Wes Jackson is the founder of the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, co-founder of Seven Heads Entertainment, and president of marketing firm The Room Service Group. He answered my questions via email about his motivation for creating the Festival and what he looks for in a performer, among other things.
Aaron Matthews: Why did you start the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival?
WJ: I started the Festival for several reasons. One, I thought hip-hop should have a world class festival on par with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. An all day, outdoor representation of the city’s music, cuisine, culture and energy.
Secondly, I wanted to create an event that would help reclaim the hip-hop brand from years of bad press, vultures and interlopers. Hip-Hop needs to grow up and take itself seriously. There teenage fans of hip-hop as well as 30, 40, and 50 year-old fans. Hip-Hop fans of all ages need quality music and events that appeal to where they are in life.
The Summer Jams take care of the teenagers. There is Rock The Bells who attacks this issue with a sledgehammer and a slightly alternative spin. I wanted to create one for our demographic as well. Metropolitan, educated, slightly older, female, and racially/ethnically diverse.
AM: What do you look for in a performer when you are assembling the lineup for the festival?
WJ: Someone with fundamental skills. More than this elusive ‘swagger’ that is so prevalent these days. I am looking for someone who is pushing the art forward. I look for real content. Stage presence. When putting together the line-up, I look for a balance of old school and new school. Local acts and acts that rarely make it to Brooklyn.
AM: How do you balance the different tastes of long time Brooklynites and more recent arrivals?
WJ: It’s not that tough. I get Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One for the old heads. Lupe [Fiasco] and Mickey Factz for the gentrifiers. Is that a word? At the end, both old and new Brooklynites appreciate quality and history. We also price the event so that as many socio and economic groups can participate. This brings the old and new communities together.
AM: Have there ever been issues over which acts have been chosen?
WJ: Sure. Everyone has their favourites and I have the final say. Feathers get ruffled sometimes but we are all pros and sort it out. The one who gets pissed is me when I let people talk me into acts I know don’t fit the brand. I have learned to use my experience and lead without being despotic. My gut instincts on this are usually right. For the most part we all come to a consensus.
What was your initial goal in starting Seven Heads Entertainment?
WJ: My goal was to work with my friends and changed the world. Still is. [Laughs]
Back then I was enamoured with the idea of running a record label. I wanted to be Russell Simmons. After the returns started to mount, that dream ended. Fundamentally I just wanted to get my vision of hip-hop out there. I wanted to start my own business and realize my dreams. We did some great things. Released some fantastic records. Saw the world. I hope to bring the brand back soon as a digital entity.
You can find out more about the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival at brooklynbodega.com.
Some of you web savvy folk might recognize the name Mickey Factz. The Bronx emcee has been the subject of many a blog post as of late thanks to his boundary-pushing approach to hip hop. Not only the music he creates, but they way it is being heard has both hip hop fans and hipsters alike asking “Who is this guy?!” Mickey Factz is an over-night success years in the making. He spoke to me about his digital mix-tape The Leak Vol.1, his evolution as an artist and who he’ll most likely be compared to.
Chris Bowman: You mention in your bio that your "music will get to the masses whether it be through traditional or non-traditional mediums". The success of the on-line mix-tape series has been a prime example of the latter. With The Leak you took a different approach releasing one track at a time. Why did you decide to try this method?
Mickey Factz: Gotta cause a stir up somehow, someway. By doing that it creates a word of mouth campaign, leading people from all walks of life talking about Mickey Factz, whether it’s good or bad. They're talking and that's all that matters. By talking, it creates awareness, people then act on that awareness.
CB: You made a good point when you said "In evolution, only the strong survive. Those unable to adapt to a changing platform or culture, will be left extinct." Over the years you have evolved from Renegade to Jack Danielz to Mickey Factz, changing your style along the way. What have you learned from those previous incarnations?
MF: Interesting question. As Renegade, I was basically vicariously living thru my favorite emcee's. Some of ‘em were violent. Some of ‘em were straight up lyricists and others were just partiers. Because of backlash that I might have gotten from the streets, I used Jack Daniels as a cover up. Saying I was drunk when I did it. Turning into Mickey Factz was essential ‘cause it made me look within myself and become the artist I am today.
