Help Derrick Ashong Take Back the Mic and be part of a Musical Movement

I’ve know Derrick Ashong through mutual friends for a few years now and have always enjoyed what he has to say, what he’s doing, and respected what he stands for. He is a perfect combination of activist, humanitarian, intellect, and soul. I’ve known him as a talk radio host as well as a musician and admired how he looks at the world. I recently found out that he was starting an Indiegogo campaign to change the game of hip hop and help artists get wider exposure. I did not hesitate at the chance to get involved. We’ve all read/heard/seen how music can transform lives, bridge gaps, and even aid in education. We’ve also watched as our culture has suffered due to lack of funding while artists struggle because they can’t catch that initial break they need.

Enter Take Back the Mic where you and I can help aspiring talent while having fun doing it! Think American Idol with the ease of an app where you can keep up with your favorite artists and vote for them to advance. No snarky judges, just FANS supporting their favorites and deciding what happens next. Please be sure to LIKE them on Facebook and FOLLOW them on Twitter, show your support, keep up with them, and share on your various social media platforms. 

I have to say that honored doesn’t begin to describe my feelings on being given the opportunity to interview Derrick or having the chance to be involved in this project in even a small way. I will let him explain it all further for you, enjoy!

Q: Tell me a little bit about what motivated you to start “Take Back the Mic?

Derrick Ashong: I was on a trip back to my hometown Accra, Ghana back in the early 2000′s and I noticed two significant things: first, unlike my previous trip a few years earlier where all the clubs & DJs were playing mostly American Hip Hop, the airwaves were now dominated by music with heavy, hybrid beats that supported lyrical flights in our indigenous languages.

This new style was called “Hip Life” – a hybrid between Hip Hop and Ghanaian Highlife, and the whole country, from little kids to my grandma were jamming to it.

The second thing that happened on that trip, is I got called a n*gger while walking down the street.  The guy who said it didn’t mean any harm, he was trying to be cool, colloquial and shout out the “American” in the way he thought Americans talk.  But it was the first term I’d ever heard that word in my homeland and it was a powerful reminder that US popular culture has a massive impact around the world.

Looking at those two factors – on the one hand we were taking Hip Hop and making it our own, and on the other, Hip Hop was reshaping us in “it’s own image” – made me really ask myself who decides what matters in our culture?  Who decides who “we” are?  And the more I thought about it the more I became obsessed with not so much what the answer was, but what it should be: “we do.”

That year, while walking the streets of Accra, I realized that not only was an entire generation worldwide using Hip Hop to define itself, but that definition could be empowering or degrading depending on whose voices spoke the loudest to the rest of the world.  I wondered what would we happen to global youth culture, if we did something as simple as amplify some new voices.  That was the birth of “Take Back the Mic.”

Q: How important do you think crowdfunding is for an artist today?

DA: I think crowdfunding is crucial for artists today, and as a creative I feel like I’m truly in the right place at the right time.  Go back a couple of decades and the cost of recording an album would have been prohibitive for most independent artists, and there was no reliable mechanism for harnessing the power of their networks to make those projects a reality.

Today it’s much cheaper to record, produce, shoot, edit, master, do FX, the whole nine.  For the first time in human history creatives of various stripes have the toolset to not only produce amazing, high-end works relatively cheaply, but they now have the ability to offer other people the opportunity to be a part of bringing beautiful and meaningful creations to life.

The power in crowdfunding is not only in the ability to harness capital towards a positive end, it’s in the opportunity to galvanize communities in collective actions to create art that reflects who we are.  It is the definition of taking back the mic.

Q: Hip Hop has become a language and a means of expression for many. What does music, and especially Hip Hop, mean to you on a personal level? For society as a whole?

DA: I’m an Afropolitan – a 21st Century product of a globalized world.  I grew up in Ghana, Brooklyn, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jersey.  As a kid I moved every four years until I was 20.  For me music was always more than entertainment, it was a through-current that helped me form and maintain my identity, while also creating a bridge to the different cultures I grew up around.

