Kareem Fort Talks DEMOS Documentary, The Executive Suite project With Kevin Nottingham and The 2012 MC Search [Video]
Music is the art but music culture is the lifestyle; one that has become second nature to industry insider Kareem Fort. One half of the brain behind indie digital label HiPNOTT Records, Fort has immersed himself in the independent scene and made a way for countless aspiring souls looking for an open door.
In the demanding milieu created by newcomers ready to “sell their souls,” success doesn’t have to be impossible, and that’s what Kareem Fort wants people to see in his latest venture DEMOS, a short film documenting appropriate tactics in the anarchic music industry.
Kareem speaks to Hip-Hop Wired.com about the new project, and gives some invaluable instruction that will have you looking for a pen and paper. Fort also talks about his other independent effort, The Executive Suite and drops insight on using personal resources to make up for a lack of financial backing.
HipHopWired.com: As someone who works on the business side of things, how do you feel about multifaceted (A&R/rapper/CEO/manager, etc.) rappers?
Kareem Fort: That could be a good thing, it could be a very negative thing. Most people aren’t very good at multitasking. Everybody wants to claim to be a CEO or a boss of whatever and not know that entails. I think because we are in a mainly independent era…I see what they’re trying to do but you have to be smart about it and you’re stretching yourself too thin if you don’t have the savvy to call yourself a CEO or manager because those are very distinctive roles. An artist/manager makes absolutely no sense to me. There are certain combinations that just don’t work.
HipHopWired.com: What do you do in that predicament?
Kareem Fort: I trash it, because you can’t take anybody serious like that. One of the issues that I come across, and I’ve said this before…it comes down to certain fundamentals. We were talking offline about proper emails and things of that nature, all these things are key. You gotta figure out what your lane is, be comfortable with that and go with it. I think that’s just bad business. If somebody hits me up who I had a former interaction with as a manger, and then the next correspondence I get is ‘Hey, listen to my record,’ that’s a problem for me. Now you’ve just destroyed any type of relationship that we’ve already established.
DEMOS: An Independent Artist’s Guide To Success [Official Trailer]
HipHopWired.com: DEMOS Documentary…where to begin! What inspired this? At what moment did this come to mind as an idea?
Kareem Fort: It was a series of events that triggered this idea. It was running HiPNOTT with Kevin, getting large amounts of emails from aspiring artists that really had no direction, they didn’t have any type of format, guide, any type of anything to say this is how you send a proper email, it was just random stuff that I would get. Like if you put ‘Yo’ in your subject line, I’m probably going to delete it immediately.
It’s just proper etiquette that I think has been lost. I don’t know if it’s because of the internet but it just seems like the fundamentals are gone. With that being said there has to be some type of guide or tool that these aspiring artists can follow. There’s just certain etiquette that has to be followed.
It sparked me to write a book about it, but I was discussing this with colleagues, family and whatever, and it was like ‘Yeah, that’s cool…but who’s gonna buy a book?’ So I figured it would be cool if I did a movie about it, but I don’t have any money to do a movie, you know?
So I started thinking that I don’t have money, but I do have resources. Artist don’t understand how important your resources are, they are much more valuable than money any day of the week…in most cases. Because I felt like I had enough resources to make this happen, I just went with it.
It started to snowball, I started to reach out to different artists, managers, producers and publicists and lawyers, and everybody had something to say about this particular subject. [Now] here we are getting ready to get a major push and give it out to the world.
DEMOS Documentary: Inside Look
HipHopWired.com: How challenging was it getting all the cameos you needed from the artists?
Kareem Fort: Not as difficult as I anticipated, because once I really broke down the synopsis of the film, they started to understand, ‘Woah I have a story, let me tell you how I messed up. Let me tell you the things that I did that I should have.’ Once they started to speak about it, they started to peel like an onion. They just started to reveal and share all these things, their stories and their experiences. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.
HipHopWired.com: You have a lot of legendary artists that got involved…do you think the message is going to get through to artists?
Kareem Fort: That kid that’s gonna be watching DEMOS may have never heard of Marley Marl or Naughty by Nature but then they’ll google them and be like Oh, they did this record or whatever, but how are they relevant?
Well they’re very much relevant because the same things they did to get on…and I’m not talking about making a cassette tape and taking it to an A&R…but there are certain fundamentals in this game that should never, ever change. That’s regardless of how much technology plays into it. No matter how great Twitter is and Facebook, there’s still something about human interaction that can never, ever be replaced. If I’m out and I happen to be networking, the relationships that I built in person often times go further than the relationships that I built online.
When you shake someone’s hand and look them in their eye, there’s some truth there. A lot gets revealed in human interaction. A lot of people do business just off the fact they think you’re a great person, or have a great personality, or have a firm handshake. These things that may seem minor are actually big things.
HipHopWired.com: It seems like Hip-Hop is a bit divided with the sub-genre’s…because this is concentrated on the grass roots essence of the culture, what are you going to do to get people’s attention?
