Archive: June 2015

EightSixty Custom Skate Shop: Grand Opening




So me and the sidekick headed over to the Eightsixty Custom Skate Shop to celebrate their grand opening. And I will be honest…it was an event. Not only is this place a skate shop, but it always has an indoor skate park. Dope right? So the first half of the day you got to see skaters of all skill levels do their thing on the ramps. The second part of the day that set up a stage and had some of the amazing local music talent grace the mic. Everyone from Maia CC to MC/Host Joey Batts. They even had a impromptu freestyle session just to keep the feeling going. Which, of course I jumped in on. Food and drinks outside and a little stand for my homie, Dewey’s “Hartford” line of gear.

Even though the rain came down, people came out to support. And that meant alot. You see the Skater crowd has always been seen as slackers who can never really do anything. Hoodlums who run around with no respect for anything. Almost exactly what they say about the Hip Hop crowd. But this…this among many others showed that both crowds could come together to accomplish something. Some may see this as just another skate shop, but I’m not that foolish.

I see EightSixty Custom for what it really is. A symbol as a local business. A sign that the kids you thought were lost, really know where they are and where they are going.

This skate shop is the sign that when not given the avenue or venue, we have what it takes to create it for ourselves.

Thank you EightSixty Custom. not for eventing me to an event, but for making me apart of a movement.

For more pictures from the event check out the link below…..

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The Efflorescence: Rockoleone & DJ Stress Interview



Fresh off of wrapping up their newest project, I had a chance to sit down with Rockoleone and DJ Stress and pick their brain about everything that went into The Efflorescence. Everything from guest appearances to figuring out the direction and sound of the project is talked about in this interview. Click the link and enjoy the dopeness… Here For Interview)

After listening to the interview, don’t forget to cop the project at:

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I Am Solo



Solo is an independent artist from the Hartford/East Hartford area. Somewhat new to the scene but growing not only as an artist but a person. I’ve had the honor of watching Solo take steps towards becoming a all round producing and emceeing threat. Recently i had the chance to sit down with Solo and pick his brain about his thoughts on the game as it stands today.

Jack Nickelz: What was your first Hip Hop experience?

Solo: I remember listening to red and meths “How High” on cassette at my grandparents house. Rap was banned from my house so the fact my grandfather would let me and my brother wild out and recite word for word was the best. There is more music but the list is long.

Jack Nickelz: What made you start emceeing and producing?

Solo: The emcee part came from listening to so much music and thinking how great it would be to have a skill like that not realizing that I had it in me already I just never utilized it plus my brother gave that push to just do it. Now as far as the producer part that just stemmed from my gift of playing back what I heard on my piano as a kid. It sometimes drives me crazy on both ends because I will loose sleep over not being about to get a certain sound or what I’m trying to put out lyrically.

Jack Nickelz: Do you remember what your first song was?

Solo: My 1st studio song was off my “Beginning of A New Error Ep” album entitled “Preordained”. The track was a true to life intro of me as a person and my experiences a few years prior. I was given an opportunity from a friend who had heard some of my older material and the rest is history.

Jack Nickelz: Tell us about your current project?

Solo: The current project that I am working on is titled “End of A New Error” which follows the past 2 projects “Beginning of A New Error” and “The Darkest Hour”. The 1st was to be released on my 25th which was delayed due to personal issues and the 2nd was released after tragedy struck which put me in a dark place in my life. Now the idea behind “End of A New Error” is basically closure for myself and also some new experiences in my life which are heard on tracks such as “Fatherhood” which is my personal view as a father but also an underlined message from a males perspective on the subject and “Harsh” which gives a personal point of view of how some perceive my reactions to things around me as a whole. Basically my “how comes” and “just because” answers to the remarks I’ve heard over my lifetime.

Jack Nickelz: Are you working with anyone on this project?

Solo: The album is still in the beginning stages so the decision as far as features hasn’t been made yet. But, as far as beats go I’ve worked with 2 other artist/producers “Jack Nickelz” and “Tone Benjaminz” with whom I’ve worked with in the past and have backed me up on this project. I myself have also worked on the beats which pretty much pulls the sounds from my own head so I can sleep at night.

Jack Nickelz: Who are some of your influences as an Emcee?

Solo: Outkast, 2pac,Tech N9ne and Eminem, the list is larger than the few mentioned but that’s off the top of my head. To me they all have the ability to tell a story and some material from each I can relate to.

Jack Nickelz: Who influences you as a producer?

Solo: For me personally I couldn’t just name any particular person or sound due to the fact that I listen to a very wide variety of music. One day I might listen to R&B or wake up and want to listen to some Rock & Roll it all depends on my mood. So we can just leave it as music being my influence.

Jack Nickelz: What makes you different from the other artists that are currently out?

Solo: The fact I am literal on what I write. I use my personal life and views to a T without fault or guilt of maybe this can possibly rub someone the wrong way or make me deal with my own issues even when I don’t want to. More so therapeutic than anything else. Some will relate because they don’t know how to voice it and some may dislike it all together which is OK for me because it me no fabricated material whatsoever.

Jack Nickelz: What is your view on the current Hip Hop scene?

Solo: Wow that is so easy but so hard for the mere fact that what I heard growing up was totally different from whats being portrayed now. I mean the image and lyrical content as a whole is going in a direction that gives you that “what the f*ck” feeling. You can’t possibly tell me you have all those cars,money and jewelry. I mean if you do that’s great but really every song on the radio is about it. Give me some real life topics to relate to. There is so much more to life than all those things. It could be a front or dream for so many but I want relate-able and lyrical material not this bubble gum mess.

Jack Nickelz: Do you feel major labels are still important?

Solo: With the internet and all these avenues of technology I would think no just because you pretty much can sit in the confinement of your own home and do it yourself on your laptop or whatever you use. I mean as far as record deals go unless you really want to be bound into a contract and paying everyone else to do the work for you when you can do it yourself I don’t feel them being important. I could be wrong but that’s just how I see it.

Jack Nickelz: What advice would you give anyone trying to get into the game?

Solo: I would just have to say be yourself and don’t let anyone tell you differently. You will have many that’ll say oh that’s trash or you don’t have what it takes which is just fine because everyone is entitled to their own opinions but, don’t let that stop you from doing you. This business is cut throat and has no problem putting you on your a** if you let them. Stand your ground and keep pushing through.

Jack Nickelz: Thank you for taking time out to answer some questions. Is there anything else you would like to say to the fans and readers?

Solo: No thank you for considering me for this article. As for the readers keep and eye open for my album “End of A New Error” which is scheduled for release on 12.02.2014. You can follow progress on twitter @Iam_solo and ig @iam_solo82

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For The Love Of CT: Shay Blayze



When Shay Blayze left Istanbul, Turkey at the early age of 2, who would of known that 34 years later her name would be a part of the Connecticut Hip Hop scene. The now 36 year old CT native has only been on the scene for a year. That’s right, only a year and she is making moves as if she has spent a lifetime in the music industry. Recently I was able to pull Shay from her busy schedule and get her to answer some questions for

Jack Nickelz: So what got you started in this field?

I had always felt I needed to be in the industry. I never really tried though; honestly it just came to me. The producer of my Team Hardware City, Big John Esco was working on a project and asked if I would take part in it. I accepted & felt the need to network I started out promoting songs off my Facebook page & it just blew up & opened other doors for me.

Jack Nickelz: Now just recently, you put on an event with Mic on Deck…how was that?

That was my dopest event so far, as I knew it would be, I approached Mic about putting an event together because the shows he does is Exactly what I want to be a part of, everyone’s vibe and respect for the MCs is amazing. That show honestly made me realize even more how much I love being a part of CTs Hip-Hop scene.

Jack Nickelz: for people who may not know, can you explain to us how hard it actually is to put together a good show?

Putting together a great show is actually really difficult. Promoters get blamed a lot when things go wrong. There’s always going to be times when someone might come to a show and not be able to perform, as everyone I have worked with KNOWS I hate when artists go out of their way to be heard and can’t. It bothers me but the nightlife hours in CT are cut too short. Something I wish would change already.

Jack Nickelz: What are some of your favorite venues to host shows at?

I honestly haven’t done many venues but if I had to choose it’s where I first started Vine bar & Lounge. I love the stage & the lights. S/O DJ F Dot for giving me my start at hosting.

Jack Nickelz: What are your tips for any artist trying to get on a showcase?

Getting on a showcase is easy just got to see the event on time to get a slot. Performing and keeping the crowd from walking away is the hard part. You got to know how to put on a show. People can hate your songs but if you know how to entertain a crowd they will end up loving you and want to work with you. It’s all about the energy you produce.

Jack Nickelz: What are mistakes you see artist make now a days?

Kind of goes with the last question. A lot of artists can’t hold a crowd. You need to perform songs based on the type of showcase you’re at. For example, if you’re doing a show at Sully’s usually the crowd is laid back Golden Era hip-hop heads , you may want to perform songs you’ve done that have more of a meaning where people will pay attention to your words and the passion in your voice. If you do a show at Club NV usually the crowd is younger or newer artists who are more into the new school turn up music, you may want to do a club banger to keep that crowds attention. I also feel appearance is big in this industry. Try your best to look your best. Also, don’t take any of your music lightly, when doing shows or videos put your all into it. Every track is your art. Respect it!