Hip Hop was particularly impactful for me, in part because I was living in New York around the time it was born.  I was too young to really understand what was going on around me – what a “break beat” was, when we were “breakdancing” to it – but I like a lot of people had this sense that this is truly “our” music.  There’s been a loud debate lately about cultural appropriation in Hip Hop.  If you look at music historically, though, cultural appropriation is a given for any music whose influence reaches beyond the confines of its origins.  The bigger the impact your sound makes, the more other people believe in and want to belong to it.

Music is culture in motion.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with many people drawing from and contributing to that evolving culture mix.  The trouble I see for our society is much more fundamental – what value do we place on the people who create our “culture”.  Everybody loooves to see boobs and bragadoccio in their Hip Hop artists, but we then we turn Black youth outsiders, people who’s lives are just…less than, despite the fact that their irrepressible creativity has helped to form ALL of our identities.

If you look at American Hip Hop today, frankly a lot of it has lost it’s soul.  In reality, that’s part of the lifecycle of any music.  Rather than blame the artists, the industry, the society etc., I believe we should channel our energies to supporting music that still makes us feel something.  And when you look at what artists are doing around the world you find that Hip Hop culture has far from run it’s course – in many ways it’s only now finding it’s voice.  And that is very much the voice of the global streets.

Q: You are a very busy man who is always one step ahead of the crowd. What else are you working on right now?

DA: To be honest this project is so big, for a team this small, that I can’t really do anything else.  With the exception of playing with my kids and my guitar, and periodically hitting the gym, I’m all-in on this.

Q: So many people are struggling to bring their dreams to life. What advice would you give to up and coming artists?

DA: Find a way to make money doing something you can believe in, that leaves room for you to build and develop your craft.  Artistry is like entrepreneurship, in that ultimately it’s not so much a sprint as a marathon.  You might not even get good at what you do for a decade or more.  Give yourself the time to become the artist you want to be.  And if you want to make $$ in a way that makes sense for your creativity – learn to do something hard, that other people can’t or won’t.  You’ll wind up getting paid more for less time, and the balance you can invest in yourself and your work.

Q: What would you say to those people who are at the end of their rope and ready to give up hope of ever making it work?

DA: Take a nap.  Get something to eat.  Watch a funny movie.  Get a day job, take a break for a couple of months.  Whatever you need to do to maintain your sanity and keep the lights on.  When you reach the end of your rope stop.  Find some more rope.  Then keep moving.

Q: What is one thing you absolutely cannot live without? What is one thing you wish we could all live without?

DA: The one thing I cannot live without are actually two – my little daughters who use my head for a treadmill and swear I was put on earth to be a living jungle-gym.  I guess God made them cute so they can get away with…everything.  Then again, if not for my wife these two would have killed me a long time ago so umm…yeah I’d have to say it’s her.

The one thing I wish we could all live without right now is Pete Carroll. 1 yard bro.  1 YARD!! Sorry…I’m not even a Seattle fan and it still hurts.

Q: Where can people find you, Derrick Ashong, online, so they can keep up with all that you do?

DA: The best place to connect with me is on Twitter: @DNAtv.  And of course peep www.takebackthemic.com to meet some phenomenal global talents as we build the first ever World Cup of Hip Hop!!  PEACE, D.N.A

I’d like to thank Derrick for taking time to talk to me! I encourage you to check out Take Back the Mic to find out how you can help! There are some pretty interesting PERKS:

Allow Aris to Raise your Pulse with his Music

I have been friends with recording artist and performer Aris for a few years now. I enjoy the conversations we have off the record but am honored to be interviewing him so you all can get to know him a bit better! Since the first time I sat down to talk to him, I have found him to be insightful, authentic, and passionate about his work. As a fan of music, I find him to be unique, talented, and genuine as an artist. I believe those of you who read my blog, follow me on Twitter or anywhere in social media will enjoy his music as well. If you live in the NYC area, you may want to catch him at one of his upcoming performances as well!
Q: First, congratulations on the new album, Pulse! Tell me a little about the process of making this album and your process in general when creating new music.

