by okayplayer.comWhen I was a kid, I always wanted to work in a record shop. When I was a little bit taller, I wanted to work in a liquor store. Simple things please simple minds. Fortunately MaG wasn’t so inclined to spend his days abusing the privileges that free records and alcohol confer. Instead, he’s dropped an album that will reaffirm your faith in hip hop and life in general; an underground gem from an intelligent, articulate, instantly likeable MC.
I Ain’t Going Back To Retail! is a rallying cry to refuse to settle for less; to strive for a better job, better music, a better life. It’s a deeply emotional and ambitious project, that to paraphrase MaG, thinks big, feels big, sees big. Two tracks in and he’s already flowed deliciously over Dilla’s “Donuts (Intro)”, called for Hov to hand the reins over, and compared himself to The Beatles. Now that’s thinking big. But to his immense credit, MaG pulls all of this off without ever coming off as arrogant or overreaching. Sure, he can brag and boast with the best, but his real strength lies in relating experiences, dreams and hopes that we can all share in or identify with.
The themes he addresses are at once personal and universal, “capturing the life of everyday people.” We all live in a world where injustice is present, whether racial, political or via plain bad luck, yet MaG doesn’t bemoan his fate or plead for pity, he makes positive moves for change. He’s by turns provocative, philosophical and inspiring. “Proud, Gifted and Black,” “I’m Leaving” and “Sumthin’ to See” are incredibly powerful, impassioned songs that should get fists in the air all across the land. His message is clear, the delivery impeccable. Every word is invested with the weight it deserves, nothing more, nothing less. And when they come wrapped in the smoothest of flows and smothered in some decidedly sweet production, it makes for something truly special.
The early Dilla loop sets the template for the rest of the album; soulful hip hop with sweeping strings and satisfyingly crunch drums, with excursions into jazz, blues and funk to mix it up. It’s as warm and filling as the rich rhymes that lay on top. It might not make for the most revolutionary album ever, but I haven’t enjoyed a hip hop LP this much since The Renaissance. And that’s on the real.
That’s not to say I Ain’t Going Back To Retail! is perfect; as the man himself says “MaG is now a prodigy,” not the finished article, as a couple of unexceptional tracks attest. But in a way, this just adds to his charm. What you’ve got here is a hugely exciting MC growing into his skills and revelling in the discovery of his talents. MaG’s got his eyes on the stars and he isn’t looking back, certainly not back to retail. On “Sumthin’ To See,” he muses that “to get change, you need to move your feet.” You can make a start by heading in MaG’s direction. And just to seal the deal, in the ultimate rejection of the retail world, this album’s available for free. I’m sold.
My City: MaG Goes Hard For the Bronx by refinedhype.com
The Bronx is indisputably the birthplace of hip-hop, so it's no coincidence that the NY borough has produced some of the game's best and brightest emcees. Determined to join that proud rap lineage is MaG, who in this edition of our My City series explains how his Bronx hometown helped shaped him, lists his all-time best Bronx rappers and says that if you're in the Fordham Rd. area you should come see him.
RefinedHype: Hip-hop originated in the Bronx. How has being from such a historic rap locale influenced your music and career?
MaG: I think that its a huge influence. I was raised on "Criminal Minded" and "Gotta Flow Joe"...I wanted to be the next KRS-One or Fat Joe to represent for the Bronx but in a different way. Even when we talk about a Lord Tariq or a Peter Gunz...cats who really tried to let people know the Bronx has some real talent. There's a lot of pride in being able to say Hip-Hop started in my borough, the home of a Grandmaster Caz and Kool Herc and Flash...its an honor and a privilege. There's a tradition I feel like I have to uphold and I carry that with me every time I'm on stage or in the booth. Its a legacy that I am definitely aware and proud of.
RefinedHype: If you were going to put together a Bronx All-Star rap crew, alive or dead, who would be on it?
