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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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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Dabriel Fulton: A true mogul in the entertainment world

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

Sometimes life has its way of putting a limit or a cap on what we’re able to achieve and who we’re able to inspire, which is why some people never quite reach their full potential.

That being said, the best thing for us to do as individuals is to challenge ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones in whatever it is that we do.

For some of us, that means creating a lane of our own, something I’ve harped on in many of my past write ups, whether it was pertaining to myself or my features.

Well, when I think about the power in taking an entrepreneurial approach to life, I think about Dabriel Fulton, the Founder of The Mic Is Open.

The Mic Is Open is a unique platform that, as Dabriel puts it, “gives anyone with a voice a platform to be heard.”

Whether you’re a comic, poet, singer, rapper, or any other form of an artist with a voice, The Mic Is Open is the outlet for you, as it exposes you to a broad and diverse audience.  That audience is made up of fans of entertainment as well as people of influence in the entertainment industry.

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When Dabriel put this platform in place, she herself was an artist just like those that she is supporting today.  At the time, she was performing poetry at open mic nights and while it was an outlet for her, she also saw its limitations.

That’s when The Mic Is Open was born, so to speak.  Dabriel related to the “up-and-coming artist” and she wanted to provide a platform for as many of them as she could.

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Some people pursue things like this for their own personal gain, but not Dabriel.  In fact, as she explained to me in a recent interview, she could care less if she gets rich from this endeavor or not.

To her, the mark of true success is in the lives that she’s able to touch and in the exposure that she’s able to provide artists with, as a result of her platform.

There are not many entrepreneurs or professionals, in general, that could choose to take on this mindset, but Dabriel is extremely serious when it comes to putting the artist first.

I admire this attitude and I believe that it’s a product of Dabriel being around top moguls in the entertainment industry like Dame Dash and others.  Dabriel has had to work extremely hard and smart throughout her career and that’s why she’s where she is today.

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Dabriel understands the journey and she’s fine with taking the bumps and bruises that come along with it because she believes in learning from situations.

Dabriel has worked to eliminate any loop holes in her skill set, and when you’re there with her in person, you know that she deserves to be here; a mogul in her own right.

I’ve been watching Dabriel’s success rather closely for the past several months.  That’s something that I regularly do when searching for my next big story.

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Well, I admire the fact that Dabriel has built into my movement by taking this interview and giving me an exclusive look into her career as well as who she is personally.

Dabriel is proud to be a Baltimore native and feels extremely blessed to have experienced so much in such a short period of time.  Coming from a city like ours, we’re often accustomed to seeing people held back by their circumstances, so she’s happy to be an inspiration to those back at home.

Dabriel hasn’t come this far to stop now though.  After a very successful New York showcase of The Mic Is Open back in March, she is now preparing for an even greater showcase this summer.

As you can see, Dabriel is putting her foot on the gas in 2016, and the sky is only the limit for what she’s capable of doing next.

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Dabriel,

Thank you for sharing your story with my audience and for introducing my platform, Intern Media, to your audience.  I know that you’re a private person and that you sometimes make your power moves in silence, so I appreciate you stepping outside of the norm for this story.

I hope to work with you again very soon and I can’t voice enough just how proud I am of not only your success, but your hard work and for your generosity with today’s artists.

Continue to impact lives with your platform and keep giving God the glory for your success as you’ve already been doing.  God bless you and welcome to the Intern Media family.

Karl Nelson II, Founder of Intern Media

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K Rokk: Professional Drummer out of Queens, NY

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

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Video work by my videographer Austin Dancy (Brooklyn, NY)

I recently took my platform Intern Media on the road, just a borough over from Brooklyn, NY to Queens, NY, to sit down with longtime musician (Drummer), K Rokk. It was humbling to sit down with a guy who has dedicated himself to his artistry for over two decades, demonstrating an even stronger love for music today compared to 21 years ago when he first started.

Our interview took me back to a year ago when I was coaching alongside one of my mentors at the Park School of Baltimore. On the first day of tryouts, my mentor expressed to our players that there was “a huge difference between doing something for the fun of it and actually loving what you do.”

