Yesterday evening, I attended the University of Memphis’ 31st Annual Freedom of Information Congress that featured controversial journalist Michael Koretzky.
Titled “An Evening with Michael Koretzky,” the event was presented by the U of M's student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (Koretzky is a board member of the national chapter).
Currently a freelance writer as well as an editor for several city magazines in South Florida, Koretzky shared his thoughts on the future of journalism and journalism education, discussed his style of reporting, opened up about being expelled from the University of Florida and getting fired from the Sun Sentinel and Florida Atlantic University's award-winning student newspaper, The University Press during the lecture.
Prior to the event, I wasn’t too familiar with Koretzky, so I didn’t know what to expect besides the possibility of him presenting some disputable information. But he turned out to be quite entertaining and informative, especially when he disclosed some of the biggest problems he has with journalism. Among the issues with the profession, he highlighted the necessity for journalists to have thicker skin and to be a little braver or just as brave as the sources they interview.
“I’m sure that any student reporter in this room has faced a situation where you’re interviewing somebody, and they’re reluctant to talk to you on record, and you’re trying to convince them that it’s okay. That everything will be fine, but we don’t do that ourselves,” Koretzky said to attendees in the U of M's University Center Theater.
"I think sometimes we spend too much time taking students with good grades who don't have the personality to do this job," he said. "This is not accounting. This is not computer programming. You have to be able to speak to people. You have to be able to stand up for yourself. You have to be able to inspire your sources."
Koretzky also touched on the lack of respect that journalists receive from citizens. He attributed this to many of us being "hypocrites."
“You know how they do those surveys every year on the most admired professions," he said. "It’s always like firefighters, Supreme Court justice, doctors, and then right down at the bottom, between used car salesman and a pimp, is the journalist. Journalists get no respect. We always say that journalists get no respect because we’re doing tough work or speaking truth to power. I don’t think that’s it. I think people hate journalists because in this country, we only hate one thing and that’s hypocrites.”
I pondered his comments. Who loves hypocrites? I can attest that not too many people do, but we all can be hypocritical at times. Stating that, I didn't understand why Koretzky would single out journalists as hypocrites. I'm not saying we're superior, but I believe there are hypocrites in every profession. I don't think one profession boasts a larger amount of hypocrites than another. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I expected that Koretzky would make some statements that were debatable, and this indeed was one of them.
Koretzky also touched on the frustrations of censorship within publications, and revealed that he was an associate editor at the world's largest jazz magazine, Jazziz, but didn't know anything about jazz. He even compared jazz to journalism.
"Jazz got its start in the whorehouses of New Orleans. Only later, these days now that you can go and get a degree in jazz from Berkley, University of Miami," he said. "Now jazz is really richy. And if you don't have a degree in jazz, you're not considered a serious recording artist. Well, I think journalism is the same way. Before there were journalism schools, there was journalism. Now that there are journalism schools, I think it helps, but I also think it can hurt."
Koretzky's popular blog, Journoterrorist, which he admitted to receiving a lot of negative feedback on due to some of the content he posts, was also something he opened up about to the audience.
“I call it 'journoterrorist' as a joke. It’s a media critique website,” he said. “I’ve only posted 31 times in years but for some reason, I have 198,000 viewers and over 500 comments. What’s really weird about that is the comments are mostly from journalism students and professors and professionals who don’t like what I wrote. And I don’t think I wrote anything incredibly evil. I just wrote my opinion of journalism in the same way that I was trained to be a journalist and cover other people.”
After completing his hour-long presentation, Koretzky took questions from the audience. With the recent increase of newspapers and magazines folding over the last few years, and me being a reporter for a print publication, I asked him his thoughts on the status of print publications in the next five to 10 years. He told me that he went from working at a national website to joining a print publication, alluding that there’s still hope for print.
“What I find is that print is alive and well when it’s niche,” Koretzky said. “The mainstream print media may not have much of a future, but there are things that you can do with print that you still can’t do online. So high quality print still works. Like magazines and smaller niche publications are doing great. Advertising is up, partly because it’s different and advertisers want something different. We still read magazines.”
Overall, Koretzky kept me entertained and my mind racing about the various topics he discussed. He caused me to truly think about journalism as a profession, what the true purpose of a journalist is, and where we stand in the future. Stating that, I'm not worried that there won't be a market for my profession, but I'm not getting too comfortable with just being a reporter. In a career like this, it's evident that you have to bring something new to the table if you desire to go a long way, because the same ole, same ole doesn't get you far. I'm thankful that I attended the SPJ's event yesterday, because I definitely left feeling more enlightened on my profession.
Brief Info on Koretzky:
He has worked at several publications including Florida’s Sun-Sentinel and freelanced for The New York Times, USA Today, and Travel & Leisure. He’s also owned several publications that include Ice Magazine and Free Press.
He also was the managing editor of the world's largest jazz magazine, Jazziz, and the adviser for FAU's student-run newspaper, the University Press. He was accused of ethical violations in 2004 by FAU's Student Government and almost fired and fined $6,000. He was let go from the publication in 2010 due to reorganization of FAU's student media. He's currently a volunteer adviser for the University Press.
