Music – News and Reviews

TV, Film and Ads: For Musicians Who Need A Tune Up

Headphones piano music for ads

 

Music licensing is the best play for artists in the new music digital age

By: James Di Fiore

“Music will never go away, and I will never stop making music; it’s just what capacity and what arena you decide to do it.”   Dave Grohl

The Internet gave birth to two undeniable realities. First, everyone believes they’re musicians. Second, lots of people are both super talented, and completely unknown.
For years, the music industry was the digital pilot project whose online evolution taught other digitally-based industries what should and should not be done when ushering in new business strategies. David Grohl’s words ring true for musicians at every stage of their career, and the ever-changing online promotional and distribution methods for musicians to scratch out a dollar.

 

By now, if a career musician has not adjusted their approach on the business side to reflect modern technology and different distribution ideas, they are not going to last very long. In their defense, no other industry has had to make so many adjustments since the digital age began, a reality that creates as many victims as it does revolutionary ideas.

 

One of these revolutionary ideas is actually a fairly old method of getting paid for making music. Film and television will always need to find appropriate tunes for their programming, and today that demand is not only growing but the ways companies find music has never been more ‘artist-friendly’. It has been a long, ever-changing relationship between productions houses and musicians. It used to be a very exclusive club, where a relatively few number of composers were on speed dial, or the major record labels offered either up-and-comers or a select stable of hit makers for TV, movies and commercials. But this became expensive for producers who wanted catchy tunes but didn’t want to allocate half their budget to do so. Before the financial crisis in 2008, hearing a well known pop tune inside a commercial was not uncommon, but when the recession hit, with the exception of automobile ads, this trend became too expensive to justify. Licensing a hit song was no longer a viable option.

 

So, keeping in tune with the ever-changing landscape in the digital music industry, music catalogue outfits specializing in housing quality music began popping up online. Of course, lots of these companies were specializing in pretty mediocre stock music, and most reputable music supervisors are looking for quality, not filler. No problem.

 

Jean Anfossi is the CEO of reelsongs.com, a company specializing in linking production companies and agencies with artists and composers. Anfossi has seen both sides of the coin, as a musician and as a businessman for the past 15 years. He believes artists are on the brink of normalizing their inflows by licensing their music to television, film and commercials.
“There is so much talent out there that you have to be meticulous about what you can offer clients,” says Anfossi. “To remove the needle-in-a-haystack environment we hand pick what artists we want to showcase.”
Anfossi is one of several entrepreneurs who have succeeded at providing appropriate music for ads, film and television. His stable of artists, which includes well known composers like M1, Neil Busby and Indie label Ubiquity, have realized the importance of licensing to the overall career inflows of artists. This is what the future looks like for professional musicians. Licensing music to the ad industry and Hollywood used to be considered selling out, but when music became saturated, free and digital, everything changed.
“Musicians need to make money. You can’t live off ramen noodles and dreams anymore, especially in cities like Toronto and New York.” Anfossi, who is a Berklee-educated virtuoso jazz musician, knows the terrain inside out and is trusted by his clients to find the right composers for their projects. Artists simply upload their music or Anfossi’s clients request an original piece. And, as it should be, quality matters.

 

 

When Napster ushered in a new age of digital promotional strategies, it forced independent artists to create interest in their live shows through giveaways, remixes and other digital-only campaigns. When labels stopped signing artists the landscape contained a hodge-podge of strategies to get noticed. Internet radio was developing into an aggregate system where variety was king, but variety doesn’t mix well with trying to stand out. With thousands of options online, the undertaking of self-distribution had to be customized to fit the profile of each artist. That customization has been determined, and savvy artists are now making the bulk of their income through sites like reelsongs.com.

 

This is the new arena in making money in music.

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Deadmau5 Offers Rob Ford a Ride, Insults Madonna Again

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By: James Di Fiore

Joel Zimmerman, AKA DeadMau5, who in 2012 engaged in a Twitter war with Madonna over her reference to club drug MDMA and the EDM scene, took another unprovoked shot at the pop icon after Mau5 publicly scheduled a coffee-run with embattled Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford.

