Category Archives: interview

Lorikay Stone: In Focus and Exposed

Lorikay Stone is professional photographer and events coordinator. I met her through a mutual friend who wanted us to link together and discuss the upcoming Art Walk.  Lori’s vivacious and enthusiastic personality was very appealing to me and I knew she would be an interesting subject for an interview. Little did I know how talkative she is – her pictures truly are worth a thousand words.

How long have you been taking photos?

I’ve always taken pictures. I am fifth generation Kodak, my family started when Kodak started. My family wasn’t full of professional photographers, but my grandfather was an amazing photographer and he tested film. He had a beautiful eye for capturing moments.

When I attended high school I took some photography courses, I found as an artist I was messy, but I had a really good eye. Someone eventually asked if I would take some pictures of them and they would pay me, I was 18 or 19. I remember I then moved to Ft. Lauderdale because both of my grandparents fell ill and I enrolled in more photography courses. My grandpa gave me lots of feedback, technical feedback. I did lots of photography projects for him when I was younger.

What drew you to photography?

Mainly my family history and I had a good eye for it. What drew me to people photography is that I’m very social, I like people and I felt it was a way to give back. I recall a friend of mine wanted to collect a scrapbook of different locations nationwide and I figured it would be a good way to travel. Ironically, I actually met my ex-husband of fifteen years on that trip.

Have you always resided in Atlanta or are you from a different area?

I was born in upstate New York after my parents divorced and moved to Florida or what I like to call “South New York” (laughs). When I was 25, I took a trip nationwide and that was my attempt at discovering myself. I moved to Colorado Springs in 92 and worked for a professional photo lab. There I met some of the greatest photographers in the world and these were landscape photographers. I took what I learned from them and applied it to portraits.

When did you start shooting around the Atlanta area?

I moved here in 1999 and didn’t pick up my camera for a year. I wanted to change jobs and do something new; I actually became a travel agent. I vowed to not pick up a camera for a year and believe it or not a year to that day, a friend of mine asked for me to take a portrait.

I remember after 9/11, many photo agencies closed because the Internet started to change everything. These were older photo agencies and they couldn’t keep up with online transactions and processing. The Internet put a lot of these kinds of agencies out of business and I was able to pick up many of their clients. But I realized then that it’s very important to understand and be proficient in different levels of photography, in addition, almost everybody should have the opportunity to capture their family on film. You should pick your photographer like you pick your therapist, you need to be comfortable with that individual and the photographer needs to have the ability to bring that extra spark out of an individual or group of people.

You coordinate a major event called the Art Walk, give me some details about that.

It’s been going on for a couple years. The next one is May 14 at Studioplex and it will have everything to titillate your senses. We have chefs, poets, performance artists, skywalkers, yes even Luke (laughs).

There is a huge range of artists. Angie Wehunt will be there and she’s a folk artist, also Drea James a jewelry artist and Catherine Plate. Nabil Mousa will have some work there and he is from Syria, he concentrates on abstract paintings that support various gay rights movements worldwide.

Do you set up any other events around town?

Whenever I’m called to do it. I’m involved with Women in Focus and we do 3-4 gallery shows, I also have a Paris photography exhibit at the Stewart McLean gallery.

Let’s talk about influences. Who are some of your artistic influences?

I get the spiritual power of my art from a connection with God. I’m very spiritually and philosophy based, so I’m careful about how I throw around the word God. But to me God is a catch all term for something undefinable. I view God as the binding power of all things.

In terms of other influences, Nabil Mousa is one of my mentors and he taught me to be more free flowing and encouraged me to do more artwork in addition to my photography. He made me paint on top of my photographs and he’s always told me to be free and let things flow. That’s a very different form from how I shoot. In my photo studio, it’s about control, whether it be controlling lights, shade, the subject, but sitting with a paintbrush is really scary and hard to do.

Ansel Adams said, “Not everybody trusts paintings, but people believe photographs.”

I’ve often felt that most people categorize photography as more of documentation process and not an art. Would you define photography as a creative art or is it the opposite?

It is an art form. Art is making sense of things, reflecting beauty. I am in awe of photographers who walk down an ordinary street on an ordinary day and they see a shadow or reflection and capture that moment. An artist is someone who can capture from within. Those working with digital photography and film definitely need to have that skill. Bear in mind, Ansel Adams said that before digital photography (laughs). Coincidentally, I went to his exhibit in Cartersville and he had some very beautiful and artistic portraits of people.

Do you feel it’s necessary for people to obtain formal photography training or is it something one can learn on their own?

I struggle with that…but I’ve been shooting for 23 years. I’ve always had mentors and took the craft very seriously. Nowadays with digital photography it’s done two things. One, it has diluted the field, two, it has forced the people who are serious about their craft to take things to the next level.

I feel it’s important for people to consult an expert about photography because if you don’t know what to look for, it’s advantageous to find someone who does. I look at some photographers work and they have shoddy websites and layouts and it comes from a lack of training. People need to make sure the head shots and other things on their website look professional and well thought out. This is your first chance, your first impression, remember that.

