Posts Tagged ‘advice’

On the 3rd episode of Take No Prisoners Radio, hosts Seb and Camille H discuss the rise of socially conscious mainstream rap, “ratchet rap” and cultural misappropriation. For the second half, Paul Porter, entertainment industry veteran & founder of RapRehab joins the show to reveal the music industry’s dirty secrets. Also, check out new music by Open Mike Eagle, De La Soul ft. Chuck D, RA the Rugged Man and Sa-Roc.

Exhausted with the music industry’s shenanigans, I left the world of PR in early 2013 with the intent of never looking back. But as fate would have it, it wouldn’t be long before I found myself helping artists once again, this time not as a publicist but as a consultant. The role was perfect for me and much more rewarding as it allowed me to assist artists in ways that my job as a publicist wouldn’t permit. Sebastien Elkouby, the creative consultant was born.

Being a creative consultant has given me the opportunity to be much more hands-on with artists than ever before. Depending on the client’s needs, my services range from critiquing content and production to outlining unique marketing strategies. I love what I do because I see my clients truly evolve as a result of our collaboration.  On the downside, my job also shows me how absolutely clueless some aspiring artists can be. And sometimes, I have to be tough and tell them things they’re not always happy to hear. Fortunately, they’re in good hands as there aren’t too many other Hip Hop creative consultants who understand both the music industry and Hip Hop culture.

So if you’re an aspiring rapper looking to pursue a career in the music industry, here are 3 reasons why you need a creative consultant.

1. Honest Constructive Criticism:
Let me start by being brutally honest. Most aspiring rappers are mildly to severely delusional. Some believe they’re much more talented than they really are.  Others are flat out convinced that they’re the best thing to come out since the wheel was invented, never mind the fact that they can barely spit two cohesive bars. And because they’re surrounded by equally delusional yes-men (and women), they never get to hear the truth about their talent…or lack thereof.

Every week I still receive emails from artists looking for PR who are unaware that I’ve transitioned to consulting. I listen to their music, watch their videos, and visit their websites before informing them of my new role. What is shocking to me is the number of artists who don’t realize that before they reach out to a publicist, their material has to meet certain basic standards. You cannot have subpar material and expect a publicist, or any other professional, to represent you…unless they’re scamming you out of your money. Secondly, the project needs to possess some type of artistic merit. The rapper who still thinks that rapping about sex, cars, drugs, and violence in 2014 will get them noticed is fooling himself. There are hundreds of interesting and unique things to rap about that can actually help an artist set them apart from other dime-a-dozen rappers. Contrary to popular belief, originality and skills still matter. A creative consultant can help you identify areas of improvement to increase your odds of success but you have to come to the table ready to learn and willing to grow.

2. Learning about the latest music business trends:
The music industry is an ever-changing field. Yet, many artists are holding on to erroneous or outdated beliefs about how today’s business works. The game is already much more different than it was just a couple of years ago. Many aspiring rappers are still under the impression that social media and getting popular blogs to review their music are the end-all, be-all strategies for self-promoting. While it might have appeared that simple in the recent past, it’s going to take much more to make an impact nowadays.

Everything from how music is marketed to how artists make money is evolving to adapt to the newest technology and how audiences consume entertainment. Sometimes, all it takes is for one trend to take off and cause a ground-breaking chain reaction throughout the industry, forcing everyone to readjust or risk becoming irrelevant. Of course, most aspiring artists aren’t privy to the inner workings of the music business and end up missing out on valuable information that could otherwise give them a leg up over their less-knowledgeable competitors. A creative consultant can give you the edge you need to move forward in your career.

3. Mapping out a realistic plan of action:
Once you’ve gained a greater understanding of how the game is played, you can begin mapping out a 3 to 6 months plan of action that will help you go from point A to B, C, and D.  It’ll keep you on track and help you achieve your desired short term goals. However, the plan must be realistic. It has to be within your budget, timeline, and realm of expertise. If your entire team is involved, all parties must agree on the plan and remain committed to the mission.  All successful businesses have a plan so if you’re serious about your career, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have one as well.

