Last night, BET pulled one of the biggest stunts in TV history. After announcing their cult show BET UnCut was coming back to the excitement of thousands of fans that enjoyed the show, they let us know we were Punkd, to promote their new version of “Punkd,” the old MTV prank show. I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to submit new music to BET UnCut and angry that they used my song without my permission to promote their unfunny prank and plan to sue them for it. Still the hype around UnCut has brought a renewed interest in my career, so I thought I’d let my fans and fans of UnCut know what I’ve been up to since UnCut was cancelled and how I got the video on BET UnCut.
15 years ago, when I made the video for White Girls, I don’t think I could ever imagine a cheaper and easier way to make a music video. I was an school teacher by day and underground rapper by night, not the typical path of an Columbia University graduate.
My song “Liquorland” was helping me sell a lot of records and was getting a lot of college radio play and even appeared on Mike Nardone’s “We Came From Beyond” compilation along with Major Label acts, The Beastie Boys, Dilated People’s and Jurassic 5.
Through Liquorland, I was contacted by an up and coming music video director, Matt Moran. I told him about a new song I had “White Girls” which was a parody of the Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five classic “White Lines.” Because of it’s shock value, humor and references to both sexual and racial taboos, I thought the song could be a hit.
I filmed the video for 2 dollars. The director used the house of a friend’s of his, the girls in video responded to Craig’s List ad and the video was edited for free by a friend of the director. All I paid for was subway fare to the video shoot.
Way before YouTube, I realized that the internet was a great place to watch music videos, before it would appear on BET, the video was a hit on a hip-hop site called CentralCali.com which streamed the video. Later I would use a site called Blastro, for my video “Black Rapping School.” I also realized the power of streaming audio. Before iTunes there was a site SandBoxAutomatic that would stream small clips of hip-hop records and sell them online. Simply by posting my music on the site, I was able to sell thousands of records across the world without any radio promotion of publicity.
Before “White Girls” became a hit on BET UnCut, it was a hit in my house. Friends would come over and bring friends to my house to watch the video on VHS tape. One friend told me about a program it would be ideal for, a show that aired on BET at 3am that showed raunchy low budget rap videos called BET UnCut. Through due diligence, I found out how to submit a video and mailed it in with the submission form.
A few weeks later, in November of 2002, I got the call, they loved the video and would show it on BET UnCut. I thought that they would just show it once, little did I know they would show the video hundreds of times. Although the video was on at 3am in the morning, it managed to get 500,000 people a night to watch it, more than a lot of cable shows in prime time. Given the amount of times that BET showed the video it had the equivalent of more than 50 million YouTube views.
Despite having a video in rotation on BET, few labels showed any interest, so I put out my album “Original Rudebwoy” through Traffic Entertainment on my own label, Busted Lip Records. By running a label, I learned the importance of radio promotion, publicity and distribution. I quickly realized that the big rap magazines like XXL, The Source and Vibe would not give much coverage to independent acts so I focused on the internet. Soon I would get coverage on hip-hop sites like HipHopDx, AllHipHop, and SOHH, and sites that didn’t even really cover hip-hop like Vice and Pitchfork.
After selling a decent amount of records and getting a good amount of press I was contacted by a company called IODA that distributed records online through various platforms including a new digital musical sales initiative by Apple called iTunes. I quickly realized that selling music online was easier and more effective with a lot less overhead than selling CDs in store. Through message boards like Okay Player, and UndergroundHipHop.com, emails and Myspace, I realized that it possible to promote and sell records online, cutting out the middle men.
Eventually Marlon and Shawn Wayans would see my video for White Girls on BET UnCut and decide to use it for their movie “White Chicks.” They gave me a big check and I learned about the importance of licensing and publishing. To this day I still get checks for all the times “White Chicks” is on TV or streamed on Netflix. I also was approached by the producers of an independent movie, “6 Brothaz In A Cadillac” to star in their movie along with Slim Kid Tre from The Pharcyde, and Hip-Hop pioneer Grandmaster Kaz. While the movie didn’t turn out as I wanted, I gained valuable experience and an education on to how movies are made, promoted and distributed.
After the movie, I went back into teaching, using my experience as a rapper running a label to teach students in the South Bronx about the music business. While working there I made a video using students singing, playing instruments and acting about the crisis of students leaving school without proper educations called “Dropping Out.”
While promoting my music to various blogs, HipHopDx asked me to blog for them about various issues from the music industry to politics. This would lead to me becoming a journalist and writer in the online field as the editor for NewsOne in 2008. I would write about politics, history, entertainment, police brutality, racism. Due to my work at NewsOne, I also began writing for the Huffington Post and would attend discussions at the White House and appear on NPR.
I also recorded and made a video for my song “Crackhead Superheroes” which paid tribute to my comic book and cartoon heroes and critiqued society’s adulation of celebrities, politicians and athletes. The song was featured on Gawker and The Huffington Post but largely ignored by hip-hop blogs.
