March 13, 2010
Posted by nation
Editor’s Note: NCB is the Editor-In-Chief of COMPLEX. If you had never heard of him before the interviews he did for the magazine, you probably didn’t know about his rap sheet either. When asked to write about his story, he opted to take the humble route and talk about the people who gave him his start in the game, instead of talking about how he, as quiet as kept, was one of the first people to co-sign 50 Cent in 1999 – all the way to co-writing 50’s autobiography 50×50 with the man himself in 2007. He decided to make sure everyone on his team got a shout out, instead of explaining his long history with Kanye, which I’ve heard from credible people is quite extensive – up until how his name ended up in Yeezy’s latest blog entry. But the fact that you’ll never hear any of this from him is truly a testament to the kind of person that he is. These are all stories I’m dying to hear, but it might have to wait for another guest blog.
All right, so I promised nation that I’d write something for this site a long-ass time ago. How could I say no? He’s a good dude and at this point I pretty much owe it to the universe to give back to the next generation of independent publishers. See, I’ve been blessed over the years with contributions to my indie endeavors by lots of people waaaaay more talented than me and it’s only right that I return the favor. So, after months of dicking around, I’ve finally hit the tipping point where my guilt has exceeded my busy-ness and my laziness (Plus I’m trapped on a flight with no TVs in the headrests, so what else am I gonna do). However, when pressed to write “my story”, I dunno, it just seems kinda self-aggrandizing (which I know is the whole point of the Internet, but hey, I’m still a fake-humble print guy at heart). So what I figure is, the most interesting thing I could do is leave some jewels on your dresser (pause), and try to impart some of the knowledge I’ve accrued along the way.
Before I go in, though, I should qualify the below statements. Who I am, what I’ve done, and what I’ve yet to do, should inform how much stock you put in my thoughts.
I grew up in Manhattan, read a lot of comics, and listened to a lot of rap. I also read a lot of magazines. Mostly about comics and rap. This was back in the ’90s. You know, the olden days—when suits were shiny, videos had million dollar budgets. Anyhow, halfway through my senior year of high school in ‘97, I got an internship at ego trip magazine. Basically my will to annoy exceeded their will to ignore. I called their office and left messages everyday for three weeks. Eventually they got tired of it and called me back. There Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, Gabriel Alvarez, Chairman Mao, and Brent Rollins taught me how to write, think, and listen (Ted Bawno taught me a lot, too, but I signed an NDA so I can’t speak on that). Those ego trip dudes are all lunatic geniuses in very different ways, and their balance of bile and brilliance made for some of the funniest, most thoughtful and probably under-appreciated magazines ever made. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to be their sixth man off the bench.
That experience was the foundation for everything that followed. Starting with… Six months later when Sacha landed me a gig in the research department of VIBE, where he was the associate editor, working for another really smart dude, Dave Bry. Things went well, I fell into some writing opportunities for the book, and after a couple months managing editor Jesse Washington offered me an editorial position on the launch team of BLAZE, VIBE’s short-lived rap mag spin-off, for the next summer. Without getting into detail about all the hijinx and fuckery that went down at BLAZE (’cause there was a lot of it), lemme just say, That shit was nuts! Fun, though, too.
Shortly before the bosses pulled the plug on BLAZE in 2000 I got a call from Dante Ross (who’d apparently read my stuff), offering me a gig as an A&R at his label, Stimulated Records. Growing up a Native Tongue Stan, getting a look from the dude behind De La, Brand Nubian, LONS, Latifah, and K.M.D. was surreal to say the least. Psyched, I did that for a couple years. Exactly long enough to realize it wasn’t for me. I like making stuff more than I like managing people who make stuff (or at least managing people that make the same things I make). If you can’t write a rap or make a beat, it’s hard to say anything credible to someone who does (picture Diamond D walking over to my 19-year-old ass and asking what I think of the mix on “X-Man”…”Um, I like it?”). That said, thanks to Ross I did get to oversee the creation and mixes of a couple records and I can’t overstate how valuable that experience was in informing the rest of my writing. Also, I met Dart Parker. That guy’s the shit. Anyhow, out the blue I get a call from some guy at MTV looking for hip-hop writers, I think Mimi from BLAZE had referred him. So I went over there and wrote some shows. I hated it. Just hated it. Nice people and all, but for me, it sucked elephant sperm through a crazy straw.
