Don’t Sleep on Martin Luther- A Musician’s Musician

Martin Luther FilmoreOne of the most talented Bay Area artists around, who many like to consider a musician’s musician,  is Martin Luther. The San Francisco native plays a variety of instruments but the guitar is his main tool. His voice is part Sam Cooke, part Marvin Gaye as he is intense and deeply convicted with each note sung. His swagger is Jimi Hendrix and then some.

According to his bio, Martin Luther developed his musical chops as a child raised on choir hymns.  At the same time, he learned how to play piano and was exposed to the sounds of Parliament Funkadelic. These eclectic tastes redirected Martin Luther’s interests as he experimented with the sounds of funk. He later taught himself how to play the drums which allowed him to incorporate a wider range of instruments into his music.

Martin Luther over the years has worked closely with The Roots and Cody Chestnutt. He as several albums out including ‘The Calling’, ‘Rebel Soul Music’ and ‘Love is the Hero’ which were released independently.  Martin Luther is a Morehouse graduate with an emphasis on business and entertainment law.

Martin is also an actor who has appeared in several projects including; 2007 Beatles musical Across the Universe in the role of “Jo-Jo”, who reflects Jimi Hendrix. In the film, McCoy performs the song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps“,

We took some great shots of Martin Luther the other night during his stellar performance with Blackalicious  at the Filmore. Enjoy the photos and don’t sleep on Martin Luther.

Madlines: Talks About New Album ‘Love Child’ & Transitioning to the Bay Area

MadlinesWe sat down with Madlines who was one half of the the Seattle based duo Canary Sing, to talk about her new solo project called ‘Love Child‘. For Madlines its her second big move in terms of her being a fierce emcee who decided to push the envelop by embracing a reggae sound which is reflective of her Jamaican roots. Her new song The Weapon has caught a lot of attention as she not only reflects her new style but also reminds folks to put down the guns and pick up the mic. Use your words and flow as a weapon for change.

Her first big move was coming down to the Bay Area to go to Mills College where she studied writing and literature.

During our interview Madlines talks about her adjustment to the Bay Area after relocating here from Seattle. She compares and contrasts the two regions thriving independent Hip Hop scenes. She talks about what it was like collaborating with Bay Area artists like Gigante of Brwn Bflo as well as linking up with fellow female emcees and singers like long time friend Hollis, Miss Haze and Melissa Jones to kick dust and round off her new project.

Madlines also talks about what it was like going solo as well as her next steps..

Explosive Just Cause Report Shows Health Impact of Gentrification

Robbie Clark of Just Cause

Robbie Clark of Just Cause

Hard Knock Radio 04-09-14 We sat down and spoke with Robbie Clark of Just Cause/ Causa Justa about the new 110 page report called Development Without Displacement: Resisting Gentrification in the Bay Area that shares important finding on the impacts of gentrification on Bay Area communities and some principles and policies for stabilizing our cities so that long-term residents and communities of color and stay and thrive.

The report was done with the Alameda County Department of Health and although it focuses on Bay Area cities Oakland and San Francisco its findings apply to regions all over the country. Whats most telling is how this gentrification process  of mass displacement along racial and class lines and its long-term health impact…

As Robbie Clark noted in our conversation everything from long commutes to no longer being around familiar settings and family and friends to not having access to adequate health facilities and resources in new places where folks are being displaced have had devastating impact. The stress of not being able to hold onto a home or having rents significantly increase has been unsettling for many resulting in long-term health issues.

Gentrification mapDuring our conversation we spoke about the root causes of gentrification in the Bay Area and the key role ruthless corporations have played in driving up home prices by pressuring politicians to put forth specific policies to prevent rent control and make evictions easy…

We also talk about the various waves of gentrification. Often we focus on the impact of Black and Brown folks in particular areas, but in cities like San Francisco, gentrified from 10 years ago are now showing those gentrifiers are being displaced. People who were forced to move away from the cities into far off suburbs are finding they are not safe from the predatory process as investment corporations are set on driving up home prices and rents in those areas as well. In short there is no escaping the practice by moving away. Its about pushing for policy changes and redefining how communities should  be.

Robbie was great in laying out several of the many solutions this report puts forth. Most important is organizing. It seems simple on the surface,but it’s not done as effectively as it can and should be. In addition what’s often not realized is that new comers into a community often feel empowered and quickly organize and petition locals municipalities to craft a vision for the community as they see fit. This vision often includes adding new police, putting forth new ordinances and developing policies to make it easier to remove families who they deem problematic.