MaG: Ah man...how about the whole D.I.T.C.? LOL...nah man I would have to say Big Pun, KRS-One, Fat Joe circa 1993-2000 and Lord Finesse. Just the idea of even sitting in a room with KRS-One or even Pun man just gives me chills. Just to see the process. I can only imagine how Joe felt when he first heard Pun. Its one of those things that just can't ever be duplicated. Finesse doesn't get alot of credit but when you hear Big L, you hear Finesse. That slick talk...that was all Finesse's lane right there. Fat Joe I think was huge in the success of hip-hop for the Bronx and a lot of people knock the direction his music is taking but Joe was one of the first real "backpack" emcees and definitely opened some doors for people in the hood.
RefinedHype: Where do you go for inspiration?
MaG: Anywhere people are. There's just inspiration everywhere man. I watch the news, conversations me and my girl have, new music. I think I'm definitely more of an auditory person. Sounds and music inspire me. I hear Jay Electronica going in on a joint and my pen starts moving. Or I hear a new Premier beat and I get excited.
RefinedHype: If I'm rolling through the Bronx where can I find you?
MaG: I'm a real homebody but the Fordham Rd. area is where I've lived damn near all my life so anywhere between 183rd and 190th st's. Creston, Morris, and Jerome avenues. I'm either in the crib or the studio.
RefinedHype: Last words?
MaG: Download the "$5 Cover EP" featuring myself on the mic and G.C. of Hipnott Records on the boards. Its sponsored by KevinNottingham.com and its a just a solid project. Be on the lookout for the "I Ain't Goin' Back to Retail" LP dropping December 22nd...got production from Remot, Small Professor, Cold Legistics, Dert, J-Rell out of Chicago. And if you're in the New York area on December 12th, check for myself, Chronikill and DXA at the Bowery Poetry Club. Last but not least, want to thank everyone for the support and really proving to me that if you can make honest music from the heart that you believe in, people will believe in it too. Quick shouts to the whole Bronx! And thank you RefinedHype.com for the love and support...definitely appreciated.
URB.com's Next 1000 by URB.com
A finalist in the 2008 Independent Music Awards, MaG is an MC to be on the lookout for. Born in the birth place of hip-hop, this Bronx bred MC began his career at the age of 18. 7 years later, MaG is an artist who carefully constructs each of his verses so that each word has value. Not a punch line artist MaG makes me music that speaks to everyone. Recently MaG released the mixtape Reagonomics and is the winner of DJ Green Lantern's Sonicbids Mixtape Competition and landed a highly desired spot on Green Lantern's Alive on Arrival mixtape. Check out "Sumthin' to C" for a glimpse of his soulful, poignant rhymes.
HHG Exclusive Interview by hiphopgame.com
Your $5 Cover mixtape is now out and it’s been produced entirely by producer G.C. How did you guys first link up?
Kevin from KevinNottingham.com, we had established a cool relationship and he really dug the music and set up an interview and he mentioned his producer and they had this project, this beat sampler and he was trying to get all of these different MCs together and it was a real hassle. I can’t remember how it happened but somewhere along the lines he asked me if I would want to spit over all of them and I said I would. I heard his stuff and he’s dope and he gets down so we’ll do it. I listened to the beats and I was just blown away and I started writing immediately. I laid each one out and I just kind of created the story from there and just made it happen. It was cool. It was definitely the time honored producer and MC tradition. I think that’s what was important, to make sure that we kept that in tact and stayed true to that. It’s been done before but I wanted to make sure that the rhymes were reflective of the dope production I was given.
Why is the producer and MC combination so rare today?
I think it has a lot to do, man, with jumping on what’s hot or what’s next. I think it’s who’s the hottest producer right now and who can I have? I have Just Blaze and I have Pharrell and I have Nottz on one of my albums. Then people are going to gravitate towards that, the idea of having different sounds and people want to “experiment” and I think it’s a lot different, too, where we’re in an age where people send tracks to each other. Even with this project, I would record the tracks and send them back to G.C. but it was still in the sense where he was very proactive and asking if I wanted anything changed. Nowadays there’s a lot of fear involved in that and people are afraid to be honest with themselves. I would just send you a beat that’s dope and you’ll write to it and the producer won’t hear it until the album drops. This was very much more so where we were talking about how we liked the tracks and what would we change. It was back and forth conversations between myself, G.C. and Kevin. I think now with the way the art is going, it’s very much informal and I think people are more comfortable with that because they don’t want to hear what the truth is and people telling them they don’t like how they came off on something. It’s still their beat and it’s their production so you have to be honest with each other. I think that’s kind of lacking and cats are kind of afraid of that.
