Rap is often said to be a young man’s game. It’s a self-imposed limitation that has no real basis where skills are concerned. Many get the bug to pick up the mic in their early youth and carry on into their twenties. There comes a time in a rappers career, and any artist really, where age and life meet at a crossroads with that artistic pursuit. Financial responsibilities mount, pressure to get a “real job” and plan for your future come into play, and even the stigma of being an older head still chasing a dream instead of facing “reality” sets in. Many move on but others grind it out as the living embodiment of the quote “can’t leave rap alone the game needs me.”
The truth is, life as an independent rap artist is and can be a “real job”. It’s not an easy one. The constant travel, promotion, and brief highs and long lows can be extremely stressful. For some with the passion for the culture, the music, or the life, it’s worth it. But sometimes it’s not.
If you haven’t seen it or heard of it, Adult Rappers is a documentary that takes a look at what it’s like for independent rappers at various levels of their career. Masta Ace, Bobbito, J-Zone, Homeboy Sandman, Eternia and Murs are a few of the artists that share their experiences. We sat down with director Paul Iannocchino, Jr, a former DJ and producer who reached that crossroads and walked away, about his crowd-funded film that’s “stuck on the realness.”
I saw the documentary, Adult Rappers. First tell me a little bit about you; what’s your background, in hip-hop or in film making?
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Sure. I had a short middling hip-hop career and had some pride making films in some way shape or form on a parallel path the whole time. I have worked in the advertising business for a long time and always pursued music on the side until I had an opportunity to pursue music full time and did that for a bit. It didn’t suit me very well for a lot of different reasons. But I continued to have a lot of friends in that world and people who are pursuing or had pursued in varying degrees in their music career. That’s where the idea for the film started to take off. It was a chat with friends who were getting on in years and thinking about, is the pursuit of their art really what they want to do as a 9 to 5, for a lack of a better term. The same can be said for someone who wants to be a painter, someone whose been struggling to be a screen writer. It hits a point where the tipping point of diminishing returns; how many years can you say maybe this will be the year. Or people that have had some success but also come up against the wall of that grind and start to question is it really worth it just to pursue art and to be grinding like this.
Yeah, Exactly. It’s definitely a tough grind like several of the artists had said in the documentary; it can be disheartening after many years in. Like the story that J-Zone told about; he’s a headliner at this spot he shows up. The opening act had a lot of people there; his set there was no one there. Yeah, it’s a tough grind.
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Yeah. He’s still has never been on stage since then. He’s still makes music and he considers himself a musician and that’s what he is and what he does but experiences like that shape people, change people and obviously affect your trajectory in life as well as in the pursuit of making music.
Yeah, there’s no heath care, there’s no fallback, there’s no retirement. You keep going until you can’t go anymore. Okay, I’m sure you’re familiar with J-Live; he had philosophy regarding that situation that J-Zone found himself in and if you’ve performed you’ve probably been in that position before as well. I think he said, I think he called it like “5-50-500” or something like that; sometimes there’s 5 people, sometimes there’s 50, sometimes there’s 500. You never know what it’s going to be.
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: That’s cool. I mean J-Live has been doing it a long time so he can certainly speak to that. I saw him perform in a room that was closer to 5 and then 50. That was when I was in college; it was him and he was doing his routine himself on the turn tables where he would do like “Bragging Rights” but he would juggle the beat himself. It was amazing.
So how did you pick the artists for the documentary?
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: We started with people that I know, people that are friends, and people that I know personally, people that I know from making music. Spoke to them first and then sort of went out in concentric circles. So it was people that we knew, one degree of separation. Then that person co-signs and reaches out to somebody else. Then we just started to gain some momentum and people started to hear about it and talk about it, and went about it that way. Then I had some people that helped me out on the strength and would literally cold-email people. They would hear about or be interested in helping the film and say you gotta talk to this one and you gotta talk to that one. They would reach out on our behalf. It was pretty great. It was all of that and once it got a head of steam and you had material in the can, it was easier to approach people and show them stuff, and it wasn’t like working in a vacuum.
Right. I think it was great. I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary and I’ve recommended it to several people. What has the response been like since coming out?
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Oh Thanks. The response has been great. Any independently distributed piece of art, whether that’s your first record or a documentary film, it’s really hard to be noticed these days. Even more so now; there’s so much white noise on a daily basis. It’s really hard to break through; it’s hard to maintain any momentum. So we’ve seen a great peaks and valleys, since the film has been released. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We get a lot of great like, people would reach out and send emails and messages and what not; just to tell you that they really connected with the film. So that’s been encouraging. It’s at the end of its run on the Fandependent film festival right now, which is an online festival. It’s in first place in terms of audience award and been viewed the most on there by leaps and bounds. So I think people seem to want to see it, it’s like most things, even within the world of music, you go down the tiers of hip hop and independent hip hop and then the certain sort of schism of the people that, the circle that encapsulates the characters in that film. People are like, oh that’s right I was going to check that out. There’s a struggle for attention that I’m sure anybody that pursues an art form can relate to.
Yeah, for sure. I think I first came across it from a tweet that was scrolling through the feed and I clicked through it and saw it. You know, I was happy to see that, it was an interesting concept. There was one thing that kind of irked me in the film. The whole time I was watching it, there were no names that introduced the artists and of course you did it at the end of the film. So that was apparently a conscious decision; so what made you decide to not put the names first and to just bring them at the end?
