|das zweiund20ste ± schräg & durchsichtig ± Dez/Jan 00||SF HipHop|
It's a cold dreary morning. I scuttle past the people huddled together waiting for the bus and into and old building. The kind that reminds you of a 1930s detective movie. I take the elevator to the 11th floor and proceed to suite 1120. From outside I can hear someone on the telephone. I knock on the door. COME IN! he shouts. I open the door and inside is a lone gentleman with the phone pinned to his ear with his shoulder as he types up some email. It's a modest office with a few posters (Jennifer Lopez, yes indeed) and tons of boxes full of records. He finally gets off of thephone and directs his attention to me. You want a tee-shirt man..."yeah", I say even though I usually don't accept gifts from strangers..."so you promote more that just music?"... Meet DJ Beni B, president of the Bay Area Hip-Hop Coalition and ABB Records.
BB: The Bay Area Hip-Hop Coalition is a collective of DJs. We try to work together to promote education awareness of hip-hop music and culture to the masses.
ouk: What artists do you have on ABB records?
BB: I had Dilated Peoples, and Defari, and I also had foreign legion. Now I have Superstar Quamallah, producer Joey Chavez, and Sound Providers.
ouk: Being the president of the BAHHC are you in a sense, in control of the Bay Area Hip-Hop scene?
BB: No, not by a long shot. What we do is try to work together with other people in the hip hop scene and hopefully add something to it. You know add another dimension to it. One of the things that is interesting is that with hip-hop garnering the attention its getting it easy for people to get into it for all the wrong reasons, but I look at as something that I like to do. We come from the generation that had one foot in the culture before hip hop and one foot in hip-hop. So when rap first started gaining grounds, well, this wasn't a culture that shaped us. This is quite different than it is for kids now who are born and the culture's already established so I think that in terms of our ability to relate to the youth are better than say our parents. For example we're old enough to know who Rosa Parks is, but you have a generation of kids who don't know who she is, the only thing they know is that Outkast did a tribute to her and that she tried tosue them. You have kids out there who know who Snoop Dogg is, but they don't know who Jesse Jackson is, and so the kids are more apt to identify with the rap star, versus someone outside the field of entertainment, because they're speaking directly to them. It's all in presentation and how things are presented in the media in terms of its perception. So when you say who's in control of the bay area hip-hop scene there are different things you have to look at in terms of control. You have to look at who's controlling it from a media standpoint. From a financial standpoint, who's controlling the venues, who's controlling access to information.
ouk: Can you spell that out.
BB: I can honestly tell you that we as Black people don't control it.We're a part of it, but we don't control it. It is controlled by those who control the music industry, because on a larger scale it is part of the music industry, but we have our own niche. Do you remember the movie Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone, where you have the people on top, and people underground. The people on top controlled everything, the people underground were together enough to where they eventually carved their own niche. We're able at least in our part of the world to have some degree of control over what goes out through the empowerment of college radio, there is that forum that isn't subject to the same standards as commercial radio where it all comes down to the dollar.
ouk: If you could, please tell us who are some of the players on the Bay Area scene that you feel are important. People in other parts of the world are interested in the Bay Area scene, but it seems that people know who planet Asia is, but they don't know who Defari is.
