Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It's Bigger than Hip Hop: An Independent Artist's Crusade

I promised my girl I would write this and get the word out… I know I have taken forever, but hey I gotta hold true to my promise. My word is all I have. Johnaa this is for you baby girl!

In an industry marketed by who’s team you are on, it’s hard to even get your shoe in the Hip Hop arena without being someone else’s wingman for awhile. Think Kanye and Jay Z, SlaugherHouse on the back of Joe Budden and Drizzy aka Drake on the back of Lil Wayne, even though I have yet to see an album :(. And those chances of “making it” are super slim thanks to record company exec’s who ultimately decide who gets to be the next Hip Hop icon. There is no surprise really seeing as how three-quarters of your profit goes to pay the exec’s huge salaries and mega mansions in the Florida Keys, while you get to sweat in front of a crowd of say 500 at a local night spot with little promotion. And there’s no guarantee anyone will buy your album when beat makers “leak” songs prematurely or you can download the whole CD on Limewire before you can buy it on iTunes. But you really gotta love the game and be ok with being “pimped out” for awhile when the stopper is put on your creative juice and you have to come up with hooks and raps to ish that is truly Gatorade in this industry. Yup. Watered down kool-aid. But just like the death of auto tune Hip Hop is just going through another cycle of music. For the true Hip Hop heads you can appreciate anyone strong enough to make a few dollars for themselves by going independent and hitting the mainstream masses with quality style lyrics and beats. Hip Hop is a hard genre to crash, but if you have the skills and can hook up with a decent producer you just might get a few spins on the ones and twos. But this story my friends, is not a story of Hip Hop and where it stands today, this is one man’s hustle to the glory.

Insert, artist Shin-Q.

For every one new upcoming artist you can be sure of two things. At least one artist is garbage and at least one artist is spectacular. The latter is how I describe artist Shin-Q a.k.a. Monzeil Jhamal Flemming. The man definitely has talent. Born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey (NJ stand up!) Shin-Q has always had a respect for Hip Hop. His methodical delivery and rhyming style is displayed on his current solo album entitled Acquired Discipline available now on iTunes. Debuting in the fall of 2008 the CD is one you shouldn’t sleep on. It reminds me of the Hip Hop Golden Era days. Think of Nas cira It Was Written. With tracks like Take ‘Em to Church, Warrior’s Cry, TTown Bounce, and Token Negroe militant politically charged Hip-Hop is what best describes this album. Flooded with current event commentary, reggae influenced beats, and an eclectic range of Hip Hop, R&B, Alternative, and Old School vibes this CD takes Hip Hop full circle from the days of pop filled auto-tuning and fuses it with reggae beats you can play from start to finish. How many industry cats can say they have enough content to have a respectable album from cover to cover?

In a genre dominated by the predictable sounds of industry staples like Jay Z, Kanye, and newcomers, Drake and Kid Cudi it is refreshing to have Shin-Q bring Hip Hop back to the days of lyrical finesse and the beats to match. Drawing on influences from personal experience and things he has witnessed he chooses his words carefully and delivers eloquently over White City/ Pumpkinseed Entertainment Group beats. He has DC flair with a NJ flow. This is definitely not a mix tape CD, but more like an underground Hip Hop revitalization effort. This also isn’t for those waiting to hear the next “Ice Cream Paint Job.” This CD is for the real Hip Hop lovers and those who want to hear about something other than “I Got Plenty Money” and “making It rain on these hoes.” This CD is about not only about the beats, but the lyrics. This CD is for those who love Common (back when he was Common Sense), Twalib Kwali, Mos Def, Nas, Black Thought (from the Roots), Rakim, Musiq Soulchild. This CD actually would have played very nicely next to Miss Hill’s Miseducation, and yes I am still awaiting her return.

This CD definitely takes me back to the early to mid 90s when NYC style Hip Hop was in heavy rotation on the radio. I hate to call it island rap, but the reggae infusion is hard to ignore. The lyrics are laid out with precision and discipline. A devout Christian and firm believer in God’s abilities to perform miracles, it is interesting to wonder why Shin-Q chose a genre that is anything but Godlike. Instead of making a gospel CD he delivers to us a much needed conscious Hip Hop album of focus and versatility, and at no better time. Instead of a man glorifying drugs, money, cars, sex, and other non-essential material items, Shin-Q focuses on topics that the majority of mainstream Hip Hop has steered away from, like relationships, personal growth, and of course religion. I guess you couldn’t expect any less from a man who starts each day with prayer. Shin-Q challenges us Hip Hop lovers with this album to go beyond the mainstream Hip Hop scene and underground mixtapes and listen to music independently produced for the sole love of Hip Hop. This isn’t about selling a million records, although that would be nice. Instead, this is about life lessons and leaving a legacy. A Hip Hop legacy of his own.

Time keeps on ticking and I say we need to hear more from Mr. Shin Q, so keep on your conscious tip. To listen to the fist single “Life Anew” and his second single “Take ‘Em To Church” visit the Shin-Q MySpace music page Shin-Q is actually short for Shining Question which he says means he may always be seen but will he be understood! For the real Hip Hop heads, we say, it’s bigger than HIP HOP Mr. Shin Q.