Zimmerman offered to take Rob Ford out for a ride. Nobody knows why, but Rob Ford eventually accepted and that was that. But after posting a photo of his Ferrari’s customized paint job, Zimmerman posted the following tweet in response to my inquiry as to why hanging with an admitted crack smoker is acceptable but Madonna’s pro-drug comments was an affront to clubland culture:

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Zimmerman has a lot of fans, but many big names don’t seem like him at all. Howard Stern, Flo Rida, Joe Rogan have all had online run-ins with the Canadian DJ or have expressed their genuine dislike for him. It seems Joel’s reputation as a troll is well deserved. Last year there was an especially scathing comment from fellow DJ Afrojack for ‘pressing play’ after Zimmerman had spent years dissing other DJs for precisely the same offense.

Is it publicity? Is Deadmau5 simply a Twitter troll? And wait, is lil Joel still pretending he’s offended over people talking about drugs?

I mean, being drunk is fine…but doesn’t Deadmau5 seem a little Mollied in this interview with Joe Rogan? The eyes …they don’t lie.

But I think Deadmau5 probably does.

Concern of the Mack: Hating Macklemore and the Hip Hop Identity

Macklemore-SameLoveBy: James Di Fiore

Disclaimer: I’m white.

Some of you just read that and thought, “Why is that important?” Others may have said to themselves, “Pfft…white boy doesn’t even understand.”

Both of those thoughts are correct in a way, but for the last quarter century my main musical staple has been hip hop. I’m a purist, meaning the Golden Era is like the bible to me, and I find the commercialization of hip hop to be tragic. Looking back, when I was a young teenager I admittedly tried too hard to “be down”. I wore clothes that didn’t suit me, spoke in a dialect that wasn’t mine and tried to rebel against the boring, stale suburban landscape through a new culture called hip hop.

As I grew older I threw away the clothes, stopped speaking in slang and simply embraced the music. I also woke up to the power of hip hop and its ability to unite. I rhymed in ciphers but was careful not to use slang I wouldn’t use normally in every day life. It took a while, but eventually the poetics merged with a more genuine mindset. I wasn’t a man who embodied hip hop, and I knew I could never be. I’m a white guy, and I know I am a visitor in this culture.

Like everyone else in this world, visitors have opinions. If I am a tourist in hip hop culture, I’m going to talk about how the resort looks to me. This place, this phenomenon known as hip hop culture is unique in the way it embodies not just the music, but an overall attitude. It is far from being a monolithic culture, but there are a few aspects that certainly contain a variable of consensus.

For example, it used to be that emcees needed to have obvious skills on the mic, not just with their ability to flow, but also through gifted lyrics. A purist like me would argue that hip hop abandoned this requirement somewhere in the mid to late 90s, replacing lyricism with jingles pasted over good beats. Meaningful lyrics were pushed back to the underground, and while certain artists maintained a decent catalogue of poetry, much of what mainstream audiences have been hearing for the past 15 years have centered around consumer products, violence and sex.

Fast forward to the present day. Hip hop is a little more eclectic. Kanye West, like him or not, is pushing more envelopes than a bank teller, Eminem continues to succeed, Jay Z is changing the way album releases are marketed to fans, and a kid named Macklemore has single handedly created a debate hip hop has needed for a very long time.

Macklemore is a white guy who doesn’t look anything like a traditional rapper. His signature track is called ‘Same Love’, a song about, and in support, of gay marriage. This is a first in hip hop; a well known artist speaking out aggressively against homophobia. Famous rappers began accusing Mack of pushing a ‘gay agenda’. Often, like in this Lord Jamar interview, you will witness rappers saying how they think everyone should do what they want, but in the next breath he talks about how he doesn’t want to be hit on by a gay person. It harkens back to when NBA players spoke about not wanting to be on the same court as Magic Johnson through fear of contracting HIV. Both of these situations are/were unrealistic and speak more to homophobia than reality. ‘I have no problem with gay people, I just don’t want them around me’. To be blunt, lots of rappers engage in a kind of double-speak so they can appear understanding while they let their peers know how they really feel about the gay lifestyle. The way this is pontificated is almost identical to the way white, evangelical Republicans explain their own intolerance towards homosexuals. Stranger bedfellows, funny enough, can not be found anywhere in North America.