BB: If they know who Planet Asia is, it is because of artists like Defari. Because there are artists who open doors for other artists like for me to be able to have ABB Records, you have Too Short, MC Hammer with Bust It Records, Tony Toni Tone, Foster-McElroy, Quantum Projects, HeiroImperrium. You know living legends. The thing you have to appreciate is that it is a legacy that everything is connected to. We're all walking down corridors, and we're all walking through doors and so, I might be the last person to walk through the door. But my ability to continue are largely dependant on whether or not I keep the door open for someone else to walk through. In terms of your major players. If you had to start at the top. The first person I would say is Davy D. The ramifications of his contributions are still being felt. Her was the first one to advance the idea of let's put a coalition together. That was 12 years ago. Kevvy Kev, at KZSU who has the longest running hip hop show in the country. I think is going on it's 16th year. Billy Jam with his Don't Give a Damn Movement and his devotion to the local scene. Various promoter...DeShawn Kennedy with Ill Trans Productions, one of the premier street promotion companies in the bay.The Hieroglyphics, Quantum Projects, The Pirate DJs and also this is where the Wake Up Show originated. The model of the Wake Up Show came from college radio. Sway, the Justice League, The Black Dot Artists Collective, Local 1200 DJ crew, Alex Aquino of the International Turntabilists Federation, Sidiqqi and Tamu, Beast Sauce Radio at KUSF, Eric Arnold, Stones Throw, Peanut Butter Wolf, Mixala. There are alot of players. The key thing is how everything balances. Here in the bay you have a lot of non-minorities that are part of the scene. If you go to a show you may not see any Black folks. You'll see Asians, Indians, Latinos, everybody. When you look at who controls it. If you look at college radio. The face of college radio is white, it ain't us. The people who are writing about hip-hop aint us. When they write about it they don't write about it from the perspective of how it relates to them. Understand it's a ghetto culture, it's an urban culture. If you grew up in Beverly Hills, it's hard for you to relate to that culture so you see the perspective being warped. I think the internet has been a boon to hip-hop but it's also been a curse. It's been a boon because it's helped widen its appeal, its message, but at the same time it's allowed people to advance their own philosophies and view points to the point where there are individuals who may be recipients of these messages who accept that as the be-all end-all. With respect to the music itself you have to take the good with the bad. It's all about being able to weed things out. You got people who come into the game now and all they want is the good shit. But they don't take the time to listen to the other stuff. They don't realize there's a community here, a whole generation of artists that help define the bay area scene that has really been the model for what's what you see taking place in the south and in rap in general. Oakland started the whole playa playa, baller baller type shit. Oakland started the whole bounce thing. The south got its game from Oakland. That's not to say I'm upset because the artists in the south are doing what they do. I think it's a great thing. But folks have to understand that and learn to appreciate that. One of the things that I can say here is that on the independent tip this is a region that supports independents whole heartedly, why is it that everyone wants to come to the bay because they know what kind of love they get out here. We embrace the E-40s and the Keith the Sneaks just as we accept the Mos Defs and the Pharaoh Monchs, the Defaris and the Dilated Peoples, and the Planet Asias. This is not a region where there is an industry like L.A. So it's easier to find your niche here, plus with all the outlets with college radio there's many places to go. In L.A. if you do a demo you have to take it to the majors or to commercial radio, but here. The mentality is "I'm a sell this in my hood" so these artists are ghetto superstars, people may not have heard of them outside of their little area, but hey man.
ouk: Tell me a little bit about ABB Records. How you got started? What you're trying to accomplish through it and why you chose them?
BB: I started ABB three years ago and it was basically cause I needed some money. Defari and I went to school together. He was working on music and no one was giving him the time of day in terms of like we're gonna put your shit out. So I was like let's put your joints out and he was like yo I'm with that. So it kinda started like that. Through the Defari I met Evidence and Rocka and they were like "eh man we got a record too" so we started putting out the Dilated records, through them I met Joey Chavez, so for the last three years it's kind of been like a family type of thing. I haven't been interested in going out and signing all kinds of artists because I'd rather take three artist, invest my time and my money in them and blow them up, then bring in three more. That way everyone gets the attention they need. It's also a growing process. It's an educational process. ABB is an acronym for Always Bigger and Better and what I mean by that acronym is that your only as good as the last record you put out. People remember you for the last record you put out. So our goal is to be consistent with the music that flows through ABB. Each record may be different. Defari is not Dilated Peoples, or foreign legion, but over all the sound is the ABB sound. We're trying to turn you on to a new sound,we're saying listen to this and appreciate this for what it is not in relation to everything that's out there. It's consistent. We're trying to build up an awareness that whenever you see a release on ABB you need to pick it up. Everytime you see a release go buy that mutha fucka. A lot of what I've done in the last three years has been word of mouth. An artist will shoot me a tape and if I like it I'll work with it. Because of my relationships with a lot of people, I've done radio for 12 years, so I've been going to conventions and seminars, producing beats, I know a lot of people. When we put the first Defari record out I was like ok I know who I can send them to. Bob is my man, Stretch Arm Strong, Primo, Pete