Kareem Fort: It’s funny you mentioned that because I was having this conversation the other day. What I’m planning on doing is not really focusing so hard as marketing this film as a Hip-Hop documentary. This film is about music and it’s about life. Primarily, yeah, I have a lot of Hip-Hop artists in it but I also have some soul artists in it.
I’m still in production so I’m getting different types of artists involved. It’s not just an artist perspective that you’re gonna get, there are also song writers, managers, producers, booking agents, publicists, so I think having a diverse perspective on this is key.
I don’t think it’d be that entertaining to have a bunch of artists sitting around talking because [then] you only get one perspective. Because I want this to be a manual and a learning tool, I need many different perspectives. I have DJ Quik, all the way to J*DaVeY, so you have a very diverse group of people who have very unique stories.
There are no rules anymore. It’s a sad thing to say, but it’s a true thing to say. There are no rules anymore.
HipHopWired.com: Why do you think it is that artists don’t do their research?
Kareem Fort: Because they feel like they don’t have to. I don’t think that they care enough about the culture to do that. We live in a fast food society, everybody wants it now. They don’t want to go back and learn, and do research and see How should I approach this? That’s why you have so many people attempting to be artists, when they might be suited better as a publicist or a manager.
They don’t do the research, it’s a sad thing. I’m hopeful that this movie will help people understand their options.
HipHopWired.com: You know what you’re talking about here…I mean your work with Kevin Nottingham, HiPNOTT Records…what’s the backbone of your philosophy that’s made your work with the digital label so successful?
Kareem Fort: I always put the music first…I want to do my best to preserve the emotion in music, because that’s what I feel music is, it’s an emotion. You can tell when someone puts their heart and soul into a record, it’s that feeling that you get when you listen to that Stevie Wonder record or whatever have you. You can’t fake that trueness. I try to capture that in any musical project I’m involved with because I think that music is lacking that tremendously.
In the golden era of Hip-Hop, the mid 90’s…it was so diverse, it was cool to be different, where today it’s cool to be just like the next artist. It’s a complete 180 from that era. I think that’s what people mean when they say Ah, we miss that golden era. It’s that emotion that people are speaking on. There are artists today that I do feel that emotion from, just few and far between.
HipHopWired.com: You’re going to be a judge in the national MC search we’re doing…what criteria do you have prepared for that?
Kareem Fort: It’s interesting because this contest is based on voice. I don’t have anything else to go off of, I’m just mainly about talent. That’s what drew me into being a part of this. The things that I’ll be looking for really, is number one, originality. If someone comes off sounding like somebody I’ve heard a million times then I’m cool on that.
Delivery, cadence, wordplay, all these different things…and then that “woah factor.” That’s super important because it’s something you can’t really define, but you know when you hear it. That is crazy. The first time I heard Kendrick Lamar…
HipHopWired.com: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.
Kareem Fort: [Laughs], it’s just the woah factor to me. That’s something that you can’t fake and it’s just so rare. I’m hoping somebody comes with that woah factor.
HipHopWired.com: How do you give guidance to an MC who just has it all wrong?
Kareem Fort: I always try to be tactful if I’m ever critiquing somebody’s material because you can’t tell somebody else’s truth. At the same time if something is just horrible, I would try to point out the things that could possibly make it better verses focusing on what’s wrong with it. I can’t tell an MC what to write about and what not to write about. I can tell them they might want to work on their delivery, because I might not be receiving it the way I’m sure they’d want it to be received.
I always like to come at someone like the glass is half full verses the glass is half empty. If they just don’t have the talent, I’ll probably tell them that they may want to rethink pursuing this as a career, because I don’t want them to continue to waste their time if I feel like they just don’t have the talent.
HipHopWired.com: The Executive Suite is something you’ve been working on, and you’re also very proud of…you’ve done a lot of concept releases with Kevinnottingham.com, what made that project special?
Kareem Fort: This is something that I was heavily involved in from the ground up. The Executive Suite actually came about because I was working on the soundtrack for the film.
What happened was I was getting submissions for the soundtrack and I’m putting things together and it didn’t have the feeling of a soundtrack to me. Because there hasn’t been a Hip-Hop centered film in a while, especially a documentary like this, it was important to me that the soundtrack had a certain value to it that wouldn’t reflect a mixtape or anything else like that. I said, I have some great material here, but it doesn’t feel like a soundtrack.
What I did was take some of those songs and continue to build on that with artists I felt needed some shine, that I truly loved and enjoyed. I wanted to make it exclusive, make it feel good and what I considered an elite group of MC’s. That’s why I called it Executive Suite, because I wanted it to have an exclusive feel, everybody can’t get into the executive suite.
Download The Executive Suite here featuring such artist as Chaundon, Senor KAOS, Big Pooh, Tanya Morgan, 4-Ize, Rapsody and more.