Shamako Noble: A Call For a Bay Area and Other Cities to Unite

This is an article penned by Shamako Noble of Hip Hop Congress several years ago-back in October 2005 to be exact. With the current state of affairs bringing forth everything from increased poverty to gentrification and  dwindling opportunities impacting not just the Bay Area but all our respective cities, what he penned has just as much relevance today as it did when he first wrote it.. Its a Call for A Bay Area United that applies to many of our cities..

As you read this column and soak up some of the info.. folks may want to click the link below check out this recent article penned by Shamako, The Rise of Silicon Valley Bay

A Call For A Bay Area United (Oct 2005)

Shamako Noble wallInspired by so many things like the recent Zion-I,Team, Mr. Fab, Crown City Rockers show, the growth of Distortion to Static, Katrina, and Millions More Movements, I recognize that it may truly be time for a Bay Area Movement.

This article is not about Democrat or Republican, although it will address some issues brought up by both parties as well as some of the movements they are committed to. This series is not about Bloods or Crips, Nortenos or Surenos, Guns, Rap, Graff, etc. It is about our communities, our cultures, our children and our elders. These are simply suggestions or thoughts for what I believe may already be occurring on many levels. In the coming weeks, I will continue this series getting into more depth on each topic.

Please excuse the length of the first, as the
remaining will be more consolidated in dealing with each topic specifically with more supporting evidence, facts, statistics and the like. The final piece will be the one that ties the vision together for a more community connected Bay Area. To anyone already doing the things I’m talking about, good looking out and keep it moving. We support you.

The areas I will focus on will be: Youth Services, Hip Hop and Media, Philanthropy, and Political Activism

Youth Services:
1. Defining the problem(s): Youth Violence, Gangs, Health Care, Drugs, Education, etc. Although many of our community’s problems are unique, many of them are shared. Also, see number 3 in political activism.

2. Identifying potential solutions, resources and establishing those willing to put in the work. We have much more in our favor than we currently recognize. Right now, we are working on a master list of Bay Area Youth Organizations for all of us to share collectively. I believe that many of us are already doing considerable networking. Let us continue to do so.

3. Drawing the bridge between regions so that although localized areas are focused on localized problems, the Bay Area as a whole is focused on networking and utilizing youth resources and information.

4. If we make the world bigger than our regions and ourselves, it will be easier for us to transition that understanding to the youth. Too many of our youth don’t know enough about what is beyond their borders. How can we honestly tell them that the world is bigger than what they see, and we don’t even show them what is across a bridge?

5. Take the idea of Hip Hop and Education, but more importantly the spirit of ‘by any means necessary’ in education seriously. The Bay Area is one of the country’s most active groups in that respect with groups like 5th Element, Sisters of the Underground, The Academy of Hip Hop, Trinity Wolf Productions, Unity Care and many more leading the helm. Even in this ‘liberal’ area, there is still too much of a divide and hesitation on the part of many educators and administrators to recognize the importance or relating to, challenging and embracing the experience of the student. This is risky and fearful at best and dangerous and negligent at its worst.

Hip Hop and Media

Hip Hop mean To You sign1. Hip Hop must stop dividing itself. Leaders, activists, artists of all elements must come together as a unified social, economic and political force organizing under a collective banner of the empowerment of the poor, marginalized and disenfranchised of the Bay Area. New or Old, Graff Writer or DJ we are much more useful to each other collectively than we are separately.

2. De-regionalize our mentalities, our markets and musical movements. The Bay Area boasts one of the highest numbers of independent artists in the Unites States of America and the truth is that a lot of those artists just don’t know each other or know of each other. This undermines our collective strength and our ability to truly stimulate the culture of our region. So to some extent, let’s stop being San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, East Palo Alto and
Richmond. Let’s just be the Bay.

3. Prejudice directly connected to labeling must end and we must begin to view titles such as ‘conscious’ or ‘gangsta’ as almost, if not completely, counter-productive. Granted, they may refer to some degree of a musical style, but Hip Hop is Hip Hop and even before that (and perhaps more importantly), human expression is human expression. If there are specific issues that we wish to engage in the music of individuals or a certain ‘market’
then let us do so as a community with shared interests and common goals.

4. We must take collective ownership for our economics, cultural conditions and media savvy. The Bay Area has one of the most ripe Independent and College Radio Markets in the world today. We need radio DJs like T-Cash and others who are willing to embrace not only the universal struggle of independent artistry in the Bay Area, but that are willing to recognize their importance and responsibility as community beacons of information and good music. When the commercial radio stations are not willing to do it, we need college/independent radio stations that are. Also, please refer to the previous point.

