Navigating industry politics isn’t easy for anyone. There’s definitely a degree of added difficulty when you’re not content to let crooked labels rob you blind solely for the sake of having an album on the shelves. Enter Hezekiah, the Delaware-born, Philly bred MC, producer and songwriter, who has seen his previous two efforts derailed by factors out of the artist’s control. Whether it was Soulspazm losing distribution a month after his debut album Hurry Up and Wait dropped in 2005 or Rawkus going bankrupt in 2007 shortly after his sophomore album I Predict a Riot was released, Hezekiah’s talents have been thwarted by industry bullshit.
Despite the stars never seeming to be aligned for Hezekiah to release a project with minimal problems, he never stopped. Three years after I Predict a Riot, Hezekiah is back with Soulspazm for his third album Conscious Porn, an album concept that was born when Hezekiah mixed a rally for Mumia Abu Jamal with a strip club visit. After producing for top-notch artists like Bilal and Bahamadia, among many others, Hezekiah assembled a star-studded list of artists to help him bring Conscious Porn, dropping October 12, to the masses, from Talib Kweli and Peedi Crakk to Raheem Devaughn.
Hezekiah sat down with HipHopGame to talk about Conscious Porn, being blackballed in the industry, how to avoid the pitfalls when dealing with labels and much more in this engaging and insightful interview.
Your third album Conscious Porn is dropping in October. I know you’re going to get this question a lot, but where did the album title come from?
Honestly, the title came from me going to a Mumia rally in Philly. I went to a Mumia rally years ago and then after the Mumia rally, my dude asked me what I wanted to do next and my reply was I wanted to go to a strip club. So we went to a strip club after the Mumia rally!
I named my album Conscious Porn because my last album came out in 2007 and I was doing a lot of interviews and someone was saying they didn’t get me. They thought I was a conscious rapper, which I am, but I’m a human being. I can be conscious. I can say I’m about uplifting people and teaching the children, but if I say, “Shake that ass,” it’s me. They would get on me and I would tell them I didn’t label myself. I didn’t label myself “conscious.” It’s like ‘Pac was. He had “I Get Around” and “Keep Ya Head Up.” People called him a hypocrite but he was just human. I know Beanie Sigel. I know Freeway. They do the same thing. They say some G-ass shit and then they’ll flip around and make a political song or a song about feeding their kids and nobody calls them hypocrites. So that’s where the “Conscious” in the title comes from. In a lot of interviews, they were killing me, man.
Would you rather not have the “conscious” label?
Nah, it’s cool. It’s cool. I don’t mind being called “conscious.” I don’t mind that. But it’s too much to live up to because they put you on this pedestal to where I can’t flip out on nobody. De La Soul went around back in the day punching people. People had them confused. They were wild-ass ‘hood cats.
You might have to punch someone here just to prove you’re serious.
That’s my reputation in the industry! That is my reputation in the industry. All these years, I’ve had to knock a couple people out. (laughs)
That doesn’t help you when you’re looking for an album deal, does it?
Nah, it actually doesn’t. I actually punched a couple of the wrong people and it did hurt me. But luckily I survived. I’m a producer and a songwriter so I would always be in the studio. I did get blackballed a lot. I ain’t going to say no names, but I punched a lot of people. Luckily I punched a couple people that where some friends of mine who were big in the industry, that was their enemy too and they were high-fiving me. Those people were helping me out. They were telling me I was going to get blackballed but they would put me on tour with them. Those people helped me out. I pretty much got blackballed and that’s why you didn’t see me on tour and you didn’t see me on a lot of…I should name names since this is considered my last album. I should name names. (laughs)
There’s no better place to do that than HipHopGame.
Let me think about that. I might be delusional right now. I’m waking up. Yeah.
Is this really your last album?
This is my last project I’m recording. I have another project already recorded after Conscious Porn. I already have an album done. The features are already recorded, like Phonte from Little Brother. That album is already done. I also have other projects. They’re already finished. This is my last album that I recorded.
What are you going to do next?
