When I first read hip-hop writer Justin Davis's "Top 8 Atlanta Rappers" list for Billboard last month; I was impressed with his research (he put a few people on my radar). However I thought to myself that Yung Booke was a top Atlanta newcomer as well with a dope mixtape worthy of recognition; and Big Ben has an excellent campaign going (I haven't heard his mixtape yet). However I thought the list was cool. And I wanted to speak with him further to get his insights on new artists to watch in 2015 nationwide and also get tips on how indie and emerging hip-hop artists can build their media buzz. Justin Davis is a LA-based writer for Complex and has written for Billboard and Allindstrom.com; and he previously handled "Unsigned Tuesdays" for BestofBothOffices.com; which he told me he would give artists direct feedback on their submissions, which I thought was very awesome of him.
Check out the interview below & be sure to follow Justin on Twitter @OGJOHNNY5 & IG @OGJOHNNY5:
1.) How do you typically come across new artists to feature?
Back in the day it would be like just going on MySpace and scouring Wikipedia pages, but now it’s kind of evolved. You have Twitter, you have SoundCloud and all sorts of things. But yeah back in the day I’d just be on that all day. I’d just pick a region and then I’d go, and I’d go off of word-of- mouth of course. Twitter has made it a lot easier for me as far as kind of getting a social look or social view of who is hot right now. But I’ve gotten a lot busier, and I have great friends so a lot of times now they’ll tell me what’s going on or they’ll say go check this guy out. It’s not that I don’t put the work in anymore. It’s just a lot more to digest now. Artists are coming out of nowhere now. Also, I have people who come to me or I may find them on my own. Sometimes I see it and I might listen to it & I’ll say okay I’ll come back to that later, and I’ll get back to it and I may like it or maybe I won’t. It’s just a lot of different things I look for.
2.) When deciding whether to cover an artist, what factors do you consider?
Professionalism. I contributed to a site called Bestofbothoffices.com and I did a column called “Unsigned Tuesdays” that’s where I found a lot of these artists. In fact that’s where I found a lot of the artists on my “Top 8 Atlanta Rappers” list. Yeah I helped out with “Unsigned Tuesdays” so I was the one who was receiving these submissions and listening to 20 artists a day and picking them out. I would respond to artists and say I can’t post this because it’s not to the standard of where I feel it can be, but if you make this improvement I’ll post it. It was all respectful and I’ve never been the type of person to sugar coat anything. I give you 100% truth every time I speak. That was a really big learning experience for me and I learned how to deal with an artist and what to listen for and what can be big. A lot of artists like Reese and Money Making Nique, they all sent stuff to "Unsigned Tuesdays" and that’s how I got into them. That was my plug doing that site to be honest. It was awesome.
Like if you can follow directions, in your PR or in your email, like if I need a SoundCloud, artwork and a basic description, you are already in there. If you can do that that’s one thing I can check off. You’ve already gotten one part of the equation out of the way and that’s structure. It’s simple if I’m listening to your stuff. Tell me why I should and give me an easy way to listen to it. Don’t send me an attachment.
3.) What tips would you give to indie & upcoming hip-hop artists for building their buzz?Visuals are absolutely important but the quality of the visual has been devalued because everybody does it, and they took that really from Maybach Music and Wiz Khalifa’s day-to-day series and they kind of used that method for a while from like 2012 to now and it’s kind of getting old. So they have to find new ways of getting their content out. I think that the most effective type of visual is a short 15 second visual that you can throw up on Instagram. That helps as far as making people aware of what you’re doing and what you’re working on and it also makes it to where if someone is scrolling down your Instagram or Twitter they can watch this 15 second video and be like okay I’m interested I’ll follow this guy or follow this group. Also, SoundCloud is absolutely essential.
Also, you want to make sure you’re really hitting Facebook too. Facebook has a lot of growth. Facebook has thousands of people who join a day and even more people who visit it daily. Do you ever see a new Twitter blow up like crazy? You can go on Facebook which is like a big platform and immediately find your own thing with a Facebook Fan page. You can get on Twitter and be completely overwhelmed even though it is only a 140 characters because you have a lot of different subsets that you have to kind of join. So if you weren’t doing the Twitter thing already, it is going to take you awhile because you have to build yourself up and that can be frustrating.