Jack Nickelz: How has social media affected the work that you do?

For me and my work social media has been positive. I have people hitting me up to work from all over. You can be heard nowadays simply by sitting in your home. It’s a great thing!

Jack Nickelz: What are some mistakes that you see some promoters make when putting together a show?

I’m not really going to speak on mistakes of promoters because I am new to this & I’m still learning myself. I honestly respect everyone who is doing what they have to do to give our artists in CT a platform to stand on so they can practice at home for shows they need to do out of state. Salute

Jack Nickelz: Since you do promotions, do you ever go to shows and find yourself nitpicking at how the event is being handled?

Usually the events I’m at I’m somehow involved whether I’m co-hosting or judging so I’m always talking Shit to someone about something ,lol, but that’s just me I’m very picky when it comes to putting things together, it could be a birthday party and I stress the whole time and feel it’s not going right.

Jack Nickelz: So tell us a bit about this mixtape that you are working on?

 My Mixtape is called FOR THE LOVE OF CT, it’s a promotional tape I put together with songs that were sent to me by artists. I picked all different types of songs from various artists so people can get the feel of what I personally like. It’s not a Best Of CT mixtape the way I intended it to be in the beginning because as I researched for many months I realized we have too much talent out here so I ended up picking songs I liked from many artists I got an opportunity to work with in some way. Throughout the months I made this a big deal because it is a big deal to me. I don’t want it to end at a mixtape and people forget in a week. I want it and the artists on it to be remembered so it won’t end at just a mixtape. More to come, for The Love of CT doesn’t stop.

Jack Nickelz: Now how hard is it to get everything together for a mixtape, from the artists featuring to the producers crafting the sound?

I’m actually working on that part now. Most of the songs were mastered and sent to me but putting it all together from here is what my favorite producer Esco has to deal with ha-ha.

Jack Nickelz: Is it harder for a female to put together a mixtape project?

I think putting together a regular mixtape is easy, female or male, doing what I been trying to do is what is hard. I put a lot of time into this just for the love of it.

Jack Nickelz: What advice do you have for other females trying to get into the music industry?

The best advice I can give females is Be smart, Stay strong, and number one is to RESPECT YOURSELF. Mind, body and soul. Take it from me, you can get where you want to be without having to give up anything precious to you. If you’re serious about your work any man even the jerks will respect what you’re doing and take you serious. Believe me I’ve been approached by all types and showed them this is what it is. I’m about business nothing more and honestly I ended up finding a lot of great friends in the process!

Jack Nickelz: Well thank you for taking time out your busy day to do this. Is there anything else that you would like to say to the fans and the readers?

I just want to thank everyone who has supported me, helped me and listened to me through hard times, this industry is not easy, there’s a lot of ups & downs, critics, non-believers, and jealousy, so to everyone who showed me so much love I do appreciate you . Just want to shout out my Hardware City team Cancel Gates & Esco, without them I wouldn’t have been able to work on my dreams I love you guys! Also everyone on SwooopNation, that whole team is always thinking of me much respect, S/O Ace Pockets, Big Mach, Haze Jones, Mic On Deck, G money, my chic Yums & the guys who are always there when I need photos Billy Cali, Splat860, & Julian Bowen,   all the artists I’ve been blessed to work with and the fans I never thought I had. They make my nights when they approach me in the clubs…. Salute 



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We’ll Be Alright…



I’m a big fan of ESPN’s First Take. I love watching Skip and Steven debate various topics. Now as a faithful watcher, I tuned in to get my daily dose and my day was made even brighter as I heard a familer tune being played on the show. For those who read my posts, I had did an interview an a album review of Klokwize’s “The Art of Falling Apart” album.

The second song off the project was “We’ll Be Alright” featuring Angela Luna. I remember saying of the track…

We’ll Be Alright – This song gave of the feeling one of those old country anthems. You know the one that talks about all your issues and tells you no matter what they are gonna be cool. The vibe from the song song makes you think that this is one of the ones that should get the video treatment.”

Low and behind, I saw what I suggested happen when the video for “We’ll Be Alright” was released for the fans. A Burning Suns Film production, this video had a great feel good vibe that matched the song itself. For those that haven’t seen the video yet check it out here…

Klokwize – ‘We’ll Be Alright’ (feat. Angela Luna)

And it seems that I wasn’t the only one that noticed how great the song  was, like I said before while watching my fav. show, I hear the same song off the project that I recently just reviewed.

Let me explain how big that is. Klokwize is a CT artist…who just poured his heart and soul into an impressive project and through national TV has been recognized for his hardwork and dedication to his craft. His music being featured on the show is not just a win for him but a win for CT music as a whole, especially CT Hip Hop. This lets artist know that you don’t have to do the same formula stuff that is out now. You can do your own original thing and still find some success. Thumbs up good sir…thumbs up!!

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Going Counter Klokwize



KLOKWIZE is an American songwriter and namesake band most recognized for the use of his hit singles on national television (ESPN’s ‘First Take’, The X-Games) and in feature films (‘Rising Star’) as well as his infamous morning show jingle for The Rock 106.9 WCCC (‘Anything Can Happen’) and roof-raising sets next to major names such as Fat Joe, Obie Trice, Doug E Fresh, The Sugarhill Gang, Living Colour, Hed (pe), Rehab, Tyga, 2 Pistols, Cormega and more.

Blending melodic, organic pop sensibility with rock and hip hop flair, the rapper/singer (born Patrick James) and his namesake live band (including wizkid guitarist Mike Alves, bassist Justin Plante and vocalist Angela Luna) have seen their one-of-a-kind stage show receive wide acclaim across the US, including dates on the 2013 Vans Warped Tour, Foxwoods Casino, Toad’s Place, and New York City’s legendary club circuit including The Bitter End, Delancey, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Fontana’s and The Full Cup.

I bumped into Klokwize while waiting for my set at the 2014 Trinity International Hip Hop Festival. This was actually my first time getting a chance to talk to him. And even though we run the same circle, we never came in contact with each other. But I’ve always made it a point to keep an eye out for the CT talent, just to stay in tuned to the scene. Which is one of the reasons why I wanted to chat it up with him. I’ve always heard good things about him and he puts out good music. We had to cut our talk short due to the dedicated hustle he has when it comes to making sure everyone knows who he is. So I got his math and allowed him to get his grind on. We connected through Facebook in order to get a quick interview out of the way and give a good listen to his newest project. I hope you enjoy.

Jack Nickelz: As you get ready to release this new project, what are some of the differences that you notice about you when you first got started to now?

Klokwize: I think the big difference is really growing as a songwriter. The raps are easy, but writing a full well-crafted song, hooks, bridge, arranging the music, is a definite craft that people spend their whole careers getting better and better at. I think conceptually, creatively, this is the best set of songs I’ve’ve ever written. The live band element makes them stand out as well over my older traditional hip-hop work.

Jack Nickelz: Alot of artist have different ways of crafting their work. How did you go about building this project? What it something you decided to do spur of the moment or did you have it mapped out?

Klokwize: In general I work with the choruses first, once its big, catchy and explains the theme of the song, I can get into specific storytelling and details in the verses. I just kinda see music in structure in my head, I am able to map it all out before I start writing.

With this project we were more planned out than I usually am, because I sat with my live band that plays all the music and we wrote the songs together top-to-bottom. It felt more like an old-school Motown process of playing them all together and nailing takes instead of just adding one layer at a time and going back to write. I am totally blown away with the results, there’s not many missed opportunities in these arrangements, and they are cohesive as an album.

This album was very deliberate. I wanted to follow up the success of my last album with something new and edgy instead of trying to recreate the vibe of the last one. I had a lot of new things to say.

Jack Nickelz: Were there any artist you listen to get fired up to do this project?

Klokwize: Really for this album I went back the great American songwriters I grew up on. Tupac Shakur. Fiona Apple. John Mayer. Ben Harper. Nas. Some new stuff I love like Frank Ocean, Jason Isbell, Miguel, stuff that had substance but is still groovy and sexyThis album had to be at that level and in that spirit for me. A masterwork, a timeless album.

Jack Nickelz: Now a days when the focus on presentation is just as important as production, how important was it for you to get the right visuals for the project?


Klokwize: I’m so glad you asked that! Well put. That has personally been my biggest focus outside of finishing the music, was making sure there was a consistent, thematic, awesome visual rollout. You want all the photos/flyers/visuals to LOOK like what the album SOUNDS like. You wanna let the listener know what they’re walking into. I have always been very into high fashion photography and film noir so there has been a deliberate and precise unrolling of photos and videos that fit that theme and elevate the experience of the album. I’m very proud of having creative control over that b/c I’m indie. I worked exclusively with photographer Stephen Hirschthal on all the photos you see related to this album, the press flicks, the jacket, everything. The front cover is a beautiful graphic cartoon by Peace of Mind Creative that really brought everything home and supplemented the real images well. I have been partnering with Burning Sun Films to do a multi-video rollout that all reflect that same idea. I am equally as proud of the visual work we’ve done as I am the music.

