Surrounding yourself with good people is one of the keys to personal success. I’m thankful to be surrounded by friends that are each successful in their own right and — unbeknownst to them — an inspiration to me. The gentlemen behind the Brooklyn-based hip hop group True 2 Life Music, consisting of the rapper/producer duo of Concise and K-Words and lyricist Slangston Hughes, are friends of mine. We go back to freshman year of college when responsibility meant something different and music was the catalyst of many a late night discussion. I mean…wasn’t nobody trying to go to Econ 101 on time the next morning anyway.
All jokes aside, these guys have loved hip hop and produced music for as long as I’ve known them (and more). And instead of taking the traditional route after graduation and putting away the microphone, they’ve continued to pursue their passion and live happy lives. I’ve wanted to interview them for SBM for some time because I think they represent a segment of the Urban Male Perspective that doesn’t get discussed enough: the well-educated brothers who go on to pursue alternative and/or artistic careers. Anyway, let’s get into the actual interview. It was a pretty fun one with some inspiration thrown in. You’ll also find a few links to their music if you’re interested. -Slim
What is T2L Music?
Concise: True 2 Life Music is loyalty. And loyalty is everything.
What three words would you use to describe the T2L brand?
Concise: Passionate, Devoted, and Powerful
At what point did you decide that you would pursue hip hop as a career?
Concise: I’ve always been preoccupied with music in whatever I was doing or supposed to be doing, whether it was school, jobs, relationships, etc. As I got older, I started thinking more about music and also the business of it After college, I decided to pursue hip hop for a career. [It felt like] I never really had a choice.
K.Words: I knew my career would be music during my senior year of college. I was interviewing for a job doing HR for a water company. I wasn’t offered the job, but I did not care in the slightest. I didn’t really want it. I was just caught up in the hustle and flow of the senior year job search, but I knew music was what I wanted to do. Right there I realized just how much I wanted it.
Slangston Hughes: It became a reality when the intensity, consistency, and willingness to sacrifice in pursuit of these goals became paramount. Coupled with our passion and desire to be heard, we realized we had a unique voice and perspective and the ability to make a meaningful impact. The quality of our creative output, coupled with overwhelmingly positive reactions from our peers set the scene for the road we’ve been travelling.
Cise, do you think being ivy league grads has helped or hindered you more over the years? How have you guys been perceived?
Concise: Ivy League thing comes up less than it did before. Now the music speaks first. It doesn’t matter what school you went to, if any. If your music is dope, people will listen. So we’ve really just rested on making good music that our listeners and fam can love, appreciate and ride to.
Fellas, what are your thoughts on the current state of hip hop?
Concise: Hip Hop and the Hip Hop industry is one of the most forward thinking and innovative genres out there. It’s always changing yet always staying the same. There is some really good talent out there in hip hop and for hip hop lovers you have even more ways to discover this. There is a lot of trash out there too, but why bother to focus on that?
K.Words: I completely agree. I believe that hip hop is growing… people are starting to throw the boxes away and let artists be artists. It’s so circular to me. There have always been trends that come and go, but longevity is generally achieved by being dope and connecting with people. That’s very comforting to me. Also technological advances have allowed groups such as us to grow as artists organically while in the past many talented people were shut out due to the lack of vision of those with the resources. Now we can leverage our experiences and talents to better situate ourselves for long term success.
Slangston Hughes: The more that everyone involved in hip hop culture keeps growing and taking risks and being true to themselves the better. It’s important to realize the global impact and importance of hip hop as a culture and it’s important to realize that this gives a voice to the voiceless and is a unifying force around the world. Keeping that in mind, we are doing our part to represent dynamic, evolving leaders who have something to say and stand for something. We are not interested in perpetuating the same lies and misrepresentation of our people that the media has taken so much pleasure in pumping out to the world; we are firmly rooted in our reality and are poised to continue sharing it with the world.
What did you want to be before you made the decision to pursue this as a career?
Concise: I was in school for engineering. I thought I was going to be a computer engineer for the longest time.
K.Words: I wanted to be a sports and/or entertainment lawyer to negotiate the contracts for rappers and ball players.
Slangston Hughes: While in college, I was on track to become an investment banker and then shifted my focus into marketing and advertising. This was all while at the same time pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors after I stopped pursuing [track and field].
What have you guys been doing to generate income?
Concise: Right now, I’m teaching in addition to music. I work at a couple charter schools in the city, one in BK and one in Harlem. And I also do some one-on-one tutoring with some Brooklyn students, ranging from grades 4 to 12. This is all on top of selling cocaine and prescription pills in the meatpacking district.
Slangston Hughes: As independent artists, performing and merchandising are great ways to generate income. Income that if you’re smart, you reinvest into your company. Outside of that I am a brand strategist and consultant. I also sell ecstasy at underground raves whenever I have a chance in order to supplement our meatpacking district operation.
K.Words: I’m working on releasing my fleet of lunchtime and late night food trucks, so I don’t have time to get involved in the meatpacking district operations. Outside of that and income and opportunities generated by our music, I consult investment banks regarding their operations and compliance matters.
LOL! Yall, are clowns. Anyway…what are the biggest challenges (still laughing) you have faced over the years in pursuit of your dreams?
Concise: Financial problems are always there. You need money to get things done in whatever you do. You also have to get from in front of your own way. Money isn’t an insurmountable barrier, but it’s a challenge. The biggest barrier is yourself, because you won’t come close to your dreams if you don’t have the persistence to see it through.