At the tender age of nine, Lola “Gangsta Boo” Mitchell spit her first raps on a karaoke machine that she got as a birthday present. Years later, this childhood hobby blossomed into her delivering standout verses on gold and platinum albums, worldwide exposure, and being labeled a legend within the Southern rap movement.
Largely known for her role as the only female emcee in the male-dominated hardcore rap group Three 6 Mafia, her professional career began at the age of 16 when she signed a record deal with Prophet Entertainment (then owned by D.J. Paul and Juicy J) as a member of the group.
Three 6 Mafia’s debut album, Mystic Stylez, sold more than 100,000 records independently. This would eventually lead to the group securing a major record deal and releasing several gold and platinum albums such as Chapter 2: World Domination and When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1.
Gangsta Boo's unorthodox style on songs such as “Tear Da Club Up” and “Late Night Tip” built demand for her to release a solo album. In 1998, she did just that with her debut installment, Enquiring Minds. The album featured the successful single “Where Dem Dollas At” and reached number 15 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and number 46 on the Billboard 200. In 2001, she dropped her sophomore effort, Both Worlds *69, which reached number eight on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart and number 29 on the Billboard 200.
After parting ways with Three 6 Mafia due to monetary disputes and other issues, she released Enquiring Minds II: The Soap Opera on her independent label, Crazy Lady Entertainment in 2003. The album served as an introduction to her musical collaboration with platinum producer and fellow Memphian Drumma Boy.
Since then, Gangsta Boo’s released a series of mixtapes and has officially joined forces with Drumma Boy as part of his Drum Squad collective.
Prepping the release of her latest musical installment, It’s Game Involved, Gangsta Boo took time out to speak with me about her music career, her short tenure as curseword-free “Lady Boo," how E-40 inspired the title of her new mixtape, the difference between working with DJ Paul and Juicy J versus Drumma Boy, and a lot more.
What sparked your interest in music?
I started off writing poems. I used to write my dad all kinds of poems. [I grew] up in a musical home. My dad and mom used to sing all the time. My dad used to have a bunch of albums. He had a record player. So I used to watch him sing, and being in Memphis, Al Green lived in the neighborhood that we lived in — Coro Lake. Just growing up in the musical town of Memphis inspired me to do music.
Did your music career begin with Three 6 Mafia, or were you making a name in the city before you joined the group?
I used to be on [the late] DJ Fila’s mixtapes. He and DJ Pinky, I used to be on a lot of their mixtapes. How I ended up meeting [DJ] Paul was, I used to hang out with this girl named Kim, and she used to rap with Paul under the name of K9. She, for whatever reason, wasn’t making her studio appointments on time, and Paul heard about me through Hillcrest [High School]. I used to go to the same school he went to. I used to rap in talent shows, and I had my own little name within the Memphis rap community. There wasn’t a big a community of rappers at the time, and I was a girl. I was just in the pursuit of my music career, so I stuck with it. [DJ] Paul put me down on his mixtape, Vol. 16 [For Da Summa of ‘94] and the rest was history.
Since launching your career, you've gone from being recognized locally to nationally, and have been involved with many Gold and Platinum albums. How does it feel?
It feels great. I get to work with some of the best artists in the world. I get to be around some of the best people. I get to meet and do business with some of the greats. It’s pretty much like I’m living a movie. I’m living my dream. It’s great to do a song with Eminem. It’s great to do a song with Outkast, [and be featured on] Stankonia, one of their best albums. It’s just an honor to work with those types of geniuses, and they want to work with me as well. It’s motivational.
Shortly after the release of Three 6 Mafia's album, When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1, in 2000, you left the group, changed your name to Lady Boo, and decided to refrain from cursing in your music. What exactly caused you to leave the group and deliver a different message in your music?
I was young as hell. I was like 21 years old [when I left]. I was doing my thing. I [had been] traveling since I was like 16. So from 16 to 21 years old, seeing money and seeing stuff and going through stuff, I was extra-stressed and under pressure, and I wanted to try something different. I thought it was religion. I dipped and dabbled into it and found out it really wasn’t for me, so I decided to be more spiritual than anything and just become a better person. Have a more positive attitude, because I pretty much used to walk around with the ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude like I was Tupac or something. I really wanted to kinda leave all that in the past. I started reading more books and hanging out with Pastor Del and different people who uplifted my spirit at the time. You know, during my departure from Three 6 Mafia, I was at a down place in my life, but God brought me out of the darkness.
What made you return to "Gangsta Boo" and everything that the alias embodies?
Well, I never was gospel. That’s one thing. What I said at the time was I don’t want to curse in my music anymore. That’s what I thought. I thought, ‘Aw man, I’m about to be clean.’ I guess I was going through so much that I just wanted to get away from anything negative, anything dark. And what converted me back to Gangsta Boo wasn’t necessarily because I’m gangsta hardcore street, but [to me, gangsta] means "Getting a necessary greatness stimulating the abnormal." I get a kick out of it, which is the greatness part of it, when I stimulate the abnormal, which is people like Outkast, Yelawolf, Eminem, and Lil’ Jon. All those people are abnormal. They’re not normal people, so when I stimulate them, I think it’s a greatness and that’s gangsta. So I just decided that that fits me better then the whole Lady Boo thing, which is still in me. It’s Crazy Lady Gangsta Boo. It’s Miss Lola. It’s Miss Yea Hoe. I got a whole bunch of different code names. As you grow, you make decisions, [and] when you’re young, you make decisions.