CB: Your music has been embraced by a wide variety of fans, earning you the recently coined label of hipster rapper. On the other side of that it seems to have stirred up negative feedback also. As you say, either way at least people are talking. What is it about your style you feel has caused so much buzz?
MF: It’s the flamboyance, the swag, the lyricism, the cockiness, the human side. All of these emotions lead the fans to accept what I do because it’s real and they go thru it too. Every word has a purpose and meaning. Plus I'm dope as fuck.
CB: You have already been offered a record deal from Atlantic Records and a solo deal from Missy Elliot. What made you decide to turn those offers down?
MF: It wasn't the right time. Timing is everything and right now, it’s the time for Mickey to position and align himself properly to gain the maximum exposure he deserves.
CB: What would you like to add that people might not already know about you?
MF: That y’all will compare me to Michael Jackson, that's how confident I am.
Mickey Factz will be performing at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival along with Blu & Exile, KRS-One, DJ Premier, 88 Keys and more Saturday July 12. Also, you can download the latest installment of The Leak here.
From time to time, I get emails from radio listeners. Occasionally they're very, very negative. More frequently, they're complimentary. From time to time, they're critical, but thoughtful. A couple listeners have written to me about my manner of speach, and I thought I'd share one letter I got this morning, along with my response. I've left out the listener's last name in the interest of anonymity.
I’m a listener from New Jersey who catches you at least twice a month. I’m an old  fuddy duddy retired English and theater teacher who still enjoys new music and entertainment. What often bothers me and gets in the way of your programs is the language usage. For Blu to spout slang and “like” and “y’know” and other street language fillers is easy to forgive. He’s not a public speaker; and the poetry of his raps shows he can use the language. I’m not as forgiving of the documentary film producer/director/writer, but, again, he’s not in the busines of extemporaneous speech. However, my patience runs real thin when the interviewer/emcee uses the same diction as his subjects. Word choice and vocabulary should, of course, be appropriately casual and contemporary, but the diction of the moderator should not sound like a “valley girl.” You demean the generally high quality of your questions, analysis and guests.
Hi Guy --
Thanks for taking the time to write. It's always nice to hear from listeners, no matter what their age. You're hardly the only 60-something listening to the show -- I think the name throws people off :).
I'm surprised at your critique of my language usage. I don't know what qualifications to offer to counter it... I did get an 800 out of 800 on the verbal portion of my SATs back in high school, and I believe my mother is still tending a garden of medals from the Junior State of America and the Academic Decathalon. Perhaps those are more the qualifications of a nerd than anything else. I suppose my point is that I make my choices advisedly.
I think the difference is at least in part, generational. I might recommend Stanford linguist Geoff Nunberg's essay on the subject of "like," which is featured in one of his books (can't remember which one), and which he read on Fresh Air a few years ago. Geoff was a guest on The Sound of Young America four or five years
ago, and he was really wonderful.
Ultimately, I think my choices reflect the informal tone of the program. I could certainly be more formal -- I've had job interviews, too -- but the best answers come from guests who are comfortable speaking their minds, and I think an informal environment is more conducive to frankness. It's certainly more conducive to humor, which is typically the backbone of my show. That said -- I still don't think I sound like a Valley girl. I'm from San Francisco.
In any event, thank you for taking the time to write, and for your kind words about the content of the show. Thanks also for supporting WNYC. Without WNYC's brave support, I don't think I'd even be a professional broadcaster. WNYC produces some of the best shows in public radio, like On the Media and Radiolab, as well as some of the best local programming in the country, and I'm very proud to be a part
of it. You should be glad to support their wonderful efforts.
So... what do you think?
America's radio sweetheart in conversation with the laughter star of the eastern block, comedian Eugene Mirman. We'll also hear from incredibly talented painter Brandon Bird and Kyle MacDonald who writes the blog One Red Paperclip. His aim is to trade up from a red paperclip, to a house.
I try to push Rock & ROFL, the show we sponsor, which is presented by Brooklyn Vegan and Klaus Kinski, but I don't know if you're paying attention.
Let me say it: this is an awesome show, every month.
This month, they've got a super-secret show from The Futureheads, plus comedy from Mike Birbiglia, Dave Hill and others. The show's tommorow night at 8 at Piano's in New York. You can always find the latest Rock & ROFL info here, and there may still be some tickets for tommorow night here.
