A Jaffna born youth recently made a sensation in the Los Angeles when he became the first Tamil artist to release an English Rap CD.
The launch was was held at a Hollywood Landmark Mansion which belongs to a Sri Lankan in Los Angeles.
The youth brands himself as G-Vo while his actual name is Rajeev Nandakumaran. Containing 14 tracks the name of the CD is ‘Wasn’t supposed to be this way.’ It is priced at US$ 13 and is released by John Baptist Records.
Theme of his album is Peace and Rajeev’s mission is visiting Australia and Sri Lanka middle part of this year. Also, this CD was played on the Sri Lankan Radio Station at the same time when the CD was released.
The subjects of the tracks on the album range from world issues, to faith based perspectives. The album is inspirational-questioning the plight of our society in America, and offering a third world and faith based paradigm.
Vo searches his soul to find Truth out of his circumstances, and his Creator. Other subjects explored are humility, pre-marital sex, the ills of Hollywood, human depravity, and the death of his mother, a spokesman for the young artist said.
Among invitees were influential musicians and record executives in the Los Angeles Area; family and friends of John Baptist Records; artists close friends and family; media, production companies such as JnB Productions (sound and engineering). Religious dignitaries from all faiths were present as well.
Rajeev’s 90-year-old grandmother, Mrs. Savithiri Navaratnam, bought the first CD on the stage. The registered guests were about 700 and organizers claimed this was a record-breaking crowd in a house environment. After the concert was over, traditional Sri Lankan Hopper and byriyani dinner was served.
The launch venue was Historical Pantages Mansion-Eagle Rock, CA. Owners of this mansion is Nalliah Rajah family. This mansion was built in 1920 by the Hollywood Pantages Theatre owner Late Mr. Alexander Pantages, who was the one who created the theatre system throughout USA and Canada. He was one of the richest immigrants in US in 1920s. This mansion is about 8000 square feet in more than one-acre lot. Mr. Nalliah M. Rajah was the host for this CD Release. The CD is available online at www.johnbaptistrecords.com, www.amazon.com, www.itunes.com
Following are exceprts of the interview with the artist.
Q: How has having a UCLA degree affected your efforts to break into the music industry? How has it changed your music?
A: A UCLA degree has helped me permeate the business world in very distinct ways. I have used my degree in becoming an internal consultant within Kaiser Permanente under their project management sector. As a professional in corporate America, you are exposed to a lot more resources and people than an average artist. Working and paying my own way in the music industry has given me creative control over my music, simply because we do not rely on other sources for funding the music. When you supply your own resources, you can control your outcome. Furthermore, being stable financially gives me the freedom to take risks with my music. I do not have to be a slave to opinions and criticisms. The important thing to remember is that I aspire to be much more than an artist. I am also co-owner of my label, and am involved in all our business ventures. Business and music have to work hand in hand in order to maximize its influence in our society. People are generally shocked when they learn that I am a hip-hop / r&b / soul artist, but have graduated from UCLA. It brings something very unique to the industry â€“ especially in hip-hop. I want to reach even the educated people â€“ to show them that their institutionalised education does not trump the life lessons that people in lower classes are forced to learn. Opportunity does not make a person. It is our reaction to our God-given circumstances that is truly of value.
Q: Is there a running theme to your album? If so, what is the general message and who is your target audience?
A: The general theme of my album is inherent in the title: ‘Wasn’t Supposed to be this Way.’ When I came into the industry, journalists, critics, and record executives told us that the sound was far too risky. They appreciated the mixing of all the genres of music, but felt that I had to dumb down my lyrics and musicianship to better reach a target demographic. However I used this to my advantage. I refused to listen to the voice of humans as I quote in ‘Song Wrote Me.’ When I say ‘Wasn’t Supposed to be this Way,’ I mean several things by it. The music was not supposed to be this way, the lyrics were not supposed to be this positive, and the world wasn’t supposed to be this way. We are all a part of God’s redemption. We all settle for a second-class lifestyle. What I want to do is to inspire people to be great in their own lane-To be the voice for the voiceless, and to bring back hope and love in the music industry. My target audience is everyone. There is something for everyone on this record, and I will continue to write music that will inspire any demographic. I do understand that this is incredibly ambitious. However, I would much rather strike out at striving for something groundbreaking, than succeeding in something that has been done before.
Q: There are a lot of aspiring young hip hop musicians. What sets you apart?
A: There are wonderful hip hop artists that are more talented and brilliant than I will ever be. What sets me apart is what sets everyone apart-The love of God. All I want to do is to share my heart, experiences, and stories with the world. I am a product of Civil War in a third world country. I was born in a village, and fled Sri Lanka during civil unrest. My family was almost burned alive. I have a story that Americans need to hear. Whether you are in the church, the street corner, or a CEO of a fortune 500 company, I am called to speak to you. I cannot promise how you will feel after you hear what I have to say, but I can guarantee you that there is something precious in the music.
Q: Your music blatantly mentions God. Have you experienced any negative reactions to your music? If so, from who and how do you approach such reactions?
