Sometimes the resume really doesn’t say it all. Since my days in HR (I spent a year working at the Lynne Palmer Recruiting Agency) I learned to keep the resume to one page. So don’t believe for a minute that my experience in hip-hop journalism started in 1999. My first taste of the beautiful struggle came in 1997. After graduating from Wesleyan in 1996 I taught first grade at St. Philip’s Academy in Newark, NJ, but I still wanted to write. A mentor and Fraternity brother of mine, Smokey Fontaine, was working at Trace magazine as their Music Editor. After showing him some things I’d written for the Ankh, a magazine for Black and Latino students I ran at Wesleyan, he gave me my first assignment, a new artist profile on Tracey Lee. The first clip was indeed rough, but after sitting at the Shark Bar and listening to Mr. Lee talk about his music I knew this is what I wanted to do for a living. I got to talk about hip-hop, eat in nice restaurants and get paid to do it? Sign me up! So after that Smoke gave me several more assignments which included a review of Puff’s No Way Out, another new artist profile on an R&B group called Playa and features on Onyx and The Boot Camp Click. After that last experience of chasing down the BCC during my Easter break I knew I had to quit teaching. My heart wasn’t really in it. I gave my notice, sent in my applications to Grad School and started making calls.
At the time, Trace wasn’t paying (and I think they still aren’t from what I hear) so I tried to link with some other publications. Another good friend of mine had a connection at Beatdown magazine and I sent my resume along with my clips from Trace. After a meeting with then editor, Haji Akibude, I decided that I would again work in the office for free with the hopes of getting a gig down the line. So I trooped to Long Island City on the G train everyday that summer in ’97.
A permanent gig never materialized but I got invaluable experience. I built up some more clips interviewing EPMD, Cocoa Brothers, Busta Rhymes and an unpublished meeting with Rakim that I will never forget. MTV was doing a tribute to the R where artists were reciting his lyrics. It was done in conjunction with the release of The 18th Letter. I was in a make shift green room with Lords of The Underground, Naughty By Nature, Harry Allen and a slew of other MCs but that ten minute interview with Rakim yielded one autograph and an everlasting impression.
Now with even more clips to flip, Smokey was now the Music Editor at The Source. After doing all of this free writing it was time to get paid. Smoke calls me one day and says he wants me to do a Mic Check (new artist profile) on this white rapper out of Detroit who calls himself Eminem. After playing a tape of “I Just Don’t Give a Fuck” about twelve times I met with young Marshall Matthers at the Interscope offices and he played me the rest of his album. He was excited because “My Name Is” had just been made Buzzworthy by MTV. It’s great to speak to artists when they are just starting out. There is no pretense. They aren’t jaded and haven’t been coached on what not to say. Needless to say that story stayed in the front of my clip book for the next few years.
The Eminem Mic Check led to others with B.G., Rahzel and Memphis Bleek. After knocking those out Smokey felt comfortable enough to give me a feature. For my first feature I spent the day hanging out with a pre-pink and purple Cam’ron Giles. This was when Sports, Drugs and Entertainment was supposed to come out the first time. The video for “Let Me Know” was in rotation and Jim Jones drove us around Harlem while Cam’ron reminisced about his cousin Bloodshed, running with Mase and his days playing Stephon Marbury in summer leagues. That was back when you got access for a feature even if it wasn’t for a cover.
After freelancing for The Source, I got a short gig at Gray Advertising before Smokey hired me at Volume.com . That was quite a fun experience despite how everything ended up. Though a lot of my early work for them was never published, the experience I got interviewing Common, Erick Sermon, dead prez, Killa Priest, Ike Turner, Too Short and a host of others only built my rolodex up and sharpened my skills for turning around fast copy. Even after I was laid off they called me back to do interviews on Da Beatminerz, Tha Liks and the now infamous Star and Buckwild.
In 2000 I continued writing for the websites that were still around like Platform.net . I really enjoyed writing for the ‘net because the expectation was to be a little off the wall. As a result, my clips of the Wutang Clan, LL Cool and Mums The Schemer are still some of my favorite interviews.
But the eventual implosion of the urban dot.com world just pushed me to finish school. I started attending Pace fulltime to obtain my Masters in Publishing and I finished my novel The Blinkwell Chronicles, which you’ll see serialized on this site in the future. About a year later Chuck Creekmur from Allhiphop.com , another Alpha brother of mine, told me about a position at Black Beat magazine. I always remember when I started and finished there because I wrote an obit for Aaliyah when I began and one for Left Eye right before I left. It was nine months of applying what I was learning in grad school (deadlines, layouts, etc.) and making more publicity contacts.
With that all of that under my belt I got a call from Riggs Morales at Shady records (who worked with me at Volume.com ) and told me that The Source was hiring. Despite what has transpired since then, I was elated to get that job. There is nothing better than spending the day arguing about hip-hop with other people who love hip-hop as much as you do and getting paid to do it.
After three years of moving up the mast head it was clearly time for me to move on. I was getting bored with MCs. After doing cover stories on Ludacris and Nas I was pretty much done. I was having way more fun with the producer packages. I arranged for 9th Wonder to interview Pete Rock and got Evil Dee to do a “how to build your own studio” set-up. My last feature for The Source was a four-page profile on Just Blaze that pretty much paved the way for me to begin my tenure as Scratch’s Editor-In-Chief.
After a year and a half of trying to balance my True School ethos with the demands of the market, the company saw fit to place Scratch under the banner of XXL, the more recognizable hip-hop brand. Seeing as XXL already has a boss, yours truly moved on.
Today I am still writing, plugged into the proverbial Matrix doing feature work for various publications and artist bios for record labels. When I’m not tapping the keyboard I’m “mouse-clicking on the beatbox” and harassing your favorite producers for my book.