Interview with STALIN, GABO and GEE, producers of Mad Ciphas TV show - Mar 14, 2005
“We’re street A&Rs, so if a label comes along and is interested in an artist that they found through our show, then we’re going to charge them a finder’s fee”,… says Stalin, Gabo and Gee, producers for the New York City TV show Mad Ciphas. The show airs performances of unsigned hip hop artists every Sunday night at 10:00 P.M. and can also be seen on the website, www.madciphas.com.
Since the show began in 2000, artists such as Jae Millz (now signed to Universal/Wanna Blow), J.R. Writer, Jae Hood, Shells, and Immortal Technique have started off their careers on the show.
Who came up with the show, and what’s the idea behind it?
Stalin came up with the idea. We knew a bunch of people that could rap, and we wanted to give them the exposure they deserved. And what better way to do so than through public access television, since it allows us to have creative control of our own show.
Was there a need for a new forum for talents?
Yeah, the show was something that was needed. If it weren’t for mix-tapes and DJ’s who give upcoming artists a chance to be heard then it would be even more difficult for gifted talents to have their voices heard. This show provides them with an outlet, a means towards fulfilling their dreams.
How is the show organized?
The show airs for half an hour. No commercials. It’s broken up into two segments, and we feature as many as ten artists every week. Stalin makes the edit, and Gabo and Gee are the hosts. During the segments we talk about what’s going on with the show, and promote events or the available CD releases by the artists.
Are you also artists, as well as doing the show?
No, we only produce the show.
Do you actively look for new artists, or do you get demos sent to you?
It works both ways; we search for new artists, and new artists look for us. Then we decide whether they have what it takes to be on the show.
What does it take to be on the show?
You’ve got to have the right skills. We can tell the first time we hear and see an artist whether they have what it takes. So far we’ve been successful in our judgment - artists such as Jae Millz, J.R. Writer, Jae Hood, Shells, and Immortal Technique have all started off their careers on our show.
When you discover artists, do you profit from it?
When we first started doing the show we did it out of love for music, but now we have a business mind-state. We’re street A&R’s, so if a record label comes along and is interested in getting in touch with an artist that they found through our show, and then we’re going to charge them a finder’s fee when a record deal is signed.
Do artists bring their own beats or DJs along to the show?
The artists either bring instrumentals or beats provided to them by a producer. We encourage them to bring original beats, since that allows us to feature both upcoming artists and producers at the same time.
Is it hard to break a Hip Hop artist?
If an artist is determined and has the right skills they will go far, and it’s not hard to break them. For instance, Jae Millz from Harlem was on the show every week for two straight years, generating a buzz, which made him able to sit down and meet a couple of label executives.
He’s currently signed to Universal Records/Wanna Blow and also made appearances on mix-tapes, and MTV’s Making the Band. That goes to show that if you have an objective and you follow through on your goals then you have a very good chance of making it. Our show provides the opportunity that many upcoming artists are looking for - exposure.
Besides being a good rapper, what other skills does it take to be successful?
You have to practice and go to as many open-mic sessions at clubs as you can in order to get a feel of what other people think of your skills. An artist must stay focused and be willing to make sacrifices in order to fulfill their dream. They also need to have a supportive team that will keep them focused and away from negativity.
What are major record labels looking for?
The presence, voice and creativity of the artist are important. Also, an artist must come up with their own original songs.
Is it important to be small and exclusive at the beginning?
Yes, it’s important, because people will respect you more if you generate a buzz in your hometown and then expand. They can relate to an artist who works hard and is determined. For example, T-Rex from Harlem, is another artist who started his career on our show over three years ago and is now appearing on magazine covers and getting the recognition he deserves.
Any artist who’s come through our show and moved on towards being successful makes us proud, and fulfills what the show sets out to do, which is to provide artists with the opportunity to be seen and heard.
Is it possible for a record company to develop Hip Hop artists in the same way that they produce pop artists?
No, it’s impossible for a record company to develop a Hip Hop artist from scratch. You can’t pick a regular guy or girl from somewhere, give them a microphone and clothes, and hope that they’ll be a Hip Hop artist. It takes a lot of work. We think that, for example, Britney Spears is fabricated and isn’t a real artist. Hip Hop is an art that takes a lot of work, and years to master.
No one becomes an overnight celebrity; they have to pay their dues. A good example is Twista, who’s been in the Hip Hop scene for over a decade and is just now starting to get the recognition that he deserves. You must have your own exclusive style, and in order to be successful you have to be able to relate to your listeners.
Being “real” is a keyword in Hip Hop. How can artists develop their own authenticity?
Music comes from your soul. You can’t follow another person’s lead. You have to become your own leader and find your abilities within yourself. If you freestyle or release a song you must make sure that you give 100% at all times, because listeners are very judgmental, and as an artist you have to approach each song or freestyle as if it’s your first time, with the hunger that got you into that position. An artist should never get too comfortable, because they can easily be replaced.
Can people separate the artist from the person behind the artist?
Yeah, people can separate the artist from the person because the artist can be exposed by those who know them. You can’t come out talking about things you haven’t seen or done. If you want to speak about it you might as well have seen it or done it, because Hip Hop is a lifestyle and it’s based on life experience. So you have to keep it real.
If you could change anything in the music business, what would it be?
Right now the music business is very profitable, but people shouldn’t forget where Hip Hop came from, or the artists that paved the way for others. Some new artists and fans don’t know anything about the history of Hip Hop, and that needs to be changed. More Hip Hop fans should take Hip Hop 101 and get their education.
When Hip Hop became mainstream in the 1980’s it was free, creative, expressive and humorous, and you did what you wanted. Nowadays everything is so serious, and the big corporations that regulate things want artists to have a certain sound or a certain look. This approach takes away from the creativity that originated in the 80’s and early 90’s and that is lacking from some of the new artists around today.
In what musical direction do you think Hip Hop will develop in the future?
A lot of artists are sampling old 60’s records now. Hip Hop is constantly changing and it never stays heading in one direction for a long time. Personally, we believe that more live instruments will be used in the future. The Roots have been doing this for years. This will allow artists to further expand their stage presence and performance.
What are your future plans for the show?
We want to have the show on a major network, and take trips across the States or other countries looking for new artists. Maybe the doors will open up for us to be A&R’s at a record label.
We also want to release volumes of the best footage from the show since it started, so look out for the Best of Mad Ciphas DVD coming soon!
Contact Mad Ciphas at +1 866 227 8260, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interviewed by Anders Hellquist
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