 

To view Lorikay’s gallery and receive more details about the Art Walk, you can contact Lori via her site here

Shathouse Rats Interview

This is a reprint from Beatlanta, thanks Adam and Chris!

Shathouse Rats were just some down to earth guys, drinkers. They came across as modest toward their music and talent, but eager to let folks know what they’re up to right now. I say these guys have something going for themselves. It might not be for some, but for me it was hard to place them in the same arena as any bands I know in Atlanta right now. That makes them all the more appealing. They mix several genres from punk to blues to rock and attitude. They have an old school jail rock feel to them.

In the interview we talk about the Picaflor show on March 18th, the band’s upcoming release and tour plans as well as their music, style and aspirations.

Shathouse Rats will be performing at Picaflor this Friday with Qurious and Imagination Head. For more details about the band, click here

Davy Minor: Blogger Phenomenon From Beyond

Davy Minor is one of the most interesting figures within the Atlanta music scene. He started a blog called Ohmpark years ago and had a relatively small following. Now Ohmpark is one of the biggest, if not the biggest music and entertainment source for Atlanta music news.

I had the opportunity to speak with Davy about his new science fiction book Price of Time and pick his brain on the subject of music journalism and where it’s headed.

You’re working on a new sci-fi novel. What’s it about?

Well, first of all it’s called The Price of Time, and it is the beginning of a series. Part of the fun at the beginning of the novel is trying to figure out what it’s about, so I don’t want to give anything away. But I will say it features many of the tropes typical of science fiction, like spaceship battles, aliens, and futuristic technology. But all of that stuff is only the setting. It’s really just about people trying to figure out what life is all about while facing extraordinary circumstances.

How long have you been a fan of science fiction?

I guess as long as I can remember. The future is a great setting for a story because you can do a lot more with it. Also, sci-fi presents an opportunity to discuss phenomenon of the present day in a more abstract setting. One of the main threads in my novel is a discussion about ideology, and I feel like I can make a more compelling argument using fictional ideologies rather than existing ideologies that the reader will already have a bias towards.

What inspired you to write Price of Time?

It’s something I have been working on since I was about 13 years old. I spent years developing the story, cutting ideas and coming up with new ones, building the world around the story. Then once I felt confident enough in my writing to take it on, I finally started drafting it about a year and half ago.

Let’s talk music. You’re the creative force behind a well known music blog called Ohmpark. Ohmpark just celebrated its 4th birthday. How have you been able to sustain an interest in maintaining the blog for so long?

It’s difficult. I perpetually feel like I’m going to quit the blog the next week, and I did sort of quit for a few months last year. It’s really easy to get burnt out. But so far, every time I think I’m going to quit, I discover something new that I want to share with people. I have definitely had different motivations for why I was doing it along the way, but at this point I really just want to provide a platform and an audience for artists I enjoy and respect.

What made you want to start Ohmpark?

An unhealthy obsession with music basically (laughs). For a while, I wanted to be a musician, but once I realized that I didn’t have the talent to do it well, I decided to write about music instead. Also, when I first launched the blog, I was throwing these house parties where we would have hundreds of people coming to see these great bands, but none of the media outlets around town seemed to even know these bands existed.

Atlanta’s music scene was extremely cliquey when I started, and it seemed like the only way a band could get local media attention was by being friends with the right people. I wanted to create an outlet where music was only judged on the merit of the art rather than all the bullshit that surrounds it.

Would you classify yourself as a music journalist?

Well, I’m very skeptical of the term journalist. By definition, a journalist is supposed to cover news. But in music, deciding what qualifies as news seems to be completely arbitrary. I mean, a billion bands put out press releases every year. How does one decide what is objectively news and what isn’t except by how popular the band is? The only empirically verifiable data that exists in music is sales numbers, so I mean, Billboard is probably the purest form of music journalism (laughs).

So by that logic, I don’t really consider myself a journalist. I really just consider myself a music fan that wants to share the music I love. Basically, what I try to do is give suggestions to people who are into the same sort of music as me but maybe don’t have the time to sort through everything themselves.

How is blogging different from music journalism, doesn’t it all boil down music criticism and opinion?

At this point, I don’t think there really is a substantial difference between bloggers and journalists. The lines are pretty blurry between the two. Even in terms of being a professional, I’m sure blogs like Hipster Runoff and Gorilla Vs Bear make more money than your average, struggling music journo. Whether someone calls themselves a journalist, a blogger, a music fan, or whatever, they are still just stating their subjective musical preferences, unless of course they are referencing empirical evidence to make an argument. But basically, it is just people stating their opinions, nothing more.

Do music and entertainment journalists have an obligation or duty to cover specific content?

This is another idea I don’t really buy into. It’s just something to make journalists feel more self-important about what they do. For professional journalists, they have monetary obligations to their business, so they have an obligation to create content that draws readership and advertisement income. For me, I don’t feel any obligation to cover anything. I just write about what I like, and if people like it, great. If not, there are plenty of other outlets now to check out .