You’ve had the opportunity to be on both a major and independent label. Which do you prefer?
It’s just the right situation. Of course when you’re major, you’ve got more of a major push, but sometimes you can be sat on the shelf. I know a lot of people with major deals whose albums flopped. They’re doing better off their mixtapes. I think whatever situation fits you the best is the best situation for you. For me, it’s the same thing. Whatever situation fits me the best, I think is a good situation. Right now, I’m affiliated with Drumma Boy, Drum Squad. That’s like my brother from another mother. We’re so close. And I have my own movement with my DJ, Speakerfoxxx. She’s a dope DJ out of Atlanta, and we’re working on an indie-EP together.
How did you develop a relationship with Drumma Boy?
Well, he was one of the first producers I got with when I left Three 6 Mafia. He was about 17 at the time, maybe 18. I went to his mom’s house in Cordova. He was so excited to meet me. I autographed his stuff.
He never judged me when I was considering going 100 percent clean in my music. He was still giving me beats. He was loyal throughout the whole, ‘Oh, you messing with Gangsta Boo? She washed up. Oh, Boo ain’t shit.’ He stayed through all of that, so I just feel like me and him have some sort of loyal connection, and that’s why I’m down with him. I respect his movement. Dude is a young brother, and he’s doing a lot of positive things for his city. I acknowledge that and I love having his energy around me. He’s a creative genius and he’s going to end up being one of the greats.
You've had the opportunity to work extensively with both DJ Paul and Juicy J, as well as Drumma Boy in the studio. Is there a correlation between working with the two?
I honestly miss working with [DJ] Paul and Juicy [J] in the studio. As producers, they’re some of the greats, just to be real. And does Drumma remind me of them? Uh, yeah but Drumma Boy reminds me of Drumma Boy. When I’m in the studio with him, I don’t think about Paul and Juicy, maybe because it’s been so long. I’ve been with Drumma pretty much since 2001. But in comparison to Paul and Juicy, I would pretty much consider them on the same level.
As far as production, I’m pretty content with Drumma Boy. I’m about to do some business with SpaceGhostPurrp. I’m working with Lex Luger, so I’m really not missing any type of beats as far as from Paul and Juicy. I’m working with some of the greats.
Did you ever think you would be the first female rapper from Memphis to gain national exposure and reach the plateau that you have?
I actually thought I would be bigger by now. I see way more things to come. This is like the beginning, and I feel like I’m finally about to get my just due this year. I don’t know where the feeling is coming from, but I’m loving it. I feel like it’s going to be a good year when I drop this mixtape. I didn’t drop any mixtapes last year. I was just doing a lot of features. This time around, I want to drop my own mixtape, It’s Game Involved. It’s dropping on livemixtapes.com. It’s going to be featuring up-and-coming producers. It’s going to be featuring Crunchy Black, Future, Drum Squad, Young Buck. I’m looking forward to what I got going on.
We’re going to do the whole tour thing. Like I said, working with Speakerfoxxx is giving me a dope advantage because she’s a fly white girl and she definitely taps into the hippie market and the indie market very well. And I gained a lot of new fans working with Yelawolf and Eminem [on the song "Throw It Up"]. That’s why I say I still feel so new, because a lot of folks still don’t know who I am. I’m still gaining new fans, and it’s a real good feeling. I have so much more room to grow. So, yeah I saw it and I see it being even bigger.
What inspired you to title the mixtape, It’s Game Involved?
I couldn’t come up with the perfect title, and I didn’t want to force a title. I just wanted it to come to me. So you know, I did a song with E-40, and he was doing an interview. They were like, ‘You got a song with Gangsta Boo. Yo, the Boo is back.’ He was bigging me up. Telling me how I’m smashing on a lot of the current females right now. And after he finished bigging me up, he said, ‘and when she do it, it’s game involved.’ I was like, 'bam that’s my title right there.'
What exactly can fans expect from you with this new mixtape?
That Gangsta Boo they want. Ms. Yea Hoe. A lot of the ‘Yea Hoe’ ad-lib chants. A lotta classic songs. I brought Crunchy Black on there. You’re gonna have a lot of classic, great music. And it’s going to be totally different from my indie-EP. That’s going to be for when I tour and do festivals like Coachella, but the mixtape is going to be for when I perform in the 'hood. It’s for my brothers in jail. My brothers and sisters in the struggle. It’s going to be the typical classic Gangsta Boo people have been fiending for, because my sound that I’ve had for so long is obviously still current, so it’s like I’m not missing a beat. I’m still current. It’s like I’m superior. And the mixtape is going to be some real superior queen shit.
When will the mixtape be released?
