Nametag Interview

October 29, 2008

When you’re rocking over beats by some of Detroit’s most talented producers and you’re the cousin of who’s widely considered as the city’s leading Hip Hop ambassador, you’d better have your act together. Nametag knows that a strong supporting cast isn’t enough to make it, and he’s making it a point to not settle as a sidekick. Even his first mixtape, Ahead of the Basics, was named because of his aspirations to exceed expectations: “Whatever is basic lyrically—the the simple one-two punch line—doesn’t cut it for me,” he says. “It doesn’t prove that you’re a good artist or not. I couldn’t see myself dumbing down a verse.” Last month he released Classic Cadence Vol. 1 (click here), a mixtape that compiled highlights from his previous two mixtapes and notable guest appearances. He’s hoping that will whet Hip Hop heads’ appetites for Courtesy of Ambition, an EP that hits the streets November 25.

In an interview with MichiganHipHop, Nametag gives insight on his latest and upcoming projects, his down chick, and being the cousin of the legendary Detroit artist Black Milk.

Nametag—what what inspired the moniker?
It was a name given to me by Black Milk, and the whole meaning came from “making oneself known.” Getting my name out there. Also, Hip Hop is associated by five elements, one being graffiti. I’m identifying who I am, like a graffiti artist.

So who are you?
I work a day job just like the average human. With music, I find myself being a cross between all of Hip Hop. You know how people label it “underground” and “commercial”? I pride myself in being one of those artists [that is] in between both.

You started out being with the Slang Kommittee, but you’ve gone your own way. What happened with that?
Slang Kommittee came about in my high school years at Cass Tech during late 2002- 2003. It consisted of me, ONPoint, B.Stormz and BroadCast. We aren’t necessarily a group now because everyone’s doing their own solo thing. If there were ever a reunion it’d probably just be me and OnPoint because we’re the only ones who stuck with the music. Everyone just took their own route.

From your previous mixtapes and upcoming EP, what are three must-heat songs?
The title track, “Courtesy of Ambition,” because the name is saying, “That’s why I’m here”. It’s my ambition and drive that brought me here. Certain lines in the song let you know, “This guy is serious.” … [In the song, I say] “I’m not Maya Angelou, but I’ma rise higher than the other guys can peak. See the drive in my eyes. I write between your lines, that’s where the desire lies, I’m ahead of mine, see the difference in the times.” That song in general tells my views of Hip Hop music right now, where it’s going, [and] where I’d like it to go.

What are the other two songs you highly recommend?
“Keep Pushin’ Through” featuring a songstress named Journey, and it’s produced by Black Bethoven. It’s an encouraging song. Just a reminder to keep pushing through no matter how hard times get. Remember how strong you are.

Another song, on the Classic Cadence mixtape, is called “Forfeit” featuring Marv Won and Quest M.C.O.D.Y. I like that song because it says, “Ya’ll might as well forfeit, give it up, game over, take over/ya’ll know it’s a wrap, face it, basically it’s a fact/it’s the mitten on the map making your whole squad want to forfeit.” That’s not directed to any one person, but to Hip Hop in general. [Detroit Hip Hop] has been trying to get on the map and stay there. People see Eminem coming out of Detroit but there’s more artists out here who have a sound and we have a name for ourselves.

Do you have any personal favorite lyrics that you’ve written?
I have a song called “Red Alert” and the first line refers to me in high school. I wasn’t into any sports, but people thought because I was tall I played basketball. I was focused on music and at the same time I was working with Black Milk. In “Red Alert” I said, “In high school I wasn’t an class athlete, too busy in the class rapping/you never seen me in track meets, the beats rap pass me a baton/I’ma outrun jog laps around ya’ll, I won, I’m a track star.” Rapping was my sport in high school.

You take pride in your lyrical talent. Do you use that to battle?
No. That’s just not my thing. I respect battle rap, I watch [BET show “106 & Park’s”] “Freestyle Fridays” all the time and witnessed a lot of battles. It’s great and very entertaining. I just don’t do it. I’m that type of rapper that would rather just write a song. Only a select few from battle rap make it and it’s my goal to make it. And I don’t want to make it and just be known as that battle rapper. I don’t want to be put in a box.

