“I love words, words, word…words, words” *Jay Z voice*-
A Brown Sugar interview with author Benjamin Daniel
I love words. I always have. So when I encountered author Benjamin Daniel and his new book, These Long-Tailed Words: Verse and Prose for Everyone I was enraptured. New Jersey-born author Benjamin Daniel has quite a way with words. His first published work explores love and loss, education, music and a range of topics in between. Daniel is a master of prose as well as poetry, making the book a treat for lovers of both forms. Learn more about the captivating Mr. Benjamin Daniel in our Brown Sugar Interview.
BROWN SUGAR – So Benjamin Daniel, when did you fall in love with Hip Hop?
BENJAMIN DANIEL – Wow! Somewhere between Boogie Down Productions’ “South Bronx” and MC Shan’s “The Bridge”, so the mid-80s. I had to tape the shows and grew adept at those pauses right before the DJ broke in. It was exciting, the varieties of rap you could enjoy. My FIRST CD was Redman’s “Whut? Thee Album”. I was a MAJOR fan of East Coast-style rap from the beginning.
BROWN SUGAR – Would you say hip hop or music in general has an impact on your writing?
BENJAMIN DANIEL – There are rhythms, ebbs and flows to any writing. I’m cognizant of how words might look and sound in another reader’s mouth. Rap, particularly the lyrically and sonically dense variety, also concerns itself with the “look” and “feel” of a verse or verses.
The best music and writing gives the listener and reader a framework. Writing and rap concern themselves with structure. There are rules, conventions and then, maybe, new and exciting forms like a Frank Lloyd Wright piece or a Dadaist painting or poem.
BROWN SUGAR – What, if any, is the connection with modern-day hip hop and poetry?
BENJAMIN DANIEL – Hip hop, as with all popular music, has become a largely commercial exercise, the province of usurers and speculators. I come not to bury hip hop, however, but to praise a goodly portion of it. The ubiquity of the Web and the portability of digital files have made it universal.
Poetry is going away from us. It isn’t taught except in AP classes or colleges and universities. Popular culture has little use for the rigors of Petrarchan or Shakespearean sonnets, of puzzling the differences between free and blank verse, of struggling with Eliot’s The Waste Land.
BROWN SUGAR – Tell us about your love for long tailed words and language as a whole.
BENJAMIN DANIEL – Language is our cultural, ethic and ideological currency, the all-powerful lens through which we conceive and interact with everything in existence. There’s wonder there, the ability to construct a world whole cloth from nothing more than thoughts put to paper. When I discovered I had any writing ability it was my Paul to Damascus moment. The malleability of language is everything, its best and worst thing. It’s exciting.
BROWN SUGAR-One of my favorite pieces in the book is the poem Taken. When writing something so full of detail and description did you lean on memories, imagination, or something else?
BENJAMIN DANIEL- Yes. All of that. Details invite the reader in, make them a stakeholder in the story’s outcome. It lends veracity to the piece. A trip to and through a place or places like that, the ideas about them, the point at the end of the road where you’ve made your way home? They each inform the work.
BROWN SUGAR – I know you have many language pet peeves. What do you think has led to many of the errors we see daily in social media? Is it a problem simply because it breaks a rule or is it there a larger issue here?
BENJAMIN DANIEL – Schools don’t teach grammar, sentence structure and style. They’re teaching students to pass tests, not to think and reason critically. News and media organizations aren’t fact-checking. The pace of the news business is such that those kinds of tasks increase lag time between writing and delivery to market. Students aren’t being taught to engage with a text as a work to be analyzed, but as a series of statements from which to answer multiple choice questions.
BROWN SUGAR – While reading your book These Long Tailed Words: Verse and Prose for Everyone, I was struck by your ability to write both prose and poetry well. Do you have a preference?
BENJAMIN DANIEL – Poetry is the sandbox in which I can most easily play with structure and form. It can simultaneously allow for convention while offering multiple opportunities to flout it, though the audience for poetry has shrunk considerably. Prose is where my bread is buttered. Short stories, speeches, news releases, long-form stories, that’s my day job. It’s like trying to choose a favorite child.
BROWN SUGAR – What place do prose and essays have in the current literary landscape?
BENJAMIN DANIEL – There’s always places for stories that are told well, for issues-based writing. Junot Diaz does novels and short stories. The New York Times and The New Republic are publishing insightful, biting commentary on the issues we face. These sell. And well.
BROWN SUGAR -What can readers expect from Benjamin Daniel the writer in the future?
BENJAMIN DANIEL - There’s a novel in production now, A Sidewalk Story, scheduled for release in November. Still getting those freelance gigs (though I could always use more, people!) and working in education.
BROWN SUGAR-I know you’re a comic book fan. Any chance of some sort of a true crime comic hybrid type novel from you?
BENJAMIN DANIEL – That’s gonna be the third book. Thanks for the idea and inspiration. Stay tuned to writerightpubs.com and @writerightpubs on Twitter for news and updates.