My mentor brought this up to the kids because at the time we had some guys playing because they simply found fun in playing the sport. While that’s fine, that mentality can cause a problem for the guys on the team who are playing competitively out of a true love for the game.

Well, what my mentor said must have really sunk in because that had to be one of my most memorable seasons as a coach given not only our success that year, but the passion that the guys played with day in and day out.

What he said that day resonated with me and it’s a statement that has stuck with me to this day. K Rokk is a perfect example of someone who is in the music industry for the true love of it.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s all about having fun with his craft, but for something to be considered your craft, one must work at it too, right? That’s something that K Rokk understands, which is why he’s performing several times week in and week out, always looking to add a staple to his resume.

K Rokk has been doing this for years, and if anything, his work ethic has only grown since the day that he first picked up those drum sticks, introducing the world to his unique sound.

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K Rokk is able to literally wake up and do what he loves daily, and his journey has paid dividends for him as he’s been able to perform across the country, surrounding himself with what he would refer to as “seasoned” musicians, and he’s now working on a couple new projects that will reinvent him as an artist in an industry that is constantly evolving. 

K Rokk is blessed to be still having fun performing on the drums, expressing his serious love for the stage and drawing a crowd based off of his talent.

Speaking from the perspective as someone who was able to watch him perform, I’m telling you that his talent is what triggered my approaching him shortly after the show. And thank God that I did because I might not have learned of how great of a guy he is outside of his talent. Here’s a guy that has made his artistry his life and you can see how much ‘life’ the art of music gives him when he’s out there on that stage.

K Rokk stressed the importance of networking and connecting with others in your respective industry when we set down for the interview. Well, it’s those relationships that he’s developed over the years which keeps him constantly at venues performing week after week. It’s also those relationships that have enabled him to travel outside of New York to showcase his talents as a musician, impacting the lives of many.

And how ironic that it was my relationship with my good friend and artist L. Green which made this story possible.

K Rokk’s emphasis on this is what reminds us that we cannot make it out here on our own. You need people. You need that one person to say, “Look. I support what you’re doing. Keep inspiring.”

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Me, K Rokk and my videographer Austin Dancy

You need that person who’s going to invest their time and even sometimes their money into your passion. I know that I haven’t made it to where I am all by myself. I’ve had a core group of supporters and quite frankly, it’s their encouraging words and God’s love that keeps me going as a journalist in New York City, one of the hardest cities to make it in.

K Rokk has had the opportunity to perform with some of those he considers gurus in the music industry — individuals he’s learned a ton from. Little does he know though that it’s his two decades of dedication to his craft and his upcoming work that has a guy like myself looking at him as a guru in the realm of music.

These stories are meant to inspire those who come into contact with them, but what should also be highlighted is the fact that it’s me who’s inspired by those that I cover stories on. They make what I do that much sweeter and worthwhile.

Take a look at the interview below (in video form) and hear directly from K Rokk as he talks about how he got to where he is today as a musician, where his love for music comes from, what projects are on the horizon for him, and more.

Also, here’s a chance for you to grow with me as I take my gifts as a writer and translate them into my aim to develop as a reporter while putting my vision on camera, making journalism just what I’ve promised it can be; a production.

K Rokk,

Thanks for growing with me my man and becoming apart of the Intern Media family, stamping your spot in this movement. Continue to inspire and educate, not only the up-and-coming musicians out there, but the media outlets that you cross paths with. More media professionals need to learn about these artists beyond the surface, not simply latching onto their talent, but more so showing appreciation for their journey’s. That was part of my aim for this interview and I pray that my approach as a Digital Journalist made you feel like family bro.

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 3 – Andrew Somuah, Writer for Dime & The Source Magazine

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

“You can do it too.” ~ Pharrell Williams, Singer-songwriter 

This is a quote you’ll find if you go searching for Andrew Somuah’s social media profile, and if you know him, then you understand why it’s a quote in which he lives by as a young journalist from Alexandria, VA, who believes that he too can attain greatness and success at the highest level in his industry.