I’m just going to do what I was supposed to do in the beginning. I never was supposed to be an artist. I was always supposed to be a producer. A background cat – that’s what I started off being with The Roots. That’s what I started off as. You know, I always rapped and everything. Soulspazm, my boy from Soulspazm, he works for The Roots too. He worked the desk back in the day and I would work at The Roots’ studio. I would always be working on my own stuff and when he started the Soulspazm label, he wanted to put my album out. I just had a bunch of songs and that’s where my first album, Hurry Up and Wait, came from.
You went with Rawkus for your second album I Predict a Riot and now you’re back at Soulspazm for the third. Why go back?
Rawkus, that was just a bad experience. That was a bad experience. I just dealt with so much shiestiness in this industry. Every corner I turned around was shiestiness. One thing with Soulspazm was I already had rapport with them and we were friends. It was easy. I made this album when I was away from the stress and away from the industry. I took a three year hiatus and when I started shopping the album, I took it to Stones Throw and people were interested but everything seemed shiesty from everybody from BBE to Stones Throw and everybody. I’m not holding my tongue and yo, those contracts were wack. I’m not an 18 year-old kid. I’m an experienced man and my best friend is my lawyer. I got a lawyer! You can’t beat me! My lawyer, my best friend, is reading my contracts and we’re like, Nah, nah, nah.
Soulspazm is the only label I have a relationship with that I actually trust. This led me to the Soulspazm deal. That made it easy. I do not want no shiestiness or shiesty people. You either do business with me right or you get punched in the mouth. You can't beat me. Rawkus couldn’t beat me. They thought they had me but a couple weeks later, after they shiested me, I got my album back thanks to my lawyer. They took their iTunes down and I put mine up. I own that album because my lawyer got my shit. You can not beat me and this is the taste that I throw in people’s mouths in the industry and that’s why they blackball me. You can blackball me but you ain’t gonna call me no fool because I’m going to win regardless. I’m not just a rapper. I’m fine. I got many avenues. You can shut the rapper money down but I’m a producer. You want to shut that down? I’m a songwriter. I got credits on Bilal’s next album. I can do stuff with Jill Scott. I’m in the soul lane. You can’t shut me down. And I’m writing screenplays right now. You can’t shut me down.
What are some of the shiesty clauses in the contract that made you pass on them?
Rule No. 1, when you’re looking at a label and they’re asking for a 50/50 or 60/40 deal. Cool. That’s cool. You get the revenue from the sales, yada, yada, yada. But when you’re asking for more than 20% of publishing, I don’t understand where they get off asking for any of that in the first place because that’s for the artist in this day and time because of the 50/50 deal. It’s not like back in the day when the label invested so much in the music. When you see that now, run. Run! That shouldn’t apply nowadays. And now, as an independent label, when they want performance credits and when they want payments for your performances, like 10%, that’s what EMI has. They want 10%. I was like, Get out of here. That doesn’t make any sense. And the upfront money they was offering to produce an album, that didn’t add up. What I would do when they were asking for the album and they wanted to make it for this much money and then they were asking for my performance royalties and then asking for 20% of my publishing, I was thinking this shit wasn’t adding up.
They were taking so much but they were giving so little being that the album was already done. So what I did was I wrote down the value of my album. I wrote down the man hours that it took to make the beats. Say I charge this many dollars for beats. Now you gotta pay for the beats and the studio time and the recording of the songs. I tallied it all up and made them look at it like work. Okay, you don’t want to play fair. You want to play me like I’m a worker, like I’m a construction worker. You’re going to pay me by the hour so I wrote everything down by the hour, and cheaply too, like $15 an hour. I took a social worker’s check. I broke it down like that and then I have a lot of features, like Cody ChestnuTT, Peedi Crakk and Bahamadia. I worked with them and the label didn’t have to pay for these features. These were favors that I turned in and for them to take that for granted and think that I was stupid enough like I was a kid with no features on the album, they acted like I didn’t know the value of this album.