It’s scheduled to drop in May. It’ll be right in time for Memphis in May, and I’m having a really dope exclusive mixtape release party in Memphis. I’m doing it in conjunction with the Memphis Jookers. It’s going to be a dope gangsta-walking ass mixtape.
Who is Gangsta Boo a fan of within the Memphis music scene right now, and what did you grow up listening to?
I’m an extreme fan of Young Dolph. I like P-London. I also have some young cats I’m working with out of Memphis. They gangsta walk. But as far as who I see doing their thing next out of Memphis outside of Drumma Boy, since he’s pretty much established, is Young Dolph.
As far as what I grew up listening to: 8ball & M.J.G., Tela, Skinny Pimp, Ska-Face Al Kapone, Al Green, Isaac Hayes. All that Memphis shit.
Outside of music, I understand you’re active in the Memphis community.
Yeah, I wish I could be more active. This past Thanksgiving, I hung out with Stephen Brown at Logic Church. I helped them feed the homeless.
I’m also in the process of organizing some things where I can speak to women just to encourage them. The domestic violence situation is getting out of hand, and I just want to encourage women to get out of that situation. You don’t really need to be with a guy if he’s putting his hands on you. I want to be more involved in that.
And I want to be more involved in just saving Memphis. So anyway I can help, I’m putting it out there. I’m easy to reach. I follow Memphis Gun Down [an initiative launched by Mayor A C Wharton to help lower youth gun violence]. I’m just active in anything that has to do with bringing more peace to my city. More things to come. You know, free shows. Just whatever I can do to help, I’m down.
You participated in this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) event in Austin, Texas. How was the experience?
SXSW was so fun. This was my second year performing. I just love the love, because there are so many different genres of music. There are so many different [races] of people. And it’s all of your fellow artists. All of the bands. All of the free showcases. It’s just dope. I saw Trinidad James perform a couple times. It was so fun, because me and him are actually friends. I knew him before he blew up. It was dope watching him do his thing in front of the masses of people. I got a chance to catch up with Yo Gotti and his shows.
I saw you tweet that you got a chance to meet Ghostface Killah at SXSW, which is one of my favorite rappers. I know that was a cool experience.
Meeting Ghostface Killah was definitely one of the highlights of my career. I’ve been a long time Wu-Tang fan, so meeting him and getting the love that he gave me back and just still seeing him do his thing was great. It’s always an honor to see your fellow musicians, especially from the generation that I came up in still out looking well and doing their thing but also still getting the respect that they deserve. Shout-out to all of the new cats, but at the same time, if it wasn’t for people like me or the Wu-Tang Clans, the Three 6 Mafias, the 8ball & MJGs, there probably wouldn’t even be the who’s who of now, so it’s always good to be around veterans of the game.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know?
All of the nonprofit organizations, if you ever need me to speak at a high school, college, or church about my testimony, my life story feel free to contact me at (901) 492-1240.
Also, I consult new and old talent in entertainment. My connects will save them time and money. Contact me for consulting monthly fees.
Lastly, I want to say rest in peace to my grandma. She used to love the Memphis Flyer. Grandma Mitchell, rest in peace. I wish you were still alive to see all of the success I’m about to get, but I know you’ll be with me in spirit. I also want to say rest in peace to Natina Reed of the group Blaque. Wish she was still here to witness the stuff that’s about to go on with me.
A native of Millington, Christopher is the front man for the band, which is composed of Caucasian members excluding himself. The group is presently signed to Speak-rRr-Freak Entertainment (pronounced Speaker Freak), of which Christopher is a co-CEO. They're currently receiving a positive response to their track, "Blown Away,” which focuses on the battle between lust and true love and the pain it can cause.
Although different from most of the music I listen to, “Blown Away” managed to grab my attention the first time I heard it. The song’s passionate and heartfelt chorus grips the emotion of the listener. "It must be the lust, the heat, the pleasure just makes me weak. I make love to you another day, you're so addictive I get blown away. Blown away, blown away, you're so seductive I get blown away. Blown away, blown away you're so addictive I get blown away," Christopher passionately roars on the chorus. The song's soulful but rock-infused melody adds to its depth. Its heavy guitar riffs and drums provide a smooth balance to the song's sincere lyrics.
Christopher said the song and its video are both inspired by an abusive relationship that his friend experienced and her unwillingness to leave because of the strong physical connection she felt with her partner. This unfortunately resulted in her death.
“[The song is] about being in any type of situation that’s not good for you,” he said. “I had a friend about 10 years ago who had a boyfriend. We worked at the same company. They were always arguing and fighting. I used to tell her, ‘I don’t like him. It’s something about him.’ I was trying to tell her, 'That dude is going to end up hurting you.’ And one day, we were at work and they called me in, told me to sit down, and let me know that she was killed by her boyfriend. That’s where that song and video came from. Now you see all of this domestic violence when you turn on the TV, and that’s what that song is about. That’s why I say, ‘The lust, the heat, the pleasure just makes me weak.’ It’s about being in a situation that you know you shouldn’t be in, but for some reason, something’s keeping you there.”
Aside from J. Chris, the band is composed of lead and rhythm guitarists Josh Barnett and Chris Payne, bass guitarist Josh Norman, and Brandon Parsons on drums.