But what if someone challenges you to battle?
I’d have to! I wouldn’t just back down because I’m not a battle rapper. I’d have to.

You seem to have grown up in Hip Hop music, seeing how your cousin is Black Milk and your brother is producer Black Bethoven. Would you be rapping today if it wasn’t for Black Milk?
It didn’t just come from him. My whole family is in music. It flows through the bloodline.

Do you feel like you’re sharing the spotlight with Black Milk?
No, but that’s the thing. Even though I don’t feel like it, a lot of people look at as if I am. I’m trying to break away from that. I don’t want people thinking, “He’s only doing this because Milk is his cousin.” I’d be doing this anyway.

Who are you closest to in the Hip Hop crowd? Who can you depend on?
I’d have to say Milk.

What about outside of Hip Hop?
My girlfriend.

Aw!y You softened the voice on that one.
Yeah… my girlfriend.

How long have you two been together?
Two years and some change.

Is she into Hip Hop too?
Yeah, we kick back and watch videos all the time. We talk about music.

Have you ever made a song that she’s like, “Uh, naw, baby I don’t like that.”
All the time!

You think you’d be able to be with a woman if she wasn’t into Hip Hop?
Yeah. My girlfriend isn’t a Hip Hop head like I am, but just being total opposites is what makes us vibe.

What areas of music are you strongest in, and what areas can you grow in?
[I’m strong in] the cadence. I can make a rhyme without trying to rhyme; I just do it anyway. [I can grow in] storytelling. I don’t tell stories and I’d like to. And being real, telling people this is life. Once I can go there, they will get the full effect of me.

Are there any mottos you live by or anything that inspires you?
There’s actually a book I read recently called “Cashflow Quadrant” by Robert Kiyosaki. That book is motivational. And I came up with the motto, “Work hard so later on you won’t have to.” Work hard and work through it and later you will be able to embrace that success you were going for. That’s what I’m working on now. It’s only 2008 and I’ve come out with four different projects right now.

At what moment in your life were you first inspired to rap?
The first time I heard A Tribe Called Quest’s album. I used to hear it all the time and it was so unique. Then I found out that was J Dilla. Before that I was just listening to what was on the radio, but once I heard Tribe I was like, “Wow. I really want to rap.” And I heard random Slum Village songs. My cousin used to have Fantastic. Vol. 2 and we used to listen to it over and over. Hip Hop is great! I knew this was what I wanted to do.

What is your purpose for rapping?
To keep Hip Hop around. I just want to keep the essence there. Some people make a song just because it’s a good song to dance to, but it doesn’t have any of the essence of Hip Hop. I think music is timeless. I want a record that is still dope like Biggie record or Tupac song or Nas or Jay-Z that you can go back and listen to. I feel like a lot of Detroit artists like Slum Village and Black Milk, we’re all making timeless music and should be getting recognition for it.

What is it about Detroit music that makes it so unique?
It’s gully! We don’t care what anyone else says. Detroit is going to stick to our sound and what works. Personally, I’m not going to change. That’s what the pioneers do. We make music what we’re comfortable with, not the commercialized.

Suppose it’s almost November 25th and Courtesy of Ambition is about to come out. Why should we go out to get this EP?
Because it’s fresh. The lyrics are dope. It sounds good. The beats are good. It’s Detroit Hip Hop—Michigan Hip Hop—and and that’s why you should get it. … I took a lot of time on song selection. With Courtesy of Ambition, I said, “I want this to go with this, and this person on this song…” I sat down and took time more than I did with any other project.

When is the next show that we can catch you performing at?
My release party for Courtesy of Ambition is at The Element on Michigan Ave. in Detroit by Tiger Stadium on November 29th. Five Elements, Journalist 103… Pioneers are going to be there. It should be pretty dope.

1 Comment »

  1. Journalist 103 says:

    Yeah, Yeah, we’ll be in the building for sho! NameTag is one of the successors of Detroit Hip-hop and beyond. I Pray for his success.

    Journalist 103

    October 31st, 2008 at 9:50 pm

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