For news and updates, be sure to check out Ohmpark

Photo of Davy shot by Clinton Miller

Feast of Violet Interview

Allen Taylor is a busy guy. He’s a member of the Atlanta based electronica group Roman Photos and just released a new solo record called Botany Charm under the moniker Feast of Violet. I felt Botany Charm was a superb record and it was featured as one of the “Best Albums of 2010 ” by  Shot From Guns. I really wanted to pick Allen’s brain after hearing that album. I finally had a chance to sit down with him and discuss Feast of Violet and get his thoughts on niche genres and the music industry.

How long have you been actively involved in the Atlanta music scene?

 I moved to Atlanta in 2006 for school and during that time, I met Philip and Caitlin from Carnivores, and David from my band. We were all just record geeks at that point who liked to hang out and go to shows and party. I didn’t really make any music then, just drawings and little sound experiments, nothing serious or cohesive, just trying to have fun.

Then Double Phantom was started by David and Philip to put out early Carnivores records and I was the only one in our little circle who knew how to use Photoshop. I made record covers, put stuff into templates, and stuff like that. Double Phantom was how I got involved in the music scene, met everyone and learned the ropes. I joined Roman Photos almost by chance in the summer of 2009. That was my first time ever being in a band and my first time ever playing synthesizer, so I’m still pretty new to the “playing in a band in Atlanta” music thing (laughs).

 Have you always performed electronic music or do you delve into different genres?

 I have been obsessed with electronic music for as long as I can remember, starting with video game soundtracks as a kid (laughs). I’m kind of hard-wired towards electronic music. Actually most of my music before I joined Roman Photos was all acoustic, room-recorded noise stuff, and the process was digital and electronic. It wasn’t until last year that I started using synthesizers. I never realized how much a little machine would be such a big part of my life.

 Were there any major concepts or themes that you mapped out before recording Feast of Violet?

 Nothing consciously…I wanted to make a connection between my drawings and the stuff I was making for Roman Photos, so I kind of set out to make my recordings fit as a middle ground. Most of the conscious planning was an emphasis on texture, rhythm, flow, movement, and atmosphere. The songs were there before I thought about putting out a release.

 Feast of Violet sounds very different from Roman Photos. Did you seek a dramatic and new path before starting this project?

 Well mainly I consider myself a visual artist as my primary craft, and then music as my secondary craft. My favorite artists are ones that tend to blur the lines between mediums to create this kind of interdisciplinary blob of “art perspective,” rather than just a song or drawing. I just wanted a way to take ideas about drawing and put them into sound, like a certain pattern or color or shape could be translated into different rhythms, synth tones, or effects.

In Roman Photos, the live aspect definitely plays a role in the song writing, so with Feast of Violet, I just explored those concepts that didn’t work with Roman Photos (laughs).

 Let’s talk about electronic music and niche genres for a minute – do you label yourself as a niche artist?

 I wouldn’t necessarily label myself as a niche artist, no one likes those kinds of limitations, but I have to admit the sound is very specific, with a specific few artists to compare it to. I guess it just ends up being a niche thing.

 Do you feel being labeled as a “niche artist” benefits and/or detracts from your general appeal?

 I think it depends upon the intent of the music. I think bands, whether they like to admit it or not, consider their audience in their song writing. Personally with the Feast of Violet ep, I didn’t expect anyone to really connect or listen to the songs, so I just considered my friends and other artists I knew as the audience, so I guess for those recordings; it’s totally a limited “niche” perspective.

 With Roman Photos, however, we totally think about gaining access to this intangible middle ground to which everyone can relate. We want to tap into that while maintaining full artistic integrity and it is extremely difficult and confusing at times.  I know plenty of artists who don’t care about their labeling and placement and make the most amazing music that will probably be unappreciated for years. I also know many artists who give that up to force themselves to be popular and miss something important in the process.

It’s hard to say, really. Being a niche artist is both good and bad, depending on what you want from your art.

 In the past couple years, so much mainstream music has derived its influences from “niche” genres. Considering how popular electronic groups like Animal Collective and Hot Chip have become, would you even consider electronic music as a part of a separate sub-genre of music?

 Of course electronic music is its own distinct genre of music and that genre goes into the deepest, most esoteric realms imaginable. I believe sounds are tools to achieve a certain end and it doesn’t really matter what genres artists utilize to find their sounds. It totally depends about song writing.

 Like “My Girls,” by Animal Collective for example. That song would still be brilliant and totally accessible, no matter what types of sounds were used. Just their decision to use electronics made the song that much better and unique. The barriers between genres are totally breaking down. Genres don’t matter, songwriting matters.

 Mainstream artists like Lady Gaga, MIA and Kanye West are placing so much emphasis on artistry, image and craft – the entire mainstream music culture appears to be shifting. Do you feel that we need to redefine what we label as “the mainstream?”

 Well the definition of the mainstream changes constantly, just like underground culture. It totally has to do with the complete switch over to Internet and blog culture. So the marketing of huge artists has to keep up, there always has to be something to talk about and share with these artists. There is so, so, so much music these days, pop stars have to be over the top and kind of like Madonna to be able to be talked about. There has to be a story to follow in this age.

 What can people expect from Feast of Violet and Roman Photos in 2011?

