In a time when rappers are a dime a dozen, it’s nice to come across an artist that stands out from the crowd. Russell Kelly, aka R.Dot, is one of those artists.
It’s not just his babyface (he looks much younger than he is), or his frat-boy swag (funny, stylish, charming … and always down for a good time) – the Shreveport native is an artist who possesses a tireless work ethic, potent lyricism and a positive attitude that eludes most in this industry.
A Fair Park High alumnus, R.Dot began his rap career when he walked those hallowed Indian halls.
Starting first as a dance group member, he parlayed the popularity into another aspect of entertainment … dropping freestyles and CDs to anyone who’d listen.
Years later, R.Dot is well known in the city, as a solo artist and part of two popular rap collaborations. His most recent claim to fame was becoming the first champion of the 318 Cypher, a newly formed rap competition based in Shreveport.
The 318 Cypher is where I first met R.Dot. He was there representing his group 40 Karats and standing in for a member who couldn’t attend that night. Several months and rounds later, he fast became a Cypher favorite and ended up taking the title for 2010.
As the event moves through its 2nd cycle and R.Dot’s reign comes to an end, I thought I’d sit down with him for a Black Music Month exclusive. I wanted to delve a little deeper into the musical mind of a creative individual who is consistently chipping away at this tough industry, and slowly making his mark.
This is a just a brief look into his past, present and future --- R.Dot: The Man and The Music.
M: TELL ME ABOUT THE FIRST TIME YOU HEARD RAP MUSIC ... WHAT WAS THE FIRST SONG YOU REMEMBER?
R: I have no idea, but I think the first rap song I ever liked was "Hay" by Crucial Conflict. (Laughs) I know the irony of that one. I remember asking my mom to buy the tape and playing it over and over until I could say all the words on my own to the instrumental.
M: WHO WERE YOUR FAVORITE ARTISTS GROWING UP?
R: Cash Money the entire label, Jay-Z, Tupac, Beanie Sigel, and Bone Thugs
M: WHAT ABOUT THEM MADE YOU A FAN?
M: WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITES RAPPERS NOW (AND WHY?)
R: J. Cole and Lupe Fiasco. They raised the bar for lyricism and good music.
M: LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR LYRICISM, WHAT WAS THE FIRST RAP YOU EVER WROTE ABOUT?
R: I have no idea. I think it was a song I did to the PAC man beat when Lil Flip and DSR freestyles were hot.
M: HOW HAS YOUR SUBJECT MATTER CHANGED SINCE THAT FIRST TIME?
R: Well, it's no more pop trunk on trash cans and toilets and shit. (Laughs) I kinda just matured so everything I talk about now I have actually experienced and can put into perspective. I have a lot more to talk about now.
M: I KNOW YOU'RE WITH 40 KARATS NOW, HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN A PART OF A GROUP?
R: Actually no. I started off as part of the All-Stars. We actually started as a dance group and eventually start rapping just because it was fun.
M: WHEN DID AN ALL-STAR EXCLUSIVE BEGIN?
R: All-stars was the name of our dance group. Since that couldn't be copywritten an All-Star Exclusive was born. We became 40 Karat affiliated a couple years later.
M: A DANCE GROUP? WHAT WAS THAT LIKE? DO YOU STILL KNOW ANY OF THE DANCES?
R: Funnest thing ever. We competed and won a couple competitions. We also got booked to go dance at different venues, clubs, and parties. I no longer dance.
M: HOW DID YOU GO FROM DANCING TO RAPPING?
R: Easy. We used the same group. You spend enough time around people you discover more talent.
M: BACK TO YOUR GROUP NOW, HOW DID YOUR 40KARATS AFFILIATION COME ABOUT?
R: Well, we worked on a couple tracks and the more music we made, the more we saw potential to come together as a group and make it happen.
M: EVER SOUGHT OR HAD A RECORD DEAL?
R: No, had a couple offers for some distribution packages but nothing concrete.
