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Interview with rap artist EPIK - Jun 26, 2005

“It's great recognition when other artists send their demos to me. But what most of them don't realize is that I’m still in the same position as they are,”

picture … says the 18 year old rapper Epik, from Lorain, Ohio. He has sold over 50,000 copies of his first official mixtape featuring The Game (US No.1), Spider Loc of G-Unit West, Stat Quo, Jae Millz, Aftermath producer Focus and Cleveland Cavaliers and NBA superstar Lebron James.

Epik’s sales success is due to the strength of the Internet, and thanks to the fact that Aftermath featured him on their website. He was also featured in Murder Dog Magazine as one of the "Top 10 players to watch in 2005". Still unsigned at present, you can read in his own words about how he views his situation prior to taking on a major deal.

How do you deal with your success and all the things that are happening around you at the moment?

It's all happening so fast, I don't think that I’ve fully realized it. But it's a great and crazy feeling that there are people in so many different countries who are listening to my music and who know who I am. I mean, I’m only 18 years old. And it basically only took me a year to get this far. It’s crazy.

How did you get interested in music?

When I was just a kid I used to love hip hop. Especially artists from the West Coast like Jay Z, Dr. Dre, Biggie, 2Pac and NAS. Lyrics stuck automatically in my mind, though I never tried to memorize them. Then when I got older, I think I was 15 or 16, I started to write my own lyrics and record my own tracks with different producers.

Then I made a good looking package containing a CD with 13 songs on it, my biography, pictures and my ideas on what I expect to achieve in the future. Some people add DVDs with performances on the, but I didn't. In any case, it's important that this package looks real sharp. I went to different shows, to meet the right people; I would try to get my stuff to different producers and people at record labels. Sometimes that is really hard since most people won't take a meeting or listen to your demo. But you always have to keep trying.

How did you get in touch with Aftermath?

I sent my demo to Focus - he's a producer signed to Aftermath by Dre who has his own label, AFam Records. They liked it because they contacted me and said that they would like to feature me on their website. I think that's how a lot of people learned about me. And the hype just got bigger and bigger after that.

The original demo I sent to Aftermath had tracks from when I was 16 years old, but I kept sending material every time I recorded new records. The demo was produced by a few producers I work with locally, Beatknockz and Anthem. I found them by just being involved in the local scene. I’ve recorded with them and I really liked their sound. They haven't produced for anyone major yet.

When and how did The Game come into the picture?

The Game track “My Time” was featured on a recent demo, and wasn’t included in the demo that made the Aftermath hype. I talked to several people at The Black Wall Street which is his label and made it known that I was interested in doing a collaboration. My manager went out to Compton and made it happen. He was feeling the material he heard.

Buzz gets around fast, so I suppose they knew about me. I'm not too sure what they’d heard at that point, but The Game record says a lot. He co-signed me on that track, which was produced by 456 Productions out of Rochester, NY.

How did you get to be featured in the Murder Dog Magazine?

My buzz was growing and an editor from the magazine contacted me, telling me that he was doing a feature on the “Top 10 players to watch in 2005” and wanted me to be a part of that, so I did an interview. I suppose he got a hold of me through the website

What’s important when sending a demo out?

Your package needs to look presentable and professional and somehow stand out from the others. For instance I added a good photo, and did my portfolio on a special type of paper. I try to get to talk to people before I send out my stuff, but it’s not always possible.

I think you should have about 5 to 8 tracks on the demo in order to give a good impression of your skills as an artist. If you are not producing yourself, try to find a really good producer. Good production is the key! I am not producing myself yet, but I hope to get involved with it in the future.

How come you haven't signed a record deal yet?

It seems that A&Rs don't like to take chances. My manager and I have been running back and forth to all kinds of meetings, but up until now there hasn't been a good offer. We are waiting for some labels to come back to us. It's weird because they are signing artists that haven't established a big fan base. I know that it's just a matter of time though with getting my deal.

Why aren’t you signed by Aftermath?

Aftermath is a great label, but they have other priorities at the moment. And other labels seem to have rosters that are too big, so artists get pushed back.

What do you expect from your record deal?

I want the best deal I can get and have some creative control on my project. And I’m not going to settle for less. I am looking for someone who will push me in terms of marketing and promotion and who understands where I am going musically.

Where are you going musically?

I'm taking things back to where they used to be, and bringing new life to the game at the same time. Hip hop is always evolving. I have to be me, at the same time. I understand that certain records have to be made to reach different fan bases and help sell records.

At what point will you be satisfied with a deal?

Whenever the paperwork looks like it will benefit my career and not put me in a position where I’m going to be shelved. I want to be made top priority and I want to know that I'm at the top of the list.

Where did you find your manager?

Actually, he found me. He gave me a call after he saw me on the Aftermath website. We had a meeting and decided to work together. Now we’re running around from meeting to meeting, and doing shows. Meanwhile there's a company that deals with sending out the mixtape that people have ordered through the internet from all over the place; US, Canada, England, Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Peru. And that's quite a job since we haven't got people working for us. It's just an extra thing we do ourselves.

What does your schedule look like?

It's crazy, it's all at once. At the moment I am working on my second album with some exciting people such as Akon, The Game, Stat Quo and Focus. He sent me an exclusive beat for the Aftermath mix tape which will be released in September. He has been working with Beyonce, J. Lo, 50 Cent and a lot of other artists. Of course I hope to work with other great producers in the future like Jay Z and Dr. Dre, who is the greatest producer of all time.

What's the most valuable thing you have learned?

The music industry is a lot about business and not only about music. You need to know how you handle business. You have to be constantly learning, gaining knowledge and studying the game. Apart from that it's extremely important to stay consistent in what you’re doing, in your music but also in the way you deal with business. And most important of all: always stay hungry!

How would you describe your music?

In my lyrics I deal with what happens around me. I use real life as my inspiration and just tell my story. I try not to get too comfortable. So you certainly have to have your own style, and you should try to keep a balance between holding your style and at the same time letting yourself evolve.

What's the reaction you've had from other artists so far?

It's funny, I receive a lot of demos from other artists and I listen to all of them. I like to see whether there would be someone I would like to collaborate with. I welcome other artists sending me their stuff. It's also great recognition when others send their demos to you. I get a lot of questions from other artists on how I got this far. But what most of them don't realize is that I’m really still in the same position as they are.

Interviewed by Marlene Smits

Read On ...

* Former in-house producer at Aftermath, Focus..., talks Dre and Aguilera