 Roman Photos just put out two seven inches, one on Army of Bad Luck, and the other on Double Phantom. We’re working on our first album right now, so that should be done in the late spring. I’m really excited about the record, we’re really pushing ourselves. Other than that, I’m working on another Feast of Violet EP over the winter, so that should be out in a few months  on Double Phantom Digital. The songs right now are very tight and synth driven, very clean. After the next EP, I’ll be focusing my energy on Roman Photos, and preparing for some art shows in the summer. 2011 is going to be a fun and busy year.

To hear Feast of Violet, click here

For Roman Photos, click here

Dosa Kim: A Visual Storyteller

 

Dosa, can you briefly describe your background in art?

 I started as a freelance graphic designer. I did jobs for Nike, Coke, Cartoon Network ; I was the second runner-up in a citywide graphic design competition held in New York. From there I got into art and sold ideas rather than art. I felt selling ideas was more effective and honestly it was more of an introspective thing.

 My first piece was a black rabbit humping a white rabbit. It was a cutesy perspective, but meant to be about inter-racial relationships. As an Asian growing up and having lived in the south; I got both sides and perspectives. I intermingle with white and black social groups so I see it all in addition to my own cultural perspective.

 Were you formally trained or self-taught?

 As a painter, I was self-taught. As a graphic designer, I studied digital media at UGA and also studied at the Art Institute of Atlanta for a year before I dropped out.

 Where did you attend high school? Did they have a good arts program?

 I went to Roswell High School. Did they have a good arts program there – no, not at all. It was very lackluster. Most public schools have a terrible art system.

 My teacher knew I was generally talented, but never pushed me too far. In general, the youth have lots of content, but it’s not always visually appealing, their skills have to be honed. Now it almost seems as if comics or video games are the teachers of art culture to many young kids.

 Were the music and arts programs well received at your school? How were they perceived amongst other academic and extracurricular programs?

 To be blunt, it wasn’t a cool thing necessarily.There was no art club or artistic extracurricular activities. I can’t speak for what it’s like in high schools now, I’m 34. But it’s sad that arts programs were not and are not being pushed harder. It’s sad because we’re so connected to the web now and things are becoming very visual. Kids are coming into art schools now and they have no formal training or background.

As a culture, we respond to visual things. For instance, look at the Ed Hardy stuff and the whole skulls and feathers trend on tee shirts and other articles of clothing. That skulls and feather thing is being crafted by very talented artists. These are talented people whose doodles have evolved into master doodles and that’s it. That is the epitome of American art right now.

 For the most part, if you don’t give a kid a running start and show them there’s a future in art, something else besides skulls and feathers, that’s what they’ll do. It’s kind of bleak actually.

 Did you excel in your courses?

 I was pretty good at my graphic design courses. Yeah, I was pretty studious and stayed on top of my game when I was in art school.

 How important is it for artists to receive formal training?

 I can’t speak for everyone. Some people are super talented and will make it regardless of their schooling. But I really think you should know and understand technique and the artistic process from a more formal standpoint.

 Technique is just giving you a better weapon, a bigger and better gun. We’ve got lots of content in America, but no technique. It has to be married to the technique in order to make an intense statement. Like there’s a disparity between American art schools and art schools abroad.

For instance, you can look at what’s going on in China right now and what’s happening in their art schools. Their content matches technique and when this happens you get masterpieces. These Chinese artists are blending the formal techniques they’ve acquired in school with their own unique content to create very visual narratives. America has the content, but no formal technique.

 Look at graffiti for example. Kids do graffiti because there’s no other outlet. If I was a kid and knew there was no lucrative future in art, I’d tag everything. Graffiti comes from zero arts education in school, but it’s turned into its own culture and identity. However, we have to realize that arose out of a lack of training and a desire to visually express one’s self.

 What do you feel arts education can bring to students/aspiring artists?

 I personally think that colors and doing things through a visual medium is actually one of the most concrete things. We already use visuals to teach abstract concepts. Like when we teach simple math, 2+2=4, the teacher may use apples or some other fruit to illustrate the concept to the class. We need kids fleshing out their creative ideas and learning to trust their gut instincts.

 You see kids expressing themselves through art because it’s the only way to show what’s inside of them. There’s always the classic example of a child coming from a broken home or they’ve been molested and they portray through their art. You can see it in their pictures.

 Art is not like music, I feel visual art is even more open to interpretation and subjectivity. It’s a part of being human, our culture, what defines us. Ultimately, everything we do is to tell a story. Visuals are a narrative of our culture and society. It’s much more than a picture.

 Do you feel our local and state governments have taken an effective stance on increasing money for arts education?

 I have no idea. There was a time when Tri-Cities had a magnet school in Atlanta. Outkast actually went there and that’s how they linked up. You can tell from how artistic and confident Big Boi and especially Andre 3000 are. I do think that an environment like that contributes heavily to a person’s creativity and confidence.

 Cultures are remembered for the art they produce. We have very little to nothing of that right now. If we’re defined by consumerism, we’re being predictable robots and that’s not good. I still feel there is lots of talent and potential though. Let the creative and artistic kids grow. You have some of these kids failing math and science, but they’re painting Mona Lisas on their desks. That shouldn’t be rewarded?

