By Matthew Smith—
When most people are told to listen to rap for the first time they tend to take a very defensive position. A lot of the reason that rap is seen in this light is because of the drug and violence imagery that surrounds the music genre as a whole. I can tell you my own experience with rap music was rather shocking to a suburban white kid from South Jersey. Until I really delved into rap music, however, I was bogged down by the negative images that I continued to see around rap artists and I couldn’t fully grasp what the point of all of it was. Now I know what you are thinking, dear reader, how could someone in the journalistic profession take such a biased stand to something?
Rap music, I found is more than just a loud bass line and rhythmic speaking over music. It is story telling at its finest. Whether the story is about dropping out of college and following a dream like early songs from Kanye West, or equality and gay rights awareness, Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis, rap is about bringing the listener into the story. Before an artist becomes the Next Kanye, however, they have to get noticed.
The most common way for an artist to get noticed in the Rap world today is through mixtapes. Though most people associate mixtapes with the CDs that you used to make for your significant other, they actually have a specific purpose. In the Rap world mixtapes are used to promote unknown artists or in the case of established artist it is used to promote an upcoming album. Most established artists release mixtapes with a few songs that will appear on an upcoming album, much like other genres have eps.
This is the path that De-Quan Jenkins took, and in the summer of 2010 Jenkins, also known as IMega, released his mixtape called Napoleon Complex. This was followed by his next mixtape The Connoisseur. According to Jenkins manager, Asheenia Johnson, Jenkins is a perfectionist.
“In the studio he (Jenkins) expects it to be a certain way.” Johnson said “there were times when he would ask me to tell people to leave if they weren’t helping the creative process.”
Johnson met Jenkins when they were both attending New Jersey City University. Jenkins had been working at the schools radio station and Johnson joined the station in an attempt to branch out. Their friendship developed as a gradual one. Jenkins hosted a show and Johnson started by handling the finances and show promotions around campus with occasional guest appearances on Jenkins show.
“Getting to know all of him was a process,” said Johnson “it took a while for me to see the artist side of him.”
Music didn’t just blind side Jenkins though; it was something that was developed in him from an early age, with his parents surrounding him with the world of music. Like anybody destined to driven to perfection Jenkins was immersed in music of all kinds.
“I grew up around music; my parents always had a radio or record player in the house.” Jenkins said, “My father himself was a musician, and he sort of passed his musical appreciation down to me.”
At the age of 8 Jenkins started to write, these early writings started out as more of a kind of hobby, but they slowly developed into a passion that would not go away. At the age of 12 Jenkins and his family moved to Virginia and it was at this time that writing and music itself began to take on a more serious light, as well as a great social aspect.
“I would perform in various talent shows, and events, If I had a project to do I would always use my creativity in completing it,” said Jenkins, “The poems I would write for class projects, girls would ask me to write them poems”
With this constant request for his work continuing the development of his craft Jenkins developed a stronger sense of the music he wanted to write. This passion for music continued to grow in Jenkins and in eighth grade, along with two other classmates, he recorded his voice for the first time. There were no elaborate machines or devices, all the recordings were done on the spot on a cassette tape. This was the moment that truly inspired him to pursue this as a career.
The first album was recorded with instrumentals from another DJ but this wasn’t good enough for the perfectionist in Jenkins. He needed something that had more of his own touch to it.
“A friend of ours named Denita had an ex-boyfriend who had his own recording studio in his apartment.” Jenkins said, “We hooked up with him and actually re-recorded the first album we had done. This time however, I would produce the beats.”
A lot of the beats that Jenkins came up with were developed in an unusual way.
“I would go into stores and like radio shack and best buy and play with the keyboards and make my own beats.” Jenkins said with a smile.
I asked him how long this lasted for and he told me that it went on for at least a year.
“Until my 17th birthday; I asked for my own keyboard. From there I began to experiment with making my own beats and began to learn how to play piano by ear.” Jenkins said.
This was just another layer to the ever expanding musical repertoire that Jenkins was building. This wasn’t the end of Jenkins learning though. Over the years he would talk to other artists and musicians and by doing this he would continue to build and develop his own recording style. As his career progressed he picked up bigger and better equipment and started to really hone is craft by recording other artists, along with himself.