Benjamin Daniel is a writer and editor from New Jersey. His publishing company publishes his and other authors’ works. More at writerightpubs.com
Brown Sugar is written by Angie C. writer, theatre artist, vocalist and educator. Find her on twitter @abitofbrownsuga and email for interview requests, topic submissions and event coverage- email@example.com
Is there room for Christianity inside the ciphers of mainstream Hip Hop?
Disclaimers* See Bottom
Recently I’ve seen lots of posts by music lovers from the gospel side of the world expressing great joy at seeing gospel artists on reality shows, winning mainstream awards, and being given a “platform” on regular TV. I usually look over these tweets with some guarded cynicism and a crucial side eye. I mean for much of my youth there was all this talk of being set apart, not being of (this/the) world. So here I am now aged 30 years and far removed from the gospel music paradigm. I found myself a bit confused at this new “hey include us’ mentality. So I decided to find out what was going on. At the center of the recent fervor seemed to be a rapper named LeCrae out of Atlanta.
LeCrae’s name was familiar to me, I encountered some of his early stuff and it didn’t suck but I didn’t follow his career. So fast forward to about 2011/2012 and the release of his “Church Clothes” mixtape and his name is everywhere. The Atlanta emcee was everywhere, not just on gospel industry folks’ timelines but everywhere including the Grammys, BET ciphers and the like. These appearances were usually followed by gospel folks’ excitement and “we’re finally being included” type tweets. Cue my side eye and Dora blink. So earlier this week I saw all this talk hit a fever pitch because LeCrae was going to be performing on 106&Park. I said well sheesh let me listen to this young man and see what he has to say and what his performance looked like. I was pleasantly surprised.
I wondered if he was doing the over preaching, guilt inflicting/shaming technique that many gospel rappers seemed to employ. He wasn’t! His song ‘Round of Applause” featuring a verse from B.O.B is actually just what mainstream hip hop needs, BALANCE. The song is about overcoming the odds and making it “out”. It’s about how for him that meant acknowledging and relying on God. I released a sigh of relief. Finally someone found an approach that just might be welcome in hip hop. What’s his formula? He’s actually a hip hop head, like he listened to actually hip hop music before becoming a Christian. He also considers himself an emcee who also happens to be a Christian. This works. In simple terms he has the mainstream platform because he’s relatable and the dude can rhyme.
For far too long I think that was a missing element from many wanna be Christian hip hop artists. They approached rap from outside the culture and they really weren’t good lyrically. What they lacked in skill they made up for with heavily over preached lyrics about super high expectations and sinning. And really those kinds of songs had no place in Hip Hop. So to answer the title question if an emcee chooses to rhyme about his life from an honest place and that place includes a love for God and family alongside well placed beats and flow, then YES there is a place in mainstream hip hop for them. If that’s not what you’re doing as a Christian rapper then I suggest you just put down the mic.
Positivity and skill will always win in my book. Congrats to Lecrae! I think for so long Christian artists got it wrong it how they attempted to “reach” the masses. Many acted as if they were excluded from the “mainstrea?m” b/c they loved God. Nah a lot of you rappers were excluded because you lacked actual hip hop knowledge and skill. You can’t approach hip hop as an outsider. LeCrae’s interview on 106&Park really says a lot of how I feel about music in general. Make good positive music. What’s a genre? At the end of the day who really cares?
Brown Sugar is written by Angie C for Fresh Radio. Twitter @abitofbrownsuga
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for interview request, topic suggestions, and event covereage. Angie C is located in Charlotte, North Carolina
LeCrae is a Reach Records artist appearing this summer on the Rock The Bells tour (yep!) http://reachrecords.com/artists/show/lecrae
*Disclaimers- 1st- I owned numerous Cross Movement albums in the 90s ( google it lol); however I haven’t owned or listed to any “gospel hip hop” since like high school. And that’s largely because, well, they suck. Well apparently some don’t suck anymore, so let’s explore. 2nd- I dislike music based on the musical merit regardless of genre; to me good music is good music period. There’s no “oh it’s gospel pass, it’s ok for it to suck a little”
I don’t cover a lot (well any lol) of “local hip hop” on this column but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any worth covering. To me talent is talent no matter where it originates. Talent is definitely the reason we’re featuring Virginia emcee Derek 32Zero. This emcee combines substance with style and energy in his brand of hip hop. I vividly remember the 1st time I saw him perform live years ago. Well he’s still going strong and has new music on deck for fans old and new. Check out our conversation.
BROWN SUGAR- When did you fall in love with hip hop?
DEREK 32ZERO- When I met Sanaa Lathan (laughs) no, seriously, I would say specifically Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Half Steppin” that was the first song I knew front to back. I actually did the write down, pause the tape method, and kept reviewing it like a study guide till I got it right.
BROWN SUGAR- Ha! Dope lol
BROWN SUGAR -How long have you been an emcee?