"Blown Away," isn't the band's only track receiving a good response. Harvest Mill is also gaining popularity from their rap and rock mixed song “Make a Move,” featuring Pyu, another co-CEO of Speak-rRr-Freak Entertainment.
"It's calling for people to quit looking at a situation that they can help change. It's time to make a move," Christopher said.
Another track is the passionate “Shot to My Vein,” which compares life struggles to sickness with music being the antibiotic cure.
“Chase” is another heartfelt track, which centers on love and deceit.
"It's about being in love and finding out the other person is unfaithful," Christopher said. "That moment when you have proof, and you want to hurt them bad, but you talk yourself out of it. That psycho moment!"
“Harvest Mill falls into more of the contemporary rock genre, and we kind of coined the phrase 'urban alternative.' There’s an urban influence on a lot of the music,” Christopher said. “It’s rock now, but it still has the urban influence. Even though we’re rocking with guitars, we still give you that beat to bob your head to.”
Prior to experimenting with rock, Christopher sang gospel (he's the child of two pastors) and R&B and also engineered and produced for rap artists such as La Chat, Kingpin Skinny Pimp, Kinfolk Kia Shine, and others. However, he said none of those genres provided him with an outlet to express his darkest emotions like rock does.
“When my friend died, I had no other way to express myself but through [music],” he said. “We were very good friends. When stuff like that happened, R&B didn’t do it. Gospel would’ve helped, but rock was a way for me to get those hard feelings out. [The band's] music is about our struggles in life. Music is a way for me to express my darkest thoughts in a constructive way where I don’t hurt myself or hurt somebody else. Sometimes you need an outlet to get some things out, and that’s what Harvest Mill does for me. [We’re a] young, energetic band that likes to have fun on stage, but we’re talking about some things that some people may not want to talk about.”
Christopher said he’s not worried about taking a different musical path than some of his African-American peers. He also aims to help influence African-American youth to explore their diversity and experiment with genres, such as rock, that may be outside their comfort zone.
"Everybody’s jumping into rap, because they think it’s a means to make money and they don’t understand even rap takes work,” he said. “No matter what you do, you’re going to have to work at it. I want black kids to get more involved [in genres other] than just rap and R&B. I want them to start seeing that there’s more music out there...there are different things that we can do. We don’t all have to strive to be Lil’ Wayne. You can strive to be your own person.”
Harvest Mill is presently working on their latest single, which is currently untitled. The group plans to release an EP by the summer. Speak-rRr-Freak Entertainment is currently planning its "Speak-rRr-Fest" on June 29th at 1884 Lounge inside Minglewood Hall. The event will be a cross-genre show featuring the label's rap and rock artists.
Christopher isn’t new to music. In the early 90s, he was part of the group Adagio, who were commissioned by the public relations firm Walker and Associates to write a jingle for McDonald's. He also used to own the production company, LauRog/Guillotine, along with partner Brandon “Ghostchild" Hunt (who currently owns the label, Space Hood Music Group).
Check out the McDonald's commercial featuring Adagio below.
Free after spending nearly nine years in prison, Tab “Turk” Virgil doesn’t seem to have missed a step on Blame It On The System, his first post-incarceration musical release.
Hosted by mixtape heavyweight DJ Holiday, the 15-song installment is more of an audio-biography of Turk’s life. On the song “Reckless,” he gives listeners a walk through of his battle with heroin addiction. He provides thoughts on corruption in the judicial system with the title track “Blame It On the System” and reveals the love he has for his wife on “Anything.” On the mixtape, Turk also reconnects with his Hot Boys brethren Juvenile, B.G. and Lil' Wayne (which released three albums together and sold more than a million records during their stint with Cash Money Records) on the remix to his song, “Zip It,” a track that criticizes those who cooperate with the police to send someone to jail.
Turk shared his thoughts on the mixtape, his first release in almost a decade. In 2004, he was sentenced to 12 years for second-degree attempted murder after he allegedly shot a sheriff's deputy during a drug raid at Memphis' Hickory Pointe Apartment complex. He was also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and an unlawful user addicted to a controlled substance in possession of a firearm.
During our conversation, Turk also classified what he considers to be snitching, revealed his thoughts on fellow Hot Boys member B.G.'s situation (who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2012 after pleading guilty to two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice), marriage, possibly releasing a movie with superstar actor and director Tyler Perry, and upcoming releases he has in the works.
How do you feel about the response you’ve received from Blame It On the System, which is your first musical release in almost a decade?
Turk: You know it’s all love. We finally reached the 25,000 download mark on Datpiff.com. It’s steadily growing. A lot of people are starting to follow the movement. It’s a blessing to come back after all these years and get the love and support that I’ve been getting. I’m looking forward to dropping three more [mixtapes] before June and doing an album.
What were you trying to convey by titling the mixtape, "Blame It On the System?"
It could go a whole lotta ways. At the time, I just felt that it was only right by me being gone so long to let the people know that I’m going to blame it on the system for the reason I’ve been gone so long and I shouldn’t. I’m gonna blame it on the system for the reason I’m balling right now when they thought I shouldn’t. Everything that’s going on in my life, I’m just looking back at them and basically just [saying] that I appreciate y'all for giving me a second chance.