Additional Links:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Mama's Music

My mama’s music is funky and groovy and it’s got an old soul feel to it. Mama’s music if full of love and love that’s lost. Its chuck full of funky good times and another sad love song. My mama’s music has dust on the paper cover of the definitive collection of Stevie wonder. My mama’s music used to wake me up on Saturday mornings to Love and Happiness and lulled me to sleep with Sade’s the Kiss of life. Mama’s music kept her foot tapping as the record spins on the old record player belting out Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and Otis Redding. My mama’s music kept us up all night boogie-ing with the elements of Earth, Wind, and Fiyahhhh in Boogiewonderland. We moon walked all over the kitchen floor to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and were Off the Wall with hits like Rock with You, and Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough. We took road trips with Rufus and Chaka Khan and Parliament. My mama’s music was filled with emotion like when Stevie said “Cause I'll be loving you always.” They don’t make music like that anymore.

Mama’s music was full of the hits from Hitsville U.S.A. like The Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, The Supremes, Mary Wells, the Spinners, and The Drifters. I dreamed of riding that “Midnight Train to Georgia” with Gladys Knight and the Pips, and can still be caught jamming to “Shotgun” by Jr. Walker and the All Stars. Mama’s music can be played from start to finish with no skips in between. Like listening to Percy Sledge saaaang about how “When A Man Loves A Woman, she can do no wrong.” Or listening to Ray Charles “Hit the Road Jack.” I liked to watch my mom and dad dance to “If This World Were Mine” the remake by Luther Vandross … and then they would groove to Roberta Flack “Killing me Softly.”

Mama’s music had the hitmakers. Can’t nobody do it like the Godfather of Soul. He had us feeling good in this Man’s World… “that is NOTHING, without a woman or a girl.”On Saturday afternoons you could find us rocking in the treetops all day long, hoppin and boppin and a singing that song with the Jackson Five. When mama was in the mood she’d break out and show me the moves of the sixties and the seventies and show us how to really get down on the good foot. We’d be doing the Hustle, the Bop, the Jerk, the Watusi (I still can’t get that down right) the Dog (well she did it) and we cranked out the old school party songs from Kool and the Gang, Zapp and Roger, The Commodores, The Gap Band, Sly and the Family Stone, Rick James, Ike & Tina Turner, KC and the Sunshine Band, the Pointer Sisters, The Mary Jane Girls, Mtume and the Ohio Players. We mellowed out with Chi-Lites, the Isley Brothers, James Ingram, Michael McDonald, and Kenny G. We sang alongside Whitney Houston, Teena Marie, and Mariah Carey … and the hits still kept coming.

Now don’t get me wrong there is some memorable music out there and many more artists of today that I could mention, but ain’t nothing like my mama’s music! It may be on 8in. vinyl records or in compact discs or on old tapes, but mama’s music had some kind of magic to it. Lyrics truly meant something and will forever remain as timeless classics. So if you catch me on the train or my cleaning house, maybe even taking a walk around the park… chances are I am listening to my mama’s music!

The Intern Process

Readers, My good friend wrote a post the other day called "Ladies, Who Are You hiring?" He examined the courtship and selection process of a woman when she is choosing a man for a continuous relationship. Comparing the process to that of a business interview he stated that instead of conducting a formal interview, many women find themselves conducting elevator interviews (hurried interviews) and not waiting to receive his background investigation report. I agree with his analogy, most women don’t check out his current address, living arrangements, credit score, if he has held a job (or another relationship) longer than three months, does he have transportation issues arriving to work on time, etc. However, to expound of his interviewing process, I say there is more that goes into finding a good man than a simple interview.

For my post, I simply call it, the INTERN PROCESS.

For most companies, interns are a cheap way to find help. Most internships are free, some receive a stipend, and others are more lucrative and are paid internships. Companies like to hire interns because it gives them an internal “hiring pool” to select candidates who perform exceptionally well, or above average. These candidates are often asked to return (upon completion of a program or degree) for full employment (benefits, etc). I consider the dating process like an internship. Most women receive at least two or three applications a month from various men that they meet. For some, maybe more, others a bit less. However, these applications should be treated like intern applications. You really don’t want to go through the hassle of interviewing a bunch of people and finally selecting the right candidate, so you opt for an intern. And even if he isn’t the perfect person for you, he might just be a viable source of inspiration. Now, ladies the decision is yours how you go about selecting an intern, but I came up with a pretty good way of weeding out the bad ones. Now fellas, feel free to take up the intern prospect as well. Hiring from within does have its advantages!

Let me break this down for some of you all. Basically you need to ask yourself one of two questions. Question one. Is this person talking to me someone I can take seriously? Question two. Am I ready for a serious commitment? If all you are looking for is a good time, well then by all means date around. Have fun. Do you boo boo. But if you are really looking for someone you can grow with, start by asking yourself these two questions. The intern process can be completed in as little time as a two weeks and as long as a month or two. If you are good at spotting potential candidates and looking for great qualities in people, perhaps your process is short. For others, it may take a bit longer, but always follow clues that pop up along the way.

