If you’re a Jay Z fan you’ve more than likely heard him repping his new slogan #NewRules with veracity. Ironic as it is that one of the most commercially successful hip hop artists in the game is pushing this anti-industry motto. However, there’s no denying that indie rap is the new wave. With today’s technology, having major label backing is no longer a necessity to make it in the game. With social media and global marketing available at your fingertips it’s possible to stay self sufficient in this new age of hip hop. So, we’re bringing you four artists that are really creating their own rules, and asking them how you too can come up on your own.
For our fourth and final installment we’re bringing you tri-state area super group Inner City Kids.
Inner City Kids is a diverse collective of writers, artists, musicians and photographers who bring their skills and creativity together in order to create something positive. The group includes: Aaron Cohen, Spaceman, KontraBand (Kemal and Haze), ABGoHard, Mr. LXXXVII, 20ThLetter, PMER, Jona Grizz, THINK Watts the Prophet, FlapJack, Top of Tola, Musa, Joe Davis, and Kareem. It was originally founded by four friends, but has now blossomed into a movement. This is their story.
Mass Appeal: Tell me how Inner City Kids (ICK) began.
Musa: The reason why I wanted to create ICK is because I feel like everyone is apart of a sub-culture. We all need a collective to express ourselves and the medium, obviously, now is music. Before, ICK was just a thought, and it literally transcended into the spirits of all of these people.
Spaceman: When we started ICK the music group, one of the initial things that I was looking for was to try to represent as wide of a spectrum of New York City as possible. So, that’s why you have KontraBand, who essentially represents Queens and Harlem, THINK Watts is from Harlem as well. I’m from Long Island. Musa, Jona Grizz and these guys are from Brooklyn. FlapJak is from upstate and AbGoHard is from Jersey and 20th letter, who’s not here, is from the Bronx.
Joe: So, about four years ago now, 2010, me and this guy Musa were in college together and it was pretty mundane, just the everyday process of going through college. And, I was looking for a way to just get my thoughts out, so I started a little blog called The Inner City Kids. And surprisingly, with the help of Duke and Musa, we were getting a good amount of hits. We got some good interviews and talked to a lot of people. That’s what brought Spaceman to me, we kind of dug each others voraciousness for artistic endeavors. And, that spread to one other thing, which was the music. But in terms of the original intent of Inner City Kids, it was pretty much just about having an outlet of friends who wanted to express themselves and feel like they have a family. We all do different things, Kareem is an artist, I write, Musa’s a philosopher, and everyone else just does very interesting things.
Jona Grizz: Jona Grizz just sits there and does nothing. [Laughs]
Musa: In a nutshell, the group was started between four brothers, who were kind of unaware that they were brothers at the time. We went through trials and tribulations, multiple times. At first there were no nicknames, no plans, we were just a bunch of people who shared one thing, and that was friendship. We just wanted to separate ourselves from all of the other people who we happened to know. So, we started this whole thing. First, we actually started off making t-shirts. We started going in the clothing direction.
Jona Grizz: Fun fact: It wasn’t always Inner City Kids.
Musa: Yeah, it was actually Experience Omega. That’s the real OG, real gutta stuff. That’s back when it was just Musa, Kareem, Johnny Fatts, before he was Jona, and Joe before he was Joey. We gained each others trust.
Joe: It was a real good way to bond. We were unconscious of it at the time, but we were really just building something ourselves.
MA: So, it started off with clothing, how did that work?
Jona Grizz: Musa had an uncle in the Bronx on 138 and something. We actually used to go over there and chill. Joe and Musa would just go over there and learn how to put an image on a shirt properly.
MA: So, he made clothes?
Musa: Yeah, but he was more like an architect of everything. He was a visual artist, he made clothes, he was a wood craftsman. And for me, that was an inspiration because he was like 65 and he had just gotten out of prison. So, he was a real nigga. From that background you have to be able to utilize as much skill.
MA: So when did you decide to make music the focus?
Kareem: Once we met all of the music heads, Spaceman, Aaron, AB, Jona was blossoming into his music career.
