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WEKetchum Review of eLZhi’s “eLmatic”

25 May

A clear sign of how long ago the photo above was taken: me still feeling the need to mean mug the camera. But I was all smiles after hearing eLmatic, eLZhi’s new tribute mixtape to Nas’ classic debut. It’s been years in the making, but the consensus is that the project is worth the wait despite other emcees dropping their own remakes since he had initially announced the idea back in 2008. Here’s an excerpt from my review:

Detroit emcee eLZhi has been heralded as one of hip-hop’s most talented for years now, but to some, there was something missing. Despite the witty punchlines, multi-syllabic rhyme patterns and conceptual genius shown on songs like “Guessing Game” and “Rules of Rap,” harsher critics said he couldn’t evoke emotion—one of musician’s most important tasks. Well, the years since his official debut album The Preface have been wrought with painful situations: his former manager HexMurda had a nearly fatal stroke, and his group Slum Village was dramatically torn apart through label politics and what he saw as betrayal from his partners. With eLmatic, eLZhi seems to have drawn from those experiences and read between the lines of Nas’ classic debut Illmatic, to capture the intangibles that make his technical skills truly undeniable.

To read the full review on HipHopSite.com, CLICK HERE.

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Big Sean x Ketchums x HipHopDX: Detroit State of Mind

12 Apr

I’ve interviewed Big Sean various times for Metro Times, Cultural Vibe (where we were photographed above), and others. Sadly, his interviews have almost always consisted of the same questions ever since then, and that was years ago. “What do you think of Drake stealing your style?” “What is it like to work with Kanye West?” “Talk about hip-hop’s affect on fashion.” I hope that every Big Sean interview is a big difference, and I walk away disappointed every time.

So when I got another chance to interview Sean for HipHopDX, one of the top hip-hop publications, I decided to speak to him about something he really knows: Detroit. Based on his hometown allegiance, our rapport and him being an open book in general, I’m really happy with how this interview turned out. Hopefully, new readers feel the same way.

CLICK HERE to read “Big Sean: Detroit State of Mind.”

The Sartorialist x Intel: “A Visual Life”

10 Jan

I frequent The Sartorialist often, and watching this video makes me even more of a fan. This short documentary that Intel put together sees him sharing his opinions on fashion from past to present, along with catching the incredible photographer in action on the streets of NYC. I can actually see myself watching this on a daily or weekly basis, because it’s great to see a fellow Midwest native (he’s from Indiana and attended Indiana University) doing what he loves on a full-time basis. One of the most important quotes here is what he says below, about starting from the ground up.

My lack of knowledge in the beginning really helped, and made me refined what little I knew to make it work. If you ask any other person that does a creative thing, they probably go to school and learn all these different things. And as they get better, it just narrows and narrows. You could ask most chefs: they would need five ingredients, one pan, and a stick of butter, and they’ll make the best meal you’ve ever had. I think that’s where most photographers would like to get to. Not to have all that other stuff, but to be able to create the most beautiful image they can in the most simple way that they can.

Many people won’t pursue what they want to do because they’re intimidated by how much they don’t know. But when you focus on what you’re good at and grow from there, you’re in a better position to win. That’s the approach that I’m taking from my newfound career as an artist manager; I’ve got a lot to learn, but I’ve got my own strengths to build off of as well. And once I’m able to build from my strengths and fill in the gaps, I’ll be undeniable.

How NOT To Get Coverage On A Blog Or Web Site Part 1: Laziness & Unfamiliarity

20 May

I get the same question several times a day: “How do I get my music featured on web sites?” Unfortunately, there’s no set formula for success. Sure, there are things you can do to help your chances. Use social networking sites, conventions and panels to build relationships with bloggers and writers beyond your music;  send personal messages instead of generic mass emails; and other tips from the homie Hubert Sawyers’ ongoing “Music Industry Secrets To Success” series on FryngInVein.com. But as a journalist who’s been in the game for seven years, take my word for it: nothing guarantees press. You just do all you can, and hope/pray for the best.

That being said, there are definitely surefire ways to NOT get coverage for yourself or your artists. Writers and bloggers’ inboxes get flooded with hundreds of emails a day, and if you come across as disrespectful or misinformed, we won’t waste our time; we’ll keep it moving to someone else who handles his/her business the right way.

That is, until now. I’m starting a new series entitled, “How NOT To Get Coverage On A Blog Or Web Site.” This series will showcase emails and tweets I’ve received from artists and managers—with the names redacted or changed, for sake of privacy and embarrassment—and explain how they screwed up, so you won’t do the same.