Cedric Muhammad – The Rich, Righteous Teacher

 

The music business is tough.  To quote the late, great Hunter S. Thompson, it is, “…a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.”

There are few personalities that can handle the rigorous ins and outs of the industry, moreover, find success within the music business. However, Cedric Muhammad, is one of those rare individuals who has endured many trials and hardships within the music industry and he has gained an even sharper business acumen and intellect as a result of his keen observation and hard work.

Cedric was a former manager for the notorious and esteemed Wu-Tang Clan. Since his tenure, he has gone on to start several successful businesses and developed and managed many lucrative partnerships.

I’ve been a fan of your blog and Allhiphop.com editorials for months now. But for the readers who are unaware of you, can you please state what your background in the music business is?

Cedric Muhammad:  Thank you so much.  Well, I went from being a fan to a consumer and from a consumer to a promoter and from a promoter to a manager.  It’s a natural path and I say it like that because I think it is the way any young person can learn business – by looking behind the curtain a bit of your favorite hobby.  But I would say concert and party promotion was where I really became rooted in the business side of things.  I also credit internships at Uptown Records and especially Flavor Unit for giving me a clear business perspective when I was very young.

What initially sparked your interest in the music business?

C.M:  As I mention in my bio video, my big brother got me involved in a concert at his college featuring the legendary Stetsasonic, Raze, and Phase II (house music groups). I worked the spotlight and got to meet the managers and see the business side of entertainment.  I was seventeen – from that moment on I realized my place was behind the scenes.  I was fortunate enough to give up on a career in rapping earlier than most of my friends.

How did you become involved with the Wu-Tang Clan?

C.M:  I actually booked them while I was in college three years before I became part of Wu-Tang management.  That’s how I met Mook, who was president of the management company.  Years later we had a good laugh when he actually found my old college dorm phone number in his rolodex (laughs).  But it was Divine – RZA’s brother who brought me into the management company because he respected the consulting work I was doing and just liked how I rolled professionally and spiritually.

He asked me to give my opinion of the structure and culture of the way things were running and on that trial basis we took it from there.  RZA and Divine then paired me with Mook with me becoming the general manager.  To this day I am very grateful to all of the clan members and individuals and guiding influences  like Poppa Wu who I learned much from as well as other executives like Power.  It was a special time and great group of people to be around.

As I stated earlier, I’ve been a fan of your blog for months now and you have addressed  some very interesting issues in regards to hip hop. I want to highlight some of the topics that you’ve spoken about in the past couple months.

C.M:   Thanks, I’m honored to have your respect.  Sure, let’s go.

I have noticed a trend in your writing in which you speak about the decline of the conscious emcee, how the music business is dying and you are in search of a new sound. It appears as if you view hip hop as an ailing genre.

Who is to blame for this? Do you feel the current generation of hip hop and rap fans has different priorities and expectations from the previous generations?

C.M: You are clearly a careful reader! I wish more people would pay attention to these dynamics…great questions.

Generally speaking I think hip-hop and rap music is experiencing what I call ‘demographic death.’  For every older fan in the generation (in their 30s, 40s, and 50s) we are not producing a new one in their teens to replace them.  In my article, ‘The New Synth Pop: Ke$ha, Young Money, and Justin Bieber’ (http://allhiphop.com/stories/editorial/archive/2010/04/14/22169549.aspx) and my article ‘The 17 Year Old: The God Of Rap’ (http://allhiphop.com/stories/editorial/archive/2010/03/24/22153820.aspx) I explain the good and bad of this.

I think there is always something authentic about the tastes and preferences of the new generation and we always have to remember how culture, current events, and technology shape them.  Obviously if we had the Internet, social media, mp3s, mobile phones, digital Cable, and a black president in 1986 our tastes would have been different.  I do not believe that Public Enemy and N.W.A. would have necessarily been as big to us under those circumstances.

However, there is something unhealthy about corporations and artists refusing to target anyone other than a mythical 17-year old male. This is a demographic construct that advertisers and high-level marketers persuade rap radio stations, magazines, and video channels to target.  This breeds immaturity into the culture and art, and it disconnects the oldest and youngest members of the generation.

While I do think every artist has a leadership profile, I don’t necessarily think it is their creative responsibility to satisfy both a younger and older audience.  Their ‘story,’ talent, and consciousness or their brand, reputation, or image may not suit them for that.

At one particular era in time, more “conscious” emcees like Nas or Common could get signed to a major label on the strength of a good demo tape and a few hot guest appearances.

Now we see less conscious emcees and more rappers are willing to compromise their image and brand for fear of being labeled too left-field and abstract for the mainstream media.

How do you feel this affects the quality and the overall balance of the music that listeners are exposed to?

C.M:  People forget artists like Nas, Common, Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy and Wu-Tang were being signed by young independent-minded entrepreneurs working with or for bigger companies, but usually they were not well-heeled multi-national corporations themselves.  The industry had not matured during that time period and hip-hop was still seen as something to be dealt with at arm’s length. So young, hip, and often very Jewish entrepreneurs filled that void until the parent corporations took notice and wanted to get their hands directly on the process from the ground up.