And when Macklemore said these lines, “If I was gay, I would think hip hop hates me” – it struck a nerve. Feverish debates about homophobia in hip hop started to pop up everywhere. I began discussing the issue after Mack won his four Grammy awards, which was controversial because Kendrick Lamar left empty handed, and because his performance of ‘Same Love’ at the awards show reignited the debate of society’s, and hip hop’s, position on gay marriage. Critics have accused the Grammy winner of lecturing the hip hop community about the crystal clear homophobia ensconced within the scene. Specifically, Macklemore is being vilified for lecturing hip hop; a white person who is not seen as ‘real’ enough to engage in such lectures. He’s just too damn white to criticize a culture he’s visiting.

White guys in this genre have had some success, and individually these groups and solo artists have had completely different kinds of careers. Vanilla Ice was a poser, acting as ‘black’ as he could until he was summarily destroyed by his own stupidity. 3rd Bass and the Beastie Boys did well during the Golden Era but didn’t suffer from the same kind of identity crisis as Vanilla Ice. House of Pain had some recognition before fading away, and Eminem is considered one of the best emcees in history.

But now we have Macklemore. When discussing his Grammy win with members of the hip hop community online, the term ‘hipster rapper’ was uttered again and again. Mack doesn’t wear baggy clothes, doesn’t act hard and doesn’t rhyme about gunplay or misogyny. He’s also not anywhere close to being considered one of the greats, his image about as un-urban as you can get. He’s also considered soft by the more rugged hip hop enthusiasts, and clearly it has rubbed many of them the wrong way.

A racial divide in hip hop has always existed in one form or another, and when the visiting race communicates a strong opinion about a negative aspect of the culture, harsh words are used. It’s amplified by the correct assumption that if Kanye West or Jay Z had suggested hip hop was homophobic, none of this controversy would exist. So it isn’t the opinion that’s in dispute at the end of the day, it’s the skin colour of the guy who gave the opinion. The perfect storm of a corny white rapper winning Grammys while calling out hip hop for its historical and present day homophobia has turned the culture inside out. To be blunt, Macklemore is being assaulted because he’s white, and because he isn’t as skilled or respected as Eminem or Mos Def. There’s a divide among black fans of hip hop, but the side who has decided Mack’s race is a problem is much louder than the side who doesn’t see what the big deal is.

So now, instead of the white guy visiting hip hop culture, I feel more like the guy on the couch who has overstayed his welcome. But I’m not leaving, and they aren’t selling the house. There are leaks in the ceiling and mice in the walls, but perhaps a refurbishing will save all of us. In the meantime, and I say this knowing it will piss some people off, gay slurs need to be viewed through the same lens as the n word. People who look like me should never use that word, and it stands to reason that rappers should show similar respect by discarding all homophobic references from their rhyme books, turning the page to a more inclusive chapter, and verse.

Is Russell Simmons the black Perez Hilton?

Uncle Rush ain’t the man he used to be

By: James Di Fiore

Imagine we are back in 1985. Russell Simmons and Def Jam founder Rick Rubin are quietly lighting the match that would set hip hop ablaze. Imagine during that time someone came up to you and said “In 25 years, Simmons will be the majority shareholder of a sleazy tabloid magazine.”

Anyone in their right mind would have dismissed that thought immediately. Hell, you may have even got a smack in the face for saying such a thing. This was the guy who started the careers of Run D.M.C., LL Cool J, Beastie Boys and other legendary acts. Back then, hip hop was not just an emerging musical genre, it was a rallying cry against corporate America. Sure, Run D.M.C. inked a deal with Adidas, but overall hip hop was the closest thing to protest music since the 1960s. The lyrics were not just the often cited biographies of kids living the ghetto experience; there was also the political statements surrounding the idea that black youth were being used by corporate America. The universal idea of predatory marketing and influence over the purchasing choices among the youth by lifestyle brands was not up for debate. Everyone knew it was happening. You either became apathetic towards it, railed against it or fought to become an entrepreneur.

Simmons had always been a good businessman. He first signed a deal with CBS worth $600, 000 when he and Rubin started Def Jam. In 1998, after nurturing the careers of his stable of artists, he sold his stake to MCA for an estimated $100 million, his first windfall made from the scene he helped pioneer.

You can probably pinpoint Simmons’ departure from being a grass roots pioneer and role model at the time he sold his Def Jam stake. While it might be presumptuous to claim he was ever an activist for underprivileged youth, Simmons was at the very least a figurehead in their collective struggle. But slowly his corporatist persona began to shine through. In several interviews he has defended the embedding of products inside song lyrics by artists, a practice that befuddles the hip hop purist. Simmons explains this by saying you should only sell products you believe in, ignoring the basic idea that art and commercialism are two separate monsters. Indeed, an artist certainly has the right to do what they want with their music, but there are many who feel this practice has cheapened hip hop. Not to mention Simmons has often acted as a facilitator between corporations and rappers who are looking to get paid by plugging a fast food chain or fashion line in songs that are easily forgettable and designed solely for the plug.