Some of my favorite songs on the mixtape are "Fast Life," "Reunited with the Block," "Reckless," and "Anything." What are some of yours?
I like “Reckless.” It’s about my life. That’s the truest song. It’s heartfelt. It comes straight from the heart. I’m about to shoot a video for that. And “Rack Attack.” Of course “Zip It” and the all the songs on there. I put my heart into it, so I like all of them.
On the title track, "Blame It On the System," you mention that “corruption within the judicial system will never stop.” You also rap such lines as, “A black man can kill a black man, black man kill a white man they’re losing” and “You’re guilty 'til proven innocent.” Can you elaborate on these statements and why you feel this way?
For people who say the system is fair, [they] don’t know and haven’t ever been in it. If they really knew how it was, some jurors wouldn’t even find the people guilty, because they’re the biggest liars, the cheaters, the criminals. They’re the ones. But at the end of the day, we have to take responsibility for our actions because they don’t make us do anything. It’s just that they control the world—the government. I just put it on front street and try to let the people know if we don’t watch what we’re doing, we’re going to get caught up in that system and this is what it’s gonna be. I had to learn the hard way doing my time—eight years, eight months, 16 days. I refuse to go back down that path, so it’s like therapy for me to let the people know how corrupted the system is and move forward at the same time.
What is a message you would like to convey to the youth that you think a lot of rappers are refraining to tell them?
A lot of youngsters out here, they’re popping mollies [Molly is a drug slang term used to describe the purest form of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy]. They think that it’s cool. When I was coming up, I thought heroin and cocaine was cool. We were glorifying it in my city. I just want to let people know all drugs are bad for you. Anything that’s altering your mind. You can’t think for yourself. It ain’t good for you. You need to leave it alone and let it go. And as far as toting these guns out there, if you don’t have no permit and you get caught up in the system, you become a convicted felon, you catch you another charge, you get caught with even a bullet that’s five to 10 years mandatory. Just know the law. Know what you’re doing. If you choose to be hardheaded, you don’t wanna stop it, just be willing to accept the consequences and zip it. Don’t take everybody else down with you.
It's interesting that you mention that, because I was going to ask you about the song "Zip It" on your mixtape, which basically criticizes people who cooperate with law enforcement to incarcerate someone else in exchange for less jail time.
Yeah, people cooperating with the law, I don’t respect that. That’s why I had to come with a song like that, because like I say, it goes both ways with "Blame It On the System…even the people who are getting in the system and they want to help them. We’re gonna blame that on the system, because that’s how they got it set up. And a lot of people think that’s cool but it’s not, because if you get on their side and you help them that still puts your family at risk. Now you got people who wanna kill your family because of a selfish act that you did. You want to tell on somebody and you didn’t have to. You could’ve just took your lick.
In today’s society, different things can be classified as snitching. What do you personally consider to be snitching?
Collaborating with the police, period, to me is snitching. Any kind of assistance to the government is snitching. Snitching goes all kind of ways. Just hush your mouth and do you. Mind your business, and you won’t be a snitch.
Listening to the mixtape, something that stood out to me was your openness about your relationship status. Throughout the mixtape, you make several mentions about your wife (Memphis rapper Emani Da Made Woman), and the love you have for her, especially on the song “Everything.” And even on “Thank Me,” which is a song that caters to the ladies. What drives you to be so vocal about your relationship status in your music, which is different than the average entertainer who usually chooses to keep that portion of their life private?
When I went through my situation, she was the one that was there the whole time, so it’s only right for me to share my love and show my appreciation. I let the world know that there's nobody before her. It’s just real love. I don’t do the things that I used to do. I don’t cheat. I don’t go out and mess with all the girls. There's a lot of respect and loyalty in my relationship.
Transitioning from there, you mention B.G. several times throughout the mixtape, and he even appears on some songs. What are your thoughts on his situation? And have you been in communication with him, or had the chance to see him?
Me and B.G. communicate all the time on Corrlinks [an email system used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to allow inmates to communicate with the outside world], so we talk, and he calls on the phone and we talk to each other. I send him pictures. You know, it is what it is. He took his lick. He could’ve took a lot of people down, but he chose to take his lick and the consequences to that was them trying to give him a lot of time. Sometimes that's the case, but he still has his dignity. He still has his pride. He’s not labeled as a snitch. So you know, some people just stand for that man, and they’ll do the time. It might seem crazy, but it’s just the principle that you live by when you are a certain type of person.
You have some big name features on the mixtape from Lil' Wayne to Juvenile to Maybach Music Group's Gunplay, Memphis' own Lil' Lody and Calico Jonez, and many more. But one feature that really caught my attention was legendary New Orleans rap group U.N.L.V. They're one of my favorite Southern rap groups. How did that collaboration come about?
