By Erich Riepen
Six legendary hip-hop professionals dropped some major inspiration to a packed room of students in the Berklee Loft last Thursday. In the panel discussion sponsored by Red Bull, the all-star team shared stories and business savvy in support of the recent record release, Loud Dreams. Moderated by top journalist, Shaheem Reid (who’s interviewed every major hip-hop artist “except Dr. Dre”), the panel boasted producers Sean C & LV (Jay-Z’s American Gangster, Puff Daddy, Big Pun), engineer Chris Tabron (Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, Beyoncé), and rising hip-hop duo Charlie RED (producer/instrumentalist Cobaine Ivory and blues singer Chauncy Sherod).
Loud Dreams is a compilation LP conceived of and produced by Sean C & LV. It’s an album of inspiration – a tribute to the dreams of aspiring rappers, producers, and artists who take the daunting risk to enter the hip-hop scene. Featuring both well-known rappers and up-and-coming talent, the album serves the hip-hop community with a chance for younger acts like Charlie RED to collaborate with veterans such as Busta Rhymes and Bun B. Though Loud Dreams definitely hones a concept like albums do, in certain ways it’s a throwback to the mixtape days – stripped down to the basics with little mixing and effects. The free LP can be downloaded at seancandlv.com. I recommend a listen.
There were several themes and memorable quotes that stood out as panelists told their stories and gave their takes on the music industry. Here’s an insider’s look at hip-hop, from relationships to labels to craft:
FRIENDSHIP – For Sean C & LV, what started out in Harlem, NY as a neighborhood friendship turned into a successful business and co-production partnership. It’s not uncommon for guys who work together to have been lifelong buddies. One thing that will be key to your success is your ability to hang with people. Stay humble, friendly, and outgoing.
NICKNAMES – Speaking of friends, I noticed the panelists had a shorthand way of referring to people they’ve worked with: Jay-Z was “Jay,” Puff Daddy was “Puff” or “Daddy,” LV was “L,” Big Pun was “Pun,” and Shaheem was “Sha.” When you get the chance to interact with influential people, I highly recommend making an effort to pick up on industry language. It makes you look more knowledgeable.
MENTORSHIP – Anyone who becomes successful in hip-hop gets there with the help of someone else. Sean C gave LV a chance to work as a DJ for Big Pun, telling Pun a white lie that LV was one of the X-Ecutioners, a popular collective of turntablists Sean was involved with. This opportunity became LV’s entry into the big time. Now, Sean C & LV are giving several new artists a chance to be featured on their album with a number of seasoned rappers and producers.
ALBUM VS. MIXTAPE – Loud Dreams is a bit of a hybrid because it shares elements of both an album and a mixtape. An album generally refers to a professional, studio-produced record that revolves around a recurring concept or theme. A mixtape, on the other hand, has its origins in the cassette tape days when aspiring artists gave out cassettes for free with a bunch of tracks they made. The mix was never fancy and usually didn’t have well-known rappers on it. Though Loud Dreams is professionally produced and concept-based like an album, it showcases up-and-coming artists, it’s free, and the mix is basic like a mixtape.
MAJOR VS. INDEPENDENT – As an independent, though you single-handedly take care of everything from recording to promotion, you maintain ownership of your material. With a major label, you’ll enjoy having several people working on your behalf, but the label will take ownership of your songs. Charlie RED says they want to stay independent as long as possible so they can continue to own their material. Cobaine wants to gain leverage (via album credits, social media followers, etc.) before going with a label so they can have bargaining power. Without leverage, a major label can exert control over the artist. Also, you need fans – majors no longer sign people who don’t already have buzz around them.
USE THE INTERNET – According to Chauncy, “[the internet has] cut the veil between you and the big people.” He shared his story of how his tweet with a link to his original material to producer/rapper Jermaine Dupri turned into a meeting and an ongoing relationship with Jermaine. Take advantage of social media.
“If you focus on your craft, the universe will bring an exorbitant amount of opportunities your way.”
FOCUS ON YOUR CRAFT – Chauncy says artists are too infatuated with numbers. What’s most important in hip-hop is that you hone your craft and keep getting as good as possible. Though it’s hard to avoid distractions when people start paying attention to your music, you will excel further in the end by keeping your head down. Great quote from Chauncy: “If you focus on your craft, the universe will bring an exorbitant amount of opportunities your way.”
“It’s like shooting free throws in the playoffs.With tireless practice, your big moment will be muscle memory.”
BE PREPARED – There was talk from the panel about “your time to see Yoda.” Meaning? Always be prepared for that random encounter with a high-powered producer or A&R person who can get you into the industry. Make sure your business cards and online music channel are up to date, and keep chiseling away at your craft. Per Chris: “It’s like shooting free throws in the playoffs. With tireless practice, your big moment will be muscle memory.”
Loud Dreams is about friends, mentors, and hard-working individuals putting themselves out there. It’s an album that carries passionate social messages from the depths of experience. Per the pro’s themselves, I learned that hip-hop isn’t just a scene, but a community where people take risks and friends help one another out. If you’re trying to make it in hip-hop, remember: make friends, hone your craft, and prepare yourself for your golden opportunity to spring into the industry.