Simmons is an expert at justifying this kind of predatory marketing. His attitude is shielded by a public image drenched in yoga and activism, a paradoxical partnership where selling products inside music is justified through his apparent admiration for Deepak Chopra and the 99%. Perhaps he is merely the first of his kind; a hip hop mogul with one eye on his bank account and the other on social justice. Reconciling those two seemingly opposite mind sets is one thing, but his latest venture leaves little room for spirituality or the realness of the ghetto.

Enter Global Grind.

Global Grind, for all intents and purposes, is an online tabloid magazine. Taking a page out of US Weekly or Perez Hilton’s site, GG features gossipy stories and provocative headlines, usually centering around Kim Kardashian’s ass or what Beyonce might be wearing. The watered down editorials are designed to reach the largest yet least informed audience possible, making his often repeated claims of being in touch with spirituality either a lie or something he no longer mixes with business. It really is the black National Enquirer.

Supporters will say he is simply continuing his success as an entrepreneur, but eventually one has to ask: how does a man who relentlessly preaches about naturalism, spirituality, yoga and ‘The Secret’-type philosophy reconcile being the propagator of a silly tabloid? How does a man who used to be a beacon in the black community balance that reputation with his several appearances alongside a birther like Donald Trump? Does he define his principles differently than most? Can Simmons throw roses to all sides and expect his fans to continue crediting him as being the guy he was a quarter century ago?

There is a backlash happening since GG first launched. His Facebook page contains daily criticisms from presumably former fans who have had enough of his transformation from pioneer to smut peddler. And while it is likely a staffer who posts his social networking content, his profile has taken a beating among those who once respected him the most.

A gifted orator, Simmons is great at explaining away his evolution, but editorials, headlines and critics are also becoming effective at pointing out his now schizophrenic public image. You can almost picture him doing a downward dog onto a pile of MacDonald’s french fries as cameras record him explaining it all away. That’s all fine and good, but some of us remember the words of Public Enemy, the group he helped put on the map: nowadays, when it comes to Uncle Rush, don’t believe the hype.

He ain’t the man he used to be.

With Adam Yauch Dead the Beastie Boys are Gone Too

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The accolades for the Beastie Boys has already started and will no doubt continue for weeks. With Adam Yauch losing his battle with cancer, the Beastie Boys’ status as one of the longest running hip hop groups is now over. Even if they make more albums it just won’t be the same. And for those of us who were ensconced in their music from the very beginning, there is no doubt what Yauch meant to his crew and his fans. He was the raspy, tough guy who balanced out the squeaky-voiced Adam Horowitz (Ad-Rock) and the mid-level cadence of Michael Diamond (Mike D.)

The Beastie Boys arrived on the scene at a time when hip hop was just beginning to carve its path into the mainstream, unlocking the minds of an entire generation while giving many of them a new craft, a new art form. Personally, I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Licensed to Ill, their first full length LP. It was at my Catholic Elementary school when I heard Ad-Rock’s voice trickling down the hallway. A girl one year older named Dorothy laughed at me when I asked what they were listening to. To her it was laughable that I wasn’t on the inside track of music history. Even funnier – she was right. See, The Beastie Boys were like no other group, as far as I can tell. They were one of the first to team up with the now legendary Rick Rubin who produced Licensed to Ill, still the best selling album in Def Jam’s history.

The Beastie Boys were also the first group who went from the underground to the mainstream on the backs of both punk and hip hop, a testament to a time gone by where these two scenes were actually allies, playing the same clubs and collaborating extensively since the 1970s.

Yauch also directed many of the Beastie Boys’ videos under the pseudonym Nathanial Hörnblowér, a character he brought to life when he crashed the stage at the MTV video awards to interrupt the acceptance for best video being given to R.E.M. when he figured the Beastie Boys should have won. No, Kanye West was not the first. Yauch was not seen as arrogrant, however. He was in character. That’s another thing about the Beastie Boys – their personas were meant to intrigue and challenge people, but as a collective, not as solo artists. This is why there can never be another Beastie Boys record…it just wouldn’t be the same.