Aris: Thank you Tommy!! I feel like I’m having a baby! I’ve been working on this album for the last year and a half. I started writing it when I finished writing my last album “Twilight Revival”. I set out with the goal to write an album that would celebrate love and life and keep people on their feet dancing.

My last album was more of a rock record with dance elements, where this album is primarily a dance album, weaving in rock, soul and world sounds. I set out to right a really universal, uplifting album. The last album was written while I was going through a lot of heartbreak and stresses in life, so the themes were darker. I wanted this album to be a solace, a shinning light. I channeled a lot of 90s pop and dance influences, soul music and eastern soundscapes. There’s a lot of soaring hooks and big choruses, and really emotional vocals.

I set out to keep the lyrics more universal, and for every track to move not only your heart and soul but also your
body. Even the slower tracks are built around solid grooves. I named the album Pulse because our heart and our pulse
are our body’s drum, carrying us through the rhythm of life. In the past I’ve let the songs have more space to fall
into other genres, but this time around I wanted a thematic record that would work great live and on the dance floor,
and I drew elements of inspiration from albums like Madonna’s “Confession on a Dancefloor” and Kelis’ “Fleshtone”.
Q: I know you have a Kickstarter for this album. What goodies are you offering fans who contribute? Where can we find out more about it?

Aris: Yes! I have  3 weeks left on my Kickstarter campaign (ending on February 21st!)

I’m utilizing the platform to help finish funding and distribution of the record, and I’m using it as an album pre-sale.
I’m also offering a variety of special merchandise and experiences for higher pledges.
I’m offering a deluxe digital album with several exclusive bonus tracks, and also offering original pieces of art,
private concerts, songwriting sessions, even home cooked meals, nights on the town, and all access passes for life to
all my live shows.
Every pledge of $20 or more also comes with a “best of” EP, and there’s a bunch more goodies too!
You can join the pre-sale, get a sneak peek of some new music and find out more at:

Q: How important is crowdfunding for today’s artists and have you seen it change in the last few years?

Aris: Crowdfunding is a huge platform for independent artists. Over the last couple of years I’ve seen a lot of artists use sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to back their albums, generate buzz and also connect with their fans and offer a special pre-sale experience.

Someone actually  raised $55,492 on Kickstarter to make Potato Salad! It’s hard to grasp that, but it actually happened! In comparison,  my goal to make and distribute my new album “Pulse” is far more modest, and it will last much longer and be more universal than any combination of potatoes and mayonnaise!

For me as an independent artist, I’ve self-funded all my work every step of the way for the last 5 years. In that
time, the music industry has changed so much, and few people actually purchase music. This Kickstarter is a huge help
to me in that it allows me to actually have a budget for recording the album, to do it in a timely fashion, and to be
able to give the recordings value via the pre-sale. It also allows my listeners to be a part of the process from early on.
Q: More Congratulations are in order on your OUTMusic Award nominations, can you tell me a little about why it was important to you and how it felt to be recognized by such an organization?
Aris: When I found out I was nominated in 5 categories at the 9th annual OUTmusic awards, I was beyond thrilled . It was a

huge honor to have the work from my last album “twilight revival” recognized. I was most moved by the nomination for
producer of the year. The organization in the past has honored a lot of prominent LGBT artists, and to me being
nominated felt like the community understood and appreciated what I’m doing. It felt like coming home.
Q: The honor was sort of bitter-sweet. I’ve read that they were charging the artists $100 per ticket but that the 

event was postponed without a new date. We’ve spoken about it but can you tell us a little about that?
Aris: Yes, it was definitely bittersweet. Shortly after the nominees were announced, the artists involved received an email