That business space between artists and major corporation, that ear to the street, and lack of politics resulted in a wider variety of artists being given deals.  And we can’t forget things like the fact that much of the slang and knowledge being dropped was in code. Many program directors, A&Rs, CEOs and corporate boards could not decipher it early on (laughs).

But I think ‘conscious MCs’ can be their own worst enemy by not being ‘conscious’ in how they do business, market themselves, and build their team infrastructure.  We give well-read intellectuals who can rhyme too much credit simply because they can weave political slogans and quote great leaders over a beat.

Are conscious rappers extinct and if so, why do you believe their appeal may be limited?

I’ve sat and watched numerous conscious artists criticize mainstream and corporate-approved rappers in public and then in private try to hire their lawyers, publicists, accountants, and be signed to the same labels.  That’s what usually causes them to be frustrated and limited in their appeal.  There are all kind of independent oriented moves and out-of-the-box marketing tactics that they can utilize that better suit their brand-image-reputation and would keep it in better alignment.

With the fall of the major record label, these kind of artists look pitiful to me. They’re still trying to ‘get signed,’ ‘get their record or video played,’ and by a system they are supposedly banging against.

There is a way for a conscious artist to be mainstreamed and to become so big that the radio stations, video outlets, and record labels are forced to form a relationship with them. That could revolve around serious business – Public Enemy’s early success in New York is one of the greatest examples of this.

However, because these artists have no economic vision, blueprint or progressive business team they can’t resist an endorsement deal, movie role, or membership in a certain social circle. That eventually waters down their revolutionary appeal to the masses of the people.

They accept crumbs because they want to be artists more than leaders or businesspersons.  And they are more reactive than proactive so they sell what they create rather than build institutions around or upon what they create.

Cedric, you’ve written extensively about Jay-Z, even going so far as to call him “the rich, righteous teacher.”

What is it about Jay that appeals to you so much?

C.M: I actually think Nas is my favorite rapper – but it fluctuates, I’m feeling that new Bun B album right now (laughs)!  But seriously, see, you pay attention to what I wrote.

I called Jay-Z a ‘rich, righteous teacher,’ and people went into a frenzy without looking at the paradox or irony of the title.  Can there really be such a thing when you look at it from the 55, 10% or 85% concept authored by Master Fard Muhammad?

I think Wise Intelligent framed the question best on a track released in 1993. He asked on the track ‘Black Business’ by Poor Righteous Teachers, ‘Where do Blacks with crazy cash and knowledge of themselves live at? Teacher haven’t seen them/ Many sold their souls for cash.

In calling him a ‘Rich Righteous Teacher,’ I was saying something about the line he walks that is both to his credit and I believe potentially to his detriment.  Jay-Z teaches by his example in many ways – lyrically and in how he conducts his business affairs. Look at his team, creatively and business-wise, and the respective roles they play.  No conscious artist has anything like the kind of discipline he executes in keeping his brand-image-reputation in alignment.

He’s selective in interviews.  You don’t see him acting in movies. He’s not a whore to endorsements.  He communicates what he wants by his mere presence or absence at public events and from his desire or refusal to comment on certain subjects.  That is not an accident or purely the result of a conspiracy he is part of.  He is practicing some very heavy business principles.

And this is hard for his ‘conscious’ critics to accept about him because quite honestly many of them are ‘bad Marxists’ (as you know I actually admire Karl Marx) who confuse business acumen and economic cooperation with ‘capitalism,’ which they hate.

He has a form of etiquette that we all can learn from.  And by the same token, I believe there are forces around him that may be keeping him from associating with certain people, taking certain stances and making certain moves.  And I believe he has friendships and a sense of debt that he feels he owes to very powerful people outside of the black community that he does not want to threaten or disturb.

If the masses and his critics were more organized they could force Jay-Z to say or do whatever they wanted.  But they make themselves powerless by whining about his success, rather than studying it, speaking his language of power and mobilizing effectively to correct or challenge him to do more or better.

He’s sensitive to his credibility, popularity and business interests.  That’s why you heard him respond on the Rick Ross track, “Free Mason” the way he did to the rumors that he is part of a secret society.  Look how calculating he is…he definitively answers a controversy not by waiting for his own album to come out, or in a press release, but on the album of the hottest rapper out.  But he sounds defensive to me.  The man does not ever deliver a bad verse but this was not one of his best to me.  Why?  I think he was hurt by the rumors and it touched on an area where he is vulnerable – a growing sense that he has no connection to his people.

But if Jay-Z truly is the rich, righteous teacher, how is it possible for him to teach other artists and the community from an observer’s perspective?

Jay-Z is still actively involved with his music career and at this point no one can predict when he will step out the limelight.

I wish people would think in terms of the alignment of an artist’s brand-image-reputation and the strategies and tactics involved in maintaining that and less in terms of ideology.  From that perspective you can see any public figure’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to ‘move’ them.

