Derrick McKenzie discusses why he started the Ohio Hip Hop Awards; how the haters give him motivation; and why he feels the event is important for the state of Ohio.
“We started in 2006 as an opportunity to try to recognize Ohio artists. We didn’t think it was going to be anything special- let’s just do an award show. Twelve hundred people showed up and you know, it was a big deal for a lot of people so we decided to keep doing it.”
Starting out distributing newsletters through e-blasts about Cleveland’s hip hop scene, feedback came to McKenzie as to why there wasn’t anything to celebrate local artists. As a battle rapper himself, he along with other artists and producers pooled their resources to coordinate the first Ohio Hip Hop Awards. To his amazement within a short time, artists such as Ray Cash, Hi-Tek, Copywright, and MGK took notice and this acknowledgement pushed McKenzie to continue doing the event. “At first, it was just to get attention to artists who weren’t getting attention anywhere else. But as we grew, it took a more serious turn to where now we’re trying to make sure the economic wealth of the state is increased,” McKenzie describes the current purpose of the show. He adds that it’s not just a week of events or just a party, but he wants people to make money. An example he offers is how a songwriter who attended an A&R Meet and Greet workshop through his event met someone who contracted the songwriter to write songs for films, creating a consistent source of income from that relationship.
When describing some of the worst times throughout the years producing the event, McKenzie says, “Losing a lot of money and actually owing money was a big problem one year. It made me sick to my stomach. Almost not even having a show one year because the sound guys showed up two hours late and I had two thousand people waiting outside the door was bad.” He also mentions that many people think the show is biased and have accused him for taking money for nominations. “Many times people think we’re best friends with the artists… and that because (certain artists) have been on the ballot three or fours years, we’re tight. What’s someone going to pay for a wooden plaque? I’m not selling my soul for that.” He also describes how jealousy, envy and hatred from some have been hard on him throughout the years. “The whole shit talking people do is just crazy,” he explains. As the event began in support of artists, he tells how some hate the process of the nominations as they have even criticized the event. Yet and still, McKenzie doesn’t take offense to any of the negative views as he’ll let you know, “even Ghandi got shot so it is what it is.”
Now it’s about artists learning how to make money and bringing money to Ohio. Wanting the event to be an economic stimulus, he says others have now began to do events on their own based off of the Ohio Hip Hop Awards concept. He explains that it’s not just rappers that know about it, stating, “other people know about it and one of the things the awards show does is gets local people interested in their local artists.” What began as a one-day event has now grown into something impactful as other elements have been added such as his state-wide summer tour and The Made In Ohio Showcase. Eventually, McKenzie is working toward doing a festival as well as a national conference. He says, “We want more people to be famous in part because of this so that the scene is stronger.”
McKenzie mentions his best means in finding artists is through word of mouth and research. He says people have to believe in you and word of mouth is the most authentic thing to back that. This along with the artists’ marketing are elements that he takes note of when considering nominations. He finishes saying the most important thing is seeing the artist out and presenting themselves. “Things like this are documentation and proof to what you do,” he says. The Ohio Hip Hop Awards serves as a platform for artists to not only showcase their skills, but to build their brand and business. Throughout his journey of supporting Ohio artists, McKenzie is very well aware of the challenges he faces year after year. He doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon as he’ll admit in regards to his shows, “They’re all really good. I just enjoy the ride!”
Be sure to check out the 2017 Ohio Hip Hop Awards week from September 14 through September 17, 2017. For more information see ohiohiphopawards.com.
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