Rock, knowing those individuals and knowing they're going to support it because it's good. I can't mention DJs without mentioning Sway andTech and DJ Revolution, Mike Nardon. All very supportive. DJ Baboo of the Beat Junkies is in Dilated. These relationships are very important and even in the press ... Jeff Mowe heard I had a record out ... "Yo man I want to review it in the Source" the only independent record being reviewed in the source. I think that people are hungry for real quality music. Are you gonna eat instant mashed potatoes or are you gonna mash em and make em yourself, that's what it's all about. It's about feeding people. You know that old saying of if I feed you you can eat, but through ABB you learn how to fish so you can feed yourself for you whole life. In talking about the Dilated Peoples record The Platform. The Platform is a set of values that one stands behind and espouses to the constituency and that's what ABB is about. Our fans now we want to be fans 5 years from now. We want you to grow with us as we grow with you. This music is related to a lot of different areas be it politics or be it sports, or education. By us having that platform we can continue to do what we do. People have to realize that this is an independent Black owned company so my commitment is to my people. Let's try to teach these young artists something about this business. There are a lot of synergistic relationships in this business. If you look at it now it all about cross marketing. It's about saying Funkmaster Flex, I'm gonna put you in an ad with Jerome Bettis. Michael Jordan we're gonna have you play Montel Jordan in a 1 on1. It's also about being fair. People have heard the horror stories about artists getting ripped off. If you wake up at noon everyday, and I wake up at 7am everyday we're both working, but artists have to look at the relationship between good music and good business. If you have a good record with good business behind it'll make it a great record. We're looking at longevity. We're looking at the ability to sell records over along period of time. Too often the industry measures a successful record by first week sales. And to me that fortuitous, because it gives you noindication of a groups impact. It's like investing. You don't invest in the short term you invest in the long term. However the majors are part of larger corporations whose primary focus is the bottom line that theory gets lost. I think with independents are in a position to invest in the longterm. I have a company just like Jay-Z and Damien Dash. I may be at the other end of the spectrum, but I still make money. And I think I'm in a good position to grow.
ouk: I was looking at your numbers and 25,000 copies is a lot to move being independent and word of mouth. Has anyone approached you.
BB: I've gotten a couple of calls, but not all deal offers are good offers, it's not just about the money, it's about the fit, in some cases the artists have grown faster than the label. I can tell you that when Defari signed his deal I was happy, when Dilated got signed I was happy. I felt like a father who had given birth to 2 kids or a professor who just saw two of his students graduate. The thing is that they're still pat of the ABB family. I'm still very much involved with Dilated. I could be like the fourth member of Dilated. Defari and I still talk everyday. To move those type of numbers is something that happened over time. It's something that happens as you let word of mouth take over. It's a lot of work convincing an artist that you just don't drop an album after 2 singles. You build it up over time. So when you do drop an album you know what you're gonna do. The most power that you have in this business is the power to say no. Alot of artists don't understand this. What I try to do is have my records sell over time. I once walked into the Sound Library in New York and I went downstairs, and I saw all these boxes full of ABB records, and I said You got all these records down here and he said Yeah cause in a few years, these records gone be worth money. So what that says is that we're going about this the right way. We're making songs rather than just beats.
ouk: So we can look forward to hip hop being changed to fit ABB's vision?
BB: It'll still be Hip-Hop cause it's all about the sound, what we do is take our interpretation of Hip-Hop and mold it to fit the personality. I will contribute to the genre. I don't wanna say influence. Allowing the artist to have a vision and being able to work with it and having them understand about the business. The most important attribute you can have as an artist is the ability to listen. To many of us wanna think about what we're gonna say next. I like to think that I listen to people. I've got alot of projects that I'm looking at right now. Like right now I'm looking at doing a soul compilation. Being into beats and all it kinda fell into my lap. This will expose people to a whole genre of music that has been pushed aside. I fell blessed that God has let me get to this point there's been a little bit of struggle but I'm doing what I want to do. I have 2 degrees from Cal (Berkeley). I could have went the Ph.D. route, but I wanted to put out records. I'm doing what I wanted to do not a lot of people can say that. Also I want to do more DJing. I have a disco fetish. I love disco. Hip-Hop encompasses all types of music, it encompasses techno, house, country western, everything. It's all about how you play it and not getting caught up in conventions.
ouk: What's your take on DrumnBass?
BB: I like some of it. Where Hip Hop differs from other genres is that you have a radio outlet for it. Because of that outlet that what drives sales, but when you go to England the dance records do very well. It's the same principle. All the DrumnBass artists here try to get licensed overseas, and like wise they're trying to get their records here. It validates you in a sense. There are a lot of artist overseas that I want to work with, Roots Maneuver, Mark B, the Creators. There's a lot of cats that I want to work with. It's about having the tool to get that out. Hopefully we have established a certain credibility with those fans. We want to develop and nurture that relationship, because again, you're only as good as your last record. Joey Chavez is in the studio, Megahertz has two releases and we're talking about doing something.