DJ Luicidal and D'Labrie & Sellasie

DJ Luicidal and D’Labrie & Sellasie

5. We must take the collective initiative to stay informed and to keep others informed. The Bay Area, with folks like Adisa Banjoko, Davey D, Jeff Chang, Vanessa Nisperos, Kenny May, Boots, Emcee Lynx, Balance, Ren the Vinyl Archeologist, E-40, Shock G, DLabrie, Rahman Jamaal and many more, clearly has one of the most fertile grounds of Hip Hop and social thinking that this country has to offer. However, all anyone can do is make this information as readily available as possible. It is our collective responsibility to keep others and ourselves as informed as we can in our busy schedules.

6. Let’s begin seriously drawing bridges between, African-American, Latino American, Native American, LGBT, Women, Pacific Islander, and poor and working-class white communities. Realistically, most of these groups have Hip Hop music distinct to their communities, and although we cannot simply expect to make fans out of thin air, perhaps the more we can make people aware of the music, the more we can make them aware of the issues.

7. See above: #5 under Youth Services.

Philanthropy and Social Venture Capitalism:

money_stack1. There are dozens of organizations and activists out there right now doing amazing things that are scrambling desperately for money. The structure in which philanthropy is designed currently forces the activist, organizer, non-profit etc., to find the money, apply for the money, and then compete for and with the money. That’s fine when it comes to certain services that are not of an urgent nature. However, our children are dying, being mis-educated, undereducated misled and cornered into situations that are not healthy for themselves, their families and their communities.

There are organizations that are on the front lines of poverty, of culture, and of youth advocacy and activism and they need your help. They can prove they’re effective, and they can give you good documentation for your tax purposes. However, if you have it in your foundation budget, start hiring community activists already on the
frontlines of these communities to help guide you. Don’t build a stadium or center in the community, find out what the community is doing, if they need your help and then offer. Stop starting new programs and start supporting the ones that already exist without a bunch of hoops and strings.

2. Take aggressive, proactive collaboration and outreach seriously. When I say that, I don’t simply mean reach out to those with whom you are comfortable. I mean reach out even to those with whom you are not comfortable and know nothing about. If you find you don’t understand something about a community, be proactive in learning more. Do not be satisfied until a true state of equity in opportunity and standard of living is in place. Recognize that there is no one individual, group, foundation or organization that is
going to solve the entirety of this collective problem.

In other words: stop competing with each other and stop making good organizations and good people compete for small dollars that only make small dents. Work collaboratively with other foundations, and other foundation collectives to begin to target issues with the right amount of dollars, and take seriously the search for organizations to funnel those dollars through. Groups like the PCF in the peninsula and RFC in the South Bay are models for that kind of work.

Political Activism:

Protests Edinburgh Photos 0091. Let’s continue to build on the momentum established in 2004 during the election. However, let’s do so with a more determined and defined strategy. If there is still a Bay Area LOC, and a South Bay LOC, let’s recharge them and get them involved in state and local issues. Let’s connect with the labor unions, the teacher unions, the independents, and the greens. Let’s begin to take each other’s lives more seriously than we take each
other’s politics.

2. To representatives, tell us, as a community, what you need from us to make happen what you want to make
happen. If we recognize our collective power, and even further if we recognize that working together, you (the rep) can leverage our collective power to make a difference, what specifically would you need us to do? Organize, vote, protest and rally, e-mail or phone calls? Let us form a true leadership with grassroots, universal concepts that seeks to empower and galvanize the whole in an inclusive but uncompromising manner and utilize that to make use of or expose the highest value of political process.

3. We pretty much know our issues; let’s get married to them. I don’t think that there is too much confusion here. We know that education, health care, poverty, violence in the home and the hood, prison/industrial complex, housing, the environment and other violations of basic rights to life are at the core of this discussion and that although that may take different forms in different regions, it’s essentially going to come down to similar things.
Let’s find our common bonds, and apply collective leverage. If we can’t figure it out in a week, then let’s take a month. If we can’t figure it out in a month, then let’s take a year. Let’s work on it until we get it right and recognize that any time invested in this endeavor is time well spent.

Like I said, this is the beginning but if there is anybody out there feeling this, please don’t hesitate to hit me up and let’s get this moving. My thinking on this matter has evolved over the course of years, and I’m sure it will continue to do so. However, there can be few things more important right now than productive, honest dialogue and quick, effective short, medium and long-term action.

Shamako Noble is a co-founder and current President of Hip Hop Congress and Co-Executive Director of
R.E.F.U.G.E. (Real Education for Urban Growth Enterprises). He can be reached at

The History of Bay Area Hip Hop Dance: Roboting, Strutting, Boogaloo & Funk

Medea Sirkas

Medea Sirkas

In recent weeks we’ve been doing a series of radio shows and articles that highlight certain aspects of Hip Hop History. In particular we been focusing on local (Bay Area) and West Coast History which sadly after 40 years is usually overlooked and marginalized by many writers and scholars.