For instance, I think the secret society rumors – though unhealthy in some ways, even dangerous – may have been bad for his career, but good for him as a person and us as a culture because it caused him to speak to us as a real person again. He didn’t spit through the lens of an image and by doing this, he recognized that no individual can rise above the condition of his own people.

So, I love him and admire him…and I defend him more times than not. I think he offers a lot of teachable moments and I appreciate the fine line he walks, I understand that his rise to success and concern for his people create tense moments and that there may not be much of a playbook available to him on how to handle it.

What I find so funny about the conscious community’s  ‘hate’ for Jay-Z is that it’s partly based upon the fact that they don’t have his dilemma – because they generally never reach that level of popularity, visibility or scrutiny.

But all of the great socialist-influenced leaders that the conscious community revere have the dilemma – people like Comandante Fidel Castro of Cuba , President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Muammar Gadhafi of Libya or Nelson Mandela for instance all have had to balance these dynamics – rising in influence on the back of the people’s support and finding yourself eventually in the room with people not from your community and having to do business, negotiate and make compromises.

Now watch some casual reader of this interview who hates Jay-Z question why I’m comparing him to these revolutionary leaders (laughs).

Ideologues have the luxury of being pure and perfect in their own minds, but not in reality. They criticize others as if they are saints because they never have to be judged on how well they apply their beliefs in the biggest public arenas.

Overall, I feel Jay-Z has ‘taught’ and inspired a lot of people with his entrepreneurial drive and success and he deserves credit for that.  I even know someone who has even written a book about his lyrics – (http://bookofhov.com/).

Is the rap industry in a position to move past its icons of yesteryear and recognize new talent?

C.M: Maybe not the industry, but the youth certainly are!  I love change and those who understand demographics, technology, and what circumstances cause people to think harder and more creatively are the ones who will always be relevant, useful, and add value.

Coming into the new decade, who do you feel is the future of hip hop?

C.M: In terms of location – Africa!  In terms of artistic creativity…studio engineers with an ear to fuse existing synthetic and organic sounds and rappers with personalities that transcend creed, class, region and color (I call them diasporic personalities). These are people who care more about reading The Financial Times then Billboard magazine.  In terms of business models – those who understand that technology has reduced music to the level of a commodity and that has to be bundled in order to add value to other goods and services.

Since exiting the music business, do you feel you had a bitter experience or are you now better equipped to handle new challenges in different economic arenas?

C.M: There are a couple of experiences that still hurt from that time period of my life, like relationships and poor decisions, but I’m not bitter. I’m grateful because the lessons I learned, skills I acquired and adversity I faced have made me a better creative and critical thinker, and developed qualities and attributes that have  helped me enormously in other areas – as a journalist, strategist and in generally in life.

And hell, one thing about this business – the war stories it gives you make you quite an interesting person to others (laughs)!

Name your top five emcees, dead or alive.

C.M:  I’m not going to give you the ‘best MC’ list  because that would take too long to give you my criteria, but by “top” I’ll define it in terms of a certain matchless quality some artists have in my humble opinion:

KRS-One:  Greatest rapper ever in terms of lyrical content, live shows and activist influence.

Raekwon: Most unique flow – never been duplicated (honorable mention: Kool Keith of the Ultramagnetic MCs)

Jay-Z:  Greatest ‘flow’ ever, most imitated and ‘hated’ rapper ever

Scarface:  Greatest story-teller and introspective rapper of all time

Tupac:  The most marketable rapper ever – the epitome of having every major market segment in love with you simultaneously – women, streets, conscious, mainstream (honorable mention: Big Daddy Kane)

For more about Cedric Muhammad, check out his site here

Cedric is also a contributing writer on AllHipHop.com and the creator of the Black Electorate.

His latest book series is titled “The Entrepreneurial Secret” and can be purchased here. Copies are also available via Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Intronaut – Descending into a Valley of Smoke

Intronaut is a progressive metal band from LA. They combine heavy sludge metal and cacophonic vocals with smooth jazz breaks and odd time signatures to create a unique and tasteful sound of their own.

When I first heard them I could hear bits and pieces of bands like Isis, Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon and Weather Report all wrapped in one, it was an interesting listen to say the least. All of the musicians have killer chops and I feel they show a lot of promise and potential if they are given the right resources.

I had the opportunity to speak with their lead singer/guitarist Sacha Dunable about their new album Valley of Smoke and other things going on in their realm.

It’s 2010 now and we’re in a whole new decade. However, for the past four or five years, it feels as if metal has already been moving into a new era with different personalities and bands at the core of this movement.

If there truly is a progressive/post metal movement, which groups do you feel are driving it?

This is an interesting question.  I think you’re right in saying that progressive styles of metal are more popular these days than they were five or more years ago.  What is interesting is how people have different definitions for the term “progressive.”  To me, it’s more of a songwriting thing, like as in writing music that is emotionally gratifying, but doing it in a way that is somewhat different than what has been done before.

I know some people who will classify anything with great technical skill as “progressive.”  I mean, no one is wrong, everyone’s opinion is valid.  That being said, I’d be interested in knowing which bands you feel are driving it, because honestly I’m not as in touch as I once was.

