Young music makers
Juliana D. Norwood | 6/2/2010, 5 p.m.
It is not easy getting into the music industry these days. Even the artists who have "made it" still struggle with record sales because of technology. Piracy is at an all-time high, and essentially any song by any artist you want to hear can be downloaded for free from the Internet and uploaded right to your phone or mp3 player.
The bulk of artist's money nowadays doesn't come from their record sales. Instead many have found it much more beneficial to give their music away for free just to create a huge fan base. Then, they drive their audiences to attend concerts and other live performances for revenue.
New rap sensation Aubrey "Drake" Graham is a perfect example of this. He released his first song and video "Replacement Girl" off of his "Comeback Season" mixtape in 2007, and was even featured as the "106th and Park" "New Joint of the Day," before he even had a record deal. He has released an immense amount of material since then. Here we are in 2010, and Drake is hugely successful as one of hip-hop's most recognized names and faces. And although he has finally settled with a record label, Lil' Wayne's Young Money Entertainment, he still has not dropped his first album.
Many of Los Angeles' young fresh artists are hoping for some of that same luck and some seem to truly have what it takes to make it. They are using Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, CDBaby, AOL Music, Youtube, and every outlet they can to get their talents noticed, and it appears to be paying off.
Following are artist profiles of BJ the Chicago Kid, A.L the Crown Prince, Casey Veggies, Holladay, August Cole, and Dominique Christina, six musically talented individuals who live locally and strive everyday to defy the odds, and break into the industry.
BJ The Chicago Kid
Bryan Sledge or, BJ the Chicago Kid, is a 27-year-old artist, who identifies his music as "world soul music" and said it is not for one particular race or color, but rather tailored so that all people can identify with it. BJ's sound is incredibly soulful. Every song he sings takes you on a journey into his heart or back to a specific time in your own life.
"I grew up in church, so I was there every Sunday, but then afterwards I could take off my suit, run outside and play basketball, shoot dice, or chase girls. I could hang with the 'hoodlums' as they would call them. So that enabled me to have the best of both worlds and to be able to express that in my music" said the L.A. transplant.
As a child BJ came from a long line of basketball players, and that is always what he imagined he would be doing with his life. He played in high school but soon realized what a special gift he had with music, not to mention that playing the drums was really his first love.
Both of BJ's parents were singers, and he recollects how his mother put him on the spot on the way to church one Sunday. She gave him a part to a song and told him he would be singing it in less than 45 minutes. He learned the part and performed it successfully, and from that moment on he knew to always be prepared and on top of his game; he has also been singing ever since.
Tapping into his talents in poetry, which formed along with his interest in women, BJ became a songwriter, which is how he got exposed in the industry. That, combined with help from his producer friend Kevin Randolph enabled BJ to get his foot in the door.
He relocated to California seven years ago after a family argument. At the same time, a friend told him he would have a job singing back-up for gospel duo Mary Mary, if he could get to L.A., and within a week's time, he made the move.
"I think what sets me apart from other artists in the industry is my authenticity. When I step to the microphone, I try to relay the message that 'I am not you.' There is a difference in what I do. I was raised around real music, and (was) always taught to make music that is timeless . . . years from now, when a song of mine is played, I want people to say 'this is still bangin.' I go to the club and dance and have fun and listen to all types of music and there is nothing wrong with that, but I feel I carry more of a message in my music," said BJ.
BJ said he is still unsigned because he refuses to sell himself short. He has been approached with deals but he understands the business and knows that he deserves more than what he has been offered so far. On top of that he has found that because his style is so distinctive he is somewhat difficult to market.
"Why let them give me beans when I know I deserve steak? I didn't just come here to eat. I came here to eat well," he said.
Although BJ's talents have enabled him to sing back-up for Jamie Foxx, Usher, and Anthony Hamilton, and have given him the opportunity to write for many other artists, he is still a solo performer.
