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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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. 

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

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. What makes you a special breed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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