What did G.C.’s beats bring out in you as an MC?
It all ties along with it being the title The $5 Cover. I wanted each song to feel like a performance. I hope that’s what happened. I want people to feel like every song they heard was a story. I want them to feel involved in the performance and that’s what the music was supposed to be about. It was very performance driven. It was interaction between me and the listener and that’s what I wanted to convey. When I heard the “Rich and Famous” beat, me and wifey were chilling and there was this exceptional view we were looking at of the New York City skyline and the beat was playing in my iPod and it was so dope. It made me feel like I wanted to be rich and famous and that’s what came out along with the perils of being rich and famous. That’s what the beats did. It was cool, man. Everything that came from it was definitely inspiration and it definitely wasn’t forced.
You have a lot of dope lines in there, like how you “never make a mistake and you never mis-take.” Does it ever bother you that you’re using dope lines on a free download?
(laughs) It’s funny you asked me that, Brian. I think about that all the time. I think about that with every single project I make. Even with Reaganomics and before Reaganomics, I was thinking if I had just wasted the best lines in my life! (laughs) After awhile I just kind of convinced myself that I’m blessed and I have the gift to write and I never lack inspiration as long as I’m doing things that inspire me. I’ll always have inspiration to write stuff. If I hear a dope beat it’s inspiration. If I wake up it’s inspiration. As long as there’s things around me, I feel like I’ll always be blessed enough to write this stuff. As long as a person like Lupe still exists…People keep me on my toes lyrically and that’s important to me and that’s what keeps me writing and keeps me inspired. That’s funny that you asked me that because I think about that all the time with every project.
If I was a rapper that would bother me.
At least for me, I kind of get over it after awhile. It becomes one of those things where it is what it is and there’s always this hope that I’ll have a better song than the one I just wrote. That’s the hope. I always hope that this song is better than the last one. I feel like I’m a pretty objective listener with myself, or at least I try to be. I can see where I’m kind of forcing the issue and I get rid of those songs. It’s just about growth. The worry is always there but I think it’s a good worry. It kind of motivates me and keeps me writing and making good music.
What’s your favorite song off The $5 Cover?
Really, “Rich and Famous,” I think. It’s between “Rich and Famous” and “No Hands.” I think it’s “Rich and Famous” because of how organic creating the track was. I can’t remember how I landed on that mindstate but I heard the beat and I heard a melody in my head and I needed it conveyed the right way. I got exactly what I needed and it’s very storytelling, how people say they want to be rich and they want the fame but they don’t really know what comes along with that. “New Orleans” is also a favorite track. People forget that people are still struggling there and they’re still living in trailers. I got family down there. There’s definitely still aid that needs to be delivered down there and it’s not happening so that was a big deal for me to write that track. It’s between those three. And “No Hands” was a dedication to my mom, so that was kind of important.
Your buzz has been getting bigger in the last year. Is all the hard work starting to pay off?
I think so. I’m nowhere near where I want to be or where I can be at this point, but it’s definitely a sign how people are reacting to The $5 Cover. My last project was Reaganomics in 2007. It kind of feels like I came full circle with this project. The response has been really great and people have been really receptive to the music and I feel like I’m in my lane and I’ve kind of found my comfort zone. It definitely feels good. I’m not where I want to be but I’m definitely on the path for where I want to go. It does feel good and I feel like I’m working hard. There are probably things I should be doing that I’m not but it’s a learning process right now and I’m happy.
How have you grown as an MC since Reaganomics?
Man, I think musically I’ve grown. I’ve kind of stretched myself out. What I tell people is that I loved doing Reaganomics. That was so important to what I do but it was, like, one-sided. I would always tell people that when it comes to music, people always want to show one side of themselves, even with gangsta rap. You don’t shoot people and sell drugs 24/7. Maybe you do but you probably have a mother or you probably have a girl or you probably have a story and Reaganomics covered one side and The $5 Cover covered another side and the album coming up is more personal. It’s like I’ve almost found myself in between now and Reaganomics. I’ve learned a lot about honor and family and I feel like I enjoy life more, man. My focus is really just about music and nurturing relationships and making sure I represent myself in the music as much as possible. I don’t want people to be confused and there’s a lot of that going on. People meet the artist after hearing the music and they’re confused and I don’t want that to happen with me. I don’t think that’s fair and that’s not how it should be.