For installment number one, check under the cut.

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David Simon x Vice Magazine

26 Dec

Those of you out there who are die hard fans of critically acclaimed HBO darling The Wire are more than familiar with series creator David Simon. The one-time Baltimore Sun reporter had already crafted  TV masterpieces with Homicide: Life on the Street and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner City Neighborhood, but the five season visual novella depicting the hustle-bustle of Baltimore street life and political doldrums in between serves his as magnum opus at present time.

The interview with Vice Magazine, running eight pages long, includes a spectrum of Wire-related topics (Why no sixth season?/How did you feel killing off ____?/Does life imitate art or vice-versa?) and will clear up a few loose ends for some fans as Simon is always honest about his work. The highlight of the interview to me was this particular bit:

That’s another thing I was thinking about. People like Clay Davis or Carcetti or Rawls or Levy, they all thrive. What unites them? I kind of know the answer to this, but I’d like to hear how you put it.
They sublimate any moral imperative to their own personal ambition. They wed themselves to the capitalist construct and they embrace the status quo at all costs. Some of them become that person by degrees, in the case of Carcetti, and some of them are that person from jump, like Levy or Clay Davis. Some people do it without a great deal of ambition or greed. Burrell, all he wanted to do was preserve his job. He wasn’t looking to get promoted. He certainly didn’t think he was going beyond commissioner in any way. He just wanted his institution not to be humiliated. He wanted to avoid all negative publicity. He’s literally the guy in a Skinner box. He’s a pigeon that doesn’t want to be shot. So he lives life on those terms.

Even though that isn’t as conniving as someone like Clay Davis, it’s still pretty ignoble.
But all the characters who are serving the institutions, who are so self-preserving and self-aggrandizing, they are rigorous about always making the wrong choice when it comes to a societal good, to a communal good. And you know what? I was a reporter for a lot of years. I actually believe that’s how the city works or doesn’t work. I wrote a book about what was wrong with the drug trade, the drug war. It was very carefully researched and it made clear that this was a fool’s errand. I watched a councilman who was running for mayor go to the corner where I wrote the book, hold a copy of the book up in front of the TV cameras, and say that if he were elected mayor he would fight the drug war for real and he would win it. Well, he became mayor and he fought as a drug warrior and he clipped the stats and he made it sound like crime was going down when crime wasn’t going down and now he’s the governor of Maryland.

Well hey at least Baltimore’s ex-mayor wasn’t once a state representative who also broke the numerous promises he made during his campaign, en route to political infamy via an adultery-laden text SNAFU. Then again, it’s probably just as bad so fuck them both.

[via VICE Magazine]

Jay-Z Tries To Run More Than “This Town” With Blueprint 3

2 Sep

blueprint3_500

Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3
3 Stars out of 5

Chastisement about Jay-Z not taking chances is usually shortsighted. His typically materialistic lyrics didn’t exactly push the envelope, but he’s been more experimental than his naysayers give him credit for. He risked his legacy by briefly abandoning his street hustler rhymes for complacent, introspective ones, garnering praise for “growing up” while getting criticized for his “grandpa rap” disconnecting with his fan base.

All over his new album, Blueprint 3, Jay-Z makes several references to moving hip-hop and pop culture forward. “People tellin’ Jay go back, but I’m doing better than before, why would I do that?” “It’s all about progression, loiterers should be arrested.” And to his credit, Jay sticks to his word: this album definitely doesn’t sound like his previous material. But experimentation often has its ups and downs, and Blueprint 3 is no exception.

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Clover Hope’s Blackberry Notes With Mos Def

19 Aug

I was already envious of Clover Hope for her job as Senior Editor at XXL magazine, but I really wish I were in her shoes when she interviewed Mos Def recently. Mos’ Black On Both Sides is my favorite rap album of all time (this blog is named after one of his quotes), and I’ve always wanted to pick his brain about who he is, his art, and other issues. I’ll even go out on a limb, and say that maybe my HipHopDX review of The Ecstatic may have used less comparisons to his year 2000 Rawkus classic, and made more sense to readers, if I were able to really get in dude’s head and figure out what his focus is. But Clover’s feature of Mos Def in the magazine was phenomenal, and I’m especially grateful for her latest blog post, in which she unveils notes she tapped into her Blackberry during her few hours with the Brooklyn legend. You have to read the blog to really understand the context, but here’s an excerpt:

Photographer shows booklet of kids who train surf Walks wIth the pimp lean down the hallway Back to studio GY black cap with orange lettering Cafe du monde white graphic tee Red suspenders Needs cigarettes. Can I order some? Nah that’s some bougie shit. Pack of american spirit yellow. For the tan tumor that you- Explaining to him that studio shots are cliche. “They haven’t seen ME in the studio” Studio just finished in June During dinner, Mos staring off at other patrons into distance. Smiling shyly, not looking you in eye.