No doubt there will be tributes in the coming year. Expect a documentary too.

Yauch is survived by his wife Dechen Wangdu and their daughter Tenzin Losel Yauch.

Ultimate MC Battle Epic Failure

Cattle-call audition gimmick and amateur judging kills competition

 

First off, congratulations to Quantum and Charron. It ain’t your fault most of the emcees were garbage…and big ups to White Fang for putting on the best performance. And now to the real story….


Most real hip hoppers knew it from the get go – that The Ultimate MC Battle was just another yawn-fest in a long line of boring competitions the city has seen over the past decade. Not only did the end result seem fixed, or at least judged by meth-heads who didn’t seem to be watching the last round, but the initial line-up was suspect and proves that the open audition format will never yield a good show.

 

Perhaps most telling in this latest of failed battles were the participants. Other than Bishop Brigante, Canada’s most heralded battler, the entire Ultimate MC team is a who’s who of who cares in Canada’s urban scene. Don’t let the youtube hits fool you, King of the Dot is garbage. Not only does it shine a spotlight on a weak format (they mostly battle in acapella because most of their emcees aren’t skilled enough to stay on beat AND freestyle), but the rappers are unskilled, prototypical rookies that would get eaten alive against a typical, seasoned battle emcee. Brigante, if he isn’t embarrassed, should be wondering how he went from a respected emcee killer to the host of a wack enterprise destined to keep Toronto’s rep as ‘mediocre’ in the hip hop world.

 

Things were not always this bad. Back in the day Toronto had a communications pipeline that led straight to the 5 boroughs of New York. Artists from T-dot worked with local promoters who brought in some of hip hop’s most legendary emcees during the Golden Era of the music. The list of artists who graced the stage of the Concert Hall reads like a manifest of hip hop history: KRS ONE, Big Daddy Kane, The Roots, Kid Capri, just to name a few. A mutual respect for realness and talent led to collaborations with local artists like Maestro Fresh Wes, Michie Mee and a slew of up and comers still trying to get heard. Today it is the up and comers that can’t hold their weight. King of the Dot exemplifies this ineptness through their habit of showcasing emcees who don’t deserve the spotlight, and Ultimate MC ultimately followed suit.

 

That’s not to say Toronto doesn’t have emcees with the necessary skills to put on a good show, it’s that the self-proclaimed representatives of the scene don’t know where the talent lives. They seem to only have a pipeline on rappers who can’t rhyme to beats, can’t battle without spitting rhymes that are obviously written and simply don’t have the kind of swagger that creates memorable battle moments. In short, Toronto is currently being grossly misrepresented in hip hop, especially in the battle scene.

 

Usually, when a genre is being pimped by watered down artists, there is a backlash in the underground. We see it in rock music, electronic music and jazz where a collective frustration towards the mainstream results in a buffet of budding artists and new sounds. But it isn’t every day when the underground hip hop heads would rather listen to the latest Drake album instead of scouring for new, local emcees. The tragedy is nobody thinks there are any local cats anymore, and those that do believe the Toronto underground is alive and well are swallowing the shit fed to them by KOTD, Ultimate MC and rappers who simply can’t spit. Until a scene veteran steps up and calls these fraudsters out we may be stuck with the mediocre moniker for years to come.

 

 

A Page From the Past

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How a typical evening evolved into conversing with a voice from yesterday

By: James Di Fiore


Sometimes we are reminded of our past through the voice of a musician when their music served as the soundtrack to our lives. It is as universal as mathematics – the ability to be transported back to a time and place with relative ease through music. Similar to how certain fragrances take me back to my childhood, like how musty scents in houses remind me of my grandparents’ cottage, the feeling of abundant nostalgia is like nothing else I know.


Last night I met the singer whose voice was the sole representative of my life for a solid year. The year was 1994.


My father let me venture to Bella Coola, British Columbia, so I could work with my uncle who did government environmental work. I was 18, a shit disturber and reeling over what now seems like a meaningless broken heart. But I guess every broken heart has its meaning, hindsight be damned.