Make no mistake, no creative consultant can make you a star overnight.  However, they can help you get closer to your goals. I’ve worked with many artists, some famous, some up-and-coming, and regardless of how talented they are, they’ve all benefited from the services of a creative consultant.
In an industry flooded with thousands of rappers competing for exposure, isn’t it about time you put the odds in your favor and get the right person on your team?
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Let me be the first to say it. I can be an extremist. So I have no problem admitting that I’m a self-proclaimed hater. I hate commercial rap, especially the kind that glorifies negativity, because I know how much it influences young impressionable listeners.  In my travels, I meet many parents, most of them Hip Hop heads, who feel like they’ve lost their children to the mind-numbing sounds of 2 Chainz, Rick Ross, YG and too many other clowns to name here. Do I believe that every child who listens to these rappers will turn into a molly-popping, weed-smoking, wannabe pimp, thug?  Of course not. But having one foot in the music industry and another in the classroom gives me a unique perspective that very few possess.  I can guarantee you that the impact some of these rappers have on our kids is frighteningly real.  Spend one day in a classroom with me and you’ll see what I mean.

Extreme situations call for extreme measures. So how can you teach your child to appreciate the type of rap which won’t brainwash them into thinking that sex, drugs, violence and partying is what life is all about? Here are 6 ways to indoctrinate…I mean teach your child to appreciate real rap. But here’s a quick heads up: don’t email me or leave me comments about my usage of the phrase “real rap”.  In light of the context, my intent should be obvious and any attempts to convince me that my definition of real rap is narrow-minded will be ignored. I’m all about the children, son!

Here we go.

1.  Make sure the first rap song they ever hear is a classic Hip Hop joint. If you can’t play rap in the hospital the moment your child is being delivered (some doctors frown upon that for some strange reason) make sure your child’s first ride home as a newborn includes some Rakim, Tribe Called Quest, MC Lyte, Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Ultramagnetic MC’s or Public Enemy. They’ll need those beats and lyrics to set the brain into Hip Hop mode.

2. Talk trash about every wack rapper you see or hear. This works for both babies and teenagers. While in the beginning, your infant will be too young to understand, their developing brain will eventually program itself to reject anything that sounds weak and unoriginal. For older kids, depending on how much commercial rap they’ve already been tainted by, the level of trash-talking required to undo any permanent damage may be minimal to extreme. For mild cases, a simple “let’s-turn-this-gargage-off-and-listen-to-some-real-rap-instead” can be enough, as your child may still value your opinion and fear disappointing you with his/her interest in wack rap.  For tougher cases, which usually involve older bull-headed teens who think they know everything, your approach needs to be much more aggressive. To be effective, you must know enough about the rappers in question to have valid arguments. For example:

“Son, this wannabe boss who acts like he’s really about that life used to be an underpaid correctional officer who stole his name from a former drug dealer and created a fake identity that has real street cats wanting to beat his ass, which is why, as much of a boss he claims to be, this studio gangster is afraid to do shows in certain cities because he fears for his safety……..and he also looks like he drinks bacon smoothies.”  (If you don’t know what any of this means, you might need more help than I can provide!)

3. Delete your child’s music playlist from their phone or computer and replace it with one of your choice.  Wait until your little angel is asleep and go through each song, disposing of the wack ones and replacing them with creative, talented artists who have something to say. While classic Hip Hop joints are always good, don’t overlook newer artists. Rappers like Jay Electronica, Sa-Roc, Priest, Zo The Jerk, and Dynasty will make your child’s favorite rapper sound like the spokesperson for Hooked On Phonics. If your child has any good sense left, they’ll appreciate the upgrade, start getting better grades, eat all their vegetables and become the kid you always wanted them to be. Or they may just hate you forever. Either way, it’s worth a try.

