ALWAYS ON BEAT: The Business of Music – Justine Skye, Dave East, Sophia Chang, Moderator – Janine Rubenstein

Janine: What is wrong with the concept Hip Hop is in? You hear it all the time…

Dave: I don’t feel like Hip Hop is dead. I feel hip Hop changes with each generation…Youth is going to be different than the people before them. So as far as like what people think Hip Hop standards are…J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar, myself… there are a few new dudes that are really paying attention to their craft and what they talk about and what they’re writing… I don’t think Hip Hop will ever die. It’s a culture now.

Janine: Justine, what would you say some of the best and worst things in the industry right now for new artists?

Justine: I think that there is a lot of proven to do when you are a new artist. So a lot of people don’t believe you right off the back. Like you have to make them believe you. I mean, I been signed since I was 17 and I’m 24 right now. So I’ve been through not all the things, but obviously  I’m still going through it. I still consider this as the beginning. I mean, I’m newly independent now which is a new journey for me. But I feel like I have been through a lot of emotions. Seeing the ins and outs around it. I kinda of grew up around the industry, too, because my brother is an entertainment attorney. So it’s difficult being a new artist, being an old artist, whatever it is. Being a black woman in this industry. So, it’s just never gonna be easy. It’s okay because you don’t want to be so easy…I’m in it for the long haul.

Janine: Sophia, for someone who has been in this industry for awhile now… what is your biggest [obstacle] in your narative coming up in Hip Hop? And how have you overcome that?

Sophia: I’m 54. So I got into Hip Hop in 1987. That was 32 years ago. So my biggest obstacle was being the first Asian in Hip Hop. And to be honest, that obstacle wasn’t imposed from other people. It was self-imposed. I was being insecure of being an Asian….but the community embraced me and it was a privilege. And I really want to make this point. I really  think it’s really important that anybody who is in Hip Hop who is not black and brown to acknowledge their purpose because I acknowledge my purpose. It was certainly one of the ways that was laid out for me was by Wu-Tang. Wu-Tang plug me out of the crowd and put me in their pockets and claimed my hard like noone ever claimed me. Method Man was the first person to ever say to me. “You’re family”. And I know what that means.  Hip Hop taught me the greatest lessons about loyalty that I ever learned. So I think as a community embracing me made that an easier transition.

Janine: You brought it up, Dave you are of course an accomplished conscious rapper [right out of] Harlem. You are an actor and you are playing a rapper. You are playing Method Man. What is the Aha moment in stepping in an icon like that?

Dave: At first it was weird, but…I chopped it up with him and he made it a lot easier. It was weird of trying to have him on set and I’m trying to be him is like I hope I’m doing it right. I feel like talking with them and doing my research on Wu-Tang… just helped me out.

Janine: You hear it with actors getting lost in there character and having ten days to get out. Do you ever walk around and say…

Dave: Yeah. I was going in the studio and I was sounding like Method Man. I was sounding like Method on everything.

Janine: Justine, I want to ask you something. For black women in music, there has always been this concept that they love our voices, but don’t love our faces…Did you ever feel in your career that being a beautiful brown skinned girl was being kinda held against you? How did you navigate that? What can you tell other brown skinned girls doing music?

Justine: Me, personally, I did not feel that but it was what a lot of people told me and what a lot of people still feel like the need to tell me today. I see the arguments that happen on twitter and I think it’s just like…2019. It’s about to be 2020. I feel like that shouldn’t be a discussion anymore. There shouldn’t only be allowed on dark skinned girl in this industry…I think it’s amazing to see more beautiful dark brown faces in this industry when you open the magazines…when you look at the cover of the magazines. On the radio. Not just on urban radio. On pop radio, too. That’s super dope.

Janine: Okay. If we are talking about being yourself, bringing your whole self in the studio, in music, I was watching “Rhythm and Flow” and T.I. said something, I think when he was in, I think in his helicopter going to the audition, that he doesn’t care about… what their background is. He wants someone who is real. But I feel that is a…mess around right now. Do you feel that there is pressure on rappers right now. I don’t know…be harder than what they really are right now?

Dave: I don’t think so. I feel like the gangster rap of today is not really. I feel like the rappers that are creating gangster rap were really in the streets. We got people…that came from none of that and can create that and you see what happens to them. Gangster rap is like 90’s. It’s not really a genre anymore. There is really no gangsters in rap. Everybody’s cool…Wu-Tang that was gangster rap. Now you can sit at your computer all your life and come outside with a bandana on. Now you in a gang.

Janine:  Skye…What do you do when people weighing in your art and what to do with your personal life?

Justine: I guess it’s tailored to everyone and how much you want to share. I feel like in the beginning… a lot of people followed me on Tumblr and that’s kinda how I got started. I would share everything, but I was super young. I use to make Youtube videos and wear different color lipstick just expressing my creativity whatever that was. Figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. And then when I got into this industry, I kinda scaled back and got confused and scared of people and what the label tell me what I should do. “This how you should present yourself.” “This is what music you should make.” I kind of got lost of who Justine was and I didnt know how to get that back until recently where I had to sit and reevaluate the people I had around me. What is it I was trying to say to express my music? What my sound was? I was really confused because I was listening to everything and lost in social media what people were saying. It’s a lot…Does it seem like it? Because you only show what you want. People don’t really see inside of it all. And the machine that keeps on going. You got to figure out what works for you, what you want to share, what you want to keep to yourself.

Janine: You can’t turn off black twitter.

Dave: Get off your phone for a minute. Put your phone down. Put a movie on or something. Read a book.

Janine: On the flipside of it, music is super empowering because it speaks to people like nothing else really does. 

Justine: Me, personally, a lot of the music that I love is situations that I go through in relationships, family and friends. I guess it’s something that you will think in your head…

Janine: Chang, for all aspiring musicians who are here, do you think it’s easy to make it in music these days?

Sophia: I don’t know if I have an answer to that. But this is what I will say. When I was doing it back in 1991, there were gatekeepers. Radio was a gatekeeper. MTV was a gatekeeper. And those people who had great power and they can control a pipeline so tightly I think there is a problem. There are always going to be obstacles that people have to [hurdle]. People did not believe in Hip Hop when I first came out. People did not think Hip Hop will last. They thought it would be like a fad like Disco. So, yes. Is there is a thread of content? Sure, there is. But if I was an artist, I will be thrilled at the idea that I can post [music] free and I can use social media and use networks to get my work out there…We looked at videos of people on Youtube that had a certain account because they have managed to get millions of views and that never would have happened back in the day. Be true to yourself.

Justine: …There are people who have millions and millions of views and is that actually talent. I think that sometimes a lot of people get overlooked by what talent is and look at the views instead of looking is this person great quality? Because something can go viral, but that a great song? Can this person really sing or really rap? It’s confusing. We are all doing this for the first time. The internet, social media, things going viral, I think we all experiencing it for the first time.

Janine: You guys, thank you so much for coming to Culture Con. Appreciate the conversation!