Yes there are lots of stories about stellar artists like NWA, 2Pac and Ice T to name a few, but the West Coast narrative as told by many outside the West, leaves many with the false assumption that there was no dance, music or art culture that existed prior to the 1980s..

We sat down with Bay Area dance pioneers Fayzo and Boogaloo Dana of the legendary dance group Medea Sirkas and had them shed some light on some important overlooked history. They are staples in the Bay Area and have been around before the term Hip Hop was even coined. Nationally and internationally they have been featured in numerous videos for artist like Paul Wall and Usher. They have been on TV shows including Showtime at the Apollo.

In our interview they noted that they remain relevant after  40 years because they’ve learned to evolve and change with the times while still staying masters of the styles of dance they helped pioneer. They noted that popular dance styles like Roboting, Strutting and Boogalooing that are now associated with Hip Hop have been percolating in the Bay Area since the late 1960s.

Fayzo & Boogaloo Dana

Fayzo & Boogaloo Dana

The pair talked about pioneering dance figures and crew who proceeded them including the Black Messengers  and the Black Resurgence who are considered the fathers of all this.. The pair walked us through their long history which began with them being solo dancers from different cities in the early 70s. Fayzo  was part of a group called Demons of the Mind which was started in 78 by Larry McDonald.

Boogaloo Dana joined the group in 83/84..  Demons of the Mind which was a mainstay in the Bay Area for years.  Eventually Dana and Fayzo went on to form Medea Sirkas in 91 and have been going strong for over 20 years.

Fayzo who has been dancing since 1972 noted that each city within the Bay Area had their own style and approach to the various dance styles along with particular styles of dress.  San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond were the main hubs that interacted with each other in terms of dance competitions and showcases and hence became center attractions. Other cities like San Jose and East Palo Alto were also main players as well..

Boogaloo Dana noted that the early dance scene evolved to a point that one could tell what city or part of town someone was from based upon the types of hats and shoes they wore. The way people moved outside of actually dancing reflected the attitude and vibe of particular locales..

In our interview both men noted that terms like boogalooing and strutting had been around for a long time but became specifically defined for Bay Area folks to describe particular types of dance movements. Roboting dates back in the Bay Area to the mid 60s, that was made famous by Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 via their song ‘Dancing Machine‘  in the mid 70s

It had a variety of styles that varied from city to city. In other words the way a someone did the robot in Oakland was different then the way cats in Richmond did it. Just about everyone you spoke to traced back a different influence. They ranged from seeing the robotic movements of mannequins in department store window displays to seeing the robot in popular TV shows like Lost in Space.  They also detailed how group routines evolved and all the different components like dominoes and fall aways came into being..

Boogaloo Dana talked extensively about the music scene noting that deejays weren’t the big thing , it was all about the hundreds of funk bands that made things pop. The dance crews eventually became main attractions over the bands the same way rappers eventually over took the popularity of deejays.  The music that dominated the scene was funk where the emphasis was on the bass line.. Eventually as deejays became popular folks gravitated to electronic sounds that were funky. The mainstays were groups like Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra.



Fayzo who hails from the Fillmore district opened up and talked about the strange intersection that early dance scene had with the infamous People’s Temple that was ran by Jim Jones. He and Dana are doing post production on their documentary ‘Strutters for Life: The Untold Story of Medea Sirkas‘ and in it they go into painful detail about how key pioneering dance figures of groups like Black Velvet featuring the late Charles Marshall were members of the People’s Temple and were among the 900 people who perished in Guyana after drinking the poisoned Kool Aid.

Fayzo was a member of the People’s Temple and was scheduled to go on that ill-fated trip, but wound up not going. He lost a number of family members and for a very long time never spoke on the tragedy. Dancing offered an escape from the harsh reality he and others endured with respect to the People’s Temple massacre..

Boogaloo Dana

Boogaloo Dana

During our conversation Fayzo and Boogaloo Dana spoke about the ethnic make up of the dancers at that time. They both noted the scene was predominantly Black and eventually evolved to include other races.. The crossover so to speak happened during the late 70s early 80s as media attention was given to the Hip Hop scene emerging from New York City. Both Fayzo and Dana noted that throughout the 70s many were unaware of breakdancing/ bboying or what was going on in New York. Nor did they know how big that scene had become.  They talked about how New York’s Hip Hop scene integrated into what was going on in the Bay..