I was dead tired the entire weekend. It turns out that Sketchfest NYC runs till like 3AM every night. I usually go to bed at around 10:30. So, even with the time difference, you can see how that'd work out.
I saw a pile of shows over the two nights I was there, and missed a pile more. Los Angeles' Birthday Boys took the "we're goofing around, being silly, don't you love us" model of much LA sketch these days and really knocked it out of the park. Their show, which originated at the UCB, had consistently strong sketches and execution. There weren't any standout performances, but with only a year in existance, they're poised for growth.
Portland's Third Floor put on a really remarkable show full of bizarre twists and turns. They opened with one of the strangest (and best) high school reunion sketches I've ever seen, and closed with one of the best dance numbers I've ever seen in a comedy context.
Troop!, from Los Angeles, performed what amounted to a play in sketches, about a post-apocalyptic world where condiment packets are money and the most valuable commodity of all is toilet paper. I was impressed at how well the show held up over a full 45-minute-or-so runtime, with full characterizations and high production values.
The highlight for me was a consistently hilarious new show from New York's Elephant Larry (above). Every sketch was inventive, hilarious and more than ably played. Geoff Haggerty stood out with compelling performances as a self-conscious, bumbling drill sergeant and a suburban vampire, getting huge laughs while uttering nothing more than what you might call a "vampire noise." (Blurgh? Bloor?) I honestly couldn't tell you why these guys aren't on television.
A bizarre moment: a "sketch" during the closing night "Sketchfest Craptacular" (a collection of the performing groups strangest material) from Kurt Braunolher of Kurt & Kristen. Kurt ran on stage and started to pump the audience up for the greatest experience of his life. He had decided that a great sketch would be a "doing whippets fight," for which he'd purchased $75 worth of whipped cream cannisters. Then he'd decided that that wouldn't be too exciting to watch on stage, so he added a "fighting fight." He cued Andrew W.K. at full volume on the sound system, and several muscled sketch players ran on stage, topless, and started to wrestle (pretty sincerely). He and the lovely New York comic/writer Jane Borden then commenced whippetting at a disturbing rate. Is it possible for pandemonium to be infectious?
All in all, a great weekend. It'll be a couple weeks before the show goes up, but if all goes according to Hoyle, we'll be able to offer some video in addition to the audio on the podcast.
Whether or not you're coming to The Sound of Young America Live! on Saturday at the UCB in New York, you can join us for our meetup. We'll be meeting at 7:30PM at The Peter McManus Cafe, 152 7th Ave. The "cafe" (more of a pub) has both food and grog.
Meetup discussion here.
The Sound of Young America is Live! in New York City on Saturday afternoon as part of Sketchfest NYC.
We're so happy to have Ze Frank, Jay Smooth, Pangea 3000 and Dawn Landes to entertain you.
Tickets are available now, so buy yourself some. And tell a friend!
Yes folks, it has indeed been confirmed. The Sound of Young America will be live in New York City next month as part of Sketchfest NYC.
It's a matinee show, Saturday June 14th at 4PM. Tickets just went on sale for only ten bucks at the UCB theater website. I'm still working on confirming guests, but there should be some cool people on the bill, so buy those tickets now.
There are also lots of other amazing shows in the festival, which you really oughta go to. More on that later. For now, just buy those tickets.
Here's the details:
Starts May 16th--Six Weeks Only
Fridays and Saturdays @ 7:30pm,
Sundays @ 7:00pm
BARROW STREET THEATRE
27 Barrow Street @ 7th Ave. South
Tickets: telecharge.com or 212.239.6200
I'm not going to reprint all of Mike's rave reviews, so let's go with a favorite, from the New York Times: "A sardonic rebuke to the corporate types who hold American theater hostage and a powerful sense of the wonder of theater. The entire room was quietly rapt...a remarkable performer."
And guess what?
Mike's extended a special offer for MaxFunsters... use this direct link to the online box office, and use the code MDHTFA and you can get twenty dollar tickets to the show. That's a hell of a price. And you can call 212-947-8844, use the same code, and get the same sweet sweet deal.
(Above photo: Mike at TSOYA Live, shot by Anya Garrett)