4.) Who are your artists to watch for 2015?Not on my list I’d have to say Dj Mustard’s artists RJ. He’s from the west coast. RJ is going to make really big waves this year. There’s another west coast group called Warm Brew that are going to make some noise. D.R.A.M from Virginia actually, he is going to be huge this year. I have a lot of faith in D.R.A.M. OG Maco is going to have a pretty big year this year. I think Rae Sremmurd is going to f**king go nuclear when that album comes out this year. That album’s too good. They’re really, really, really awesome. Yeah I think those are like my sure things because they have a big following behind them. Jace from Two-9 he is actually from Brooklyn but he’s based in Atlanta but Jace from Two-9 is going to be huge. Also Peewee Longway and Casey Veggies is going to make a big, big splash this year too. Those are like my sure things for this year.
5.) In your opinion, what are some of the things that artists you’ve mentioned or artists that are at that breakthrough point do particularly well? What are characteristics that you feel have gotten them to the level to gain your attention or other hip-hop journalist’s, blogs, labels and influencers attention?This is like going to be tough. People say similar things, like if I say you have to get hot in your city; everybody from any city is going to say my city is filled with haters. You hear it in a lot of places. Everyone is fighting to have the biggest hater capital in the world. Not everyone is being hated on, sometimes you just don’t have it, sometimes you’re just not putting your music out to the right audience and sometimes you’re just not focusing on the small audience that does appreciate you. I think what artists can do correctly is of course you want to have a social media presence, but you also have to travel too. I think that’s really important. You want to travel. You want to go to different places because you never know. Everyone makes a run to New York. I say you need to be making a run to Atlanta. I think you need to be making a run to Chicago. I think you need to be making a run to D.C. You need to be making a run to all these places that are kind of hubs for popular music and learning from that and then from those connections you make the connections with the artists there. I think people, especially artists get caught up in their own hype or their own personality whether they feel like I don’t have to do this or I don’t have to put in the type of work, but it’s really all about what you put into it. If this is important to you and you want to be hot in more than just your 12-block radius you’re going to have to work that record and this is what a lot of people did.
I mean you live in Atlanta. You guys are all around the Bible Belt. So you can travel to Memphis, you can travel to all of those places and make money, because they love that type of music out there and you could still do that with whatever you do there like I think it’s really easy for people who live in New York or in those places to do that. It might not be easy to get on radio that’s a whole other conversation, but it’s easy to at least get on the Internet that’s the one thing you can do that doesn’t require any type of money going in. You just need an Internet connection and a laptop, so it is really about getting yourself out there and being seen and making sure that you are making the time and the effort to realize who your audience is.
What do you think of live shows?I think live shows come with getting a buzz, but you don’t want to do a live show too early. Live shows are important, they are just as important as anything else because you are connecting with people and you are getting yourself out there but it’s also about trying to have a look out on other states or other cities who might be having open mics that are looking for artists to perform. What if you make it out there and what if they like your music? You've just stretched your range from your twelve block radius to another group of people that mess your music and they’ll follow you on Twitter, follow you on Instagram and they'll follow whatever you do.
As far as music festivals, such as SXSW and A3C, artists should be doing all of that, that comes without saying that you have to make yourself known in different cities, that goes without saying like if there’s is a showcase, you should be scouring the web trying to find it. People they are going to take whatever they feel is important they’re going to take it seriously. If they don’t then they are going to keep complaining.
Hilarious story about SXSW I didn't get to go last year, because Rick Ross was actually at the airport while I was there and he bought out all the seats and he pushed my flight back and I wasn’t able to go.
*What do you think of paid features on hip-hop sites?I don’t agree with it. It’s turning something that was completely innocent and completely personal and really kind of new and organic into big business. I don’t agree with it at all.