciera Nicole Butts: Former Miss DC USA. Businesswoman. Model. Actress. Looking back on my Unsung blog features from 2014.

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

In 2014, Ciera was one of 51 special women who participated in the 2014 Miss USA Pageant, which was televised across the nation. I said it months ago and I’m going to say it again today – you can be sure that Ciera is far from finished. This is only the beginning for her and it’s been a pretty flattering start for the former Miss DC USA.

Ciera gave up her title as Miss DC USA on December 21st, but she has wasted no time in moving forward with a few new endeavors. Ciera is embarking on a new journey furthering her modeling and acting career, traveling back and forth between New York and Philadelphia where she’s participating in trainings, shoots and castings.

The Baltimore native is now a Philly girl. Ciera is in Philadelphia working in corporate sales with CEO’s and head executives of huge corporations. This is an opportunity that was made possible because of her hard work this past year and the fact that she took advantage of the great resources that surrounded her during her time in pageantry.

It might be safe to say that Ciera is a businesswoman in corporate sales by day and a model/actress by night. Nonetheless, if you thought Ciera owned 2014, you can bet your best that she has some more tricks up her sleeve for 2015 and I can’t wait to see what the New Year has in store for her.