4. Play real rap anytime your child is in your car. If you drive them to and from daycare or school, this is your perfect opportunity to make an impact. If your child is still young, start off with a little 80’s Kid-N-Play to get them acclimated and gradually make your way to edgier sounds as they get older. By the time they’re in high school and suffering from “illogical adolescent mind syndrome”, getting through to them will be harder as they’ll start tuning you out by putting on their earphones. But no matter how much they may try to drown you out, once you snatch their headphones off, they can’t just jump out of the car and will have no choice but to listen to some classic Slick Rick or the latest Talib Kweli. While you have them cornered, gently force them to pay attention to the lyrics and explain them back to you. Of course, you can also try this strategy anytime you’re driving to the store, running errands, a family reunion, or a cross-country trip. There’s nothing like being in a car with a moody teenage Chief Keef fan who’s forced to listen to Poor Righteous Teachers, Masta Ace, GangStarr and X-Clan.

5. If your child idolizes top 40, run-of-the-mill clown rappers and has dreams of becoming a famous artist, providing you have skills, you must battle your child. Don’t let your own flesh and blood go down the path of wackness without a serious intervention. Should they foolishly believe that their limited experience with rap suddenly makes them a rapper, it becomes your duty and obligation as a responsible parent to give your baby a lyrical ass-whooping that’ll knock their silly butt back down to earth. It’ll probably hurt you more than it hurts them but that’s what all good ass-whoopings are about. They won’t realize it right away but it’ll benefit them in the long run.

6. Of course, if the thought of battling your baby breaks your heart, you can always plan a parent/child cipher. It makes for a great bonding experience and still allows you to show who’s boss, minus the type of aggression that may come from a straight up battle. Think it can’t be done? Watch how some Arizona based MC’s made a parent/child cipher happen!

There are many other ways to “teach” your kids about real rap.  I’ve added a few more in my video blog.

Now that you’re equipped with new strategies, it’s time to take back your power and your kids. We can no longer let Drake, Nicki Minaj and their dumb-ass cousins babysit our children. Good luck, moms and dads!

You can find the original article on RapRehab at


Seb pic


In January 2013, I wrote a revealing, soul-baring article titled “Confessions of a Failed Hip Hop Publicist” which expressed my profound disgust with the music industry, my disappointment in the caliber of rap artists soliciting my services, and why I chose to retire. Written both as a cautionary tale and as a form of personal therapy, my goal was to let the universe know that I was done with this crazy industry, once and for all. No longer would I subject myself to working with second-rate rappers whose only goals were to become the next Chief Keef or 2 Chainz.  No longer would I have to put up with self-important media gatekeepers who wouldn’t recognize real talent if it beat them in the head. But as the saying “God works in mysterious ways” implies, the universe had something else in store for me.

Immediately after my article was published by Pigeons & Planes and picked up by countless blogs and social media platforms, I began receiving thousands of emails, Facebook messages, tweets, and phone calls from people around the world thanking me for having the heart to speak my truth.  My story struck a nerve with everyone ranging from artists and rap fans to bloggers and industry execs. These folks either urged me to stay in the business, expounding on the merits of my professional integrity, or wholeheartedly supported my decision to walk away, assuring me that what I labeled a failure was in actuality a breath of fresh air amidst a rotting industry. More interestingly, I heard from my professional counterparts, many of them high-profile publicists who echoed my sentiments and shared their own nightmare experiences in the field. The feedback I received was overwhelming but encouraging beyond my expectations.

Of course, the haters also had their say.  Some accused me of being a self-righteous jerk; some said I was a crappy writer; others ridiculed my lack of business-savvy.  More interesting were the interactions I had with high-profile executives who, in an attempt to defend their industry, casually revealed their true feelings about the average music fan/consumer.  To paraphrase what an executive at one of the world’s biggest mass media company told me: rap fans aren’t the most intelligent bunch so we can pretty much sell them anything and they’ll eat it up.  Just to be clear, he was one of many prominent decision-makers I spoke with who felt this way about their target audience.  These “gems of human beings” were simply reinforcing my decision to exit the game.

