31 July 2010

Black Diamonds EP-Hip-hop ain't dead yet

"Told you we ain't dead yet. We been livin' through your internet."

-Erykah Badu, "The Healer"

The Prolegend Movement is back at it again with the release of their Black Diamonds EP.  Following on the heels of the success of the mixtape of the same name, the EP is a compilation of the group's best original songs from Black Diamonds.  The songs range from the lyrical grittiness of "If I Had 2", to the swagger of "Get it Everyday", to the seductive quality of "Ladies Choice" and "Take Me Home".  The EP also showcases the group's collaborations with other local artists, Lyric Raines and Blaundie da Boss Lady, as well as breakout reggae singer Mosiah.  Available now on their Reverbnation page, the Black Diamonds EP will be officially released on iTunes on September 3.

The Black Diamonds EP gives credibility to Prolegend's right to call themselves a movement. A movement is defined as "an organized effort to promote or attain an end." The Prolegend Movement is part of a bigger movement, a musical revolution so to speak. Maybe it’s not as serious as civil rights, or womens' rights, or rights for people with disabilities. But it's for a right that music lovers everywhere hold sacred nonetheless: the right to listen to quality songs. This right is being fought for on the battleground of the Internet everyday by bloggers like me, online radio shows and podcasts, and most importantly, the independent music artists who have real talent and a passion for giving their best to their listeners.

I'm with Ms. Badu-hip-hop ain't dead yet, despite what some may say and what we may hear while spinning the dial these days.  I think hip-hop is going back to its roots and the movement is being fueled by the Internet, which has leveled the playing field for independent, unsigned groups.  The Prolegend Movement is one example of this.  They have heart and passion.  They're not on the mainstream radio yet, even though they have been getting airplay on Internet radio.  But they're not letting that stop them.  They're building up their online presence and constantly strategizing about how to improve what they're doing and reach out more to their fan base.

The Black Diamonds EP is one more way for them to stay connected to their fans, which number nearly 5,000 strong, making them number five on the local hip-hop charts according to Reverbnation.  While the mixtape let you see what they could do creatively with samples of some of the most popular tunes out there, like Gucci Mane’s “Wasted” and Mary Mary’s “The God in Me”, the EP is strictly about their original music-lyrics and beats included.  There’s funk, there’s soul, and most importantly, there’s hip-hop-spit from the mouths of four skilled MC’s who turn a mic into a weapon to slay their opponents on one hand, and a bullhorn to lead the revolution with the other.

Naw, hip-hop ain’t dead.  It’s on the Internet and on the Black Diamonds EP.  And the revolution might not be televised, but it damn sure will be broadcast over the radio.

21 July 2010

Thrill Da Playa discusses the music industry, challenges for independent artists

Every other person in Jacksonville seems to be rapping, producing, or making beats, so why hasn’t Duval had a major recording artist since the 90’s? What can independent artists do to get the radio to play their music? Why do some find success, only to end up bankrupt?

These questions are on the minds of many and I had a chance to ask them when I interviewed Thrill Da Playa recently.  The Jacksonville artist found multi-platinum success as a part of the 69 Boyz, a homegrown group known for hits like “Tootsie Roll” and “Survival of the Fittest”.  He is also an accomplished songwriter and producer, having worked on songs for movie soundtracks including Dangerous Minds, Bad Boys, Space Jam, and Sunset Park. Thrill has written for So-So Def, Lil John, and the Ying Yang Twins, among others.
In a previous blog post (see July 18), we talked about his radio show, GFL Live, his upcoming album, User Friendly, and what it felt like to be one of the biggest music artists to come out of Duval. 

 Those of us old enough to remember when 69 Boyz first came out can also remember Thrill’s godfather, Big Al of Big Al’s Records and Tapes in Gateway Mall.  Thrill worked in the record store and he feels that the power of the independent record shops is what got a lot of artists around the country through to their big breaks.  With the decline of these record shops came a loss of a vital outlet for aspiring musicians. This has left a void in the community in terms of jobs, opportunities, and even memories.  I can remember going to Big Al’s with my sister to buy The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill the day that it dropped.  There’s something about standing in line, buying that cd and taking the wrapping off, that downloading music off of the computer just can’t quite replace.