This, however, was just the side notes to what he believes to be the best decision that he made in his career.
“One of the greatest and most influential moves of my career was when I joined a group called Rhyme Syndicate. Rhyme Syndicate was a collective of emcees whom; in order to be a part of the collective you had to come in three forms.” Jenkins informed me. “Solid, Liquid, Gas. This just basically means you had to have three different styles, an aggressive style, and deep lyrical style, and a catchy commercial style. The guys I worked with taught me how to master all three”
With these introductions to the different styles of rap as well as the production techniques that Jenkins developed, he started to truly believe that his dream of building a career in music was closer at hand then he originally thought. From a young age Jenkins seemed to thrive best when around music and he took that with him as he grew and he continued to build on that idea.
While discussing Jenkins career with him I had started to wonder why I hadn’t seen a larger increase of artists into the mainstream rap music scene but had discovered that this was because there was a larger increase in the indie rap scene.
I found that in 2012 the sales for rap/hip-hop were low but still at a point that artist would be happy with. The sale of albums by genre last year was ranked with rock being the highest at 102.5 million units sold, according to statista.com. On this chart rap/ hip-hop fell in the middle of the genres but drastically lower then this high sales number of rock albums, at 24.2 million units sold.
With this number of albums sold for rap/hip-hop shows why there has not been a large influx of new big name artists in the genre, but, according to Wendy Day, the founder of the Rapcoalition, there was a large increase of rap artists in general. This increase in artists has also caused many standout artists to gain horrible deals in contract negotiations.
“Rap is actually easier to enter than other genres, and because of this it’s way over saturated.” Said Wendy Day, 51, founder of rapcoalition.
Rapcoalition.org states “According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), rap music accounted for over a billion dollars in sales again last year. As long as rap music is profitable without rappers having control or power in the industry, rap artists will continue to be underpaid compared to other artists, mistreated by certain managers and some record companies, exploited by anyone who can profit from them, and abused by the media (not to mention the added frustration of being a person of color in America, which includes the majority of rap acts).”
This has caused many artists to pave their own way just as IMega has done. By building his own sound and starting Speechloud Productions he has avoided many of these industry issues that come with record labels.
“Artists tend to stay indie because one, they have no choice as it’s harder than ever to get a record deal–too many artists, not enough labels/resources.” Wendy Day said “The second reason is plethora of info that exists outlining the unfairness of contracts in labels signing artists tells artists that staying indie is in their best financial interest.”
According to Day the best way to gain recognition in the indie market is to stand out where others do not. The way to do this?
Marketing, plain and simple.
Marketing is the key to everything in the music world. In order to stand out you have to first know who is listening to your music, Day says in her blog. She continues in her blog to say “once you know who will buy your music, it becomes pretty clear what your image needs to be to reach your market.”
Jenkins has done just that. In the time that he has devoted to really developing his craft he has he has created more than just his own personal style and market. He has created a lifestyle and a career. With the Creation of Speechloud Productions Jenkins has been building on his already eclectic producing career.
“It has been an uphill battle since its inception.” Said Jenkins about his production company. “I have been working on everything by myself since the start, but now I’m transitioning into a time where I am looking to bring more people onto the team.”
Developing this idea though, takes time and expertise, all of which Jenkins had. After teaching himself and following the guidance of his mentors he has built a thriving production studio as well as continuing to build and polish his own distinctive style.
Like any other artist that makes music their career Jenkins is always looking for what’s next. To continue to grow and develop into a better artist then he was previously.
“My ultimate goal is to make Speechloud Enterprises a media powerhouse,” Jenkins said. “Every artist nowadays has their own ‘record label.’ I want to be more than that. This is why I’ve made the company an umbrella corporation, Speechloud Enterprises, which encompasses Speechloud productions, Speechloud TV and film, Speechloud Ancillary.”
After graduating from New Jersey City University De-Quan Jenkins has become IMega as well as a continuingly growing entrepreneur. He has become what a lot of starting artist hope to become, a musician with a solid and still growing music career.
Other stories by matthew Smith “5 Stand out Indie Rappers That You’ve Never Heard Of”