Jack Nickelz: Do you feel that is where artists make their mistake…not realizing the investment that putting out your best work is?

Klokwize: People think making music is the endgame, but that’s the beginning. That’s the bare minimum. (laughs) If you’re gonna ask for my attention as a listener in this crowded market one should HOPE your music is good. But you have to do that music justice. Everything else around it- photos, press, shows, videos, interviews, etc — is in the effort to do that music the justice that it deserves and explain to people with short attention spans why they should click ‘play.’ Cuz this music game is crowded. They’re not just clicking ‘play’ for no reason

It’s a reality you get better at using to your advantage.

Jack Nickelz: Well said. Now can we expect to see you working with anyone new or some familiar faces with this project?

Klokwize: This project was meant to show that an artist can create an album without a lot of ‘magic behind the curtain’ or ‘suits’ in the room. I only worked with the people that made it clear through their actions and loyalty that they wanted a spot at this table. The features are great but def in-house familiar faces – Angela Luna, who’s the female vocalist in my live band, Ariana, a pop singer I’ve produced for in the past, Scott Irribarra, an amazing singer who’s been rocking shows with us for years, and Rookie, the lead singer of Mandrake Mechanism, who were a really cool genre-busting CT band before they disbanded. These are folks that I rather have this time around than kissing ass for some C-List celebs or ‘frienemies’. It had to be tight-knit and genuine this time around to work. They say ‘go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated’ and that was the spirit of the features.

Jack Nickelz: Nice. Now last but not least…When people have finish taking in the while project, what do you hope that they will take from it?

Klokwize: I hope it makes them feel more understood and part of something bigger. We have all fallen apart at some point in our lives. It’s scary but liberating. This is such an easy concept to relate to – in falling apart, you are not alone.

Jack Nickelz: Man, thank you for taking time out to do this.

Klokwize: No prob, preciate u havin me homie!


The Art of Falling Apart Review



1. Build & Destroy – This song goes a long way in setting the tone for the project. Off of this tune, you know this isn’t going to be your normal Hip-Hop album. Automatically you would be quick to think of The Roots when describing what you think this is going to be, but you are going to be wrong in saying that. Just like with other live band performing emcee, Joey Batts, Klok’s direction with this project is more rock and alternative sounding then The Roots’ more Hip-hop grounded sound.

2. We’ll Be Alright – This song gave of the feeling one of those old country anthems. You know the one that talks about all your issues and tells you no matter what they are gonna be cool. The vibe from the song song makes you think that this is one of the ones that should get the video treatment.

3. Soul Free (feat. Angela Luna) – Maybe it was the guitars, but the song gave off a California style vibe to it. Like beaches and palm tree. Drinking beers around the bonfire, exchanging views. I think this song is perfect fit for those deep thought moments as you vibe out.

4. I Prefer You (feat. Scott Irribarra) – This song had a great reggae/rock vibe to it. Scott’s vocals on the hook was a great move and a good fit. Klok’s easy feel delivery on the verse smashed it out the park. And the horns on the track…man, as a Pete Rock fan, whenever I hear horns, I feel good. So thumbs up for that.

5. The Art of Falling Apart – Let me first say…it’s been awhile since I’ve seen an album project where the title got an actual title track. So kudos there. Klok’s rasp fits this track nicely as he spews knowledge. That might get lost over the jamming instrumental. But that is not a big problem, because out replay, the closer you listen it becomes like hearing a new song as you take in the lyrics on the second and third play through.

6. All My Love (feat. Ariana) – I think artist now a days have gotten away from doing legit love songs. Either because you want to protect your image or that’s not whats popping in the club unless you are an R&B artist. To me, this was a perfect place to put this song. Not too late in the project, but not too early. Right in the middle of the listening pleasure, where people already have a sense of your style and now want to see your versatility.

7. I Wrote the Book (feat. Rookie) – You remember what I said about versatility…you can apply that to this song. This rides that dual edge of having a harder feel to it, but perfectly weaves a very smooth sounding hook to balance things out. Not to mention, Rookie provides a good counter to Klok’s style of rhyming.

8. Breaking the Bad (feat. Angela Luna) – A nice Reggae/rock rebel theme right here. When I here this, I think smokey bar, drinking red stripe as Angela once again blesses us with some sweet vocals as Klok’s rasp weaves through verse like a car through traffic.

9. Why Do That? – OK, to be honest…the first thing that popped in my mind as I heard this song was one of those behind the scene music videos. Where you see life on the road and at shows and studios. A few shots of fans and things like that. I personally would be shocked if this didn’t get the video treatment.

10. I Want You – Ok, if you really want to get the feel for this song, you gotta go and watch the video. Because the visuals to this song gives it a deeper meaning when you add them to the music. Well…what the Hell you waiting for…go watch the video!!!

11. Cookies & Cigarettes (feat. Angela Luna) – This song has a great alternative feel especially when Angela appears on the hook. This song convinces me that a Angela/Klok project should be in the works somewhere down the line. The two just compliment each other so well.

12. The Music – Second to last song and the tempo was perfect. Klok dueling with the instrumental had a nice feel to it. The guitar riff that build alongside of the verse was brilliant. This sounds like it was made for a live set performance piece. One of those work the stage type songs.

13. When I See Ya – The last song on the project and it made me feel like last call at the bar. A nice close out that provides the perfect ending for the roller coaster that Klok take you on. And the fact that the song is called “When I See” it is pretty much what they say when the bar closes up. I don’t know if this was done on purpose but it seemed to fit the ride you where taken on with the project.


As I sit here and try to gather my final thoughts on this project, this comes to mind. Klok has stepped into a genre that really hasn’t picked up yet. With your Joey Batts & Them and The Roots, the live band Hop-Hop thing is still somewhat fresh and new(Remember MTV Unplugged: LL Cool J or Jay Z). Klok is able to leave his impression without sounding like any of the other groups in the genre which is a very good thing. In fact, the project doesn’t sound forced. It just sounds like a guy in his element doing what he does best. My problem is i wish this was one of those live unplugged albums. Just so I could get more of that uncut and raw feeling from the project as a whole. But outside of that this is a great project for anyone looking to try something new and refreshing in their music box.

Go and support Klokwize by grabbing his new album on

iTunes:   Amazon:


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The Hip Hop Culture : Business & Branding with ibii™



One of the great things about Hip Hop is it isn’t just music. There is the art…the life…the dance and of course, the fashion. But there is another corner stone of Hip Hop that people don’t really talk too much about, but it is still becoming a stronger part of the game. And that is the business. From Rappers promoting their own brand to brands using the heavy influence of the music to market and push their product. Down to companies using the basic back bone motto of Hip Hop in order to create some amazing. One of those type of companies is ibii™.

ibii™ is a movement that represents the inspiration that brings ideas and imagination to life. With one eye targeting its dreams and the other focused on the love of living, ibii always sees opportunities where others see obstacles. and with its mouth sown shut, ibii’s physical form represents the ability to do less talking and more doing, while its square head serves as a constant reminder of the box that once kept all its aspirations locked away.

ibii has that it-factor. that unique ability to move us and get us going. make us laugh.fill our brains with ideas.remind us that flaws are fun and there’s no need to let the pressures of perfection hold us back from at least trying. ibii is who we all secretly aspire to be, and the good news is, no matter who you are, every one has the power of ibii within them. but only those who want it bad enough, can unleash it. so if you’re ready to unlock the potential bottled up within you, take that first bold step and allow yourself to be inspired. Free your ibii and watch as ideas and imagination free your mind.

I had the lovely honor of meeting the masterminds behind ibii™ while taking in the events of the 2014 Trinity International Hip Hop Festival. While showing love at the event, the team behind ibii™ saw this as a chance to connect with the core audience of the company. The bright and creative youthful spirits that is known as the Hip Hop fans. After the event was over I made it a point to stay in touch with ibii™ creator, Craig Henderson in order to chop it up and find out a little more about the company and it’s goals.

Jack Nickelz: Ok…tell us about what made you come up with the ideology behind ibii?

I was working for a fortune 100 company for many years and I thought with my talent and personality I would climb the corporate ladder and have the window seat that everyone desires. However, I realized this was not my true purpose. It wasn’t something I loved. Every year I grew to realize that no matter what I did for this company, my worth and potential would never see the growth I longed for. I started to lose sight of my purpose.

Sitting in a cubical for long days without being challenged and unmotivated went on for four years. During that time, I kept myself motivated by being thankful to have a job in this struggling economy. But I soon realized that accepting a check was not good enough. I have purpose and as a talented artist, I wanted everyone to see the real Craig Henderson; a free thinker, and more importantly, a visionary. I wanted people to see that I could inspire that positive connection that we lose along the way.