As a hip hop head I was easily able to keep my inner feelings under strict control, preferring a head nod over nostalgia music as a way of keeping my cards close to my chest. But, along with my change of scenery came a change in the soundtrack, so instead of packing Gangstarr and KRS I opted for Counting Crows and Skydiggers. Funny, I almost just lied about the Counting Crows, but whatever, August and Everything After is a great album. And Just Over This Mountain, the Skydiggers album, was an organic, emotional experience and spoke to my change in scenery. 


I went to Bella Coola, connected with my father’s brother, worked deep in the Rockies and traveled the BC coast. Andy Maize, the lead singer of Skydiggers, provided a sort of melodic commentary as the cassette replayed over and over throughout my trip and then for months when I returned home. He was there when I reflected on the prospect of never succeeding. He was there when my butterflies waved their wings over some girl who showed an interest. He sang lyrics that matched my mood seamlessly, and ever since, whenever I hear some of those songs, I am instantly transported back into the mindset of that 18 year old kid. Interestingly, I never really got sick of the album, I just put it to rest when that chapter of life was complete and then went back to the hip hop crate.


Thinking about life in my 30s, I am convinced the era of having soundtracks for life chapters are gone. Everything is so accessible that it can be best expressed through ‘Random Play’. Ever since I began this crazy journey of running for mayor I’ve noticed I am listening to everything from Nina Simone to Johnny Cash, Jazzmatazz to Hibernate. There isn’t just one voice serving as the backdrop and I don’t think there ever will be again, not until I am an old man perhaps.

So last night, after attending a beer tasting with a friend, I headed over to another friend’s bar (The Duke of York) and shot the shit with a few regulars. This guy with dark rimmed glasses steps to the bar and waits to be served, and I blurt out “Hey, are you a musician?” He says ‘yes’. He didn’t look familiar, he just looked like a musician. The girl on his arm then says “This is Andy, lead singer of the Skydiggers.”


I could opt for using a word like ‘trippy’ or ‘weird’ or some other adjective denoting a glitch in the pattern of my day to day, but I really haven’t found the appropriate word to describe meeting the dude whose voice was so poignant to me for so long. So I just told him the truth – that his album, while likely ancient history for him, paints a vivid picture of a time in my life when things were confusing, different and hopeful. I shook his hand and thanked him, adding “It isn’t every day you get to meet the guy responsible for the soundtrack, if you know what I mean.”


He and I talked for about 45 minutes. He bought me a pint and I returned the favour. I guess the best part of this particular story, and it is hardly surprising, is that he was just a regular guy. I went out for a smoke and ended up getting a light from Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies, and it all made perfect sense to me.


Page confided to me that Andy was his muse when it came to stage presence. So I told Page that his cover of Bruce Cockburn’s ‘Lovers in a Dangerous Time’ still hit the sweet spot of my soul.The three of us chilled for a little while, they gave me props for running for mayor and I left, preferring to be the guy who said goodbye rather than trying to unnaturally stretch out the evening.


I walked to the subway with ‘I Will Give You Everything’ playing in my head for the first time in years. When I finally got home I even took 4 minutes to watch the video for Lovers in a Dangerous Time. Two bands in the same vein as far as Canadian music goes, but who hold completely different meanings for me, all in one evening that went from a typical night of drinking to complete and utter reflection of where I’ve been and where I’m headed.

I just realized that there is still room for the chapters in our lives to have a soundtrack, but it might be the same voice we have heard in our heads all these many years.

Hanging With Matisyahu


By: James Di Fiore

Last year’s Winter Music Conference in Miami proved to be a first for many people. There was certainly a young contingent of 21 year olds finally old enough to get into events featuring their favourite DJs; a plethora of new musical technological products featured at the presentation hall; and one non-electronic music act making his WMC debut. His name is Matisyahu.

For those who are still unfamiliar with the name, Matisyahu is the Orthodox Jew who has come into his own with a style of music normally associated with Rastafarian culture, not the New York suburbs where young Matthew Paul Miller grew up. The up and coming reggae star has turned heads with his roots inspired flow and Hasidic attire, all while performing at some of the continent’s funkiest venues. So when I was given the opportunity to act as his liaison for the week during the 2009 WMC, I packed my bags, left my L.A. apartment and headed down to South Beach.

As a Canadian, L.A. proved to be a breeding ground for celebrities who had too much dust in their eyes, so to speak. To hang with Matisyahu was more than just an opportunity, it was a chance to sit down with a performer who has the reputation of being humble and down to earth – a rarity in my experience interviewing well known acts.