As we talked about his music career, Thrill mentioned that he doesn’t make his money from royalties from music sales, but rather, makes a living through being on tour, and writing and publishing songs. We got into a really deep conversation about this that gave me some new perspectives on the music industry. 

He said “in the music industry…the record companies hold up your money, and by the time they give it back, they have made so much interest…..In the record business, you don’t sell to the consumer, you sell to warehouses. ….So they may order 10,000 records but if they don’t all sell, they will return them.” Basically, the record companies don’t pay the artists immediately in case they need to refund the warehouses.

“Also,” he went on, “when an artist is sued, no royalties are paid to them until the lawsuit is settled.” He then explained how 69 Boyz was sued by a female artist who had appeared on their 199QUAD album.  What could have been a $20,000 settlement, ended up costing the group about $65,000 after legal fees. 

When talking about how the music lifestyle, affects spending, especially for R&B and hip-hop artists, Thrill noted, “urban artists have a different journey to travel from rock n-roll artists.  Rock n-roll artists will give their money to an accountant to keep in escrow, put their jeans back on, and go back out and make more music.  With urban artists, if you don’t have on a chain around the neck, nice clothes, a nice car, young people don’t even want to hear anything from you.”

Some of his most unique opinions had to do with the mainstream radio stations. .  Regarding the quality of the music, he said, “it’s no excuse for some of these radio stations to be like they are.  For every four minutes of foolishness, there should be four minutes of progress.”

Many independent musicians here will doubtless find his next statement to be rather odd. “I don’t have a problem with radio not playing local artists’ music.  That sounds crazy, but if radio had played my music in the beginning, it would have handicapped me.”  Thrill explained that it forced him to go to the clubs and build relationships with the DJ’s and work his way up from there.

He closed the interview out with advice for the independent artists looking for their big break.  “Go back to integrity-filled music…..people aren’t making integrity-filled music, so the people who are buying it, aren’t integrity-filled.” 

Thrill got very personal and talked about how the things that helped him to succeed where the basic values instilled in him by family members and church.  He went through a period where he dealt with prescription drug misuse and had to overcome that, and he urges everyone to make the necessary changes in their lives to open up the way for positive outcomes.

“When people get right on the inside, stuff gets right on the outside”.

18 July 2010

Interview with Thrill Da Playa, Sneak Peek at his new album, User Friendly

Thrill Da Playa grew up right here in Duval and went on to become a platinum selling recording artist as part of the group 69 Boyz, one of the biggest music talents ever to come out of Jacksonville.  He is continuing to do big things as a solo artist and recently performed at Skyline as part of the benefit concert for the Tiphne Hollis Foundation.  Tiphne Hollis was a 16 year-old Ed White High School student who was killed earlier this year, becoming one of the victims of this city's violent crime plague.

I talked to Thrill recently about his syndicated radio show, GFL Live, his upcoming album, User Friendly, and his thoughts about being one of the biggest artists to come out of our area.

When I asked him what it was like to be a part of the biggest music act to come out of Jacksonville, he did something that was very positive and refreshing-he gave props to those who came before him. And when I say, before, I mean he took it way back, all the way to Doc Box and B. Fresh, the 80's group that had the hit, "Slow Love". He gave shouts out "because they were the first gold artists from Jacksonville.  We saw them struggle right from DJ’s record shop on McDuff".  

He also recognized another major group, 95 South, by saying that they "came out a little bit before me.  I was co-writing and co-producing a lot of their stuff.  69 Boyz was able to go multi-platinum and do big things and that was all a part of the vision. It makes me feel great to be the largest selling artist from Jacksonville".