As I look back, everyone saw who I was except me. I was truly destined to make a difference. My faith and focus were in the wrong place. I was always making excuses of why I couldn’t do something even though I had that support group.

My moment of clarity came when I realized that I was not the only one to feel this way. I realized that I had to inspire those to follow their true self. I realized that all I had to do was to continue to be creative, be true to myself, focus on my dreams and goals, love what I do and take more action.  Hence ibii was born, a symbol to consistently remind me of what I needed to do to live a purposeful life for myself.

Jack Nickelz: What made you want to showcase your stuff at the Trinity International Hip Hop Festival?

Actually this was our first showcase. My business partner’s sister graduated from Trinity College just a year prior and she informed us of the event.  She felt it was a great fit for us. We decided that it was the perfect venue because of the core audience. We see young adults as one of our core demographics that have an abundance of ideas and imagination. It was also the perfect venue because our concept would be quickly grasped and understood. It was something that could reinforce the fact that they are not alone in the challenge to discovering their purpose.

Jack Nickelz: Now at the festival, you had shirts and stickers. What else does ibii have in production?

We also have ibii snapback hats, pins, posters, and luggage. If you get the chance to visit, you will be able to see all that we offer. Our goal is to grow the brand beyond fashion and explore other mediums to exemplify whom ibii is.

Jack Nickelz: What do you think sets you apart from the other companies that are in the same field as you?

We strongly believe that we are more than a symbol, there is a meaning. We are not just a T-shirt company pushing designs. We are a concept that pushes the idea of inspiration. When you wear our clothing or purchase any one of our products you are now a representative of inspiration and free thinking. We want ibii to be synonymous with those that take action and follow their dreams no matter the obstacles. You are true to yourself and you inspire others to do the same. Our goal is a LIFESTYLE, not a fad.

Jack Nickelz: How important has social media become to what you are trying to do?

Social media has had an enormous influence on our brand.  We are now able to spread our message instantaneously to millions of individuals with a push of a button. We have had people from Brazil to South Africa supporting our movement. More importantly, we believe its more significant to the consumer if they truly understand what they are buying, social media gives us that opportunity to really extend that message globally. 

Jack Nickelz: How does Hip Hop play a role in what you do with ibii?

Hip hop is a form of expression. Whether its dance or music. ibii encourages everyone to do what he or she loves. It’s the only way to feel fulfilled. Music affects people in many ways from emotion regulation to cognitive development. It also provides a means for self-expression. How can ibii miss such an event like this?

Jack Nickelz: What do you think is on the horizon for ibii?

This will be a great year for ibii. We are currently shopping with local vendors to put ibii T-shirts and hats in a few stores. We also plan to meet with several schools to add an ibii school program as part of their curriculum. We are also in development talks with a TV animation studio that would potentially create ibii as a children’s character as well.

Jack Nickelz: If you had unlimited resources available to you, what would be one of the things that you do?

I would develop a “world” community based program that focused on bringing children and adults to work together with the common goal of creating solutions to our endless problems. Creative minds are powerful and I think we need to foster a program that encourages us to go beyond the limits with our imagination and ignore the negative stimulations that are plaguing our world today.

Jack Nickelz: How Important is Hip Hop to the fashion and vice versa?

Hip-hop is influence. Hip-hop is today’s new leader. Hip-hop is our voice and our motivation. It’s a platform that our generation now looks up to. I embrace hip hop however I do believe that it’s also crippling us. We are now living in a world of entitlement and I want to put some positivity back into it making those aware that everything takes time. When you wear our apparel you represent positive energy and you are making it known that you are living life with purpose.

Jack Nickelz: When you are choosing designs to run with, what are the criteria that you use?

We keep in mind, purpose, color and space. We utilize these three elements to help consumers understand ibii. We are still educating our customers of our purpose. It’s important that we don’t complicate our designs.

Jack Nickelz: What are some mistakes you have seen other you entrepreneurs make?

We think some entrepreneurs tend to take uncalculated risks and set unrealistic expectations. Everything takes time and we’re in it for the long haul.  It takes years for greatness and we’re not looking for quick fame. Being a small company we are very disciplined with our spending habits, ensure strong communication, and plan our implementation of ibii methodically.

Jack Nickelz: Was there a certain business model you followed when creating your own business?

Our business model is to grow ibii as a household name. We plan to do that in a staged approach. Our current demographic is 12 – 36 years of age but we believe ibii has no demographic. Our main source of revenue is t-shirts, hats, pins, posters, and custom luggage through event sales and our website, We plan to extend our reach by creating school programs as part of school curriculums and put our product in small stores. Our goal for this year is to be in three stores and two schools.

Jack Nickelz: Well thank you for taking time out to do this interview. Is there anything else you would like to tell the fans and readers?

Please feel free to check us out on all social media outlets @freeibii and our website Send us video with ibii or possible your version of ibii and lets spread inspiration wherever we go.  Live life with purpose and the world is yours. Feel free to send us a 30 second video or short blog post of how ibii inspires you to  Remember aspire to inspire.

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50 Shades of Danari Gray



To many he is the guru and mastermind of Olympus Fitness. The man helping people shape themselves with intense workouts. To others he is a musical genius able to craft wonderful pieces of art for any artist of any style. To me…he is the guy that would come to the house and would engage in sample battles and hold hold beat listening sessions with. No matter what he maybe known as, make no mistake Danari Gray is someone everybody should know…

Jack Nickelz: What got you into Production?

When I moved to America in 2002 I always thought I’d be a rapper. But I was 17 years old and couldn’t afford beats so with the help of my friend at the time assad Jackson who put me on to fruity loops I started making my own beats and then I started learning how to craft the music with the help of jack Nickelz and Stout aka Tone Benjaminz who I consider my sensei’s when it comes to beat making.

Jack Nickelz: Who are your influences when it comes to music?

Everything and everyone. If you’re good I want to be better than you and if you suck I want to make sure I’m never compared to you. But my biggest musical influence is quincy jones. He’s set the bar very high for musicians and he’s a man who has shoes that can never be filled musically.

Jack Nickelz: Out of all the style of production that you know, from sample to playing things out live…what do you feel your nitch is?

Playing my music out is where it comes so naturally for me. I feel like I can really show off when I hop on the keys. I like to sample too but I feel like it’s just too easy for me. I want to bring some notes to life that’ll make your brain cells shit on themself.

Jack Nickelz: As someone who has been doing production for quite some time now, what do you feel are some of the mistakes that up and coming producers make?

Biggest mistake is thinking you’re going to automatically get rich doing this or thinking that you’re going to get signed tomorrow because you won a beat battle somewhere. I also see a lot of unoriginality. Fads being followed for 6 months and then poof that producer is never heard from again. But when it comes to music a huge mistake I see being made is that producers think they have to buy the best and latest equipment in order to make music. It’s not what you have. It’s how you use it.

Jack Nickelz: Do you feel the fact that since beat making software is available to almost everybody that the game has been watered down?

No, I think it gives everyone a chance to express themselves. If the software wasn’t available the cornballs that are out would still find a way to infiltrate the game. It’s all about who you know and a lot of them know the right people. I mean you have a lot of dope producers who don’t get discovered simply because they don’t know the right people.

Jack Nickelz: In the day in age of getting what you pay for, how important is it to get top notch production?

Well, if we’re judging by what’s playing on the radio then it’s not important at all. Artists are rapping about how much money they make but still asking for free beats. I’ve had artists say yo your beats are the so hard but my producer gives me free beats so I’m a rock with those. Even if I could give him a hit record he’ll take the chance to have a mediocre album for free instead of actual hot records.

Jack Nickelz: Now I know you have dealt with a number of artists, what are some of the mistakes you think they make when asking for production?

Number 1 biggest mistake…asking for a track that sounds like something that is already out‼! Man the record is already out‼ just hop on the remix. I have never heard a record work that sounded like something else and it was not the remix.

Jack Nickelz: now outside of production and various musical masterpieces that you have crafted…I hear you are into fitness. how did you get into that?

I was always in the gym. One day a friend of mine who is a well known radio personality in our area asked me to help him shed some weight. I said sure no problem and once he dropped almost 100 lbs everything else skyrocketed.

Jack Nickelz: With guys like Dr. Dre and Busta Ryhmes around, do you feel like fitness and Hip Hop go hand in hand?

Oh definitely, you see everyone hitting the gym now. Ladies love the muscles. You also build endurance and stamina for tours. You feel more confident about yourself hence that puts more confidence into your music. If you’re fit and are building a major brand then being in shape can land you other deals such as commericals and print work. Yea, it can lead to a lot of things but fitness and music definitely go hand in hand.

Jack Nickelz: What are some tips for those who may be thinking about getting into shape?

Always eat breakfast, cut out sugar, dairy, bread, and pasta. Stay active. Workout for 1 hour a day and drink a lot of water.

Jack Nickelz: Now let me ask you…what do you enjoy more…the fitness or the music?

That’s a loaded question. I plead the fifth‼

Jack Nickelz: Well, thank you for taking time out to answer a few questions for CT Hip Hop…is there anything else you would like to say to the fans?