For the rest of her notes, check her post on Dope Penmanship.

BONUS: Quiet As Kept [XXL Feature]
BONUS #2: Quiet As Kept 2.0 [Outtakes to XXL Feature]

RELATED: Forget Tru3 Magic – Black Dante is M-O-S D-E-Efinitely still nice.

Michael Vick On 60 Minutes (Video)

17 Aug

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Michael Vick – superstar football player turned convicted felon because of his role in a dogfighting ring – was on “60 Minutes” yesterday, talking about how he has changed since his two years in prison. Whether he’s sincerely remorseful because of the animals’ welfare or not, I’m glad to see that he’s out and that he seems focused on turning his life around. I’m not nearly the animal lover that others are, but I’ve grown an affinity for dogs after seeing some of my friends’ bonds with their canines, so I can definitely empathize with his naysayers. The show bringing up issues of his money habits and his alleged poor work ethic was a bit annoying, I guess it does a good job of showing the invincibility complex while this was going on. One thing I love about this is the way that James Brown asks Vick pointed questions; whether I agree with those questions or not, it seems like a pre-test for what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will ask Vick when he reevaluates Vick before allowing him to play again.

Vick is saying the right things, he’s doing the right things, and I’m glad to see him back on the football field. It’ll be interesting to see him once he actually gets some playing time. He’s really one of the most talented football players of all time. And seeing artists get behind something other than a scantily-clad model or a center is almost always good, in my book.

The 13 Worst Career Moves in Hip-Hop History

8 Aug

This is a column that’s long overdue, and I’m glad that the homie Rizoh over at The Rap Up made it happen. Like artists in all mainstream music genres, rappers can’t just bank on their talent to be successful – they have to be perceptive enough to make moves that insure that said talent shines through and reaches the most people. This editorial on The 13 Worst Career Moves in Hip-Hop History chronicles situations where artists’ decisions ended up hurting their chances for success. An excerpt:

8. Charles Hamilton naming J. Dilla the executive producer of his album
Recently, Charles Hamilton has been on rap’s radar not for his talent but because of his ability to turn folks off with his personal commentary. He had a huge buzz going no matter what folks thought about him and then he named the late J Dilla as the executive producer of his debut album. What Charles perceived as paying homage to J. Dilla, with whom he claims to have some type of a paranormal relationship, was perceived by others as disrespectful. We haven’t really heard much from Chuck since that fiasco.

The likes of Canibus, Young Buck, MC Hammer and Ja Rule are all included here. Shouts to Rizoh for such an official piece.

[via The Rap Up]

8. Charles Hamilton8. Charles Hamilton naming J. Dilla the executive producer of his album
Recently, Charles Hamilton has been on rap’s radar not for his talent but because of his ability to turn folks off with his personal commentary. He had a huge buzz going no matter what folks thought about him and then he named the late J Dilla as the executive producer of his debut album. What Charles perceived as paying homage to J. Dilla, with whom he claims to have some type of a paranormal relationship, was perceived by others as disrespectful. We haven’t really heard much from Chuck since that fiasco. naming J. Dilla the executive producer of his album
Recently, Charles Hamilton has been on rap’s radar not for his talent but because of his ability to turn folks off with his personal commentary. He had a huge buzz going no matter what folks thought about him and then he named the late J Dilla as the executive producer of his debut album. What Charles perceived as paying homage to J. Dilla, with whom he claims to have some type of a paranormal relationship, was perceived by others as disrespectful. We haven’t really heard much from Chuck since that fiasco.

COMPLEX Pays Homage To Dead Rap Magazines

24 Jul

As a journalist who covers hip-hop, this article really touched my heart. COMPLEX, the best web site from a print magazine out there (yeah I said it), put together an ode to hip-hop magazines that couldn’t stand the test of time. I wrote for several of the magazines covered here – ELEMENTAL was the home of my first cover story, I made connects with SCRATCH that are still helpful to me, and I’m immensely proud to say that I had an article grace the pages of The Ave, which I consider the best concept ever for a hip-hop publication. Others, I didn’t even get to absorb – whether it was because I wasn’t involved in the game at that point, or because they just weren’t available in my area.

CLICK HERE to check out the article. And as a SpeechIsMyHammer bonus, follow the jump to see a few of the articles I wrote for these magazines.

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