A lot of us get to watch shows like Nick Cannon’s Wildin’Out on the television or hear from Powerhouse 105.1’s Charlemagne Tha God on New York radio, or even see footage of NBA players doing interviews from their team locker rooms.

These are things that a lot of us are able to access thanks to the evolution of technology. However, wouldn’t it be cool to be right there on the set for each of these scenarios?

Well, my good friend and journalist for The Source Magazine Andrew Somuah has been privy to those experiences, up close and personal, and rightfully so.

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Here’s a guy who I’ve witnessed dedicate himself to his craft since his college days.

Whether it’s been pulling an all-nighter to ensure that work was done, jumping through hoops to get a ground-breaking interview, or stopping a Hip Hop mogul at a music festival to set up a future interview, Somuah has done all of these things plus more.

A lot of those who are not in the journalism field or the media industry for that matter, have no idea the kind of adversities that lie there waiting for us young journalists, but Somuah knows all about that.

He chooses not to use those setbacks as an excuse though. He’s learned early on in this business that if you want something, you have to go for it and try your best to exhaust all options within your own abilities before venturing out for help.

Somuah has worked at mastering several pieces to the puzzle that come along with being a journalist in the urban culture; writing, interviewing, researching, studying the culture, and being one with the culture.

Somuah exemplifies each of those things as he’s not just working in this industry to say he has a job or for the glamour, but he actually loves Hip Hop, the urban culture and both music and sports.

He’s been living and breathing these things since I’ve known him.

As far as Hip Hop goes, the fact that he’s remained an objective fan of the likes of Jay Z and Kanye West, speaks to not only his knowledge of rap music, but something else too; he enjoys studying the greats.

And what happens when you surround yourself with greatness, you ultimately enter into a realm of greatness as well and that’s what Somuah is working towards on a daily basis.

The urban culture is something else that Somuah is very familiar with as he’s always in the know about local events taking place in the DMV area to what’s happening on the Hip Hop scene in New York to even festivals and other happenings on the West coast.

This was all even before he had landed a job with Source, started writing for Dime Magazine, or even began his internship at 93.9 WKYS in his senior year of college.

We all have things we’re passionate about. You showed automatically be in the know of whatever it is that you’re interested in by taking the time to read up on it.

Why? Because it’s your passion. So, when that passion becomes your career path, it should be like waking up doing what you love everyday.

Now, granted every passion doesn’t allow one to live comfortably, at least not right away, so when one chooses that path anyway, you know that they truly love what they do and that’s what it’s about.

My good friend Somuah falls into that category as someone who truly loves what he does.

When it comes to music, Somuah is always looking to keep his options open, not staying within the boundaries of what’s considered mainstream, but by making mainstream what he wants it to be.

And last but not least, sports. What can I say about sports?

That’s where our friendship began and I’m pretty sure that’s what got Somuah so in tune with the Hip Hop scene, considering both seem to go hand in hand.

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How many times have you seen athletes and artists team up?

It happens a lot. You’ve had former NBA All Star Allen Iverson and Rapper Jadakiss team up for a Reebok commercial. We’ve seen famous Filmmaker Spike Lee and his Airness, Michael Jordan, team up to market Jordan’s sneakers.

And how about prize fighter Floyd “Money” Mayweather and Hip Hop mogul Lil Wayne? They’ve too teamed up to bring sports and music fans entertainment, something we’ve seen exemplified through Mayweather’s usual walk out of the tunnel before a championship fight.

Andrew Somuah has accomplished a lot within this realm of journalism, but you can rest assure that he is far from finished.

In a recent off-the-record conversation I held with my good friend, he expressed to me that there are a prethala of things that he has planned moving froward in his career, and if I was reading this, I’d be sure to tune in to this young and humble brother.

Like those I’ve chosen to highlight on my blog before, Somuah represents uniqueness, hard work and passion. And that’s why you’re reading about him today.

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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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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.

http://theartbehindthetape.com/
http://www.djmars404.com/

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.