“For me it has always been about the passion to support, promote, and talk about what had an impact on my life growing up in the negative environment and seeing this positive outlet grow right in front of me.”
Halftime: I always felt Insomniac had a nice niche focusing on the business aspect of the industry as the only hiphop trade magazine. What made you choose that route?
Iz-Real (Insomniac): I never really aspired to be a publisher at all or be involved with a magazine or anything like that. What happened was I was a big fan of the Source from back in the day. In the early 90’s I used to pick it up and in the back it always had who was going to be on the front cover in the next issue. I got it and it had Ultramagnetic on it but when I got the next issue it wasn’t Ultramagnetic it was TLC. So I really took offense to that because they were supposed to be covering hiphop and when I saw that, no disrespect to TLC, it wasn’t what I considered hiphop. Not really seeing what I considered real hip hop inspired me to start the magazine and it progressed from there. I also got involved in radio through a friend of mine who had a real popular hiphop radio show in New York called Kevin Keith and the Dirty Dozen. So I started doing radio in the early 90’s, the first hiphop radio show in Orlando once I moved here. That’s what put me onto the radio aspect and the trade aspect. I had a lot of friends in underground radio so it was a merging of both the magazine and the radio aspect. I also used to be the editor for the Jack the Rapper, which was the oldest urban trade publication. I saw a lot of things I didn’t like there so I took all these things that I didn’t like about all of these media outlets and kinda put together Insomniac.
I feel like the focus that you have really separates you from a lot of other magazines. Do you see any more payoffs from going that route such as more labels and industry insiders approaching you?
I can deal with the same people as other magazines because we’re all approached by the same publicists that are working the same groups. I just choose to have a different perspective. I always felt it was kinda useless to have whoever is hot at the time on every cover simultaneously. As far as the payoff my motivation has been to educate. I have been in different hiphop shoes aside from being a fan. I’ve been an artist, I’ve been a journalist, a radio host so I’ve seen it from different perspectives so my thing has always been to try to educate and inform people about the inside dealings. I always root for the underdog and that’s what I look for when I do editorial in the magazine.
What are some of your duties as far as Insomniac Magazine is concerned?
Everything man. Any company that you are the head of you have to be over almost any outlet of that company that you can imagine. It’s everything from public relations to hands on writing.
How do you go about balancing your time and still put out something that’s quality?
I’m a big time multi-tasker. It’s about being motivated to do as much as you can. I just came back from New York. We just had a listening party for the album we just released, the Mic Planet Sessions, so out there I was conducting interviews for the magazines acting as a journalist, a promoter, every hat. That’s just my personality and I really wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m the type of person who can’t deal with downtime hence the name Insomniac.
A lot of people who have started magazines always say to those aspiring to not do it. Why do you think that is and what’s your opinion on somebody who wants to start up there own thing?
I don’t have any problem at all with that if you feel like you want to do it then you do it. I would say one thing to add to that though, if you’re going to do it do it to fill a gap. There are too many magazines that I see, big and small, that bite elements that I incorporated into my magazine and some of the elements I’ve even let go because I hate seeing people bite it. When I grew up in the Bronx River projects biting was the ultimate sin. Today it’s the opposite like if something is hot you have to do the same thing. Maybe people say it because it’s not easy to self publish, dealing with big time competition but at the same time do it for a reason, to fill a gap in the marketplace that you feel you’re providing something that no one else is providing. Too many times I don’t see that happening. That’s the reason I never did graffiti. I respect graffiti but it was something that was already been done. So when I got into it a lot of people asked me why don’t you do graffiti and I was like why should I, everyone else is doing it, I don’t have a problem with the way they are covering it, and I wouldn’t be filling a gap. That’s always been my philosophy do it for a reason not just because you can do it.
You’ve been around for a minute, just released the seventh anniversary issue, what motivates you to keep putting it out?
Despite that there is more media coverage I still see that void. Most people don’t know what hiphop is. Real hiphop is not being shown. At the same time I grew up with hiphop, Bambaata used to chill on the corner of my block when I was a kid, so not to be clichÃ© but you have to represent what you know and what I know to be hiphop is not being represented.
On the business side everybody knows the major source of income comes from ads and you need a lot of upfront money to start. What was your business plan when you started the magazine and what steps did you take to get it off the ground?
I was involved with another trade publication so I already knew that business and saw the inside workings, what they were doing wrong and what I think I could do better. That’s the reason Insomniac is also a consumer publication because the one I was working for was strictly a trade publication.
With advertisers providing a major source of income have any tried to punk you into featuring their artists or product and if so how do you deal with those situations?
It happens. I have advertisers that we do stories on but these are people we are going to do stories on anyway. We’ve had people try to buy the front cover of the magazine. We’ve had drug lords basically like here’s x amount of g’s let’s make this happen. That’s obviously not the route I’m trying to take it. If you see a drug dealer on my cover you know we have a problem. It happens but I’ve been able to avoid those pitfalls. At the publication I used to work for that was the big thing. It was so bad that the publicist of the label would actually supply the feature story. That still happens to this day. The front cover of a lot of trade magazines actually says advertising in tiny print.
What’s your favorite issue that you’ve done and which has been the most informative?
My overall favorite issue would be the Kool Keith issue. He is one of my favorite artists. I’d say the most informative was definitely the Hiphop business issue.
What’s something you’re looking forward to doing with Insomniac?
A little bit of everything we’re already doing. I’ve been involved in releases a long time before I ever dreamed of starting a magazine. As far as Insomniac is concerned it’s putting out unique releases. We just had the Mic Planet Sessions which was a compilation featuring some of the dopest lyricists in hiphop. Before that we had the Drastic Jungle project which was like the dopest underground emcees mixed with the dopest drum and bass producers. Before that we’ve had a lot of stuff that’s been on the dl because I’m not going to put the cover story of Insomniac’s Mic Planet Sessions. I’m also on some of the projects as an artist but I’m not gonna put myself in the magazine.
What’s the best and worst thing about what you do as far as publishing the magazine?
The best thing is the reward of being able to do what I started out to do teaching people about hiphop the way I learned it back in the Bronx. The worst thing is really dealing with a lot of stereotypes. There are a lot of stereotypes being put into this culture. That’s aggravation outside of the business side at just seeing how badly hiphop gets twisted. At the same time it’s also the unprofessional nature of so many people in the business. People think because its hiphop they can act in an unprofessional manner. For some reason its like hiphop is the exception where you can act a fool, not know how to speak English, not know how to present yourself in a business sense and possibly be rewarded for that. Its almost endorsed like the more idiotic you are the more people are kinda open to you. Who better to take advantage of?
What suggestions do you have for someone who wants to do what you do?
For me personally I’ve always been motivated by my passion and not dollar signs. I have a marketing degree but it’s not something they teach you in school. If it’s something that you feel passionate about it may not bring you success financially, but maybe it will bring you success emotionally and maybe turn into a financial success as well. For me it has always been about the passion to support, promote, and talk about what had an impact on my life growing up in the negative environment and seeing this positive outlet grow right in front of me. At the end of the day it’s about what you believe in.