For me, it was really one time period and a group of bands  that I saw as a “progressive movement. ” This was like ten years ago and it that inspired me to make the kind of music that eventually became Intronaut.  Coalesce, Dystopia, Cave In, Converge, Isis, Dillinger, Cavity, Botch, that kind of stuff.  The late nineties into early 2000’s were awesome for that kind of material.  I really viewed that music as groundbreaking.  There were all these bands rooted in the punk/hardcore scene that were purposefully being different and showing the people in those scenes something new.

Now, those bands, or at least the ones who are still together, get to reap the benefits by being the forefathers  of these new bands who are emulating them – not necessarily being “progressive.”   The thing is all these new bands are music fans and drawing more attention to the older bands. I think that’s a key element to the cyclical process of music becoming popular and evident as a “movement.”

Do you feel metal is easily defined by one style or can it be several sub-genres?

Well, if you ask me, if a band has a palm mute anywhere on their record, I’ll most likely file it under metal (laughs).  After that,  however you divide it up is fair game.

Are there advantages to splitting up metal into sub-genres or do you think it’s just confusing to your average Joe Schmoe music fan? Does Joe Schmoe’s opinion even matter?

The advantage I suppose is for active listeners to be able to categorize what they hear in conversation or wherever.  I don’t like being labeled, but I understand where Schmoe is coming from.  It’s hard to say it wouldn’t be necessary to call Cannibal Corpse a death metal band and not a rock band for the sole purpose of describing to a potential listener what to listen for and hear.

One thing that really drew me into Intronaut’s sound was the clever use of jazz chords and progressions in many of your breakdowns. It adds a more complex and three-dimensional aspect to your music that I feel other metal bands don’t have.

What are all of your backgrounds as musicians?

Joe (Lester) and I played in a shitty death metal band in high school that would play with Danny (Walker)’s bands.  Joe went off to college and got a BA in Music, so he has a really strong knowledge of theory. He can apply it to jazz, funk, rock, Indian, African, whatever music.

Dave (Timnick) played baseball in college, finished the fire academy in San Diego, then one day decided that all he’s ever cared about is music.  He bought a drum kit and locked himself in a room for a couple years learning probably close to as much as Joe did in college, but more percussion-based stuff.  He always played music, but didn’t get serious until his early twenties.  He is seriously one of the most naturally talented and knowledgeable people I know when it comes to rhythm.

But overall, Danny and I started out playing in punk bands when we were kids and basically developed our chops from there.  Both of us have had some kind of lessons or courses in music theory somewhere along the way, but nothing crazy.  Most of what I know now has come from playing with Joe and Dave for the past six years.

So let’s talk about your last album Prehistoricisms for a bit. That album was pretty heavy- most of the songs are very epic and the titles refer to ancient mankind and our primordial environment.

How long did it take to write and record that album? Explain some of the process.

Let’s see what I can remember…I recall writing right after we came back from Europe in late 2007, then we did a tour with High On Fire in January/February of 2008 after writing only one song.  I think we wrote the rest between March and May, which is when we started recording.  We had everything done and mixed by June something so we could go on tour with The Ocean.

Of course, most of the stuff was semi-written by me at home before all this, but the dirty work of really thinking it all out and molding it into something was done in that short period of time.  At the time I think I was mostly satisfied with it, and at this point that record is what it is…but I knew we could do better on the next one by spending more time writing and putting less pressure on ourselves as far as deadlines go.

Your new album is called Valley Of Smoke. Was the writing and recording process similar to Prehistoricisms?

Yeah, after we got back from the Mastodon tour, I personally wanted to get started on a new record and just take our time with it, no rush.  Everyone else agreed, and we decided not to keep touring and start on what is intended to be the best music we can make. You just can’t do that when you’re continuously rehearsing old songs for a tour or whatever.  We had one distraction and that was going to play in India, but aside from that, we have been writing this album for almost a year straight.  That’s basically ten months more than we spent on the last record (laughs)!  And it seriously has paid off.  We’re just on another level now – I can’t wait to finish recording.

Let’s talk about your trip to India. You went there last year for the Great India Rock festival. India is the last place I would think of having prog-metal fest! What was that experience like?

Incredible! I mean it was a blur for the most part.  The flight there was like twenty hours and it’s literally on the other side of the planet, so you can imagine the gnarly jetlag.  But the people we met were great and the shows were unbelievably huge.  Like, almost too big for us (laughs).  It was amazing to stop and think about how we started this band from nothing and there we were playing for thousands of people in fucking India, pretty wild.

The food was AMAZING.  And the bands weren’t all prog metal, it was more a variety of all kinds of rock groups.  I realized that people here view India as a place that’s backwards and third-world, but honestly they know about all the same stuff as us. The bands are just as easy to bro down with as any American band we’ve toured with.  There weren’t too many cultural barriers on the music side of things.

What can Intronaut fans expect to see from the band this year?

Some exciting stuff surrounding our new release Valley of Smoke. I can’t talk about all of it yet, but we’ll definitely be out and about and I hope people don’t hate the new album.

For more about Intronaut, click here