We conclude our interview by talking about pioneering women in the Bay Area’s early dance scene  and the accomplishments of other dance crews including Richmond’s Housing authority who would go on to be main choreographers for Michael Jackson.

Click the link below to download or Listen to the HKR Intv

Click the link below to download or Listen to the HKR Intv

Here’s pt1 of our Hard Knock Radio Interview

Here’s pt 2 of our Hard Knock Radio Interview

Important Follow Story About Bay Area Rapper Saafir & His Health Challenges

Since we ran that story from Shock G about Saafir and his health challenges there has been massive response from all over world. It was one hardly anyone anticipated…Its been much appreciated..Many folks had lots of questions, concerns .. Many had lots of advice and wanted to help..  Below is the first of two stories that are important  follow ups courtesy of  Bay Area scribe Garrett Caples of the SF Bay Guardian. He reached out and did two stories.. One is called  ‘Injured Player in the Game’ the other is called Reality Rap which is an exclusive Q&A which you can access here… Big salute to Garret for rocking this..-Davey D-

Injured Player in the Game

Saafir Photo: Garret Caples

Saafir  Photo: Garret Caples

MUSIC “I have a new respect for people with disabilities,” Bay Area legend Saafir, the Saucee Nomad says, sitting in his wheelchair in the East Oakland living room where he’s temporarily crashing. “I was aware of their plight, but I never imagined how much strength it took mentally to deal with every day, day to day. It’s a cold strength.”

The extent of Saafir’s disability, revealed last month by Digital Underground leader Shock-G on Davey-D’s Hip Hop Corner blog, took the rap world by surprise. I’d heard Saafir was in rough shape, following a 2005 operation to remove a cancerous tumor from his spine, though the release of his unexpectedly religious album Good Game (ABB, ’06) seemed to signify a recovery. Yet a numbness that began in his toes in ’08 gradually crept up his legs to where he can no longer walk or even stand. His inability to work coupled with his medical expenses has wiped him out financially.

Tweeted by Questlove to his two million Twitter followers, Shock’s account went mini-viral over social media and hip-hop blogs. Wanting to interview Saafir, I called Shock, who gave his number but warned, “He’s a little heated ’cause I didn’t clear that story with him and I got some details wrong. But he wouldna let me post it. He’s a soldier.” And it takes some convincing before Saafir grudgingly agrees to an interview, though by the time we meet, his anger at the unwanted attention has largely dissipated into relief and acceptance. He’s allowed Chris Clay, a protégé of Shock’s who’s also a web designer, to set up a site,, where fans can make Paypal donations. He’s even plugged the site in a phone interview on Sway and King Tech’s Wake Up Show (Shady 45 radio).

That the Wake Up Show was the first national music media to reach out to Saafir is unsurprising; the epic battle between Saafir of Hobo Junction and Casual of Hieroglyphics that the show hosted in 1994 when it was on KMEL was arguably step one in a series that leads to Sway interviewing Obama. A high-water mark of Bay Area rap history, Hobo v. Hiero occurred the same year Saafir released his debut, Boxcar Sessions, on Quincy Jones’s Warner imprint, Qwest. Saafir scored the $250,000 deal on the strength of his performances on Digital Underground’s Body-Hat Syndrome (TommyBoy, 1993) and in the film Menace II Society (1993), but even those didn’t quite prepare the world for his surrealistic syntax stretching on Boxcar or the tripped out beats of Hobo producers JZ and J.Groove.

While it became an enduring underground classic, Boxcar dropped at a time when the golden age was giving way to the bland consumer-speak that still dominates rap. After another album, The Hit List (1999), Saafir left Warner only to sign with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath as a member of Golden State Warriors, a supergroup with Xzibit and Ras Kass. But the project ultimately didn’t yield an album.

“We didn’t get held up by Aftermath; we had internal issues,” Saafir says. “We did a lot of high-profile records but we could never push past that level.” Following the group’s demise and his cancer operation, Saafir had just relaunched as an independent artist when he began to experience the first symptoms leading to his present condition.

The whole persona of a rapper is about being extraordinary, but in many ways Saafir’s current situation is typically American, Obamacare notwithstanding. Like any rapper who signs to a major in his 20s, he bought “some dumb shit” with his Warner money and has regrets, but he always set aside money from his deals; he has kids he’s putting through high school, among other expenses. But even with some insurance, he’s lost everything, and it’s impossible for him to make money the way a rapper does— always hopping flights to the next show — when it takes him two hours to get dressed.