Tec-9 gave me a call. Actually, ["Uptown"] was a song that they wanted me to get on, but I told them that I was about to drop my mixtape and I wanted to pay homage, because I looked up to U.N.L.V. when I was coming up in New Orleans. They were like the 2pacs in New Orleans, along with Soulja Slim. And just to have a song with them was an honor. [Tec-9] gave me the blessing to put it on my mixtape and I was able to release it. Shout out to [Lil'] Ya for that, Tec, and rest in peace Yella Boy. I always wanted to do a song with U.N.L.V. That was my first record with them ever.
[U.N.L.V. was one of the first groups on the Cash Money Records roster. They had hits such as "Mac Melph Calio," "6th and Baronne," and "Drag 'Em in the River," which was a diss song directed at fellow New Orleans rapper Mystikal. Turk came to the record label shortly before their exit.]
Looking forward from the release of the mixtape, what’s next on your plate?
I got the Louisianimals Vol. 1 mixtape. That’s everybody in Louisiana who has a movement and is doing something. That’s Louisiana Cash, Dee-1, Fox, Webbie, Lil' Boosie — he's about to touch down. Just everybody in Louisiana. We’re pushing on that. It’s about to come out in the next 60 days. And we got the Blame It On the System 1.5 and we got the Make Love, Make Money with me and my wife.
Are you still pushing your YNT Empire independently, or are you coming close to signing to a major label?
A few A&R’s have been talking about me. Giving me a few phone calls for some major companies. I’m not gonna mention their names, because ain’t nothing on paper right now, but everything is being talked about. They’re watching my movement. Their eyes are on me.
What about your book, The AutoThugography of Turk, and your movie RECKLESS, which is based on your life story. Are they both scheduled to be released in 2013?
Right now, I’m trying to get with Tyler Perry on my movie. He’s from New Orleans, so we’re trying to do big things together. So I’ma see how that go with RECKLESS. And the book will be out real soon. It'll be out this year.
I also read that you’re reaching back to those in prison with your magazine, YNT Incarcerated. Can you tell me a little about that?
It’s just like a magazine movement behind prison. A lot of my guys I left in prison. They had a lot of things they wanted to get out but couldn’t. By me being in a situation and understanding the struggle behind bars, I told them that I’ll get behind them and support it. So I got some guys who are writers in prison telling their story. We’re going to put their stories out and hopefully we can help the youth, so they won't go down the path that we already went down, and these stories can turn into movies. That’s the plan for the future. Just taking everything that was negative and turning it into something positive.
For a decade, the Southern Entertainment Awards (SEAs) has provided independent rap artists, producers, DJs, event promoters, and music fanatics with the chance to enjoy panel discussions, artist showcases, and a star-filled awards ceremony.
Everyone from the likes of Def Jam Records’ Big K.R.I.T., Grand Hustle’s B.O.B., Southern rap heavyweight Gucci Mane, Memphis' own Yo Gotti and platinum producer Drumma Boy, and even female rap superstar Nicki Minaj have graced the event with their presence over the years.
Although it's been held in Memphis for the last two years, the SEAs will celebrate its 10th annual conference and award show in Nashville (the city where it began) from March 21st-24th at the Embassy Suites and Marathon Music Works, among other venues.
“We’re embarking on 10 years. Not too many other events can say that,” said Janiro Hawkins, co-founder of the SEAs. “The Source Awards didn’t even last five years, so it’s been a blessing that after 10 years of hard work and labor and red tape, we’re still here, because it’s not easy for African-American males who are entrepreneurs to do what we’re doing in any city.”
Guest panelists and performers for the event will include Big K.R.I.T., Memphis native and Interscope Records signee Don Trip, Grammy Award-winning producer/songwriter Syience, and others.
“From the conference, [independent artists and DJs] can expect to get some guidance and direction on what their next step needs to be,” Hawkins said. “In addition to that, they can network with some key individuals and DJs throughout the market to build long-lasting relationships. The conference will have different topics up for discussion on a panel that individuals can sit in on. They can learn about marketing, how to get songs on radio, how to protect their music, and earn money from their music legally.”
Although the event's primary objective is to help launch the careers of aspiring entertainers in the Southern region, the SEAs is most notable for its award ceremony. Some of its past nominees, winners and performers include Yo Gotti, Drumma Boy, Big K.R.I.T., Gucci Mane, Kinfolk Kia Shine, La Chat, and Gangsta Boo.
During the ceremony, awards are provided in more than 30 categories that include “Mixtape DJ of the Year,” “Number One DJ in the South,” “Producer of the Year,” “Magazine of the Year,” and “Website of the Year.”
Hawkins expects to have more than 750 people attend the 10th annual conference and award show. The price to attend the awards is $50, and the conference price is $50 as well.
Hawkins said the idea to create the SEAs came about after he and partner DJ Infamous dealt with so many independent artists and DJs at their music store, Platinum Bound Records, and noticed the lack of appreciation they receive for their hard work.
“Month after month, year after year, we saw that they weren’t being acknowledged for their work and contributions to music, especially the DJs, anywhere in the south,” Hawkins said. “Like from a grassroots, independent function. So what we did was look at the DJ in all the different facets of music that they touch and have an influence in. And that’s kinda how we branched out our categories. … it was based on what the DJ was instrumental in doing. That’s what started the event 10 years ago. We wanted to create a way for people to show their appreciation for a lot of these indie artists and DJs and individuals that are out here creating the music who ultimately may go on to become the next A-list artist. “
Since launching, the SEAs estimate to have impacted the careers of more than 5,000 nominees within the southern region. The first ever SEA event took place in Nashville in 2004. Since then, the event has migrated from various casino resorts in Tunica, Mississippi to both the Cannon Center and Cook Convention Center in Memphis, before returning to its birthplace in Nashville.