A.L. The Crown Prince
A.L. feat. Yannie & $oca - Fly Away
A.L. "The Crown Prince" | MySpace Music Videos
Alphonso Williams, professionally known as "A.L. The Crown Prince," is a 25-year-old hip hop artist who has been performing and trying to get his sound heard for the last three years. He started out trying to get his music exposed through his Myspace Music page. This fortunately created a buzz and a following. Other big names in the industry even heard his talents which helped give him a leg-up. His first single "22's" featured a hook by rap superstar, T.I., and from there he had opportunities to work with Letoya Luckett, Nelly, and Ashanti.
"Myspace really helped to establish a fan base for me initially. Then, I started researching and reading up on how to approach younger people and a younger audience. Seeing what the young adult crowd was interested in and listening to, at the time, really has helped my fan base to grow."
A.L. is dedicated to his music, but never let that overshadow his need for an education and a back-up plan.
"I graduated from Colorado State University (with a bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts) a year early. I went to summer school every year, taking extra classes, and making sure that I passed all of my classes; just doing whatever I could to get through it. It wasn't because I loved school. It was really an effort to get it done. I look at school as a hustle. The most legal hustle you can have. I just knew what I had to do, and I did it. I left before my senior football season to pursue my music career."
The next step in A.L.'s music career is the release of his newest mixtape, "California Nights Volume 2. Savant Syndrome Edition," which drops June 21 and will be distributed through datpiff.com, hotnewhiphop.com, and many other music websites. He will be out in the streets promoting it as well. Because the release date of the new mixtape is so close to BET Awards week, A.L. hopes to create an artist showcase during the same week to benefit from the crowds of artists, producers, and music lovers who flock to town.
"I'm not going the traditional way of trying to get in with record labels, because honestly labels don't have the money now that they used to. As much as they may want to sign new artists, financially they can't. They want to see, if need be, that you can do the groundwork yourself, essentially using the "Drake Graham" formula. Labels want to see if you are willing to invest in yourself first. If you won't invest $200 in yourself, then why would a label invest $2 million in you," said A.L. about why he is not necessarily seeking a record deal just yet.
A.L.'s biggest challenge as an artist so far has been trying to get people to understand that his music is different, and to get labels and just folks, in general, to understand that West Coast rap is not all "gangster rap" anymore.
"People still believe that rap coming out of Cali is all about Impalas and hittin' switches, wearing Dickeys and Cortez' with Locs on. That's really what it has been for the last 22 years since N.W.A. in '88, and it's time for something different. I am here to present something different. So, I just have to be patient. My time will come"
Casey Jones, known to his fans as Casey Veggies, has become extremely popular almost exclusively by of word of mouth. He first performed in Hollywood at Forbidden City when he was 14.
"I was nervous; it was a really good experience and a really good turnout for my first performance. Much more than I expected. I always used to write little raps and stuff, when I was in class, then I started recording and actually putting it out. I realized that it was pretty good and people really liked it. It just naturally all came together."
In addition to the word of mouth generated by his friends, the young rapper credits the Internet and his Myspace Music page with much of his success and for getting the word out about his music. The page truly increased his fan base. Youtube also played a large part in his success, because it was there that he released his first music video.
"I had a lot of fun doing the first music video 'It's All Good.' We had a really good time with it and I feel like we truly did it the right way."
Casey Veggies' sound is not all what you would expect from a 16-year-old. His music is very mature, and features classic beats, attitude, and subject matter that make him very versatile.
"I guess I'm ahead of my game in certain areas as far as my sound. I really have a passion for good music."
Like many other artists Casey is relying more heavily on his performances to get heard and to gain revenue. He has done five shows in the last two months and has a few after-prom performances approaching as well.
"I'm not really working on trying to get a record deal just yet. I just want to be genuine. I'm not trying to rush anything, I feel like I really have the time to build myself up and do it the right way. I'm just trying to get my name out there so I can be comfortable, when I do decide to go that route. Also I want to get my brand 'Peas & Carrots' on the map. My advice to other young artists is, "Do what you feel, be original, and keep it fresh. Don't let anyone tell you that it can't be done."
Jharon Ward, also known as Holladay, is a 25-year-old rapper, who started rapping in his friend's garage at age19 and just recently performed at the UCLA Jazz Reggae Festival 2010 this weekend. He shared the stage with music icons such as Nas and Damian Marley.
