Narrated by Skyzoo, DEMOS is one of the only documentaries to truly delve into the world of independent hip-hop. Through interviews with Black Thought, Talib Kweli, Naughty By Nature and many more, DEMOS provides artists with an inside look at how to succeed in a music industry that’s been radically transformed over the last decade.
Life+Times caught up with one of the documentary’s filmmakers, Kareem Fort, to speak on marketing of independent hip-hop, the inspiration behind the film, and waiting for DJ Quik.
Life+Times: What inspired you to put together this documentary?
Kareem Fort: Running a digital label with Kevin Nottingham, we would get tons of emails from aspiring artists who were looking to get signed. Some were producers who wanted to submit beats but one thing that I noticed with most of them was that there was a lack of focus. Most of the emails were poorly written and the music just wasn’t up to par. I thought to myself, “Man it would be cool if there was some type of how to guide or handbook that could instruct these artists on how to get into this business.” I originally thought of writing a book but realized it would be much more compelling and effective to do a film about it and have several artists who had influence to speak on the topic, share their stories and give advice.
L+T: How long did it take to finally get to the point where you felt that you had all of the information that you needed to deliver a solid film?
KF: I would say after the first year and a half I started to round things out. The problem I ran into was that I felt that I didn’t say enough, even though we has close to 70 interviews. Trying to cover all of the aspects of how to achieve success in the music business just couldn’t be covered in 90 minutes so I had to pull back and just focus on the basic fundamentals. So DEMOS is really just a “Part 1.”
L+T” The “demo” used to be just a tape and maybe a press kit. Today’s concept of a demo seems to be much more involved for the artist and not so much about the record label doing the legwork. Would you agree?
KF: Definitely, due to the internet things have changed and that’s a good and bad thing, in my opinion. Most artists now are their label but lack the knowledge on how to run that business properly. I titled the film DEMOS to represent the beginning and the foundation. Everybody has to start somewhere.
L+T: What did you learn while shooting this documentary that you may not have been aware of before?
KF: I learned that most of the artists that we chose to interview truly had a passion for music and were more than willing to share their stories. After a few minutes of conversing with the artists they started to loosen up and all I had to do was stand back and let them talk. On the production side, I learned patience. Directing a film takes a lot of focus because it’s so easy to get off course.
L+T: Talk about what it took to make this documentary considering you shoot a wide gamut of artists seemingly across the U.S. with little to no budget.
KF: That was the biggest challenge. I knew that I would be the product of the product. Most indie artists don’t have a budget and I was no different. But not having a budget forces you to do two things: 1. It puts you in a position to be creative 2. Working without a budget means that you better have resources. Fortunately I had both. My producer Hassahn and I spent our last dollars to fly to New York and grab the Black Thought interview but I am glad we did because he was one of our best interviews.
L+T: Did you find that the artists and executives that are featured in the documentary to be surprisingly helpful?
KF: Yes, I had a sense that once my subjects had a clear understanding about the film’s concept and purpose they were very receptive and more than willing to give advice. I quickly learned that a lot of people who have achieved success or accumulated the know how couldn’t wait to educate but just hadn’t had the opportunity to.
L+T: Can you talk about some of the adventures in capturing some of the people who participated in this film?
KF: I will see if I can give you the short version of my DJ Quik story. I had been and still am a huge Quik fan so I was determined to get an interview with him. Fortunately, I was connected to Fuzzy Fantabolous who was a member of his management team. So, I had bugged Fuzzy for months trying to get this interview, while I was plotting to get an interview with Quik, I also wanted to mix things up and get a soul singer and thought it would be great to get Dwele although I had no connect to him whatsoever.
Well, after a while of leaving voicemails for Fuzzy, I was gonna give up on Quik and just move on but out of the blue, I got a call from Fuzzy and he told me that I could get the interview with Quik that evening. I immediately grabbed my team and ran over to his rehearsal studio. I was hyped! As we were waiting in the rehearsal space for Quik, we noticed a dude on the opposite side of the room with an afro and leather jacket. Lo and behold, it was Dwele! Needless to say that night we ended up getting a two for one.
L+T: What do you hope to accomplish with this film?
KF: All I want to do is inspire. I am not perfect, my film is not perfect but the message and the sentiment behind this film is genuine and if I can inspire some artists to do better and evaluate their purpose I have achieved my goal.