Thank you for all the support through the years whether it be fitness or music. I am truly humbled and appreciative of all the love and I plan to continue to make everyone proud for many years to come!

Check out these tracks produced by Danari Gray…

Pieces by Devn Rose

Finally Home by Jack Nickelz w/ Sinis & BK


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Behind The Mask



You most likely don’t know Illus…but you should. This Connecticut native has toured the globe and worked with some of the greatest emcees of all time including Chuck D, Dilated Peoples, Blackalicious, R.A. the Rugged Man, and more. Not only is he a  emcee but he is also a professional art teacher and world-famous illustrator. Illus is responsible for the official Public Enemy comic book series and has designed and illustrated album art and merchandise for KRS and BDP, Bumpy Knuckles and Statik Selektah (Lyrical Workout), J-Live, Ill Bill, Apathy, Public Enemy and more.

For those looking for a breathe of fresh air, Illus provides an honest sound that hasn’t been molested by the formula produced music that has invaded the field of HIP-HOP. And I’m not just saying that because he has a track with my fellow friend and CT artist, Apathy. I’m also not just saying that because his art appeals to the comic book geek in me. I say that because songs like “Requiem for Adam” & “Brighter Day” are food for my speakers and a different pace from the normal swag, trap and twerk music I hear on the radio. Recently I had a chance to chop it up with Illus on a number of thing that many wouldn’t consider “Swag”. But Hell, we are grown men with kids who see music as more then a way to get that coup with the suicide doors.

Jack Nickelz: So I have to ask what got you started in Illustrations?

ILLUS: I’ve been an artist all my life but once I started collecting comic books around the age of six or seven, I decided that was what I wanted to do and I started practicing all the time. I love drawing and I love telling stories and that is what illustration is all about, communicating ideas. Eventually I went to college for art and that opened my mind up to other forms of illustration and expanded my scope and interests. I was working professionally by my sophomore year of college and have been a freelance illustrator ever since.

Jack Nickelz: Now how did that tie into your love for Hip Hop?

ILLUS: Music was also always part of my life as well. I grew up listening to all kinds of music thanks to my parents and the neighborhood I grew up in exposed me to the HIP-HOP culture from day one. The music and art were everywhere and just part of who I was. Since I was already writing stories and drawing, my love for writing and a need to express myself eventually evolved into poetry and from there I started writing songs. It was a way to express myself, and I was in the 7th grade around this time so it was also a way to get girls. HAHA. As I got older and continued to practice my craft and perform more it just became part of who I was, just as much as drawing and illustrating.

Jack Nickelz: For those who don’t know, how long have you been doing Hip Hop?

ILLUS: All my life. I’m old by HIP-HOP standards. I will be 40 soon. I started out as a writer doing graf, tried b-boying (sucked at it), eventually deejaying and then around 86-87 started writing rhymes and doing little shows here and there. Ever since I have been making music to express myself and share my thoughts and ideas with like-minded people through music and art.

Jack Nickelz: Now due to your art and skill you have had the chance to work with legends like Public Enemy and underground mainstays like Apathy. How were those interactions?

ILLUS: I’ve been very fortunate to work with some of the most talented people in the business. Legends to future legends. Whether it’s collaborating on songs or creating art for them, almost every experience I have had with other artists has been a pleasant experience. Some remain strictly professional but most have evolved into great friendships. There have been one or two that I won’t mention that have acted unprofessional and I never work with them again. But that is very rare and those artists who acted undesirably were really nobody’s with huge egos who thought they were more important than they really are. I love collaborating with other artists, it’s challenging and inspiring and when it’s a great relationship you can see and hear it in the art and music.

Jack Nickelz: Now as an independent artist or art and music in this age of social media…how have things become easier and harder for those on the independent route?

ILLUS: The internet is a blessing and a curse. I love it because I can connect with fans, supporters, friends and collaborators all over the world but it’s also allowed hobbyists and amateurs to front like professionals and flood the market with sub-par material. I’m not sure if the technology or the people are to blame or a little bit of both but we are also living in a culture where art and music has been devalued. Because we now live in an era (or error) where the new business model demands you give away your music for free- the listeners no longer value and support the products like they used to. That has really hurt the independent artists the most. Yes, some profit from that business model but it is not like it used to be.

Jack Nickelz: As a family man, do you find it hard to balance your career and your family?

ILLUS: Yes. Personally it is extremely hard for me to balance the two especially in regards to music. My family comes first before anything and my illustration work pays the bills, so music has had to play the background. I love making music but for all my success it is just not a lucrative business for me at the moment. When you have a family the most precious thing outside of them physically is the time you get to spend with them and that time zips by way too fast. So I have to choose how I spend my time wisely. If I’m not doing something that pays the bills I have to spend that quality time with them.

Jack Nickelz: Compared to the other artist out there, what do you feel separates you from the pack?

ILLUS: I hate talking about myself in this way because I prefer to let others debate what sets me apart and critique the music but I do feel like I have an original, unique sound and style. Even though some have called me “old school” I feel like I am extremely versatile and can write songs with a wide range of topics and execute them in any style that fits the song. One thing I know is that I am passionate about what I do and I have never compromised what I believe in to make money or gain fame. I have had deals thrown at me that would have forced me to change and I have always stuck to who I am and been proud of that. I have evolved like all artists should but the core of who I am has always remained true to the art. I make music because I love it and for no other reason. I speak my mind and heart and I have chosen to create positive music to uplift and inspire both the young and the old. I work hard to make music that speaks to people, not just other emcees. Very rarely will you hear me make a song addressing rappers. I don’t care what other rappers think about my music. I make music that people all over the world can connect with no matter their circumstances, color, race, religion. My goal is to create something universal that resonates love and beauty, even when it is grimy and ugly.

Jack Nickelz: What do you feel maybe some of the things that keep the CT HIP-HOP scene from getting to the level of a New York?

ILLUS: It’s hard to say honestly because truthfully I don’t get to mingle like I would like to. I try and support everyone I know and I am always looking to listen to other CT artists but my family life just doesn’t allow me to get out as much as I need to. Maybe it’s because we are sandwiched between two popular metropolitan areas and have never focused on our own identity. I feel like CT has a lot of super talented artists that have original and fresh sounds. The problem I do see is the CT audience doesn’t always want original and fresh music, they follow the national trends rather than supporting their own. Many people are caught up in wanting to be New York, Boston or anywhere but CT. CT has a rich history and culture of it’s own and we should embrace that and celebrate it. If the people do not support local how are our artists supposed to thrive and grow? There definitely artists that are caught up in being clones but our local radio stations do not support CT artists at all considering how many dope artists we have (although that happens almost everywhere). I’d love to see CT have its own HIP-HOP festival and really support our own like they do in MN.

Jack Nickelz: What are some of the mistakes that you see a lot of local artist make?

ILLUS: I can really only judge other’s mistakes by my own and I don’t really like to speak on artists I don’t know. The biggest mistakes I made in my years was not interacting with other artists on a social level and not staying consistent with producing and marketing my work. I’m a bit of a hermit, I always preferred to just stay in and create. That definitely hurt me because the music industry is about networking. Back when I started there was no internet. You had to go to bars, clubs, shows and mingle. I invested all my own money into my projects and I never really had a lot so I was only able to market so much. I like to go to shows to watch other artists but beyond that I was just never any good at mingling. As for staying consistent, I started out strong, starting an independent CT label in 1991 and releasing singles but by late 92-93 I was focusing on college. I was doing shows and recording but I took a lot of time off to focus on school and illustration so I didn’t really release anything between 95-2000. That definitely hurt me.

Jack Nickelz: Who are some of the CT artists that you have worked with or want to work with?

ILLUS: I’ve worked with Apathy on a couple of projects and I’m always down to do more. I have a track with Godawful and Logic on my Family First album. Brash and I have a song together on my upcoming album along with three other emcees. Joey Batts and I are trying to make time to work together. I’d love to work with Ceschi sometime. I’d love to do more with Godawful and Logic. I’m always open to collaborating, especially with local artists but my time is so limited these days I can’t even seem to find time to write for myself. But I really love working with others. I would prefer to be in a group actually but the right situation has never really come a long.

Jack Nickelz: Who are some of the artist that inspire you?

ILLUS:  In regards to emcees…KRS, Chuck D, De La Soul, Homeboy Sandman, Slug, Kane, Phashara, Johnny Juice, LL Cool J, Wise Intelligent, Bumpy Knuckles, Gift of Gab, Craig G…there are so many super talented artists out there, they all inspire me.

Jack Nickelz: Ok, I gotta ask you a geek questions. What comics are  you checking out at the moment?

ILLUS: Walking Dead, Invincible, Astro City, Jupiter’s Legacy, Elfquest, Sheltered, Velvet, Lazarus. I get the occasional Star Wars series and I am always looking for new books. Lately it’s been mostly Image comics. I lost interest in most of the mainstream comics because they are constantly switching creative teams and the stories just aren’t consistent for me. If I had unlimited money I would probably buy and read them all though but books are so expensive these days I just can’t. My library has been building a good selection of graphic novels and trades so I will usually get a mainstream fix that way and catch up on what’s going on.