A: People respect honesty and authenticity. I can only talk about what I know, and what I feel like I have to offer. The problem with the music industry today is that it is run by a bunch of elitists who have to curb truth and reality. Since money is not my objective, I can depict my reality in a way that has impact. Surprisingly enough, people respect that about my music. Even though I talk so much about God, people know it’s me. This is what drives me. My relationship with Jesus Christ is what defines me. I think I have been well-received because I present my faith in such a unique way. The Christian music scene does not address the issues that I raise, nor does the secular industry. Of course we have the critics, but how can I be mad at them? That is what they are here for. And quite honestly, I live for any type of motivation to spread my message. I’m here to push the envelope on any given front!
Q: Your ethnic, religious and educational backgrounds do not fit into the mainstream perceptions of hip hop artists. How have general audiences reacted to such difference?
A: My atypical background has been embraced. I am a Sri Lankan born Christian refugee living in America, who raps, sings, produces, song writes, plays the piano, and works in corporate America. We are coming upon a time where people are fed up with the norm. There is something about our boxes that we place people in that do not suffice. Audiences have embraced my walking cultural clash! It has been a privilege of mine to champion my country, faith, and people – both Sri Lankan and non-Sri Lankan. We are all children of God.
Q: Do you feel the mainstream public is ready and open to what may be considered controversial subject matter, like religion?
A: Kanye West paved the way for artists like me. ‘Jesus Walks’ won best rap song of the year at the Grammy Awards. The public is not only ready, but demanding a different message in the music industry. I don’t do Christian rap. When you see me, you have to listen to me ‘Because I’m not the white evangelist that you see in the mid-west telling people that they are going to hell. I’m from the third world-A poor, low-class refugee. It’s time that America listens to the third world. We’ve listened to America for far too long. Truth shall set you free. So for this reason alone, I have to say that the public is absolutely ready for this subject matter. And hey, I have long songs on my record too!
Q: Why did you decide to launch your own label rather than join an existing one? Who else is on your label?
A: I don’t want my goals for music to be contingent upon me. This is not about me. It is about a movement. There are a lot of better and brighter artists than me. I personally know of many! John Baptist Records is bigger than the people involved. If I die tomorrow, I want the label to keep making revolutionary music that will uplift peoples’ souls, and bring them closer to their Creator. We have had plenty of offers to join other independent labels. However, my vision is set. I cannot stray away from the message and content. I have a job to do that goes beyond selling records. There are a lot easier ways to make money-believe me! Currently, I am the only artist on the label. Since we are independent, we only have a budget for one artist right now. Our next step is to sign a distribution deal with a larger label that will put money into our marketing and promotions. We have had about 35 artists that have been interested in signing with us.
Q: Between the music production, writing, performing and the actual business, what part of the musical process do you enjoy the most and why?
A: Songwriting and Performing are my two greatest thrills in music. When you song write, you literally make something out of absolutely nothing. This is where I see the grace of God in music. This is expressed on the third track on my album, ‘Song Wrote Me.’ I believe that every aspect of creating a song is from God. He can give that particular song to anyone, but He chooses to give it to you. It’s as if He takes so much pleasure in creating with you. Performing is my other love, because you see first-hand how your music has an affect on people. You can connect with the crowd on a very intimate level, and you expose yourself to the scrutiny of thousands. It is an honor that I do not take for granted, which keeps me working to perfect my stage presence and sound.
Q: Of all your songs, which has been the most difficult to write and what was your inspiration?
A: There is a track called ‘Top of the World,’ on the record. I do not want to give away the metaphors and controversial nature of the song. However, I will say that people have reacted very strongly to the song. Most people love it, but a lot of people do not agree with it. I love this about song writing. Since I have the mike, I can say what I want! It’s difficult to go against the conventional mindset. But there are rewards that are priceless-like integrity, honesty, and character.
Q: How would you like to see yourself grow musically? Are there other musical genres you’d like to explore?
A: I am fine with staying in my ‘genre.’ I am a mix between soul, soft rock, hip-hop, and r&b. I think there are many strides that have to be made in what I have set out to do. I cannot even think further beyond this for right now! I would like to grow in my ability to perform live on the piano. Right now, I’m decent. I want to be able to sing and play effortlessly.
Q: In your entire experience of writing music, what is one of the more ridiculous lyrics you’ve penned while discovering your musical ability?
A: I love this question! Gets me so excited! Let’s see…here’s one:
I Kobe Bryant the ball, Barry Bonds the bat / A free man like Morgan in the opening act / Sean Cartered the mike, Shakespeared the pen / Magic Johnsoned the pass, back to Kobe to win / Architect of the Arsenal gets stronger with time / Fought tigers in the woods but I came through fine / The field is Holy Evander let the enemy rumble / Warren Sapped the fumble, John Baptist the jungle! Do you get it?
Q: Who is on your IPOD’s ‘currently most played’ list?
A: Boyz II Men, John Legend, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Andrea Bocelli, Lupe Fiasco, Coldplay
I hate when people act like they are so versatile and try and put all types of music. I mean really, are we that eclectic?
21 comments February 5th, 2008