Slangston Hughes: Time is sometimes the biggest challenge, because when you’re an entrepreneur it is inevitable that your personal life will bear a considerable amount of pressure, stress and neglect due to the amount of time and energy that goes into your professional pursuits. Also being in a serious car accident after a show was an event that physically, mentally, and emotionally took a great toll but when faced with life and death, and the idea of one’s health and mortality, things become clearer and you have to keep pushing, keep striving, go harder and take what’s yours, don’t stop.
Looking back, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Concise: Since we handle all operations ourselves, including recording, producing, promoting, booking, managing, etc… We could have had more helping hands in our movement earlier. However, we had a tight knit team of dedicated and motivated people that were all on the same page. So instead of wishing we had more help, we found ways to make things happen ourselves.
K.Words: It is easy to be the Monday Morning Quarterback, but truthfully, it’s all about forward movement. Every move we make gives us more knowledge and more experience. So to me, it’s better to look at how to improve for the future than it is to wish something was done differently. Prior “mistakes” could give you the knowledge and strength to propel you further than you would have gone without the experience. Gotta just make decisions, own it, and keep it movin’.
Slangston Hughes: We can truly say that we are self-made, and that only comes through going through the struggle and persevering and growing even stronger, having earned everything you have achieved. The reason why we’re so self-sufficient is because in the beginning we had no choice but to do everything ourselves. What that did was empower us to know for a fact that nothing is beyond our grasp. All the tribulations we have been through have helped us become both better artists and businessmen and more determined and resilient men. So now whether its writing and producing music for ourselves and others, directing videos, developing marketing and promotional plans, booking tours, we have invaluable experience and perspective.
Slang, in your opinion what’s been the biggest highlight for T2L so far? Has it opened additional doors for you?
Slangston Hughes: Performing for a crowd of 10,000 people at our alma mater was a great experience, especially since we take so much pride in our live show. It was great to go back to where we started out together and share the True 2 Life live experience with everyone. Also one of the biggest highlights has been our ability to conceptualize, execute, and deliver captivating and innovative visuals. As a brand, our visual presentation has continually opened up doors for us including placement on the likes of MTV, XXL Magazine, and Complex Magazine among other notable outlets. As a team we put so much time and effort into our videos and its great when they resonate with people for their creativity, risk taking, and entertainment value. So we’ll just continue to let our work keep speaking for us as our fanbase continues to grow worldwide. Some notable videos include “Daily Math“, “Monday 2 Sunday“, and “Pop The Glock.”
Concise, you were in Notorious, the biopic on the life of Biggie Smalls. How did that come about? Tell us about the experience? Has it opened the door to other opportunities?
Concise: We were invited to a casting that was being held out in the City in March of 2008. When we got there, we actually met with the director, George Tilman Jr. He liked all of us and liked me for the role of Gutta [of Junior Mafia] and asked me to do it. I remember thinking about what to tell my job at the time. After the casting, we were told about a series of practices and rehearsals that we needed to do before we started shooting. It was going to require a lot of time off but regardless of what my job would say, I had to take the opportunity. So I agreed to the role.
I knew the experience would be priceless, plus it’s a movie about my favorite rapper. I was honored. It was definitely cool during rehearsals because I was able to have the most personal time with the movie makers, crew and cast, and really got to speak with them and pick their brains. I was in there soaking game and networking like crazy, trying to meet any and everyone that I thought could help the movement. I kicked it with most of the remaining members of the real Junior Mafia who consulted on the movie, and I also met Ms. Wallace, Diddy, all of the cast including Angela Bassett, Gravy, Naturi, etc. Every day on set was an overall good time. I got to meet the director of the behind-the-scenes footage for the DVD set, and we ended up building a pretty good friendship and eventually a working relationship. We ended up working with her to film, produce and edit some of our later music videos.
Definitely dope. So Words, Every Dream Has A Price is out now. can you tell us a little bit about the project and the motivations behind it?
K.Words: The project is ten songs of pure expression. It is completely written and produced by us. Our lives motivated the project. We are very conscious of our position right now, and are both aware and prepared to recognize the sacrifices needed for us to reach our goals. That mindset is what motivates us most right now, and it’s what inspired the project. Every Dream Has A Price is a statement that celebrates achievement, but more so through the lens of making all the sacrifices we had to make worth it.
What is ultimate goal of T2L and what will you guys do when you achieve it?
Concise: Give T2L a global platform and leave behind a legacy for others to be motivated and inspired by. [We want to use] that global platform to spread truth, break stereotypes and motivate and empower like minded people across the world.
Slangston Hughes: As we undoubtedly continue to reach the goals we have set, we will continue to set new goals and continue to strive, continue to inspire, and continue to break down barriers and continue to be ambassadors of our culture and our people.
K.Words: I plan on enjoying our success, yet never rest on it.
What advice would you guys give to others aspiring to pursue an “alternative” or artistic career?
K.Words: Understand how the masses will look at your “alternative” choice. Some will disagree with it and think you’re making a mistake. Some will applaud you for being so passionate and daring. Either way, you should stay centered, never take anything for granted and never feel like you deserve anything. You have to earn it each step of the way.
Slangston Hughes: There’s no substitute for hard work no matter what your field or career path, whether you aspire to become a doctor, an entertainer, or a chef. You have to dedicate yourself to what it is you want to achieve. You have to set goals, and constantly re-evaluate. Put in the hours and have faith in yourself. Strong belief in self and an unshakable conviction is important. Having the audacity to believe that you can change the world is the first step and the second step is acting on that belief. Don’t be fooled by the perception of multitasking, try to focus on doing one thing exceptionally well before trying to do everything at once and being mediocre. Keep challenging yourself. Keep evolving. Educate yourself on what you’re getting into.
Concise: You have to be willing to sacrifice. It’s more than just hard work and clear goals, it’s really being willing to sacrifice in pretty much every other facet of your life and you have to be consistently dedicated.