Jack Nickelz: One of the most interesting videos I’ve seen in a while was your “The Mask” video. How did you come up with the concept for that?

ILLUS: Thank you. I love that video and I am very proud of it and all the hard work everyone involved put into it. It was a team effort and I was honored and lucky to work with great people who believed in it. The Krate Krusaders from the UK sent me the beat for their album. I had a hard time with it at first because the hook really forced the lyrics to be focused on a particular subject matter. It had to be some kind of love/break-up song but I didn’t want to come at it from the point of view as an emcee or some regular dude. I figured I better create my superhero alter ego and approach it as a broken hearted hero struggling with two lifestyles. Once the song was done the video was a no-brainer. I worked with a great director and cameraman and they helped bring it all to life. We spent a day and a half shooting and it was a great experience.

Jack Nickelz: Tell us about your current project?

ILLUS: The project is called “The Final Chapter”. It is being produced entirely by DJ Johnny Juice from Public Enemy. There are 16 songs with a wide variety of subject matter and styles that work together as a cohesive concept album about an aging superhero that has had his share of heartbreak and loss. He has been beaten down by relentless outside forces of evil over the years but he has never given up hope despite his aging body and inability to fight the good fight effectively anymore.  He’s relentless and determined but as many of us learn- that isn’t enough to keep going forever. Eventually time catches up to us all. I guess you can say it’s an analogy for my career in music since this will be my last full-length independent release.

Jack Nickelz: Well thank you for taking time out to do this little interview for us. Is there anything else you would like to say to the fans and readers…any projects or events that you would like to promote?

ILLUS: My pleasure. I really appreciate the questions and the interest in what I do. I just want to thank you for the interview and the opportunity to connect with your readers and a big thanks to all the fans for reading this and supporting what I do. As I mentioned, I am finishing up the brand new album, which should be done very soon. I will spend some time promoting it, shooting and editing videos and I may do some local shows in 2014. After that I have several new comic book series that I am working on as well as some children’s books. If you are interested in what I do, subscribe to and stay in touch or follow me on Twitter at @AdamWallenta. Thanks!

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Mic on Deck Presents… The Battle of Sugar Hill



Maybe its the sound of the turntables and live instruments. Maybe it’s the raw sound of live emcees…but this is hip hop being brought to us. Everything from the pre-planned verses to freestyles to past the time and get a reaction. This is Sully’s. This is where worlds meet in CT hip hop. From the back packers to the street tested. From the political to the drug laced. This is the crossroads for many of the local talent. The battle for sugar hill showcase is a supermarket of hip hop right now. From DJ Stress and Rockoleone to Crooked Mindz…everyone is here…no egos, just music. Mic on Deck does a great job in making sure you get a little bit of everything on your plate. Self Suffice hosts with enough charisma to keep the crowd hooked. His rep as a emcee is enough to earn the respect from the crowd and other artists in the building.

You know things are gonna be amazing when you got Joey Batts floating around just to soak up the vibe. Dot Got it was in the building, surveying the masterpieces being brought to us. Various members of the A Team came through to show support. The small venue was packed, but no one seemed to mind as the music was good enough that you did mind weaving through the crowd to get a better view of the artists.

Did I mention there were no egos floating about. Nobody complaining about time going over. Nobody complaining about going before this person or that person. The next event is set for Dec. 13th. I, for one, will be there to get my fresh intake of organic hip hop.

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Dying Of Thirst




Check out the new video for “Dying Of Thirst”, produced by Kyle Young ( and @TheKyleYoung) by S.Blaze. This is the second single off the mixtape Welcome 2 The Ave.  The video was self directed and filmed by RedSuede Ent. ( in Union Square, NYC.  An impromptu shoot inspired by the energy felt when entering the area. The video captures the essence of life as art, and ultimately what in means to be on The Ave.  You can get the Mixtape at . You can also keep up with her at Instagram/Twitter: @Welcome2TheAve, Facebook:
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S. Blaze: Live From The Ave



Jack Nickelz: So I guess the easiest way to do this is to start simple. What got you
into Hip Hop as an artist and a fan?

S. Blaze: This is simple? haha…It’s hard to say there’s no point in my life
that I can remember “getting into hip-hop” or “becoming a fan of
hip-hop”, it’s just always been there and I’ve always loved it.  I can
remember singing “Peaches n Cream” in the hallways in fourth grade and
getting yelled at by my teacher.  For my tenth birthday my friend got
me the Destiny’s Child “Survivor” album.  In seventh grade on the bus
we went through a phase where we rapped a capella every word to
Ludacris’s “What’s Your Fantasy”.  You can say, I was born a fan.
However, I can remember quite distinctly how I got into hip-hop as an
artist:  It was the end of my senior year in high school and I had
just turned 18.  My best friend had this boy friend who always used to
“freestyle” at parties and everyone thought it was really cool.
Anyhow, after hearing him a few times I grew less impressed and
decided I could do better.  Already being a writer of prose, poetry,
and various other sorts, I began to pen what I considered to be raps
at that time.  Coincidentally, around the same time it so happened
that I started to hang out with this kid Berto who was in a local rap
group called Tri-State Tribe.  The rest is, as they say, history.

Jack Nickelz: Now you don’t seem like the run of the mill female artist that tend to
be half dressed and talking sex to be even considered somewhat of a
viable Hip hop act. What made you not take the usual route that other
female artists have?

S. Blaze: Now that I am taking hip-hop more serious as a career, I definitely
think about my image and my product image, but even still, it is more
of an afterthought.  First and foremost, I am and always have been,
portraying myself through my music, as with anything I do.  Therefore,
the simple reason why my image is not centered around sex and I’m on a
different route that most females in the game is because that’s not
who I am or what I am about.  I’ve never had to sell my sexuality to
get my point across in anything I’ve done – it’s always been about
what I say and what I do.  I’m not going to lie, having a pretty white
face, and a sexy body have definitely worked to my advantage, and I
don’t try to hide those assets; but it’s always about content first,
that other stuff is just added bonus.

Jack Nickelz: Do you feel that you are going to or having a harder time getting out
there because you aren’t the typical example of a female emcee?

S. Blaze: Yes and no.  Yes because of the undeniable fact that sex does sell and
I have just admitted my act does not center around sex.  However, I
say no because S.Blaze is not completely void of sex, and ultimately,
I will have the content to outlast these typical examples of (female)
emcees.  What’s more, as you have pointed out, I am not your typical
rapper, and as we have seen, that today in the over saturated hip-hop
market, different sells, even if it’s not that good.  Though I am not
suggesting that I would ever sacrifice my art to make a buck, I am
suggesting that there are many market trends that can work to my
advantage in that way.  Ultimately, I’m not thinking about these other
bitches though – I never have and I’m not going to start now.

Jack Nickelz: Now what artists have helped you shape your sound?

S. Blaze: I am classic New York hip-hop all day.  Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z, The
Lox/D-Block, Big L, Big Pun, Lil’ Kim.  These are the people and
sounds I grew up hearing and loving, and that I am just as in love
with it today.  I love the rawness and the ability to get inside a
beat and gut it.  I listen to a lot of music though: From classic rock
to country (which I hate but my family LOVES) and pop to hard core
scream stuff.  It all influences me weather I like it or not because
I’m always looking for new techniques and ideas to make my music more

Jack Nickelz: I’ve been listening to the Welcome 2 Tha Ave. the project has a very
refreshing sound. Like a throwback to the 90′s golden era hip hop
sound. Was that your plan when you first started working on the

S. Blaze: In general I think my style has a very 90′s element to it.  As I have
just explained my influences are classic New York hip-hop, so I think
its going to be hard to escape that sound in anything I do.  That
being said, I definitely wanted to give the project a cohesive sound
and put a good amount of thought into what beats I chose and it’s
overall production.  Ultimately, I ended up cutting two tracks because
I felt that they did not go with the overall vibe of the project.

Jack Nickelz: Now you are working with a variety of artists and producers on this
project. How did you manage to pool everyone together for your vision?

S. Blaze: The big difference between Welcome 2 The Ave and my previous projects
is that I worked with people who I knew.  Almost all of the beats were
from producers who I knew and personally met with, while my sister
handled all of the photography and artwork.  Although I had to do some
explaining of what The Ave was, or where is was, they already knew me
and what S.Blaze was all about, making it easier to achieve a single
vision.  Other than that is was just a lot of hard work, e-mailing,
and mileage on my car.

Jack Nickelz: As of right now, the project is available digitally on soundcloud.
what made you decide to go that route instead of getting hard copies
of everything?

S. Blaze: I went with soundcloud because it is the social media of music sharing
sites, thus I felt that I could reach the most people, most
effectively.  Hard copies are nice, but they are also expensive, I can
only give them to people I meet personally, and I have no way of
knowing if somebody actually listens to it or if it just falls between
the seats in their car. I like soundcloud because not only is it free
and accessible anywhere you go, but I can also see my plays and for
that matter, so can the world.