For the past few years, Thrill has been on the other side of the airwaves as the host of his own radio station, GFL Live, based out of Tallahassee. He got started when he was tapped by Stevie the Man, who heard him on an album skit.  He was offered a position doing a night program in Orlando.  His show quickly moved to #1 in that market, and Clear Channel asked him to come to Tallahassee, where he took over the top spot there as well.  GFL Live is syndicated in 49 markets throughout Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.  Thrill says that the strength of the show is that it highlights independent artists who might not otherwise get a break.  He's currently taking a leave of absence, however, as he promotes his latest project, User Friendly.

User Friendly is what he likes to call "real music, fun, integrity-filled music.  Thrill stated that God gave him a vision that his ministry would be one of love and fun and that it would unite people across race, religion, and other boundaries.  “I’m praying that the world gets to see the love of God through the music.” In order for his music to reach as many listeners as possible, User Friendly is going to be a free download for everybody and he's taking it a step further by setting aside free hard copies to college campuses, starting with HBCU's (historically black colleges and universities).  August 7 is the tentative release date.  

Thrill Da Playa performed some tracks from the album at the Tiphne Hollis benefit, including "Ery'body Rock", "God B4 Me", and "Slide".  If you missed that great concert, however, you're in luck, though.  Here's a link to some of the tracks, as well as a video for "God B4 Me", which you can listen to while you're waiting for my next blog post, where Thrill Da Playa gets deep as he talks about how he makes his money as an artist, his opinion about Jacksonville as a market for hip-hop artists, and his thoughts on what aspiring musicians should do to get ahead in the industry.  Stay tuned and happy listening!

09 July 2010

July 10 concert at Skyline to benefit slain teen Tiphne Hollis

This might sound strange, but I'm going to start with a disclaimer. I don't like writing about these kinds of events.  I wish that I could write about a birthday party, or a Grammy party, or hell, a pool party, for that matter. I would rather write about anything but a benefit concert to raise money for a foundation in honor of a slain teen.

Don't get me wrong, I"m not running from my responsibilities as a writer.  I have to report the bad along with the good, and I will keep doing so.  It's just that I'm sick and tired of the madness in the streets claiming the lives of people who have barely begun to live.

With that said, I'm inviting my readers to come out on Saturday, July 10 to Skyline (formerly The Big Apple) for the Justice for Tiphne Hollis concert. Tickets are $15 and the proceeds benefit the Tiphne Hollis Foundation.

For those who don't know, Tiphne Hollis was the 16 year-old Ed White High School student who was killed while riding in a car with friends through a Westside neighborhood.  Unidentified gunmen shot into the car, fatally wounding her in the stomach, in what is believed to be a case of mistaken identity. Once again I say, madness, pure madness.

The VH1 video crew will be filming the event, which will be hosted by Gene Dot Com. The show will include performances by local groups The Prolegend Movement, Bentley a.k.a. Yung, and Gutta Black. The headline acts are Thrill Da Playa from 69 Boys, VH1 Born to Diva winner Tarralyn Ramsey, and hip-hop icon Chubb Rock.

Doors open at 9 p.m. and the show starts at 10.  Skyline is located at 5611 Norwood Avenue, across from Gateway Mall. For more information, call 904-444-2641.

Because I feel so strongly about the violence in our streets, especially here in Duval, where we have the grim honor of being the 'murder capital of Florida', I'm ending this blog post with a poem that I wrote in honor of Tiphne Hollis, Shenice Holmes, Dreshawna Davis, Somer Thompson, and all of the other young people who have lost their lives due to violence in this area.

Mad Dads

When do dads get to stop being mad?
Pounding the pavement in angry protest
Searching for answers that rarely come,
'Cause the law in the streets says 'don't snitch'
When do dads get to be dads again?
Holding up an unsteady child on a bike
Instead of lifting a too small casket
Walking daughters down the aisle
And sending sons out into the world
Instead of looking down on them
Through tear-filled eyes.

When do mothers get to stop crying?
Soul-piercing screams as they run to the scene
Where their child took their last breath
Not enough yellow tape in the world
To contain the hurt.
When do mothers get to be mothers again?
Healing wounds that require only a bandage and a kiss
To make it all better.
Cheering at sports events
And watching grandchildren being born
Instead of gazing through photo albums
And wondering what could have been.

