Everyone that made it had struggles and hardships. It’s how you learn and grow. It’s part of the process. Respect the process. Fall in love with the process.
Coming to the concrete jungle to grow a dream is not for the faint of heart. But as the saying goes “if you can make it here you can make it anywhere.” Mekka Don is from the Midwest, a lawyer, and moved to NYC to get his career as a rapper full steam ahead. The lawyer in him understands that he is a brand and signing a record contract just for a deal is not in his best long term interest. Yet he respects the rap game and those that came before him. He’s not hating other rappers that came from the streets. Without them hip hop would not exist or have evolved into a new music form that is as American as apple pie and jazz. Yet he represents an alternative – good lyricist, good flow, educated, and dedicated to giving back to those coming after him.
Mr. Refined™ Magazine (MR): Things must be hectic with the upcoming release of your debut album The Dream Goes On March 4th.
Mekka Don (MD): Yes. It’s my first full album and will be available digitally via iTunes, Spotify, and other online music platforms.
MR: Okay, let me jump right in. When you were a child, what did you want to be growing up?
MD: I was always athletic and wanted to be an athlete, performer, and doctor. Doctor because of the Cosby Show, but also my older brother and sister are doctors. It sounded cool and prestigious.
MD: My freshman year in college my brother and sister were completing their medical residency. Their lack of sleep made me rethink being a doctor. I still wanted to do something prestigious and good. I was inspired by a college professor. He taught ‘Intro to Law’ and said I had a talent.
MR: What assistance did you have in your college and career preparation?
MD: I had my siblings as examples. My dad suggested that I major in Political Science to go to law school.
Getting used to the money from my salary was something that I knew would hinder me getting back to music. I had to put my back against the wall or it wouldn’t happen.
MR: Are you first generation college?
MD: No. Both my mom and dad have PhDs. Between the two of them they have a combined ten degrees. Education was very important in my family. They made it important such that it became important to us, not just doing it to make them happy.
MR: How did you navigate going from Point A to Point B? Was the transition easy? Did you feel like you lived in two worlds?
MD: My parents were hard working middle class. We were not wealthy. My parents and siblings were my role models. My siblings helped me with the college application process. I don’t take it for granted that I had someone to guide me through the process. I had three advantages: (1) the importance of education instilled from my family; (2) being the youngest of four, family helped guide me through college; and (3) my parents sent me to parochial school for grammar and high school. It was still a struggle for them. I didn’t always wear new clothes. I had “hand me downs” from my siblings. But the hard work ethic my parents instilled paid off.
MR: What were your parents’ reaction to your career choice?
MD: Unofficially, I started rapping at 6,7, 8 years old. I always had a passion, but didn’t know if I would be able to pursue it for real. In high school, I joined band and started taking music seriously – learning how to play instruments. I started to perform publicly in college.
MR: How did you imagine your career path would transpire? How did you plan your transition from law to musician/artist?
MD: In college, I never exactly knew what the plan was. I figured due to my experience as an athlete, I could balance the two. Just thought I could do both. Maybe I was naïve, but being naïve was helpful. I got a lot out of both. In law school, I knew I couldn’t do both forever, so had to stop music to practice law. I knew I would eventually leave the practice to pursue music.
After graduating law school, I took a job at a law firm. A few months in, I knew this wasn’t for me, but I wanted to get some legal experience under my belt. After about nine months, I decided. I was still living at home to save money because I knew I needed money saved. Also, I figured if I stayed at the firm too long, I wouldn’t leave because I would get used to the money and perks and start taking on debt living a certain lifestyle which would prevent me from pursuing the music. I still had some law school debt even though I had a partial scholarship.
Getting used to the money from my salary was something that I knew would hinder me getting back to music. I had to put my back against the wall or it wouldn’t happen. The day I decided to give my resignation notice to the partner was when I understood the magnitude of what I was about to do. It felt like the walk of shame down the hall from my office to his. What if I was black balled and couldn’t come back? Fortunately, the partner was cool. He said, “I knew this would happen. It only makes senses. I wish you the best. Come back as a client.” That was encouraging, but then it was time to pay my dues in the music industry.
MR: What happened after you gave notice that you were leaving the firm?
MD: I became an entrepreneur to fund my dream of being an artist. I did not stop practicing law altogether. Those skills were useful. We started “Soul’s Cabin,” a multi-layered company handling sports management, event marketing for athletes, the record label, and endorsement deals. I ended getting more legal experience, brokering music license contracts at this stage, than working with the firm. I was trying to crack into the music industry, but they were not comfortable with who I was as an artist, particularly because I was not from the streets.
I was very naïve about the hip-hop industry. It was a hard wake up call. We were a little cocky and not as humble as we should have been. We had to pay dues in the music industry, so they would see it’s really my passion, I’m not going away – this wasn’t a fad for me.