After last year’s failed quest for laser surgery, described in Shock’s post, Saafir’s again working with his original doctor to determine the cause of his loss of leg function. If it can be restored, he estimates he’s looking at over $80,000 of uncovered expenses for surgery and rehab. If it can’t, he needs to get himself into an accessible assisted living situation, because couchsurfing in his condition is untenable.

But wheelchair or no, Saafir plans to continue rap.

“I’m a boss but I’m an injured player in the game,” he says. “I’m a very strong injured player in the game and I can still make plays from my position.”

Below is a link to an exclusive Q&A with Saafir via Garret Caples of the SF Bay Guardian…

New Hip Hop Song feat AshEl & Sticman of dead prez Smashes the Food Industry

Junk Food Food FightI love when Hip Hop artists do songs like this.. The beat is hitting. The lyrics are on point.. The concept is scorching.. What a great way to talk about the evils of the Food Industry.. This song called ‘Food Fight‘ comes courtesy of Oakland artist AshEl “Seasunz” Eldridge of Earth Amplified and Sticman of dead prez/RBG..I like how these cats flip the script and make u wanna put down any and all junk food with this song.. There hasn’t been a food justice song this good since ‘Beef’ by KRS-One.. and dead prez‘s Be healthy

Maybe our good friends at the NAACP who went out and supported Monsanto when Prop 37 came up on the Cali ballot which would require food companies to label all GMO foods, should see this video.. Mad Props

KRS-One Beef

Dead prez Be healthy

From Hardcore Journalist to Dope Emcee-Our Intv w/ SF’s Finest-Rocky Rivera

A while back we sat down and chopped it up with one of the Bay Area’s finest emcees.. We’re talking about Ms Rocky Rivera..For a long time she was known around the town as a skilled journalist and activist who hailed from SF State…She got so good at her craft that she wound being featured in an MTV Reality series called I’m From Rolling Stone‘ .  Here, she won a position as a contributing editor. She is also one of the few if not only journalist to interview all members of the Wu-Tang Clan at the same time.. Her keen knowledge of Hip Hop and her ability to flip the script lead to her winning.

This is important to note, because Rocky decided that she wanted to do more than write, hence she picked up a mic and brought that same scrappy attitude along with her.. The end result has been critical acclaim. In this interview  we cover everything from Rocky’s transition from journalist to emcee, what went into making her latest album, Pop Killer Mixtape, Her outlook on Bay Area Hip Hop  and a whole lot more.. Enjoy

Press the link below to listen to our HKR intv w/ Rocky Rivera


An Interview w/ Ise Lyfe on Business, Haters and Leadership

This is a great article interview  w/ Bay Area artist Ise Lyfe.. He offers some keen insight in the arenas of leadership, starting your own business and the complex relationship those who are in the ‘struggle’ have with making money.. It initially appeared in Nor Cal Magazine..

On starting your own business:  

The business you start should be an organized expression of your spiritual self. Essentially this means that you should start a business that provides you with an opportunity to make money being who you naturally are. If you are working for someone else before or while you’re starting your own business don’t resent that. Don’t get too comfortable there either… But while you’re there my advice is to seek out and focus on interacting with experiences and people that are involved with things that trigger your passion.

When I started LP my vision was to create a company that made education provocative. I also wanted to be a part of producing events and products that were hella fresh and good for people; where entertainment and progressiveness went hand and hand. I’m living that now, but it didn’t begin that way. I’ll even admit that the first couple years I didn’t even know if it was possible.

The key was finding professional confidence in the way that people were reacting to me. You see, if your business is TRULY an organized expression of your spiritual self, then if people connect with you they’ll probably connect with your business or product! People often misstep when they pose or bend in attempt to survive in the market. This causes them to be looked over by most and ignored. When you’re posing, lying, or over compromising you’re not being yourself. Your self is the foundation of your business. Foundations are made of concrete and steel, not plastic and fluff. Trust that you’re great and step out with that.

On Getting Money:

It’s rarely discussed, but people who are considered “conscious” or socially aware have a real complex about making money, keeping money, and being financially astute. Somehow “struggling” is viewed as a badge of honor. But if you say things like “I’m committed to the struggle” and you struggle your whole life- then you have won in your task to stay struggling and should be happy with that.