First, the actual application itself must be taken into consideration. Reading is fundamental folks and how he applies is even more important. Does he follow directions well, and is able to complete the application in its entirety? A good candidate will not only present a well completed application, but it will also be legible. He will include his references and his resume will most likely match up with what you are looking for. Are their coffee stains on his resume? Did he fax it over? Did he follow up with you after submitting his application to see if you received it? All these things must be taken into consideration when selecting an intern. It’s often best to find an intern from a reputable source. Outside the club just isn’t the right “agency” to select an intern. After a night of gyrating and alcohol absorption, I just don’t see that application coming in too well. In other words, how was his initial approach to you? Did he use one of those old tired lines we have all heard before? Did he offer you a drink or a dance? Did he stop you on a busy street to admire your curves? This is what I call the application process. His appearance. His tone, voice, diction, etc. His gestures. His actions. It is up to you to decide if his application is in accordance to your company policy.

Second, the initial interview. Like most job candidates, interns must go on interviews as well. A great resume can match up perfectly with an asshole. It is important to keep that into consideration and when asking questions on the interview. A dedicated intern will see your company (you) as an investment in his/her life and will want to be a part of your time. He will make every effort to show up prepared and lay out his employment history. Someone who is just in it for the thrills, most likely will show up initially, but eventually the excuses will start pilling in. He might even question you about the interviewing process, or every five minutes cannot get your body off his brain. How soft you must feel! He might even ask some personal questions a little too up front before you even get to know each other. It's also a good idea to let him know the job description and responsibilities up front. Let the brother know you are looking for a long term commitment and not a fling.

Many ladies fail by conducting interviews in house. Why? He already has himself in the door at that point. You might as well hire him on the spot! Unless you want him to move in ASAP as a part of his job description and you are prepared to fully house an intern, let him commute to work. It is important to conduct the first interview on neutral ground in order to maximize your potential in finding a great intern, and also keeping it on neutral ground is a great way to find out how comfortable the intern is in public situations with you. For first interviews a coffee shop, book store, lunchtime restaurant (don’t go formal and expect the intern to pay for your food, just because), go ahead and see if he pays for your iced mocha latte from Starbucks. Remember you are not on a date, but conducting an interview. You want to be able to hear what he has to say and vice versa. Perhaps a nice walk in the park or meeting up at your favorite happy hour place can provide better alternatives to first interview places. Keep things simple and easy going, you want the conversation to flow. Notice his behavior and trust your instincts. If all goes with the initial interview, it is VERY IMPORTANT to follow up a second interview! Yes, ladies. A second interview is extremely important, which I will discuss later.

For now, decide yourself if the initial interview is a phone interview or a face-to-face encounter on neutral ground. For most, a phone interview will suffice. A few important notices should be is there a lot of background noise on the phone when you talk to him? Does he constantly say, hold on? Does he curse people out while on the phone with you? Did he call you at 2AM or 2PM? Timing is very important! If he has to attend to another matter that comes up while you are on the phone, does he return the call back in a timely fashion? And most importantly, does he answer your questions? I know some of you all are like WTF, but if you listen well… he may be dodging your questions. Don’t be afraid to ask how long was your last relationship? Are you in a relationship? Do you have any stalker ex’s, baby mama drama, or other unnecessary drama that may be detrimental to your development? Ask his sexual history and please ask when’s the last time he was tested for EVERYTHING and if he has ever had an STD? After the initial interview review what you have heard and with your best judgment decide if he should proceed to the next round.

The follow up interview. As stated before, it is important to provide a follow up interview. If things go well with the initial interview a follow up is needed before making a decision. Many mistakes can happen along the way and it is important to have this second interview to solidify that this person is truly interested in the job advertisement. You might even need a third! Just remember that you want the intern the same as the intern wants you. If it’s not a good match no need for the internship to commence. Just simply thank him for his time, and you’ll be in touch! No phone calls needed. However, if the second interview, also on neutral ground works out well and your follow up questions have been answered, and you think he is a good match for the company then proceed to the initiation of the internship. The follow up interview should be conducted much in the same way the initial interview was conducted. Neutral ground and remember to have fun. Perhaps a day trip to a museum, a day trip out on the water, and/or an old school arcade or bowling alley. Whatever you decide remember he is a potential intern and you are still watching for those non verbal clues.

Third, the internship process begins. Most internships are 90 days (3 mts) or a bit longer, and basically provides the intern with experience and the company with a more cost effective labor. I call this part of the process actual “dating.” Decide for yourself if you have multiple interns or just one at a time. I think it’s best to have one intern at a time. Allow yourself some time to gather some information about what kind of person he is. See before you go OUT on a date with someone you gotta interview them. You don’t conduct your interview while you are on the date, you do this before hand, so you have a better understanding of who you are out with. The intern benefits from this experience because during the 90 day process he is figuring out if he is a good asset to the company. After the internship is over conduct your exit review or continue to a full hiring. The choice is yours.

Just always keep in mind ladies... you may not be his only interview that week and he may not be your only interviewee of the week.