Jack Nickelz: On top of the mixtape, you are also marketing shirts. Is that
something that you will continue doing for future projects?

S. Blaze: Definitely.  S.Blaze is more than music, it is a movement, a
lifestyle.  I plan to continue and expand the t-shirts in the future,
as well as, get in to other businesses that compliment the S.Blaze

Jack Nickelz: Lets switch topics to the grind of being a unsigned local artists. how
hard is it really to make headway in the CT music scene?

S. Blaze: It is extremely hard to be an unsigned artist anywhere.  You can only
count on friends for so much and the internet is great, but the
hip-hop market is so saturated, even there it can be hard if not
impossible to find a footing.  In that regard, I am just out here
grinding, approaching the game from every possible angle.
In CT specifically, though the music scene is growing, I feel like for
a long time we have been over shadowed by our neighbors in New York,
or even further north, in Boston.  Yet, our time is coming. I think in
the next five years you will see someone big come out of CT.  I plan
for that to be me.

Jack Nickelz: Being that you are not just a female emcee, but a white female
emcee…do you feel that there is more pressure on you to get a spot
in showcases?

S. Blaze: I don’t let my skin color or anyone else’s skin color pressure me.  I
don’t think about it.  It could be a room of white people, a room of
black people, or a room of orange people, I’m going to be the same
S.Blaze and go out there and put on the best possible show I can.  If
anything I feel like it is even more of an advantage and I welcome it
along with the controversy.

Jack Nickelz: How do you feel about the state and place of women in Hip hop?

S. Blaze: It’s frustrating to say the least, but nothing new for me, and really
just a reflection of a wider societal problem.  In my view, the blame
lies nowhere but with women ourselves.  If we want hip-hop, and by
extension society, to change, then we have to change it.  Ultimately,
though it’s a non-issue for me.  I do S.Blaze no matter what and I
don’t let other people’s stereotypes or preconceived notions define
that.  I can only hope that what I do empowers other women and makes
it easier for them to do the same.

Jack Nickelz: On your E.P.K. it says that you have a role in two upcoming independent films. How did you snag those roles?

S. Blaze: Networking!  I cannot stress enough how important it is to network
because it is all about who you know.  Everywhere I go I bring my
business cards and let people know I am who I am and what I do.  Also,
never turn an opportunity down, you never know what could come out of
it.  I have never considered myself an actor, but it was great
experience that has only opened up more opportunities for me with my

Jack Nickelz: How does your family feel about your music career?

S. Blaze: Ehhhh. They are not particularly keen on the notion of me rapping, let
alone making a career out of it.  It does feel like somewhat of a
running joke in the family, but at the same time I understand where
they are coming from.  That being said, my parents are pretty cool. I
live at home for a very reasonable rent and I have a sweet home studio
set-up in the basement.  They are also very welcoming of my friends
and often feed us dinner!

Jack Nickelz: How do you manage to stay relevant in a field of music that seems to
be crowded and growing more packed at each quarter?

S. Blaze: I don’t think that this is something I can necessarily take credit
for.  True the game is packed with rappers: male rappers, rapping
about their jewels and cars and hoes.  Even if perhaps you are a male
rapper who is lyrically more versatile, you can easily get lost among
all of the other male rappers.  However, when I am the one female
standing in a crowd of men, I stick out, and I don’t even have to do
anything.  Moreover, by simply being something that the game is
lacking, I am relevant.  People are always looking for something they
don’t have, even if they don’t know it.  Therefore, by playing the
white female rapper card, and simply being myself, I am more relevant
than anyone could ever try to be.  It also helps to have high quality
music with meaningful message – that’s timeless.

Jack Nickelz: Well thank you for taking time out to answer these questions. Is there
anything else you would like to say to the fans and readers? Any
events or projects that you would like to promote?

S. Blaze: First I want to say thanks to you and CTHipHop.Net for being a
platform for independent artist like me to get our music out there and
our voices heard.  Honestly without resources such as this, it would
be virtually impossible for new local artist to break into the
industry, which is now almost wholly controlled by corporate
interests.  Next, of course I have to thank all of the S. Blaze fans
for the continued the love and support, you have no idea how much it
means to me and helps me keep going.

As for my music, I am already hard at work on my next solo project
which should hit the streets early 2014, titled “King Bitch”.  In the
mean time I am putting the finishing touches on a collaboration
project with Hartford, CT producer, Jack Nickelz, which should come out
before the end of the year, along with a host of other collaboration
tracks and videos.  Most exciting though, I am putting together an
interactive live act and will be hitting the road very soon, so be on
the look out for a show near you!

Down On The Ave video:
: @Welcome2TheAve


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Who Is The King Of New York!?!




That’s the question that has been on every one’s mind since they heard Big Sean (Feat. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica) – Control. Kendrick Lamar…one of the top emcees these days made a claim that some have taken to heart. But we’ve been here before remind. Snoop kicking the building, proclaiming dominance over his East Coast counter parts. You remember how it sparked all the East Coast NY artist to stand up and rep their own. The fans support and made their voices known. That was then and this is now. Back then NY ran their own airwaves. There was a healthy dose of NY emcees on the radio.

Fast forward to now a days and Kendrick’s remark. Maino said it best “When is the last time you supported a NY artist?”

Makes you think doesn’t it. Maino also made the point that the Radio and clubs in NY are dominated by artist from other coasts. So can Kendrick’s word really be far fetched. Let’s go deeper shall we. Joell Ortiz made a response to Kendrick and people loved it, but outside of core fans and true hip hop heads, how many of the masses supported Joell before this. Let’s get something clear, if Kendrick is dominating the radio and club music in your area, he might as well stake claim to the throne. You see the power of the fans made that possible. The fans are more in tuned to the west coast sound. Instead of being drawn to NY diehards like Jadakiss, Maino, Joell Ortiz, Terminology and others…they rather lest to the sounds of YG, Kendrick, Drake, Wayne and others from the other side.

But the fans aren’t the only ones to blame now are they. Over on the East we see the success coming from the other coasts and we imitate the working formula. Remember when Fat Joe repped the Bronx. Nicki Minaj herself is from Jamaica, Queens, but she is with Wayne and Drake so much, you almost forgot that right. Let’s go farther. On the East and in New York, we ran the Block…that was our thing. We weren’t trapping, we were hustling, grinding. But then Jeezy and other artist from ATL, The Bay and other places made trapping the thing. So what did we do…we started trapping. We lost that NY and East grind and adopted the swag from the other coast. Why would fans want to support a copy when they could easily support the original.

Now here is the question, what does that mean for CT? Well that is very simple. How can you expect to get respect as an CT artist when you sound like someone else. Sobering thought is there are no traps in CT. No, their are blocks that push and hustle. Swag is the catch phrase we stole because we didn’t want to say style anymore. We don’t look in the mirror to see what we look like we turn to the TV for image help. It was bad enough trying to fight for our own piece from under the shadow of NY, but this…this is the reason why others feel they must leave to make it. This is why you bust your ass and still not make a dent in anything. Because you aren’t you. You are them and as long as the originals are out there doing what they do better then the others who copy, your grind will be at a standstill.

WE in CT have been linked to NY. Almost to the point where we look up to them as a big brother. So when big brother ditches the thug gear for the Mafia style suit and tie…what do you think little brother does? I think instead of looking at who is the King of New York, the more important question is who is supporting the artists of NY. And for all those in my state…feel free to switch the NY in the question for CT. Because sometimes I find myself asking the same question.

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The New Classic!?!



My big pet peeve is waiting. I’ve always been a believer in, if you can’t do it at the moment…so say. I don’t mind hearing “Hey, I can’t get to it right now, but I’ll hit you when I can.” I would much rather that then waiting for responses on why you haven’t done what you told me you would do. And that is my rant about waiting for interviews. Now I know when I get it back…its gonna be insane…its just the waiting part getting to me.

BUT, while I’m waiting, I wanted to talk to the artists, labels and fans about something very important top our industry. THE CLASSIC!!! I’ve been noticing that word getting tossed around a lot lately without any true merit. First things first, a classic can’t be deemed that until at least a year or two after it’s release. I’ve always tell people classics are determined by their replay status after it’s original release. A classic is also marked by it’s ability to remind of a season or moment. I’ll give you a perfect example…Will Smith’s “Summertime” is a classic. You can play that song anywhere for anyone and they either know the whole song or connect it to the summer season. When I was a DJ, that was the song that I used to set off summer parties. Maybe what helped it, is the fact that it was built off the back of another summertime classic in Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness”. Or the fact that no matter who you were you could relate to the lyrics.

Now let me honestly ask you a question, what recent release can do that. I mean of course there are a slew of hits on the radio but how many will really last the test of time years later. Allow me to clue you in on why that is. The era in music is now the singles era. Where artists want that big single hit. That one radio song that they can parlay over into ring tones and maybe a commercial if they are lucky.

Back in the days, it wasn’t about the single…it was about making a solid album. The thought process was if you make a solid album…you will end up with hot singles. Perfect example, Tribe called Quest’s first 3 albums were solid and produced a number of hits, not to mention a few classics.