The ironic by-product of my “retirement” letter was the feedback I got from hundreds of extremely talented artists interested in representation, publicity, and plain old guidance.  The caliber of artists I had previously been seeking were now flooding my inbox, one after the other, proclaiming their music to be unique enough to make me reconsider my retirement.  Here I was, boldly giving the industry my farewell speech only to have it laugh in my face with more potential business opportunities!  Some of these artists were complete garbage, the type I was running away from, who must have skipped over the part of my story where I explain how I loathe everything they represent. Others were incredible, though-provoking artists who reaffirmed the fact that great Hip Hop music is alive and well. Nonetheless, steadfast in my resolve, I kindly turned away all artist solicitations and proceeded to pursue my other passion – education.  I resurrected the award-winning educational Hip Hop program I had neglected when my work in publicity took off.  It felt good to be back in the classroom, making a real difference in children’s lives, away from immature rappers and their silly pipe dreams.

At around the same time, I became a contributing writer for RapRehab, an incredible platform that welcomed my no-holds-barred commentaries on a wide range of controversial topics such as the prison industrial complex, institutionalized racism, the state of Hip Hop, corruption in the music business, and pop culture’s influence on youth culture.  My articles were surprisingly well received and allowed me to establish something akin to a fan base, nothing like Justin Bieber of course (sarcasm intended) but significant enough to have me respond to fan mail a few times a week.  However, day after day, I would hear from countless artists looking for publicity, some trying to convince me to get back in the game, others who completely missed the part of my story where I said I quit. So I responded to every request with business advice and constructive criticism of their music, also reminding them that I was no longer a publicist but still willing to share my knowledge…and brutal honesty.  Try telling an artist that you respect them as human beings but recommend they completely reinvent themselves or pursue an entirely different career. Surprisingly, my harsh but sincere words were always welcomed because they were tempered with good counsel. Not one for sugar-coating, I took great pride in challenging the yes-man syndrome.  Little did I know I was slowly beginning to carve out a new professional identity for myself.

The months passed with my educational program going well, my relationship with RapRehab stronger than ever, and my undefined role as an “advice-giver” for indie and unsigned artists growing every day. No matter how much I had initially tried to distance myself from the music industry, my public confessions of a failed Hip Hop publicist had opened a brand new door, one I was now comfortable walking through. I had unknowingly yet seamlessly morphed into a self-styled creative consultant for Hip Hop artists and it was time for me to consciously accept this role.  As a publicist, I hated having to cater to the whims of delusional artists or play pretend-nice with arrogant media heads just because the client is paying.  My integrity had been a huge disadvantage as a publicist but was now my greatest asset as a creative consultant.  As a die-hard Hip Hop head since the early 80’s with more than 20 years of music industry experience under my belt, it became clear that guiding and advising artists is what I was meant to do.  Make no mistake, I’ll never stop working with young people.  A matter of fact, when I’m not consulting with artists, I’m working with incarcerated youth to make sure that they don’t ever find themselves back in the belly of the beast.

Retiring from publicity was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I would have never imagined that revealing my failures would bring on bigger and better opportunities. Today, I run a successful business as a creative consultant, using my experience to lead developing talent in the right direction.  While there are tons of fly-by-night artists who only get in the game to make a quick buck, there will always be those whose genuine passion for music truly shines. They deserve better than what this twisted industry has been feeding them.  Fortunately, I’m now in a position where I can guide a new generation of gifted artists on their way to becoming tomorrow’s legends.

What a difference a year can make!

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As a creative consultant, I spend a lot of time giving advice to up and coming artists.  As we head into the New Year, I’d like to share 4 things aspiring artists absolutely need to STOP doing in 2014 and beyond.

STOP claiming you have a movement

If no one knows you except your friends and family, you do not have a movement.  Even if you have a few hundred followers on Twitter and Facebook, you still don’t have a movement.  You don’t get to label something a movement; it just happens organically when, 1) a growing number of people start to develop a genuine interest in what you bring to the table and, 2) those people begin to show real support by attending your shows or downloading/buying your music.  Until this happens, your “movement” is just a dream.

STOP saying you’re different

If I had a dollar for every artist I met who swears that their music is different from everybody else’s music, I’d already be retired.  You cannot flat-out copy everything from your favorite artist, down to gestures and mannerisms and have the audacity to say you’re original.  You cannot rap like Drake over actual Drake instrumentals while trying to sell me on how you’re going to change the game.  Develop your own style.  It’s ok to be inspired by successful artists but it shouldn’t make you want to actually be them.  And that goes to the guy I bumped into a few weeks ago with the painted-on Drake unibrow.