Where are you on the official album?
I hope they are ready. I’m waiting to drop it too. The official LP, I Ain’t Going Back to Retail, we’re looking at a tentative date of the 22nd. I want people to be on the lookout for that, man. It’s a real personal project. Next week I’m going to start the mastering process and it feels really good. I’m the executive producer on this project and I got all the producers I wanted and the songs are all written by me and I feel like it’s probably the best representation of myself right now that I could possibly get. Me calling it that is that I’m basically not going back to retail. Retail is a state of mind and don’t feel limited or constrained to that. Pursue your dreams and pursue your goals because that’s what I’m doing now. I’m saying you don’t have to go back to your old life. Live your life now and don’t be constrained to that. And the project is free!
Where do you see yourself fitting in when you look at the spectrum of new artists?
That’s a good question. I don’t even know if I do fit in. I’m trying not to. I kind of hope that I am the outcast and I’m playing the role of the underdog and I’m kind of enjoying it. I feel like there’s certain representations of the art. I’m a fan of Drake and I think he’s different from other artists but I feel like my growth is so much more different because you’re seeing it from the beginning to the end. You’re seeing me work a day job and going to the studio and still making music. I’m very true to that and you see that. I think you don’t really get to hear that. Artists may touch on that sometimes but I feel like I wear my heart on my sleeve a lot and I think that’s kind of hard to do in this day and age because people are scared to. You’re scared of people clowning you and making fun of you but I’m confident in the music I make and I think that should show when people hear it. I’m just looking forward to people hearing the music and they hear me talking from a place they recognize and I always want to represent that whether I’m in the booth or the boardroom. I want to make sure I’m always there. My objective is to make sure that I’m always a representation of the people. I’m not Obama or nothing but I feel like I can make a change in the music. I’m not a backpacker MC and I’m not a conscious MC. I’m just an MC trying to make a change in the music.
What’s the best way to make sure the most people can hear the change you’re trying to bring about?
I have a show coming up at the Bowery Poetry Club on the 12th. 2010 is really about trying to get in SXSW and the CMJs and all the major festivals and try to get the name out there and build a fanbase. I just think about myself as a fan. I’m really stingy when it comes to my money, especially now. If I’m going to put money into an album or into a CD, then it better be worth it. That’s my thing with the free music. I’m going to keep giving free music and I’m going to build my fanbase and I’m going to start touring and start creating a bigger fanbase because I want people to feel like once they make that big investment into my CD, there’s no question in their mind that it’s going to be worth it. I’m going to give them all of me and it’s going to be worth it. I just think that we should all just approach it that way, whether you’re an artist, a painter, a writer, an MC, a beatmaker or an actual producer-producer. It should always be with the idea that everything you make, it should feel worth it and not just for you. I always think what I like and at the end of the day you have to realize what works and that doesn’t work. And not what sells, because what sells and what works aren’t necessarily the same thing. They’re two completely different things. What sells doesn’t really mean anything. It’s money and it’s revenue but there’s so many politics into what sells a record and what actually makes a record work. That’s Quincy Jones’ history and Jay-Z’s history. It’s not necessarily fame that I want but I want to strive for that creativity and notoriety. I want the fans to know that they’re getting the most out of a MaG project, consistently, whether it’s free or it’s $12 at Best Buy.
Where do you want to go in 2010?
More shows, more promotion and more music. Damn, really, that’s my main focus, man. My main focus is doing as much promotional performances that I can and get it out to places where people may not be familiar with me. I have a lot of music that I want to share with people and I’m just hoping that people be receptive to it. I’m just really building a fanbase and growing with the fanbase and having them see me grow as well. I want to be the artist that people can say they watched grow because that doesn’t happen anymore. I draw a comparison to a Common. I remember when Common started with “Beats by the Pound.” I was there for that and to see him go from there to Forever, that’s growth and you don’t normally get to see that no more. You don’t get to see the Nas’ and the Jay-Z’s. It’s a flash in the pan and they’re in and they’re out. I want 2010 to be very fruitful for me and my family and for people to see the growth from 2009 to 2010 and 2011. It’s only for the best, man. A lot more shows and a lot more music.