I’m not a kid in this. For them to come at me with the disrespectful numbers and all that, come at me like you know! I would do like one rebuttal. I would tell them know and this is why and then they would come at me with a few changes and they were real minute changes and I would just shut it down like, Thank you very much. I would just shut it down. It’s not like it wasn’t possible for me to make a good deal with these people, but I was just so sick of this industry. You know how you deal with your friends and you know what bullshit looks like so the next time it comes to meeting people, you don’t know the person but you know the type of person when you meet somebody and you already know how it’s going to end up and you know how close to keep that person? There are certain labels that I don’t want to get close to and there are certain people I don’t want to get close to because I know it’s going to end bad. You got certain people that will steal DVDs from your house!
Do you have to deal primarily with artists as opposed to labels when you’re trying to get production work?
The thing is, I don’t have a lot of rapport with the labels. I only have rapport with the artists. That’s a good thing for me. I don’t know. I don’t have a good rapport with labels. I don’t know a lot of labels. We went shopping to BBE and others like Decon and I didn’t know anybody there. They knew my music but they didn’t know me personally. The artists know me. Phonte called me his favorite artist. I’m cool with selling beats and selling songs because I’m always around artists and producers and musicians. I’m never around the industry cats because I can’t relate to them. I have nothing to talk to them about. I’m not really an industry cat. I should be but I just don’t have the patience. I shop straight to the artists. I mingle and hang out with them. It’s easy for me to shop a beat to Mos Def. I don’t have to go through the label or the management.
How does the favor system work for you?
Let’s see. Raheem Devaughn is on the album. I produced three songs for him working on his next shit and I asked him if he could do a feature. This was before I was even thinking about doing an album. I was already working on the shit. And then when I started working on the album, I told him I might need him on the album but it has to be the right song but I’m not forcing it. A couple months later I came up with this hook and this beat and he knocked it out and sent it right back a few days later. It’s the same thing with Talib Kweli. He recorded it the same day I sent it and then sent it back a few days later. And that was Bahamadia’s favor because Kweli owed her and she owed me because I’m working on her new project.
That’s how it works, man. If you stay honest and loyal to people, it’ll come back to you. If you’re a shiesty person, you might get what you want in the beginning, but as time goes by, the word around will be that you’re shiesty and I think that’s why people respect me as an artist because industry people might think I’m brash but the artists know where I’m coming from with how I treat the industry. But the fans and everyone on the outside looking in, they might not understand it. But the artists are applauding, wishing they had the guts to do that. But I don’t know. I’m kind fearless in that way. Plus I was raised in a house of boxers. My father boxed and we all boxed as kids. It’s kind of a shame that when I have a problem, I don’t talk out my frustrations. My father would put us in the background and if we start arguing, my father would tell us to take it to the backyard and box it out. We would never talk anything out. It was kind of dysfunctional, but you know! (laughs) Whatever works!
You have two months to get the word out on Conscious Porn so it doesn’t have the problems your first two albums did. What can you do differently this time around?
The last thing that happened with Rawkus last time was when the album came out, two weeks after the album came out Rawkus pulled the rug out from under me. I don’t want that to happen to me this time. That’s one reason why I’m with Soulspazm. That’s giving me the edge. I know they’re going to get it to where it’s supposed to be. I need to get it to the people and what I’m doing is I’m hiring street teams and they’re going to pass out all of the flyers and stickers. I’m trying to plaster as many cities as possible. I hired 10 street teams. It’s so hard as an independent artist with a low budget to do what you have to do. I’m trying to do as many shows as possible and as many listening parties as possible. I’ll call a few favors in and people will look out. Starting in September, I have a few shows with Mos Def and Talib Kweli is helping me out too. I’m going to try and jump on tour with them. I need to perform in front of big audiences. I need big fanbases like Mos Def’s and Talib Kweli’s. I’m going to call Pharoahe Monch’s manager and jump on some shows with Bilal, all starting in September.
Going back to your album title Conscious Porn, have you ever watched a porn where you took away a strong message that made you a better person for the experience?
Nah, dude! The only message you get is the warning that these people are just actors. It’s the safe sex ad. That’s the only message you get out of porn. One thing I learned is as a man, never send your wife to a business meeting where she owes a favor because she might get fucked! I learned a few lessons like that! (laughs)