And I don't think it's a coincidence,
That every time a young life ends tragically,
It rains soon after.
I imagine that God weeps also
That He must be tired of seeing
Drinks poured out onto the ground,
White t-shirts with photos on the front
Sneakers tossed over electrical lines,
Reminding us that another person will not live long enough
To chase dreams
Or outrun demons.

Yes, I know that God must be tired,
But the question remains...
When will we be?

06 July 2010

Speaking up for Spoken Word

Today, I have to step aside from my usual blogs about music.  Today, I'm writing about poetry, my other love, which in many ways, is tied to my music writing.

When I was in school, writing poetry generally implied that you were either a)nerdy, b)weird, or c)all of the above.  I can proudly confess to falling into the "c" group. Then along came the movie Love Jones a few years ago, and suddenly, urban America discovered that poetry was kind of cool.  It was no longer about that nerdy, weird, shy kid sitting in a corner somewhere scribbling in a notebook.  No, you see, now it was spoken word.  It was Lorenz Tate seducing Nia Long.  It was cool people wearing leather jackets and jeans, working in record stores, hanging out in chill spots listening to jazz and neo-soul.

Whether you choose to call it poetry or spoken word, this thing with pen and paper has never been a fad for me.  I was that nerdy, weird, shy kid sitting in the corner.  I was writing poetry before it was cool, and I will be writing until I'm old and senile and shaking so bad that I can't hold a pen.  At one point in my life, when I was 'goin through some things' as we like to say, I gave up on my writing.  But it never gave up on me.  It was always there, nudging me, begging me, and finally screaming at me, to bring it back to light again.  Poetry brought me out of some rough spots, and I'm using it to lead me to better ones.  Poetry is the reason why I have never given up on hip-hop, despite the fact that in recent years, much of the genre has been held hostage by laughable lyrics, wannabe goons, and P. Diddy.  I can't help but appreciate the alliteration in Tupac's Gangstas Party or the raw lyricism of artists like Lil Wayne.  "I'll do the time cause her love is timeless."

I'm usually a behind the scenes person, so it's only recently that I've begun performing at open mic. It's been a great experience and I'm in awe of some of the talent that I have witnessed.  IGive, Cuban, along with his Shattered Thought team, Tonya Smart, Odd Rod, Reformed Butterfly, I could go on and on. We have a lot of talent here in Duval.  I say that over and over again in my blogs because I really believe in that.  And I have to send shout outs to the venues that are supporting spoken word like Cafe 331, Poppy Love Smoke, Aroma's, City Hall Pub and many more.  On that note, I must say hats off to Brother's Cafe on Edgewood, where I officially made my debut as The Poetic Princess, virgin on the mic.  Sadly, they closed up shop this past week.  I'm shaking my head at the thought of another black owned business going under.  But I hear that Robin is going to move Espresso Soul to Cuba Libre, so let's show some love and support that venue.

Without the hosts and promoters like Robin, Tiffany Duhart, Emanuel Washington (can somebody say Sooooooul Release!), Kia Mayshack, and many more, these open mic events wouldn't be happening.  There wouldn't be places for people to come out and test the waters and share a piece of themselves. We have to support these events.  We need to come together, Duval.  Stop complaining about there not being anything to do, but then not showing up to the quality events that are going on. If someone as naturally shy as me can come out-sometimes alone, and have the nerve to get up on the mic, then there's no excuse for some of you.  And when you do come out, do us all a favor and shut up while folks are spittin on the mic! That's a whole other blog post.

I might seem uncharacteristically harsh right now, but that's because I feel so strongly about poetry. Somedays, my poetry was the only warm hug that I had. I'm in a much better place now but poetry is still as important as eating and breathing to me.  So to all my spoken word artists, supporters, promoters, and venues, I say "rewind!" while snapping my fingers in the air.  Spit, Duval!

P.S. Come out tomorrow and check out open mic hosted by Kia Mayshack at Aroma's on Southside Blvd. Kia's a great host and she can sing her lungs out on top of it.