STOP expecting free things

You’re going to have to invest in your career.  Giving your music away on ReverbNation, SoundCloud, or Bandcamp while promoting yourself on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram will only take you so far.  At some point, you’re going to need a solid branding/marketing plan.  Without a doubt, you’ll need a budget to pay for those services only a professional can offer.  If you’re serious about taking your career to the next level, you’re going to need to pay for videos, photography, mixing and mastering, websites, publicity, and more.  However, if the thought of spending money on what you claim to be passionate about turns you off, you should probably…

STOP pretending you really want a career in the music business

If you’re not willing to work your ass off to pursue your dream, don’t expect Kanye to magically knock at your door and sign you to his label because he heard the music you posted on Twitter.  If you’re serious about your career, you’re going to have to make compromises and sacrifices.  Are you ready to work on your craft tirelessly? Are you willing to let go of X-Box, Play Station, girls, weed, and hanging out with your boys and replace these distractions with productive activities that will get you closer to your goal? If not, stop pretending that you’re “about your business”. Keep doing your music as a hobby and find another career goal that suits you better.

I hope these 4 points will give aspiring artists something to think about as they plan for the coming year.  Most importantly, I hope 2014 brings us artists with original, inspiring, thought-provoking music.  Fortunately, something tells me a change is coming.

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In the summer of ’95, I remember having a conversation with a somewhat famous gangsta rapper regarding his lyrics. I questioned this Snoop Dogg affiliate about the negative content of his music and asked him if he had considered his influence on younger fans. He told me that he had grown up in the hood and rapped about the only things he knew: gangs, crime, women, and the streets. He said he’d be more than willing to rap about other things if someone would teach him. Taken back by his honesty, I gave him my contact info and naively encouraged him to call me if he was interested in exploring new topics for his music. Of course, I never heard from him again. The truth is, I can understand why a grown man would be reluctant to call a complete stranger to probably have the most awkward conversation in his life.

Since that time, I’ve worked with countless aspiring rappers, most of them between their teens and early twenties, whose limited life experiences and small-minded desire to copy mainstream artists have drastically limited their range of subjects to rap about. What so many artists fail to realize is that most of our Hip Hop luminaries have become so as a result of their originality, individuality, and risk-taking attitude. We see these characteristics in those whose music has stood the test of time. Icons such as Rakim, Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, and Afrika Bambaataa as well as contemporaries like Eminem and Jay-Z are examples of artists who have pushed the creative envelope, delivered thought-provoking lyrics, and stood out from the pack. None of the rappers we now call legends have achieved this status by rapping about drugs, sex, and violence on every song like so many do today. Fortunately, when called out on this issue, most up and comers acknowledge their shortcomings and welcome the help and creative push.

So, for all those rappers out there who simply need a little guidance and are open to exploring new topics in your music, here’s my gift to you.  Allow me to provide you with a few subjects you might consider rapping about. Some of these examples are about current events while others pertain to politics and social issues. Each link will give you some general information about the topic and hopefully inspire you to include bits of this new-found knowledge in your lyrics. Trust me, Hip Hop fans around the world will thank you for it and you’ll get more respect for being a well-rounded artist. God knows we need it!

Nelson Mandela and his legacy

Mass incarceration of Black males

The business of private prisons

Stop and frisk secret recordings

The government’s spying problem

iPhones, iPads, and sweatshops

100’s of schools shutting down nationally

How Hip Hop is exploited

NYC stop-and-frisk data: Whites more likely to carry weapons and drugs

Genetically modified food


Where’s the money Haiti was given to rebuild?

School to prison pipeline

The West Still Pillaging Africa

The truth about iPhones

Or pretty much everything I write about. Sorry for the shameless plug!

The list of things to rap about is endless…or at least it should be. The examples I offered here are mostly subjects I’m passionate about that go under reported in mainstream news (and definitely in the music world) but need to be brought to light. However, you should select topics that make sense to you. Do your research in order to get a good understanding of the subject at hand. This is your responsibility as an artist. Write interesting songs that will make you stand out from all the copycat rappers you’re competing against. With a little practice, you’ll start coming up with new topics to rap about and you’ll find yourself evolving, not only as an artist but as a person…without the help of this complete stranger!