from the organization telling us we had to purchase $100 “nominee tickets” or else we would not be allowed to walk the
red carpet, to sit with the other nominees or to be featured in the documentary the organization was filming.
Something felt very wrong about paying the highest ticket premium to be in attendance to possibly win an award. It
seemed really lob sided especially since they were selling general admission tickets for $25.
Many artists like myself took the risk because sometimes as independent musicians you have to invest in things hoping
they carry you further. It was money I otherwise would have spent recording new music, but it seemed like it could be
a good promotional opportunity.
It really was a huge shock and very alarming when an email came roughly 24 hours before the event saying it was
postponed until an undetermined date, for reasons not disclosed, and that the organization would NOT be issuing
refunds. This actually wasn’t the first time that the OUTmusic awards were postponed, and there seems to be a trail of
murky business practices in the past, so it’s all very disheartening.
Q: Do you think they took advantage of the artists so that they could afford to hold a different ceremony that they held for bigger names like Deborah Cox? I’m sure the bigger names would not be happy if they knew these circumstances.
Aris: I wish I knew the real motivations of the organization and I wish there was a lot more transparency about how the

money they collected was spent.  It was very disappointing to find out that in place of the awards ceremony, the
organization would be having a “reception for the celebrity artists, such as OUTMusic Award Honoree Deborah Cox and
Monifah Carter, Omar Thomas and superstar recording artist Jonte Moaning as well as many others who journeyed to New
York City for the Awards.” (to quote the official email from OUTmusic)
What’s most upsetting about what happened is, none of the actual nominees were celebrated, and instead the focus was
put on “celebrity” artists the organization hand-selected. Since we really don’t have any transparency about their accounting
practices, we can only speculate that the nominees’ money went to fund this other event.  Also OUTmusic claims non-profit
status, but when looking into their organization, it becomes clear that they may be fudging their taxes and
involved in unethical business practices. I think it’s sad that an organization that frames itself as champions of LGBT
artists would take advantage of the very artists it was supposed to be celebrating. I seem to have been one of the
most out-spoken artists regarding this situation, and it’s also caught the eye of former Village Voice columnist
Michael Musto. Hopefully soon we will all be able to get to the truth about what really happened and why.
Q: What do you think artists can do to avoid being taken advantage of or do you think this is all part of the business and learning process?
Aris: I think the best lesson to be learned is, do NOT pay to play. And do your research! Google is an amazing tool to help

artists understand the validity and reputation of organizations/groups/etc. Before getting involved in something, do
your homework! Also, never lower or diminish your self worth to be included in anything!
Sell up, don’t sell out. Choose your partnerships and associations wisely!
There’s a certain level of investment that comes with the territory of being an artist. Just make sure you are
investing in something that is honorable, effective and beneficial!
Q: What else is coming up for Aris, the artist? Performances? Appearances?
Aris: I’ll be spending the next couple months finalizing my new album and preparing the release of the first single and

video from the album, along with putting together several photo shoots to accompany the release.
I also have some upcoming performances in the next 6 weeks in NYC that I am excited about!
* Friday February 13th at BPM in NYC (time TBA)
* Sunday March 1st at the LGBT expo at the Jacob Javits Center (time TBA)
* Friday March 6th at Triad in NYC (time and additional info soon to be announced)
(Updates regarding these appearances will be posted on my official website at www.aris.fm)
Q: Where can we find you online to keep up with you and your music?
Aris: I’ll be sharing updated about my upcoming album “Pulse” on social media, as well as on Kickstarter.  I also archive

everything on my official website. Connect with me! Share your voice, your feelings and your stories. I read
everything!

Tim Gunn – My Personal Bullying Story

For those of us who have been victims of bullies, we know that one of the best remedies is to have a strong support system. Please check out Friend Movement and find out how you can help them to create the kind of support that will help those affected by bullying and the solution that could help to end it.  This is Tim Gunn‘s own story and below that is the Indiegogo campaign that ends in just a few days.  Check it out and see if you can help.

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