I knocked on the door, room 318, at The Riviera South Beach Hotel. Answering the door was Matisyahu’s manager, Don VanCleave, who has also managed the illustrious career of none other than Lenny Kravitz, making the young reggae artist in very capable hands. Upon entering the room I immediately took in a whiff of what most would associate as the main pastime of any performer in this particular genre; and while it wasn’t much of a surprise to know that Matis smoked weed, I was at least taken aback that his first motion towards me was not a handshake, but an offering of a bowl stuffed with high grade gear. Yes, I did oblige, and the gesture seemed to set the tone for a relaxing first encounter with the man that has literally surprised the bulk of the music industry.

“I just make what comes naturally,” he said while sifting through his unreleased material. “People always ask what inspires me, who my influences are. Those kinds of questions are redundant, because we are all inspired by everything we have ever heard…and continue to be influenced.”

It was clear the young performer has begun to come into his own, typified by his obvious need to broaden the horizons both musically and during interviews. I took my cue and asked him about his upcoming release with Crystal Method, the Grammy nominated electronic music duo who pioneered a commercially viable brand of hyper produced beats in North America. ‘Drown in the Now’ appeared on Crystal Method’s album back in May, and Matisyahu was honored to be a featured artist.

“They are such a tight unit. Working with them was really easy and we plan on making more music together sometime down the road,” he said with a smile.

Crystal method feels the same way.

“We met Matisyahu at a festival in British Columbia last July,” Scott Kirkland mused in his online blog. “His tour manager (Green) approached us about him joining us onstage for a song and we thought it was a cool idea. He came by our trailer and we played him ‘High Roller’ off ‘Vegas,’ and he thought it was great. He came out with us about an hour later and his performance was magical.”

This seems to be the avenue that is working for Matisyahu. On the third day of his arrival he teamed up with beat boxing pro Komikaze and lit up the stage at Dolce Ultralounge in South Beach. The two have performed together before and sat down in the penthouse of the Riviera to talk with me in our first on camera interview since he landed in Florida. Matis is a fierce proponent of technology and how it can benefit musicians in their need for universal promotions, so when I asked him about the significance of the major labels in today’s industry, he was both quick to embrace the digital world and careful not to tread on Epic, the major label who backs him.

“They give me a lot of freedom,” he points out, “which is good because I don’t know what I would do without my own persistence online and through all my gadgets.”

Matisyahu loves Twitter, and through his site (www.matisyahuworld.com) he frequently posts impromptu vids and journal style blogs for his fans. He also is fond of jamming on the spot and surprised me (a hip hop emcee) when he asked if I wanted to cipher with him and Komikaze at the end of the interview. The jam was refreshing and a rarity – a blossoming performer willing to throw down with an unknown artist, and gave me yet another layer to this already multi-faceted young singer.

Eminem to star in horror flick

emAfter moderate success in his debut film ‘8 Mile’, Eminem is taking another crack at the big screen in his upcoming film entitled ‘Shady Talez’. The 37 year old will play three different characters in the comic book style horror flick, hoping to deflect the assumption that he only had the range to basically play himself in a feature length film. Eminem apparently also co-wrote the flick with Underworld star Kevin Grevioux.

The rapper, whose popularity has diminished over the years after 2 sub par albums, will try to jump start his career after a series of embarrassing moments in the spotlight, including being dissed by diva Mariah Carey and being teabagged in public by Sacha Baron Cohen. Eminem admitted he was in on the publicity stunt, a startling admission considering the bulk of his fans are homophobic and were already becoming disenchanted with Em’s deteriorating music career. Over the years Marshall Mathers’ flow has become a shadow of what it once was, his verbal gymnastics morphing into a predictable, monotonous style, turning the one time hip hop hellion into just another emcee.

It has been rumored that his ability to rhyme was directly related to his consumption of ecstasy, but since experiencing a near methadone overdose while on tour in 2005, Eminem has apparently been clean. In what some are calling an obvious imitation or at the very least an unbelievable coincidence, a leaked photo of Eminem in his Shady Talez make-up has a striking resemblance to Heath Ledger as The Joker in the Dark Knight. Art may be imitating the life of a deceased artist, and the risk Mathers is taking by potentially attempting to remind viewers of Ledger’s brilliant performance could be the nail in his acting coffin.

No word yet on who will be directing or co-starring in the film. Shady Talez is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2010.