DEREK 32ZERO- Since I graduated college, the University of South Carolina, go gamecocks! Ha. I had been rhyming, writing and performing since I was in middle school. But that was just rapping. I became an emcee in college though for sure. It was a definitive moment in my life, where I found my voice. It was a moment when I was also finding myself on a personal and spiritual level. I truly began to understand what it took to be an emcee from battling, going off the top, freestyling, recording, songwriting, and performing.
BROWN SUGAR- Describe what inspires you & your creative process music wise.
DEREK 32ZERO- Life inspires me. My music is a direct reflection of my thoughts and emotions, what I’m going through in everyday life. What I observe, my family, children, job situation, my faith. The creative process is very therapeutic for me. Sounds corny (laugh) but once I have an opportunity and a way to “get it out” it feels so good. Check the “feels good” record on starchpress.com (laughs). And hopefully, the honesty of my music will inspire others as well. Musicians, artists, movies, books, experiences all influence how and what I do. I feel as though I have a responsibility to be as accurate and skillful as possible. Everybody can’t create, but most of us share the same experiences, wants, and/or desires. I strive to be that voice for the people.
BROWN SUGAR- Is there an artist that you would still like to work with?
DEREK 32ZERO- Hip hop artists: Andre 3000, Black Thought, Ghostface, Sean Price, Mos Def (Yasiin Bey), Cee-Lo –the emcee. Those are off the top of my head.
Other genres: Jay Kay from Jamiroqui, Lenny Kravitz, Anthony Hamilton, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Mary Mary, Stevie Wonder again just off of my head the top. The great and amazing and crazy part about my experience, however is that I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of my favorite artists already like Bilal, Pos from De La Soul, Lady Mecca (ladybug from Digable Planets,) Skillz, Nottz of course, Jon Bibbs, Hezekiah, Truck North, House Shoes, Saskwatch: (my favorite emcee and fellow collaborator and Ugly People crew member), Dwele, Dj Bee, Dj Lowkey. Not bad for at-risk youth counselor. (Laughs)
BROWN SUGAR- That’s quite a list! Lots of people are trying to get to where you are. What are your 3 tips to an aspiring emcee?
BROWN SUGAR- Word! And um yeah interesting practice places lol
BROWN SUGAR-Any embarrassing stage stories that you wanna share?
DEREK 32ZERO- At 13 I was part of a fake BBD group. We performed at Norfolk State University homecoming and got pennies thrown at us! (Laughs) I’ve forgotten lyrics before, stepped on and knocked chords out while performing, but that’s part of the “growing pains.” The key is that with so much preparation, confidence and fearlessness I have for my craft, things happen and really make little difference. One time my group, The U.G.L.Y. people performed at an open mic venue and the mics, lights, and sound went out during the performance. But we didn’t stop, we didn’t flinch, we practiced and practiced and were unflappable to the point that when we finished people were walking up to us asking “how did ya”ll plan that? That was dope!” I’m thinking, how did we plan for everything to go out? (laughs) That just shows that resilience and belief we had and I still have to fight and spread this message. And I’m only human, so things will happen. I can’t really think of anything that would embarrass me now.
BROWN SUGAR -What’s the state of hip hop in VA & in Hip Hop as a whole?
DEREK 32ZERO -There are skilled emcees. There are very unpolished /wack emcees. There are average emcees that are popular due to backing and funding. There are a zillion and one rappers, studios and producers alike. There’s always hope, but the ability to make music is so much easier now. All u need is a computer and some paper, cash, dinero, for a computer program and you’re good. Hip-hop has always been a reflection of black culture and what is accepted. Right now, being a dumb nigga is cool. And being a dumb nigga that really can’t rhyme is even cooler. So be it. My job right now is to continue doing what I do and teach my children. Hopefully I can reach someone else’s family too in the process.
BROWN SUGAR -What can fans except from you in 2013?
DEREK 32ZERO -Hopefully this “I’m Not Bargaining” project with Nottz will come out. I’m also working on a project with Jon Bibbs under the greatest band name ever, “The Fanny Pack All-Stars.” I’m also working on a new solo project entitled, “Sunny Side of the Street.” Working on a project with a French producer as well. Just trying to build the brand. So I’m still continuing to write and work and hopefully provide people with something that they can listen to and keep for a lifetime, not just for the moment. Oh yeah, and I’m coaching my son and daughter’s soccer and basketball teams and I’m looking forward to kicking butt! (laughs) And staying married to my beautiful wife, and not producing any more babies. (laughs). That’s it. The end. Thank you for your time and continued efforts to support the arts. Peace.
Find Derek 32Zero on twitter @derek32Zero & FB Derek 32Zero
Listen to “Lift Em Up” featuring Talib Kweli HERE
Listen to “Feels Good” HERE
Brown Sugar is written by Angie C @abitofbrownsuga on Twitter.
Email abitofbrownsugar@gmail for event coverage, interview requests, as well as story ideas.