Don’t Quit Your Day Job
[ Little Brother, The Listening LP, designed by FWMJ ]
NYC-based designer/blogger Frank William Miller Junior’s portfolio includes worldwide underground acts like Slum Villlage, Jazzy Jeff and Ayah, Little Brother [above], Foreign Exchange and Jay Electronica, who has shared his unreleased music and actual typed out lyrics with the guy!
[ Jay Electronica, Act II by FWMJ ]
Home of the typed out Jay Elect lyrics and much more, Frank’s RappersIKnow blog has been his platform since 2005, while some of his day jobbing has felt less fulfilling. In early 2006 he started a four-year stint as the Interactive Brand Manager and Art Director at Hot 97 FM. Then he spent a year as a Web Producer at Rockstar Games, followed by his current role of Art Director for Italian Wine Merchants. A year into his wine design gig, as recently covered by Black Enterprise magazine, he is comfortably far from Hip Hop — by day at least.
[ FWMJ ran the hurdles for Rice University ]
B: What comes to mind when you hear the four words, 12 letters HipHopGrewUp?
F: I think of hip hop as a nebulous, undefined and shapeless youth conforming into 40-plus, wanna-be corporate types. Becoming the enemy it has always, at least in spirit if not aspiration, railed against. Hip Hop Grew Up, and wears suits…. tries to put on shell-toes and bucket hats or fitteds, but at the heart of it is still wearing the colonizer’s uniform.
B: You sound disgusted… doth this disgust you?
F: Haha… Most corporate Hip Hop does, yes.
B: How do you manage that anger and conflict, realistically? Weren’t you still authentically Hip Hop working for Emmis?
F: Nah, I wasn’t. I was relying on a corporate structure sucking the life out of Hip Hop to pay my bills. All that “I’m going to change the game by working from inside the belly of the beast” crap doesn’t work. It gave me access to conversations and friendships and relationships I wouldn’t have been able to engage in otherwise. Leaving there, and then the entertainment industry in general, I feel better about my participation in Hip Hop again because I’m not attached to anyone else’s agenda, but whatever it is I decide that I like and also decide to actively support and champion.
You see me, I go on my lil’ mini-rants against corporate Hip Hop and some of my peers in the industry here in New York will be like “dang, you really want people to just not have jobs, huh?”
I’m like, “I didn’t say that, but I think the labels’ involvement in dictating the flow of what survives in the marketplace regardless of the quality can wither the hell up and die for all I care.”
With all these labels absorbing each other, there ain’t bout to be but three left and… “the white man gets paid off alladat”. I realize it’s impossible to sever art and commerce completely, but the art that’s stood the test of time with me personally — that I’ve liked the most when i was a pure consumer — I’ve come to find had creativity and quality as core values versus maximizing revenue.
B: Do people really mean it when they say stuff like, “I’m going to change the game by working from inside the belly of the beast”?
F: For a lil’ while, until they reach too much resistance. Or they start making excuses for the structure once they get in and start benefiting from it. They may throw ‘the real [Hip Hop]‘ a bone here and there, but at the end of the day they’re protecting the mother sow whose tit they suck off. Some people just can’t assimilate, and some people can to meet their ends.
I could not.
B: What goes through your mind when you champion a grown up, underground hero type rapper, and then he signs with Jay-Z?
F: “Hip Hop Grew Up”.
When your narrative is decidedly anti-establishment, then you join up with it, it is what it is. I see it as compromise, but it’s probably excused as “I’m gonna change the game from within.”
B: Aren’t there similarities between a grown up underground hero type rapper signing with Jay Z, and a ‘real hip hop’ guy working a corporate music industry job? Is conflict inevitable?
F: Depends. It’s difficult talking about other people’s choices versus the choices you’d make for yourself, or made once and will never make again.
B: Agreed. But we talk about it.
F: I don’t think conflict is inevitable. Most people I know that work or want to work in the music industry have like vague [perceptions from] watching music videos, reading articles of artists and old timey execs living the high life… of the days when labels actually made money hand over fist and everyone had corporate cards and expense accounts. They want to be a part of the action, the scene, whatever. Their love or mild interest in music comes secondary to being a part of the ‘cool kids club’.
“Let’s do lunch.”
“Oh I work with so and so, and manage such and such. What do you do?”
“*Armchair A&R shoot-from-the-hip industry techno-babble meant to sound like meaningful assertions about the industry*”
“I’m an independent marketing and social media expert”
Having been a cool mofer my whole life, this was never really of consequence for me. Give me intelligence, nuance and quality over vapid cool.
Working in the industry has a cool factor, but unless you’re a top dog, you’re not making enough money to live. I mean, survive, maybe. But live? Not in New York. Most folks I know in New York working in the industry are broke, unless they are carry-overs from the 90s. Most grew up watching rap videos and thinking “ooh, I wanna work at a legendary label or company XYZ and go to parties and call these people peers.” It’s more important to me that quality Hip Hop I like to listen to and experience with my friends and peers gets made than being at the latest liquor-sponsored party with Rapper Bumbaclaat hanging out.
B: When I think of Hip Hop Grew Up, I consider how Hip Hop used to live off those big budgets and now it’s like it got kicked out of the house like a grown man. All that to say, it’s courageous to even make a record in 2011-12, or practice some breakdancing, or any such thing.
F: I ain’t a rapper, nor do I make music, so I can’t really comment on that side of the line. I can only support the kind of Hip Hop I want more of.
B: But you understand the sacrifice.
F: But if I was, I wouldn’t expect to be supported by the art I’m creating for the people.
F: Because people only want a pure artist to survive off their art if they are comfortable and secure in their own life. Art is excess to most people. To those of us that make art it’s not even art, it’s just how we live and breathe and… communicate. But to the rest of the “boring” world that don’t believe they have a creative bone in their bodies, it’s unnecessary because they don’t know how to use their own creativity to any useful purpose.
Everyone’s creative, some people just had it stomped out of them too early in their lives and are out of practice with expressing it, or are unwilling to explore it because it was taught to them that being creative would serve no practical purpose in their life.
Pure economics. When things get bad, you trim the fat and make a more efficient machine; the first things to go are arts and entertainment.