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Yeah, it was a very conscious decision. I felt like these days, people don’t consume a story on one screen any more; rarely do they do that. I wanted you to engage with these guys in their story as they were telling it. I didn’t want people…I felt like for the small percentage of people that would know who those dudes were by lower-thirding them, the upside was so small for the broader audience, who would have no clue whether they saw their names or not, but might be distracted by, oh let me look this guy up. You know we are not talking about household names, and even household names in Hip Hop, I think for a broad audience, they go over most people’s heads. So we liked the idea of holding on to it till the end. Giving a sort of window into where those guys are at now or what they might be doing, and then obviously you have the very end where they all tell you their MC name as well as their full names to some extent. That’s the note we get from most people, but it was a conscious thing and we did it intentionally. I still feel like it plays better because you’re completely engaged with them in the moment in their story.
Right, I was definitely relieved when it came at the end, you know I knew a lot of the guys in there- I know a couple of the guys personally but at first I’m like, ‘are they just not going to put it, who am I watching here, what’s going on?’ but I kind of thought that might have been where you were coming from when it came at the end more like just get into the story of these guys not into who their name is or who they might be. So where is it that people can see it? I know you said it’s about to finish the run on that fandependent site.
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Yeah that’s the last day to see it there today, the next 24 hours. It’s still on Vimeo on demand so if you go to Vimeo you’ll find it there. I feel like if you google “Adult Rappers” the Vimeo on Demand site comes up first. You know, it’s still there and then I think as this festival run ends, we’re going to throw it up on YouTube so people can just see it for free. I would have put it on Facebook just because that’s where heads are at but the compression and all that stuff on Facebook is so bad, I’m going to throw it up on YouTube and then people can do with it what they will.
I think someone has actually done that already.
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Oh, is it on YouTube already?
Yeah, someone has already put it on YouTube.
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Yeah, I took it as a compliment when the torrent sites started spreading it all over the place so a lot of people want to see it so that’s cool.
It’s got to be tough though because I’m sure it’s not something that you threw together overnight.
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Yeah that is a reality that we all exist in these days.
Any plans to take it to any of the streaming services: Netflix, or anything like that?
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: No, no, I’ve been living with this film for too long at this point and I think if it were going to get distribution through one of those channels at this point it would have, all of us that have I’ve worked on it are ready to move on and if it was illegally on YouTube and ten thousand more people see it, that’s great.
Alright, any screenings or Adult Rappers tour planned?
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: No, like I said, I released the film on Vimeo over a year ago.
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Yeah, and it had a weird second life early this year. This blog picked it up and wrote and did a review and it saw all this traffic in February so it’s got of this weird second life in early 2016 and that’s also when this festival approached me and so we talked about doing some tours and screenings and stuff and again being self-funded, you know a crowd funded project, it’s just all this stuff takes money and we poured every dime that we had raised and plenty of our own just to make the film so I would have loved to have done like a little mini-tour with some of these guys and screen it and we had some interest in that here and abroad but again it was looking more like another self-funded effort; I just didn’t want to get into that.
Which is kind of appropriate for the content of the documentary itself. [Chuckles]
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Yeah, exactly.
So yeah, if you are moving forward, any more documentaries planned, you about to drop a hot sixteen somewhere?
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Haha, you’ll be the first to know. We’ve got some stuff in development and I’ve got some ideas that I’m pursuing but doing so cautiously. I mean I definitely don’t want to crowd fund another project, I want to get something semi-funded before I dive into it again and the crowd funding thing is like a career in rap; I think people underestimate how much work it takes to effectively market and deliver on a crowd funded project.
Alright, before we go, what was your rap name?
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: My rap name was DJ Pawl with a ‘w’.
Okay, DJ Pawl with a ‘w’. So you were DJ-ing, not spitting?
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: No, I was a DJ and a producer.
Alright, still making any beats in the mean time?
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Every once in a while, I’m like – I still have an MPC 2000 – I’ll throw a floppy in there, and just see or make a beat out of whatever happens to be in there and not save it or turn it on for my kids and mess around. Every once in a while I will toy with it but you know when you don’t have that fire like you do as a young man…I admire the people that still do just sort of jump, jump. My career desire is always leaned towards visual these days, and story telling so I’ll leave the music to the experts.
Well I think you did a good job with the film, with Adult Rappers. I think it was a story that was good to tell, you know a lot of people don’t know about that side of it as well so…
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: The B side of the game as Ice-T said.
The B side of the game. Yeah, it’s tough. Alright, any last things you want to say? Where can they find it, any websites and all that?
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Yeah, there’s an Adult Rappers Facebook page that I try to update and again I would say that the best place to see the film is Vimeo and it’s there. It’s ‘Adult Rappers’ on Vimeo on Demand and I do the most sort of updating and promotion and what not on twitter that’s @pawlmadethis where you found me.
Right, with a ‘w’.
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Yup, that’s pretty much my only socials.
Actually I think that it was from that festival tweet that I saw the Adult Rappers video– somehow I think someone retweeted it and it ended up in my timeline and I was like, ‘oh, okay, let me check this out.’
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Oh, yeah, we were fortunate to have Chuck D retweet us and shout it out…and that was cool so I think it definitely had a good day on twitter when that happened.
Yeah, it was Chuck; it was the retweet from Chuck D I think.
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: That’s cool.
Alright cool. I appreciate you taking the time out.
Paul Iannacchino, Jr: Yeah likewise man, thanks very much.
Since this interview, Iannocchino has released the Adult Rappers for free to watch on YouTube with the artist names appearing as they show up on screen. He wasn’t kidding that it was the main note he gets from people.