Still working as a journalist, I decided to return to my comedic and hip-hop roots. I created a weekly web comedy show “Thats Whats Up” that would create skits about Jay-Z’s connection to the illuminati, viral local urban news segments and various other topics. Since I was young it was a dream of mine to make hip-hop version of Spinal Tap. I knew from White Girls, that a budget wasn’t necessary only humor creativity and deception. The film, “Monkey Gang: The Mockumentary” would receive coverage from WorldStarHipHop, VladTV, IndieWire and several other sites and be screened at several film festivals across the country.
In 2012, I would return to BET running as the Interactive Producer for their political talk show “Don’t Sleep With TJ Holmes.” Unfortunately while the show had good intentions, it couldn’t match up with shows like “The Daily Show” and it’s rating suffered. Despite being aired at 11pm it would have half the ratings that BET UnCut would have at 3am and would be quickly canceled. Ironically BET UnCut will be taking over the time slot that “Don’t Sleep” once aired on.
After “Don’t Sleep,” I would go back into both music and journalism with a passion and focus that I’d never had. Paul Stewart, who I knew as an A&R and music supervisor from the hip-hop game, approached me about turning one of my articles from NewsOne into a book for his company, Over The Edge Books. The article was about the CIA’s role in the cocaine trade, and urban violence in Jamaica in the late 1970s. The book, “Inside The CIA’s Secret War In Jamaica” is slated to come out later this year. Chris Schlarb another person I knew from the music business, as the owner and CEO of the digital reggae label, Dubshot Records asked me join a band with him. For a long time I had composed and arranged music and played the keyboards but kept my focus on hip-hop.
The band I would form with Chris Knight Blade would make a song called “I Got That Weed.” That song would be featured in Rolling Stone, Vibe, The Village Voice, AllHipHop and The Huffington Post. I would also be interviewed on Hot 97 and they would play the song too and would perform at the legendary SOB’s to rave reviews. In addition to Knight Blade, I would team ip with South African producer Blu Buttonz and west coast emcee Jess The Facts to record several songs raining in topic from 80s nostalgia, to middle eastern politics, to relationships.
Through music, I would get into the world of technology. I would find a video for “I Got That Weed” that I initially thought was created by a fan. Through a little research I found out that the video was actually computer generated through a program MVGEN, created by infamous hacker, coder and music video director, John Lee. The way MVGEN works is that users type in keywords and upload music and then the MVGEN engine finds GIFs that match those words and edits them into a video. Users can choose between One of my good friends Peter Dean Rickards, had always told me that John was genius, the first Black person on the cover of Wired magazine and that I should work with him.
I learned a lot about the tech and StartUp game from the founders of Rap Genius. Through Twitter I corrected an annotation of “White Girls” on Rap Genius and soon became friends Mahbod Moghadam and the first verified rapper on the website. I would go out to dinner with Mahbod and his cofounders Tom Lehman and Ilan Zachary and attend Rap Genius parties and events where they would introduce me to people like Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian and James Lopez, who founded a hip-hop and technology based collective, The Phat StartUp. Through my interactions and conversations with the Rap Genius founders, Alexis and James I learned about the process to fund, run and promote a StartUp so I decided to partner up with John at MVGEN.
I think MVGEN can be a valuable tool for independent artists to promote their music with visuals without spending any money. It can also be away for fans to be creative and promote music from their favorite artists. Given the popularity of music videos, GIFs and user generated content I think that MVGEN has an opportunity to become very successful and provide some well needed diversity into the world of technology.
After BET’s UnCut prank and the attention it received, it’s interesting to look back at the legacy of White Girls. While some may write me off as a one-hit wonder, I doubt they know how hard it is to get a hit that stands the test of time, especially for an independent artist with no budget. Complex Magazine had White Girls as on of their Top 100 Videos of the 2000s and as one of their Top 25 Funniest Songs of All Time.
Recently Kinohi Nishikawa, a professor at Princeton wrote an essay about “White Girls” and my other music for a book called “Post Soul Satire.” In the essay my music along side rap legends De La Soul, my contemporaries, Little Brother and comedian, actor and rapper Donald Glover are compared to writer Ralph Ellison’s book “The Invisible Man.” Other essays in the book talked about the works of Dave Chappelle, Spike Lee and Aaron McGruder, the creator of “The Boondocks.” It was nice to see that my music was appreciated as it was intended in the form of satire and parody and not just as another ratchet BET UnCut video.
I realize that many people have legitimate concerns about the objectification of women that BET UnCut represented. Still UnCut was not just a a booty fest, it was a forum for underground and independent artists to have their music on a national platform. Artists from Alaska like Joker The Bailbondsman, and artists from Indianapolis, Indiana like Black Jesus were able to get national airplay without major labels backing them. Other independent acts like J Dilla and Madlib, AZ, Murs, Tech 9 and AZ all were able to get exposure via UnCut.
It’s not like being on UnCut made me millionaire but I’m very excited about the upcoming projects I have from MVGEN, to my new musical projects, to my book on the CIA in Jamaica and my up coming web series “Monkey Gang” which premieres after Empire on September 23rd using the same shock value, humor and social commentary that made “White Girls” a hit.