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Q-Tip said it best back in 1991, “Industry Rule # 4080, record company people are shady!” Starting in the early days of the music business with Blues and Rock & Roll, payola was once the most popular underhand practice. Record companies and managers would bribe radio DJ’s to give their artists radio play. Although illegal, this practice has never stopped and continues to be used today, albeit in more subtle forms. Rule # 4080 still applies and the methods industry execs use have evolved over time. With the rise in new technology and the dominance of the internet threatening the music industry’s outdated business model, new “questionable” tactics have been developed to help labels stay afloat.

Views, Likes, and Followers: Have you ever checked out a YouTube video only because it had a lot of views and you were curious to see why? Are you more likely to follow an artist on Twitter who has 324,687 followers rather than one who has 54? Are you the type of person to be first to “Like” an artist on Facebook or would you check to see that this artist already has a lot of “Likes” before you join in? While you may think that looking at numbers is a ridiculous way to evaluate an artist’s worth (and it is!), millions around the world feel otherwise. Sad as it may be, high numbers often propel artists to celebrity status. Young and impressionable minds, which the industry targets since they’re the largest consumer base, often assume that if a video has millions of views, it must be good.

And even if they don’t really like the video, they support it anyway because everyone else seems to. But here’s the dirty secret: YouTube views, Facebook “Likes”, and Twitter followers can be bought for a moderate fee. There are now dozens of companies who specialize in increasing numbers. Some companies use special technology to achieve their goals while others claim to be able to get thousands of “real” followers. If that weren’t crazy enough, “positive” YouTube comments supposedly written by real people can also be purchased! This kind of practice is deceptive as hell and makes it difficult for aspiring artists who have to compete against those who have the means to buy such services. I guess quality doesn’t matter when you can just buy your way to popularity.

Buying the # 1 Spot: Once YouTube Views, Facebook “Likes”, and Twitter followers have been bought, it’s time for the label to really go all out and buy thousands of CD’s and downloads to help the artist get to # 1 within the first couple of weeks of release.  Since sales have been declining due to free and illegal downloads, it’s become more and more challenging for artists to hit the top of the charts.

This is why some labels are buying their own products (often with the artist’s money), in hope that achieving # 1 will generate publicity and result in more sales and touring opportunities.  The idea is that the average fan is more likely to support an artist who appears to have a large following.  It’s all about image and perception, and for today’s mainstream music fan, this counts more than talent.

Professional Reviewers: Ever read customer reviews on Amazon or iTunes?  Some are brief, misspelled, and poorly thought out while others are thorough and clearly expressed, almost as if a “professional” had written it.  Shockingly, that’s exactly what’s happening! Writers are paid to act like customers and write positive reviews.  Sometimes, these writers are simply part of the artist’s team, other times, they’re professional writers who get hired for their review services.  Companies have gotten in trouble for this kind of practice but this hasn’t stopped it from happening.  Again, this makes it difficult for new artists who don’t have the means to compete against this kind of deception.

Fake Beef, Phony Stories, and Controversy: Nude pics, sex videos, fake beef, phony stories, and controversy and the result is the same: free publicity. When an artist, or an assistant pretending to be them, tweets something weird, crazy, unusual, or controversial, they know that it’ll spread in a matter of hours and eventually make the top blogs and gossip sites who welcome this kind of foolishness.  And again, everyone seems to get something out of it.  There was a time when this type of nonsense would have hurt an artist’s career.  Now, it sustains it…and that’s pitiful.

There are many more industry secrets.  Some of the ones discussed here are well documented.  I also know that some of you are sharp enough to see through the hype and didn’t need anyone to fill you in on what’s going on behind closed doors. As well, I know that quite a few artists become successful without using these tactics.  Still, you can bet that the more resources an artist has access to, the greater the chances are that at least one of these methods has been utilized.  Do your own research and you’ll probably discover many more shocking methods.

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