Introducing MaG by kevinnottingham.com
Finishing up our week long look at up and coming artists on the scene is the Bronx’s own MaG. A long time reader of the site, MaG finally hit me up with some of his music. I gotta say I was impressed with his skills. He’s worked with a bunch of familiar cats in the game; it’s amazing I hadn’t heard of him before. You’re gonna be seeing more of MaG on the site as we’ll be doing some work with him on some side projects. But for now, let’s get to know MaG…
“The future of NYC hip-hop” said Buckwild, famed producer, when speaking of MaG. Born and raised in the birthplace of Hip-Hop, Bronx, NY, MaG began his emceeing career at the age of 18. MaG can be heard on new mixtapes/albums by Chanudon , Rich London, DJ Denox, and DJ Wristpect, among others. MaG released the mixtape/album Reaganomics, featuring Darien Brockington, G.O.D. of Pitch Black, Torae, Skyzoo and others and was produced and mixed by MaG, Vega Benetton (”XXL”, Scratch”) and Dan the Man (mixed albums by Lil Kim, Big Pun, the Boot Camp Click, Skyzoo, and others). MaG was a featured artist on hiphopgame.com. MaG was also the winner of DJ Green Lantern’s Sonicbids Mixtape compeition where he landed a coveted spot on Green Lantern’s “Alive on Arrival” mixtape. MaG is currently working on his follow-up mixtape as well as other projects in the upcoming year, marking the transition from MaG the emcee to MaG the artist. Look for more projects and collaborations from MaG, and as hiphopgame.com put it, “this Bronx-bred emcee is worth checking out.”
Where You Reppin?
Born and raised in the birthplace of hip-hop: Bronx, NYC
mag2I’m MaG. I’m an artist. I make dope music. I love what I do. Just hoping everybody else will too.
Current projects we should be looking out for:
Working on a few solo mixtapes, some collaborations and an EP in the works. Just finished up a soundtrack for a short film. Trying to stay busy.
Previous work that we should know about:
My first mixtape Reaganomics [download], some work with producer Buckwild, Chaundon’s “Carnage” album, mixtapes with Green Lantern, Wristpect, D-Dub, Denox, and Rich London; tracks with Emilio Rojas, Skyzoo, Torae, Kev Turner, Math, Gif, 6th Sense, Wildabeast, to name a few.
Main musical inspirations:
This isn’t a specific order but B.I.G, Jay-Z, Nas, Mos Def, Andre 3000, Jadakiss, Stevie Wonder, and Quincy Jones. I just love people who make honest music.
If you had to pick one song that defines your career to date, what song?
mag3Little Brother’s “Dreams” off their GetBack album. We all got dreams. Everyday I wake up I set out to make those a reality.
Why should the readers and fans give you a shot and listen to your music from here on out?
I just want to keep making quality music that can stand the test of time. I want people to play my music and understand me and feel like they can relate. I try and make music for the people. Some people gonna love it. Some people gonna hate it. But at the end of the day I’m always me. I go to sleep comfortably knowing that. People want you to be this cookie-cutter image of what “hipster hip-hop” or “backpack hip-hop” is. I just love making music
What’s next for you?
More music. More mixtapes. More interviews. Right now I’m just trying to push the MaG name and get people fully involved in the music and me as an artist.
If you could only take one record on a deserted island with you, what album would that be?
Nas’ “No Ideas” off the Lost Tapes LP. I burnt a whole in that cd having that song on repeat. The joint is very poetic and Nas just goes in from beginning to end.
Any shout outs or last words?
Producers, emcees, music lovers, get at me. I think right now, especially in NY, we’re missing that collaborative spirit. If you’re nice then I’m working with you. Hit me up on the myspace, download the mixtape, and make sure you tell a friend!