Thankfully a about a year later I got opportunity to jump back into magazine making, via the ego trip massive. Sacha had been talking to the Mass Appeal guys, Pat & Adrian, about taking over the editorial vision from ALIFE, so they hit me during the summer of 2002 and asked me to be Editor-In-Chief there. When I got there I assembled a rag-tag group of friends and armed them up (think Chopper in jail). They became fucking great and I work with them to this day (starting with Mary, Justin, Jack and then later Brendan, Tosh, and D.Scott). Our first issue was a split cover with Nas & Large Professor on one, and 50 Cent’s gun collection on the other. People liked it. 13 months later Emil Wilbekin offered me the Senior Editor gig at VIBE. That was cool. Me and Ben and Tosh made some really funny pages together and I got the opportunity to write some kinda memorable stories.
That said, two years later I was kinda itching for a new challenge, and Donnie, who had been at VIBE during both of my tenures and then expatriated to Complex, hit me to gauge my interest in coming aboard Marc’s baby. Seemed like a great opportunity, plus he and my dude ‘Drew Simon were there, so I jumped ship and joined them. A year later I was promoted to the top spot, slowly filled out their already extremely talented roster with my folks, and we made some magazines and then a website. Apparently some people like those, too. *Phew!*
So that’s pretty much it.
A bunch of crazy funny shit–and some painful fuck ups, too–got nestled in the cracks between the above highlights, but those are stories for another day. Without further ado, here’s 20 pretty important things I learned, usually the hard way due to my own trespasses, along the road to the riches:
20) People love lists. They’re the simplest and most immediate way to organize information and there’s nothing people enjoy more than having their tastes confirmed, disputed, and broadened.
19) You should consider everything you create to be an argument to the world as to why the people they consider ‘your peers’ are not really your peers. Don’t just accept the comparison.
18) A really good Q&A can deliver as much analysis as a well-written narrative feature—but about 10 times more people will read it.
17) If you agree to interview a rapper, you’re also agreeing to accept the possibility that, due to the circumstances of said interview and the ensuing reaction it evokes, you may never want to listen that rapper’s music again. I’ve never covered Q-Tip. He may be a nice guy and it could go great, but I have certain sentimental attachments to the music of ATCQ that I’m not willing to forsake.
16) Apprenticeship has been the key to whatever level of success I’ve achieved.
15) You can’t stand on the shoulders of those who came before you if you tear them down on your way to the top. Be gracious.
14) Honor your commitments to the people that put you on, even if it postpones new opportunities momentarily. You wouldn’t even be entertaining the opportunity if it wasn’t for those that put you in that position in the first place.
13) You’re only privy to 40% of your boss’s job, so keep that in mind when you Monday morning quarterback his or her decisions. It’s never as easy as you think, and you’ll only ever know the breadth and depth of the pressure until you have to do it yourself.
12) Compensation follows success; which follows excelling at what you do; which follows doing what you enjoy; which follows doing what you have a natural talent for.
11) There’s always a vocal minority that thinks you suck. One of them is probably going to comment on this post. Somehow I’ll soldier on.
10) Invest time mentoring the next generation. If you do a good job, one day they may cut you a check. Or at the very least, in the shortterm, they’ll explain the Internet to you (Lookin’ at you @bfred and @jlapuma).
9) If you surround yourself with the smartest people you can find, people will think you’re a lot smarter than you are. Only insecure people think this works the other way.
8) Don’t hoard the credit, there’s always enough to go around.
7) I get a lot of compliments on certain stories I’ve written, and that’s cool, but honestly, if you can’t get a good interview out of 50 Cent or Kanye West it’s time to assess your career ambitions.
6) People who are friends with everyone say the same nice things to the people whose work you don’t respect.
5) The internet is far more permanent than print. And anyone with a writer’s ego should appreciate that.
4) If you’re gonna shit on someone’s rhyme, you should try, at least once, to sit down and write a 16. It’s hard. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion as a listener and consumer, but a little respect for the difficulty of the process may inform how you express your dissatisfaction.
3) Generally speaking, those who are the most critical of you are your biggest fans. Just ask my mom.
2) When I was 12 my dad told me that I’d enjoy life a lot more if I acquired a taste for inexpensive coffee, wine, whiskey, and women. I didn’t listen to him, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong.
1) When you’re on a packed flight, never change your seat at the gate. The dude in front of me has been growing yeast in socks. At least that’s what it smells like.