I am of the knowledge that some struggle is divine and inherit to the beauty of life. However, the centuries of struggling that our people have gone through are nothing to marry or commit to. I believe that our commitment should be to always be one with and an advocate for our own personal salvation and the salvation of all people struggling. But if I was on a stretcher coughing (struggling) and the doctor walked in coughing over me (struggling) I wouldn’t think “Yo, that’s what’s up, we in this cough thing together!” No… I’d be like damn can we get somebody in here for both of us!? This fool has germs! 🙂

I make a lot of money. Especially compared to most educators and independent artist out there. In fact, many independent artist are also educators either in the classroom or in after school programs as either a passion or just a way to make ends meet while they’re waiting for their careers to take off. Sadly, most of those folks live financially challenged, which is a tragedy because they offer so much goodness. Not only am I an independent artist and an educator, but my work is deemed “conscious.” This makes my particular status of wealth really rarefied air because in general if you show me a “conscious” artist I’ll show you a broke person!  However, there are a lot of folks out there with a powerful, conscious, and necessary message that are making money and doing what they love at the same time. Not only that, what they love to do is good for other people too! But they do not speak on and will even deny their wealth. Part of it comes from humility, but I believe much of the secrecy is due to guilt and or how misinformed bozo’s in the community will put them down or condemn them for not being broke.

The biggest lie artist are told is that you can’t (or shouldn’t) make real music and be heard and successfull. Hell (heaven), I was sitting in my office with six staff members, fresh off a tropical vacation, with two cars parked underneath me in the garage (all financed by my “conscious” work) and a music industry cat looked me dead in my face and said, “Ise, nobody wants to hear that conscious s*^%…” I would argue that nobody wants to hear that dumb s*^%, but its all that gets played… Imagine if a mother stopped up all the water faucets in her home, never exposed her children to water, and only gave them double chocolate milkshakes to drink. Then, as her kids got fatter and more out of shape the mother says, “What can I say, they ain’t with that water s*^%…”

Here’s some math:

Jill Scott- 4,192,900 albums sold
Erykah Badu– 5,018,000 albums sold
Lupe Fiasco– 3,500,000 albums sold
India Arie– 10 million albums sold worldwide
Common– 2,727,000 albums sold

Clearly, some people do wanna hear a different message…

So what I’m saying is if you are an Artist or anybody striving to live your dream you need to shamelessly ball on these fools. If you are a good person with morals and ethics your good fortune and abundance will naturally be a positive thing for your community. It will empower you to employ people, donate to youth, support family members, invest in projects you believe in, support organizations, and inspire others. These are all things that I’ve experienced first hand and they are the cornerstones of bliss in my life.

On haters:

Haters baffle the player because we cannot at all relate to their existence. By player I mean people who are actually manifesting and progressing in life. Haters normally are just bothered by people who remind them of what they’re not doing. I use to try to win the hearts of haters by trying to reason with them. I realized though that it is impossible to reason with a hater because reason takes rational thought and honesty. Haters are filled with no rational thought and won’t honestly confront how wack they’re being, so there is no point in even approaching the conversation.

An adviser once told me, “Ise, when you argue with a fool after awhile it gets hard to tell who the fool is.” So keep it pushing and be grateful to be one of the few players in this world of puzzled ass lames. If you’re a hater and you’re reading this I send you my love and encourage you to tap into your inner light and believe in yourself. You can do anything!

On being in leadership:

First off, as children most of us are told that we are “The leaders of tomorrow!” Ehh, I disagree. Everyone is not a leader. That may sound harsh but it is reality. However, many people want to be in leadership roles because we live in a society that has a verticle view of roles and power that puts leadership “on top” and everyone else “beneath.” So naturally many people desire to be viewed as leadership but do not desire or have the ability to carry out the responsibility that comes with the role.

I’ve visited parts of the world where all roles are placed in a circle, not stacked on top of each other. So leadership roles are right beside the other EQUALLY important roles that make up systems. The first key to being a great leader is understanding that your role as leader does not mean you are higher up, superior, or better than the other people you are working with. This thinking contradicts terms that we normally hear like “This is my superior in the company”, “Upper management”, and ”Lower tier.”

Being the leader of a company, project, or family simply means that your job is to have a fully encompassed understanding of everything that is happening while bringing out and supporting the best attributes of the people and elements that you are working with.

To survive as a leader you have to keep your emotions in check at all times. Leadership responsibilities will stir up all sorts of emotions in you!
Some are good: Passion, joy, happiness, satisfaction…
Others not so good: Rage, fear, disappointment, confusion…

Thing is, any emotion whether its one that feels good or one that feels bad can blur your vision and affect your judgment as a leader. Make moves and decisions based on what’s best for the goal, not based on what makes you feel best.

This part is important:

Many people who once loved and admired you, promised you loyalty, and who owe a lot of their success to you will at some point resent you, not be impressed by you, fear you, and may even betray you. This is not your concern in relation to leadership, but because it will affect you it is important to be prepared for this. Don’t take it personally (though it will hurt like shit at times), it comes with the territory.