MR: Did you think the creation of Soul’s Cabin was your big break?
MD: In 2008, I released a mixed tape titled “Law & Order” to try and put my story out (lawyer turned rapper). It created a fire storm especially within the legal community. Although one legal publication featured me and gave me praise for my creativity, others raked me through the coals saying I wasted my legal education and took up space for someone that “deserved” to be in law school. The criticism was so horrific that friends and family told me never to read that article. No one interviewed me but made every wrong and negative assertion about me.
I thought “Law & Order” would be something because we had a noted DJ that worked on the production. I was very naïve about the hip-hop industry. No one would listen to it or play it. They were like “who is this guy, not from the streets, doesn’t represent the streets – get out.” I couldn’t get anyone to listen. It was a hard wake up call. We were a little cocky and not as humble as we should have been. We had to pay dues in the music industry, so they would see it’s really my passion, I’m not going away – this wasn’t a fad for me.
In 2009, I spent time trying to create music. I knew no record label would be interested so I worked on my music. I got some media exposure that lead to a collaboration with Bizzy Bone of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. That gave me more credibility.
From 2009-2011, I wrote music with an established music engineer/songwriter. She asked me to be her writing partner. It was a dream because it meant being in the studio a lot. For the next year and a half, I just wrote. We wrote everything from hip hop, pop, R&B, songs for video games, radio, television, and other artists.
Less than a year later, sometime in 2010, I decided to approach ESPN’s SportsWorld about using my music on their segments. In a week, I brokered a music licensing agreement with ESPN. Due to my legal background, I actually negotiated the deal AND made sure that I received video credits on television. All within a week. At the time, I didn’t realize it was such a big deal. The legal background definitely helped. Without it, I may not have received television credit.
We started out strong then slowed. It takes time to build a brand. My legal background was helpful, but building a brand requires work.
MR: Where did the “Pilot Boys” logo/name come from?
MD: In 2010, I was in the studio writing a song. I had the melody, but no lyrics. So I started playing with words and eventually came up with the Pilot Boys hook. We submitted the song to different artists, but no one picked it up. So I decided to record it myself and made it a full song released 2011. Around the time of the song release, me and my business partner thought of t-shirts and logo merchandise to coincide with the song release. We passed out t-shirts at every show. People loved the shirts. It just happened that former Houston Texan and New York Giant, Derrick Ward, attended a performance. He said the t-shirts were hot and we should make a full clothing line. We met with Derrick to talk about branding Pilot Boys. We started out strong then slowed. It takes time to build a brand. My legal background was helpful, but building a brand requires work.
MR: Pilot Boys 2012. What was your thought process during this time?
MD: Branding the clothing for Pilot Boys taught me about branding myself in the music industry. Things matter. Where you are from matters, especially in hip hop. People are attracted to who you are, what you represent, and how you are different from other artists. Not sure if we knew the answer to that a year before. We learned about us, who we were. We could make fun music with swag and a purpose. So we made the song and video “Dirty.” We submitted it to MTV-U, through the regular submission process. There were four other artists, all on major record labels. We were the only independent artists and figured we had no chance because we didn’t have a built in fan base or label support. We were just happy to be in the contest. When we won by 86% of viewers vote, winning rotation play on MTV, we knew that was a huge break!
Six months later we released “Here We Go” and it was accepted on MTV. We got featured on Source and other hip hop magazines and blogs. Finally, we started to be taken serious as artists. In 2012, Sway had me on as a guest – national spotlight. I started to feel like other people were seeing me as an artist and loving the music.
That same year, I met with the president of The Ohio State University, my alma mater. I was a walk-on football player. The president wanted me to do music for them as a result of the success and music I was making. That’s when we came up with “Let’s Go (O-H-I-O).” It was played at football games. It officially became the basketball anthem last year. Then the football department requested a song based on the coach’s mantra “bringing the juice.” We came up with “Juice” – the official football anthem. I entered a licensing agreement for both songs. It opened up a new level. Getting the songs licensed was officially the game changer. There was a “Juice” t-shirt marketing campaign nationwide. It is also the first time a university officially licensed music from a hip hop artist.
MR: What has your journey taught you?
MD: You can’t win without hard work, perseverance, and respect – even those that pushed you. Follow your heart, but use your brain.
MR: What advice do you have for people chasing their dreams and meeting obstacles?
MD: If you’re passionate about it, keep plugging away. Everyone that made it had struggles and hardships. It’s how you learn and grow. It’s part of the process. Respect the process. Fall in love with the process.
MR: What is on the horizon for you? Where should we look out for you?
March 4th The Dream Goes On
MR: We look forward to the success of the upcoming album. We will leave you with this pearl of wisdom to power you on your dream chasing journey.
The root of many problems is broken expectations; if not dealt with, they mature into anger and bitterness.