Every so often, I interview an artist whose origin story is so emotionally gripping that I damn near wish I were a musician. It’s a romanticized feeling that comes and goes and usually, makes me think of my own origins as a journalist, something that was more of a coincidence than anything else.
Much of my writing actually centers around just that: Telling origin stories, particularly for musicians who don’t have the platform or audience to tell it themselves. Piecing together provenance, influence, and history frequently leads to me uncovering multiple thematic layers that are deeply rooted within these musicians’ lives. Sometimes I even connect dots in a way that the artist never considered.
For the inaugural edition of our new series, “How Can I Get Into The Hip-Hop Industry?,” which sets out to prove that there’s no right or wrong way to enter hip-hop, I connected with a handful of individuals across the spectrum of rap, all of whom rep different professions and cities: Philadelphia rapper/producer Tunji Ige, veteran Miami DJ and Drink Champs podcast co-host DJ EFN, Chicago journalist David Drake, Los Angeles-via-Boston publicist and Steady Leanin’ co-founder Jeremy Karelis, and Chicago producer Rob Lyrical.
All responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Tunji Ige (@tunjiige)
I harassed bloggers and industry people to post my shit. By the time I actually made a good song, “Day2Day,” my name was vaguely familiar. After three years, this response made me feel like rapping was meant to be and I could hear the progression in my music.
DJ EFN (@djEFN)
I started my company Crazy Hood Productions in 1993 right out of high-school. Although I had no idea what I wanted to do, nor did I have a special skill set, I was determined to do whatever to help build up our local hip hop scene.
We started as party promoters, then got into artist development and management, even opened up our own clothing store (Crazy Goods). But it wasn't until around 1997 that labels started to notice how well we marketed and promoted our own company that I really worked my way into my first industry job as a regional market manager (and street team manager) for various record labels.
First I started assisting local label reps which turned into eventually taking on every label account out there. We were the market reps for Def Jam, Roc-A-Fella, Universal, Bad Boy, Capitol, Tommy Boy, Atlantic, and various other labels, and brands.
David Drake (@somanyshrimp)
A lot of people get their way into the industry from the bottom up, starting in internships, hustling in New York. I didn’t have the connections, and my family definitely didn’t have the money for me to live in New York; I spent my 20s working full-time jobs I couldn’t stand, and spent my free time learning, reading, writing, and DJing.
For me, it was a matter of figuring out how to make what I was compulsively drawn to do overlap with something that I’d get paid to do. I still haven’t entirely figured that out, but that was—for me—a better method than jumping directly into an industry I thought I might like, but was unprepared for. Because I was already writing about what I wanted (and how I wanted) when I came across a few stories which would garner some attention. I had gradually realized I was drawn to arguments that were not being made; points of view which were obscured, or ignored, and stories that weren’t being told.
This is an industry run on publicity and an amorphous notion of “buzz,” and that leaves a lot of uncovered ground.
Jeremy Karelis (@menschmane)
I was going to school in Boston, in a general studies program, just going through the motions. This was at the end of '07 and, at the time, blogs were on the rise. I would download every Zshare link of every remix Wayne hopped on during lectures and just became overly passionate about music and the industry.
Boston didn't have much going on at the time but shows, so I linked with a local promoter and started bringing newer artists to the city around between 2008 and 2009. Then in 2011, I created Steady Leanin with Nate Welch, used a niche Tumblr as a general platform, and booked shows that catered to the subgenre of rap I was infatuated with.
The idea was to bring artists to the city before they were too poppin' for independent venues.
Rob Lyrical (@roblyrical)
My introduction to the industry came from closely working with A$AP Ferg early in his career. After we (Chinza Fly) produced the original "Work" and "Work Remix," we were able to start seeing the "other side" or all the extra shit that comes with being in music.
From understanding how important branding and image are, to networking, to marketing, we saw how music itself was only about 40% of the criteria if you're gonna thrive in this industry.
Grateful my first taste is synonymous with one of my biggest learning experiences.
By Tara Mahadevan. Follow her on Twitter.