People question and curse God, so of course they’ll question and curse something much smaller in comparison like an earthly leader. My aim is to make sure that everyone that comes into contact with me as a leader leaves more informed, experienced, and better equipped to fulfill their purpose than they were when they arrived. No one has ever left my company and this not be the case. Doesn’t matter if they feel great about me or have some different feeling, the fact is that they are better now because of being in contact with me and that is what matters (whether they’ll admit that or not).

For example there’s a person who was fired from my company that went on a pointless tirade of trying to slander me and our company. They even stole out of our office and tried to hold our property at ransom for a payout. We all just shrugged and laughed and kept pushing forward. But the real reward (beyond the good laugh) is that I know I impacted this person’s life and put them on a path they NEVER would have been on if they had never worked for me. Before being at LP they were doing menial cubicle drone work and were  miserable. They were inspired while at my company to start their own company and even named it after a nickname I gave them. So now, even when they’re off speaking ill of me, every time they say their company’s name they have to think of me! If they change the name because it reminds them of me they’ll have to think of me as the reason they changed the name.

 So you see, leadership is not about popularity or being loved- even though it is sublime to have that experience. Your job is to support people in maximizing their human potential. Its good for business and good for the world.


Ise Lyfe (Oakland, CA) is an HBO Def Poet, Educator, and Executive Director of Lyfe Productives- a social marketing and education firm focused on product development. 



1. Jay-Z’s “Decoded” is a fresh textbook. It reveals and reminds us all that Hip-Hop like all other art comes from a foundation of humanity and struggle.

2. It is hard to see it in the shot but this book is a book of poetry by Marcus Garvey. It reveals Garvey as an Artist and true user of heart.

3. This book “Freedom” is a picture history of Black people in the United States from slavery to present day. It is impressively thorough and touching.

4. “The Missing Piece Meets the BIG O” is the best book I’ve ever read on relationships. I want to read it to someone.

5. As an emcee it was a trip to record an audio book. The 1st time I saw it on a shelf at Barnes & Noble was surreal. I never would’ve imagined that. Lesson learned…

6. This is a copy of my 1st book, “Pistols & Prayers. I dedicated it to my mother, which was a great feeling. I hope it makes up for all the janky hand made birthday cards when I was a kid!

7. Prince Cometh

8. I’ve had this rhyme bad since I was 17. It hasn’t even been on purpose that I’ve kept it. It just always resurfaces wherever I’m at. Thought i’d add it to the heap…

9. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is a thorough indictment of the exploitation of Africa for western world benefit. Out of all the books in my home this is probably the most significant one I have in relation to understanding the deliberate attack on Africa.

10. The Husia is love.

11. Solid gold from Mali…

12. This is the 1st copy printed of my 1st albim, “spreadtheWORD”. I remember how juiced I was to open it up and play it for the first time. Having this in my house reminds me to not get jaded and stay enthusiastic about everything.

13. I think the reconciliation of Malcolm and Martin is so deep on so many levels. Forget whatever beef you might have in the streets, these brothers were beefing over the destiny of our people and found a way to move through their differences and set eyes on a common goal.

14. Every morning when I rise I sit up and check in spiritually. The first thing you do in the morning should not be checking Twitter on your cellphone! Anyway, sage always centers me and genuinely holds power.

15. I never walk around with this much money on me, nor do I keep it in my house. In the hood you learn to keep hella g’s on you to floss but as you mature you learn that that isn’t what’s up. Money isn’t power, it is a manifestation of power. For intensive purposes though I pulled several (several) thousands in cash out to authenticate what I knew would be in the article. Then it was right back to the bank cousin…

16. 789= Balance Infinite Completion

17. I keep it modest on the designer/name brand tip- but I’ll admit that I’m weak for Ray-Bans. I WON’T ADMIT HOW MANY i’VE BOUGHT…

18. One day

19. This is Steve Jobs. I read his biography four times. Homie was flawed as we all are, but he never relented in building what he saw in his mind and making it a reality. I’ve studied and I’m learning from his successes AND mistakes.

20. WEAR condoms.

Peace, this has been fun.

San Francisco is Home to Popping, Low Riders & the Filmore Strut

I’m loving the way the Bay Area gets down on the dance tip..With so much of the music corporatized and dumbed down its refreshing to see true Hip Hop expression manifest itself through the dancing..

Peep out how these folks Paulie Rhythms & Boy Wonder of Soul Sector get down on the strutting and popping tip in the Mission one afternoon with Mikey Disko & Donnie Strutt in a low rider…Shout out to my former TA at SF State and local emcee Mandeep Sethi for putting this video together and capturing the magic.