"The night before, I just kept thinking about how this was going to be the biggest show of my career. And I kept asking myself, if I was really ready. This was the most exposure, the biggest crowd, and biggest stage I had ever performed on. But surprisingly, once I got up there, it was easier than any show I'd ever done."
Holladay got his start originally as part of a group called "Pacmann" with three other members. Eventually, the group disbanded and each member decided to pursue a solo career.
"The Pacmann following was crazy. We always had a lot of followers, and then to have to turn and start over and to have to re-establish myself for myself, it wasn't easy. Now, it's nice to have a name. When I was in the crew, I was just Pacmann, but now I'm my own person. It's a lot more pressure."
Holladay, first with the group and now on his own, has done an incredible amount of promotion over the years hanging posters all over the city, holding shows, and passing out more than 100,000 copies of their mixtapes to get exposure.
"A while ago Pacmann was going to perform on the 'Steve Harvey Show'. The people loved us and had encouraged us to do it. We performed for the executives and they loved it and we thought it was going to happen. Then Steve said he didn't want rap on his show, and we got replaced with the Tap Dancing Twins," recalls Holladay about one of the most disappointing moments in his young music career.
He has since moved on and is hoping to get a record deal in the near future, because he believes it gives him more power as an up-and-coming artist and believes it will give him more opportunities. In five years, he hopes to have his own label helping bring in young, talented artists like himself.
"The industry is like a gated community. You just have to get past security or know someone who lives there, to get in.
August Cole, a 17-year-old, up-and-coming mixed genre artist, is preparing to take the world by storm as she writes, arranges, produces, and of course, sings all of her own music.
August has been performing since age of 8, when she entered her first talent show at 49th Street Elementary School. Since then, she has really created a name for herself. She gains exposure and increases her fan base through her Myspace Music Page, Facebook, and Youtube, and she also has her own website where people can join her fan club and get a list of her upcoming performances.
August's music is already available on Itunes, EMusic, and Amazon on Demand, and she hopes to sign with a major record label soon, and is using many different outlets to make that happen.
"I actually auditioned for 'America's Got Talent' twice, and they tried to discourage me. As far as 'American Idol', I plan on auditioning for season 10. In five years, I see myself being a huge star. I see myself inspiring others and touching people's lives. I'm very passionate about what I do, and I wouldn't want anything else as a life-time career. I want to make August Cole a household name," said Cole who has also studied piano and voice at the California Institute of the Arts.
"My advice to other young artists would be to stay humble, keep God first, and stay determined no matter what. Also, it is very important to know the business and be aware of the legal aspects. Sometimes we watch television, and we see the fun and the glamour, and we assume it's an easy and struggle-free lifestyle. That is so far from the truth. Learn as much about the music industry as you can."
Dominique Garrett, better known musically as Dominique Christina, is a 23-year-old pop/R&B singer, who as been working to establish her music career since 2004.
"My main inspiration is God, my family, and my grandma. Mostly I do my music for those who have broken hearts and need my music to help mend them. The difference is, I use dance music rather than ballads. Who wants to be sad and listen to more sadness? I'm inspired by happiness."
Dominique got exposed to the industry by having a family who was heavily involved in music and entertainment.
"My parents use to be on 'Soul Train.' My aunt was in 'The Wiz,' and many members of my family play instruments. Growing up in the mist of that, I never really had a choice. I remember the first tape I got, when I was about three years old--Bobby Brown's first album. I've been sold ever since."
Dominique has been performing unofficially since she was around 5 years old. She recalls dressing up for her parents and family members and putting on little shows and charging them to watch her dance and sing. That grew into doing performances throughout elementary school and so on. On some level, Dominique believes she was always meant to be a performer.
"Everyday I tell myself, 'search for what makes you different. Don't be afraid to wear, say, or do anything you feel is right. You don't make it by being someone else. Keep God first and keep your eyes on the prize.' And that is the same advice I would give to others who are trying to make a breakthrough in the industry. I know music like I know myself. I just see the world in colors that not even the crayon box has yet."
Music, and videos from these artists can be viewed at ourweekly.com.