But since we are so focused on singles now…the long haul is no longer a concern. Labels and artists want to jump on current trends that they see are already making money. So the artists that used to want to be like the Mob now want to trap. the artist who used to spin tales on getting out the Hood, now are talking about flooding the block with drug product. You can actually follow this trend back to when Bad Boy records was the “IT” label at the time. Their “perfect” formula of R&B laced hip hop took the airwaves by storm. A slew of labels saw this and copied it and it become the prototype of hit you would need to see play during that era. Even artist that you would never think would be partnered with R&B jumped on the band wagon in hopes of cashing in (Remember the Mobb Deep/112 Collab).

After seeing this, label started to get the idea that they don’t need to build an artist anymore. Just have them fit the image of what is selling in the current music climate. You need a example look at Nicki Minjai.  I remember when she was dressed like a dude spitting bars. Even when she went more femine, she had a harder edge. This was before she was packaged with the over sexed image that makes money.

With the industry focused on packaging and not building the strength of the music suffers. Most of the greats who have put out great timeless music, we watched build their image. We all remember the original “Dead Presidents” by Jay Z…I had that record, the actual vinyl. i remember the raw hunger I heard. As he released album after album, I watched and heard him grow. And his hits…his top records connect with the listeners because of that.

The building of an artist helps with the making of a classic. The building of an artist is like bring up players through the farm league. the listeners grow with the artist and connects. when fans and artist connect, the artist knows what it takes to get their ear. Their music moves past fads and grows in issue that everyone connects with. Look at all the songs in and out of rap that have been called classics. They connect on some level. They connect and don’t follow fads or trends. That comes from building an artist and allow the listeners to grow along with the artist.

Since we moved away from building artists, the listeners now have no reason to connect to artist. What happens is if there is nothing to connect to, there is nothing that makes a listener want to go back and listen to a song once a craze is over. I mean, outside of die hard fans, who still listens to songs from when Hip Hop was in it’s wanna be Mafia mode. No one does. Therefore that has been replaced by the trap era. And that too shall be replaced when the next craze comes.

It’s as simple as the words “You may create hits, but I want to BUILD classics”. Just something to think about.

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Get Spec’d



Specs Crew was created by a Hartford, Connecticut artist named Kareem R. Muhammad, who paints under the name, Cauê. Cauê means “Good Man” in Tupi (Brazilian Indian tribe). Kareem is also a photographer and a published author of a fictional book titled, Dutch Point.

The vision of Specs Crew came from a dream…yes a dream. On the night of 9/1/12, Kareem dreamt of an eye looking at him. What did this eye mean? Why was this eye still in his thoughts after he woke up? He didn’t know the answers to his questions. He found his self going to the craft store that day and ending up in the paint aisle. As he stood there he thought, “What if I painted the eye that I saw?” Usually this is when the next thought of, “You can’t paint or draw” comes in but it didn’t. So, he just went with the feeling and picked up some acrylic paint, brushes and several canvases. The feeling inside of him was so unusual. It tingled a little and had him excited. This eye had become his dominant thought and had driven him to attempt to paint. The interesting thing was prior to that day painting was a skill he assumed he didn’t have, as he had never painted before.

As time went on and through a few discoveries and talks Specs came about. Not just as images but as a message. Specs Crew the acronym merged all of the insights that Kareem was able to have through this process.



Jack Nickelz: So what inspired you to start Specs Crew?

Cauê: The vision of Specs Crew came from a dream…yes a dream. On the night of 9/1/12, I dreamt of an eye looking at me. What did this eye mean? Why was this eye still in my thoughts after I woke up? I didn’t know the answers to these questions. I found myself going to the craft store that day and ending up in the paint aisle. As I stood there I thought, “What if I painted the eye that I saw?” Usually this is when the next thought of, “You can’t paint or draw” comes in but it didn’t. So, I just went with the feeling and picked up some acrylic paint, brushes and several canvases. The feeling inside of me was so unusual. After about an hour of painting I was done. During the night of September 4th the image of the vintage 80′s version Cazal eyewear came to mind. This new image couldn’t escape my thoughts. I drove to the store and bought some canvas and then painted in the park. When I was done I had the first two characters of the Specs Crew. I called them Meeker and Bleeker. By the end of the first week painting I had over 20 paintings. Specs Crew was born.

Jack Nickelz: Now last time we talked, you were telling about going out and finding the boom boxes you use in your photo set up. Do you mind sharing that with the readers?

Cauê: When I was younger I always wanted to have a boom box. When my family lived in White Plains New York I recall my older brother having one. About 10 years ago, while in the Village in New York, I found my first boom box under several bags of garbage. This think was enormous. I put it in my truck and drove home. For many years I didn’t know what I was going to do with the boom boxes. I ended up painting a character holding a boom box and then sold it. I thought what if I begin to spec (take pictures of people with specs on) people holding the boom boxes. This is when my services get Spec’d. Process: 1. Pick your specs 2. Pick your accessory 3. Get Spec’d) started. I ended up finding many boom boxes online and at thrift stores. I also have a China connect.

Jack Nickelz: I am very intrigued by the old skool/retro feel of the art. How important is it to Specs Crew to stay firmly rooted in the culture?

Cauê: It is something that I grew up with. For me Hip Hop was an expression of individuality. Expression of your art & skills. I mean that is where the elements display. With Get Spec’d I wanted people to get a photographic experience of Hip Hop. You remember when cats walked down the street with a Ghetto Blaster on their shoulder? The dope ass specs and tight ass Lee Jeans. I wanted people that never experienced that to do so by getting Spec’d. I wanted people that lived during that golden age of Hip Hop to feel like they were at home. I feel that Specs Crew continues to evolve. It is very important for me to continue to spread the culture but also continue to learn about it as I progress.

Jack Nickelz: Tell us about the journey of putting together this business venture?

Cauê: Before September 1st 2012 I can say I had no passion for anything. No dreams. That is crazy. I was consumed in my 9-5 as a social worker for the state that I couldn’t find time for myself. I have always been a creative person but for some reason I put my creativity on the back burner. I don’t know what to tell you. I just connected to this innate ability inside of me that made everything click. This journey has been awesome. In the past I would do things for other people and allow that to control my thoughts. With Specs Crew it was all for me. I have allowed Specs Crew to lead me. It’s June 22nd 2013 and it has only been 9 months into this journey. I am amazed what comes out of me sometimes.

Jack Nickelz: Were you hesitate to start a business in this unstable economy?

Cauê: Nope. This was a connection to my passion. It wasn’t and isn’t about money. Shit I love Spec’ing (taking pictures of people with specs and boom boxes) people. People get so into the character. I have gotten paid for doing this service. I also sold about a thousand dollars in paintings with only 2 months in the game. That was crazy. This is about Specs Crew. I’m in control of this. I see big things for Specs Crew.  Starting Specs Crew had nothing to do with the economy. It had everything to do with me and finding a passion and dream that I could move forward with.

Jack Nickelz: How has Specs Crew been received since coming out?

Cauê: I think people love it. As I said before I have been able to sell some paintings. I have been requested to Get Spec’d at many events. To be honest I love doing it. That’s the key. Love what you do and do what you love.
Jack Nickelz: What is the next step for you?

Cauê: I recently began to develop characters for my next venture of Specs Crew comics and animation. I want to do a Fat Albert type cartoon with Specs Crew. Also I purchased a 1988 P30 Step Van (box truck like UPS) this spring. I plan to have Specs Crew Mobile. This will be a store in the back of a truck selling everything from Specs, Apparel and Art. In my head Specs Crew has never been just about me. When I say art and apparel I always had thoughts of putting other people on. Showcasing their talents. I have Specs Crew TV on YouTube. I have a show that I am developing called The Hip Hop Underground Trail. What many don’t know is that there is an underground trail of Hip Hop right in front of their faces but can’t see it unless you are in tune. I will follow this trail as far as it will take me. I will interview people from all Elements. I also have a show called My Alter Ego. I think we all have an alter ego. Mine is Caue, this artist that I found. I want to interview other people and explore their alter egos.

Jack Nickelz:  We have had clothing companies here in CT that didn’t stand the test of time, how will you keep Specs Crew Apparel from falling into that same trap?

Cauê: Take my time. I have no plans to put it out until it is ready. I told myself that this first year I will flood the market. That is I will try my hardest to put Specs Crew and my logo out so much that people begin to ask questions. The market will tell me when they are ready.

Jack Nickelz: Do you have any big plans or events coming in the near future?

Cauê: With Specs Crew all I have to do is bring my camera and my boom boxes and it’s an event. Shit is so fun. You should come out and Spec with me. Once someone puts on a damn dookie necklace and a pair of specs they are taken into the past. My big dream is to get my Specs Crew Mobile up and take it on tour across the country Spec’ing cats.
Jack Nickelz: Well thank you for taking time out to do this interview. Is there anything else you may want to say to the readers?

Cauê: Visit like my Facebook and Instagram page. Get Spec’d!


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