Spaceman: How it originally started, was that Joey had a website, and when I moved out to the city, I wasn’t really sure what I was trying to do. So, he has the site, and I was writing articles for the site and shit like that. And at the same time, I was also in a rock band. Me, moving out from Long Island, I didn’t really know too many people in the city, but Joey did, so it was like ‘OK, you can be my manager.’ So, we’re moving around and doing the whole band thing, and the Inner City Kids was kind of just the brand, platform that the band operated out of. And, the first show we did with the band, KontraBand performed there, AbGoHard performed there, and Aaron came and just checked it out, and that’s how I met him. And then we ended up doing a show with Aaron shortly after that. And those were the only two shows the band did before it broke up. Even though the band broke up, I wasn’t about to stop doing music, so I reached out to KontraBand, AB and Aaron. It was like ‘Yo, you see what we’re doing, with the Inner City Kids and I want you guys to be apart of it, not an off shoot, not an associate. I want you guys to be apart of Inner City Kids so that we can all get this mother fucking money.’
MA: How do you throw shows? For the people who want to know how to get started in the industry themselves, what steps do you have to take?
Aaron Cohen: You have to go, put yourself out there and meet people. So when you did hit up a venue and try to do things yourself you can tell them ‘oh, I have this artist, and that artist.’ You send them a youtube link and their twitter so they can see what these artists are actually doing. And then they’ll see, if it’s something that’s going to actually have a draw. They don’t care, the venues want money.
MA: How do you get paid?
Aaron Cohen: Sometimes you get paid upfront, but you have to put in a lot of work before that happens. Most of the time you just take a percentage from the door. But for the people who are just getting started and looking up the rules to how to book a show on a blog, they don’t need to get paid yet.
Jona Grizz: Don’t even think about money.
Spaceman: At this stage in my career as a solo artist, there’s a certain standard that I have. But, when I had just broken up with my band, and I was just starting to get my feet wet, as far as a solo artist, I would go to fucking clubs in Bushwick, with a whole bunch of hipsters and shitty punk bands. I’d be the only fucking rapper there and I’d just have somebody play songs off my fucking laptop, and I’d kill it. I’d body it, and make sure whoever was there understood what it was that I did. I’ve done shows in peoples fucking livingrooms, in a house in Long Island. At the end of the day, you have to go and get those experiences out of the way and the path from then forward will be relatively clear. You just gotta keep that progression going.
FlapJak: You really have to remember to build a trust with these venues and these people you’re talking to. Trust that this person is going to go hard, no matter where they’re at, no matter how many people are at the venue. That’s the thing about us, we’re very polite to people, we’re very respectful to everyone that has us. Knitting factory for example. And that’s kind of a thing that we’ve built a reputation for ourselves, being respectful youths out here. We are rowdy when it comes time for that, but when it’s time to show respect we’re not just ‘oh, fuck you. We’re the stars of this show.’ It’s about being humble. You have to just remember that somebody’s giving you a break. Nobody owes you any sort of attention, nobody owes you an applause, nobody owes you anything. But if you’re really somebody who’s out there trying to preform, what are you doing it for? You’re doing it for you to grow. You’re doing it as a form of expression. Who’s there and how much you’re getting paid, especially at a beginning level, that’s not important. So, really I think the best advice to give to somebody who’s trying to start out is; know where your priorities lie, and also just know yourself.
Haze: Also, letting people around you know what you’re doing so that you can get some type of support. If no one knows what you’re doing you can’t get support. Some of our first fans were friends, that’s how it always starts. For any real artist, it starts off with friends and they tell a friend, and then they tell another friend and then you may do a show, and now your show is packed because that’s all from word of mouth.
Joe: You gotta look at yourself like a stock broker. I think in any spectrum of any artistic endeavor you want to get paid for. You gotta look at it like, ‘alright, these are my stocks right now. How do I sell the stock to this person?’ So you walk in there and you’re like; ‘listen, this is what I have, if you bring me here, I will do this.’ And it’s up to them to either say yes or no. You can influence that decision, but at the end of the day if you’re not good at doing that then you’re not going to succeed.
Jona Grizz: You’re a business.
Aaron Cohen: I think an important thing for these people to know is that; there’s nobody who can do anything that you can’t do. The only thing they can do, is that they can know people. How do you get it know people? You go out and do shit.
Peep Aaron Cohen’s video for “Unemployment” featuring Spaceman and ABGOHARD with Special appearances by the ICK Crew. To keep up with this super crew check out their website: theinnercitykids.tumblr.com, their facebook, and their twitter.