Hawkins said the company decided to bring the SEAs back to Nashville due to lack of support and assistance from the Memphis Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, city government, and the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission. An increase in Memphis hotel rates was a contributing factor to the move as well.
On the last night of Black History Month, more than 100 students and city residents gathered in the Hardie Auditorium at Rhodes College to hear world-renowned artist, producer, and actor David Banner share his thoughts on the state of hip-hop.
As I stepped into the room, I noticed a variety of ages and races in attendance. We all waited patiently for Banner to arrive. I've seen several videos of him lecturing online, so I was excited to hear what he had to say.
Banner received a standing ovation when he walked into the room clad in dark slacks, a button-up shirt, scarf, and dress shoes — a contrast to the apparel he wore during the days he released such hits as “Like a Pimp” featuring Lil’ Flip, “Play,” and “Get like Me” featuring Chris Brown and Yung Joc.
“Don’t believe anything that I say. Just don’t dispute it,” Banner said after introducing himself to the audience. “Go research it first.”
For nearly an hour, Banner touched on hip-hop, its correlation to slavery, and how it has and continues to affect society — primarily the African-American community. He alluded to how blacks have gone "from whips and chains" during slavery to "chains and whips" (slang for necklaces and cars) being one of the primary messages that the race conveys in hip-hop music.
I thought about the statement for a second and concurred. Today's rap music is largely infested with materialism.
Banner said hip-hop in its current form could be compared to an American plantation. He broke it down to three sections: the house slave, yard slave, and field slave. In other words, the house slave is the artist who has obtained super-stardom. The yard slave is someone that has achieved some commercial success, but is pushing for the same prosperity as the house slave. And the field slave is more so the independent artist that’s working to maintain relevance and their own form of success.
“The plantation owner is the record label,” Banner explained. “When you get a record deal, [a lot of people] think that’s the biggest thing in the world. If you get $200,000, and you’re not used to making $100 a week, that’s the world. ... I had ‘Stuntin is a habit,' [the chorus for hit song 'Get Like Me']. I was number one in the world. I had millions. But I didn’t feel right. I couldn’t sleep right. My friends were saying, ‘You got a Bentley. All these movie star girls want to be with you. What’s wrong?’”
During the lecture, Banner also opened up about his recent absence from releasing music, which he attributed to him thinking he was part of the reason why so many African Americans fell victim to the street life, materialism, avoided receiving a decent education, among other issues.
“Hip-hop was supposed to be a reflection of the streets, [but] hip-hop [today] doesn’t touch on real situations… things that are really taking place in the streets,” he expressed passionately. “The one thing that I do like about hip-Hop is it brings every race of people together.”
Other things Banner touched during the lecture was how many Caucasians have become more comfortable with using the “N-word” in today’s society versus a decade ago, how youth know more than their parents suspect, the idolization of entertainers versus successful people in other professions, and how it’s become cool to encourage drug usage.
He also expressed his thoughts on how people such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Pimp C (who allegedly died from respiratory depression due to an overdose of promethazine and codeine, but is rumored to have possibly been poisoned), and Medgar Evers, lost their lives because they were trying to improve the conditions and knowledge of not just African-Americans, but the oppressed and underprivileged population as a whole (he mentioned famous electrical inventor Nikola Tesla as well).
Shortly before ending his lecture and taking questions from the audience, Banner asked everyone to close their eyes before inquiring, “How do you really feel about black people?”
“The way that we change the world is by changing ourselves,” he said. “If we change ourselves, we inherently change the world."
After hearing him speak, I felt so enlightened and encouraged. It's amazing how one person can have a positive impact on so many people. I hope to have the opportunity to hear him speak again in the near future. Maybe even have a personal chat with him and receive some helpful advice on life. Only time will tell.
For readers who aren't too familiar with David Banner, here's a little history:
Banner has released six solo albums, as well as a collaborative effort with producer 9th Wonder titled Death of a Pop Star. Outside of rap, he scored the lead dance sequence of the 2011 remake of Footloose. He wrote, produced and arranged the song for Gatorade's 2010 "Gatorade Has Evolved" TV ad campaign, the 2011 Mercedes tribute single, "Benz" which also featured U.K. singers Estelle and Daley, and much more.
He’s also starred in movies such as Black Snake Moan, Stomp the Yard 2, Days of Wrath, and The Experiment.
In November 2006, Banner was awarded a Visionary Award by the National Black Caucus of the State Legislature in recognition of his charity work following Hurricane Katrina. In September 2007, he testified before Congress at a hearing about racism and misogyny in hip-hop music titled "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degrading Images." He defended his use of offensive language.
Banner recently received a key to his native city Jackson, Mississippi. He’s currently planning the release of his first film.