M: WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF BEING A GROUP MEMBER, AS OPPOSED TO BEING A SOLO ARTIST?
R: Pros would have to be promoting and networking is easier with a group. It's also cool when we hit the road.
Cons are getting everyone on the same page and working with everybody's schedule.
M: WHAT ARE THE STRENGTHS OF EACH OF YOUR 40K COUNTERPARTS?
R: That Guy Dwayne - is a marketing mastermind. He also mixes, masters, directs video and produces.
Killa Cam - "The thinker" is a more laid back member. His delivery, along with vivid story telling verses, make him one of the best lyricists to do it. He also produces and does video editing.
PakMann- The group comedian. He always keeps you laughing. He's also got some of the best wordplay in the game.
J. Locc- The "hook king" is a phenomenal singer/rapper. He writes songs and produces as well.
Joe Feezy- A.k.a. Hype Man of the Year, is one the more lively characters of the group. He gets us motivated and ready to work.
M: NOW THAT YOU TOLD US ABOUT YOU? – WHERE’D THE NAME R.DOT COME FROM?
R: (Laughs) People used to call me R. Kelly because of my initials. That got old quick, so I shortened it to R. (R.Dot)
M: YOUR STYLE IS KIND OF DISTINCT -- A CONFIDENT FLOW AND POTENT PUNCH LINES --- WHAT HAS SHAPED YOUR STYLE OF RAPPING?
R: My style was shaped by my influences in music mixed with what I have seen. I just try to relax and have fun and let the words come to me.
M: WHAT'S YOUR WRITING PROCESS -- DO YOU WRITE TO BEATS OR COME UP WITH VERSES AND GET CUSTOM BEATS?
R: I actually write verses without beats. I write hooks to beats and go from there.
M: WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU WERE LITTLE (OR HAVE YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO MUSIC)?
R: I always wanted to be a psychiatrist and musician. Music was always incorporated in some way.
M: LET’S TALK ABOUT THE MUSIC INDUSTRY -- WHAT DO YOU THINK IS MISSING FROM HIP HOP TODAY?
R: Loyalty. Fans won't buy support artist, artist won't support artist, and nobody is true to the music.
M: WHY DO YOU THINK FANS DON'T SUPPORT ARTISTS AS MUCH AS THEY USED TO?
R: Technology. It's not that fans don't support. It's just that technology has advanced so much that it's just other ways to get the music. But with good artist go to a concert and see that true fans will come out every time.
M: WHY DO YOU THINK ARTISTS DON'T SUPPORT EACH OTHER?
R: Greed. Everybody wants to be the best, and at the end of the day this is a business. So they get more concerned with that aspect and less focused on the actual music.
M: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE NEGATIVITY OF THE INDUSTRY (HATERS, DOUBTERS, ETC)?
R: I don't. If I hear or read negative comments it's really in one ear and out the other. As long as the music comes from the heart, somebody is gonna like it.
M: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE LOCAL MUSIC INDUSTRY? WHAT ARE THE GOOD AND BAD SIDES OF BEING A LOCAL ARTIST IN SHREVEPORT?
R: I think it's that tag along that sets music back. I never made music on a local scale. I'm not shouting out hoods or any of the because I see myself as a mainstream artist. The good thing about it I guess is that it makes you a star locally. The bad side is that doesn't sell records.
M: ON A GRANDER SCALE, AS FAR AS YOUR MUSIC APPEAL, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU BRING TO HIP HOP THAT IS UNIQUE?
R: Versatility. I have tracks for every genre of music. My album may go from from a hot club banger to a jammin’ alternative track. I just mesh well with music.
M: WHAT OTHER AREAS OF MUSIC ARE YOU INVOLVED IN -- DO YOU PLAY INSTRUMENTS, PRODUCE, MANAGE?
R: I play about 6 instruments with my main being the violin. I produce beats, I ghost write, mix and master, and consult as well.
M: SO YOU’RE THE REIGNING CHAMP OF THE 318 CYPHER, HOW'D YOU HEAR ABOUT THE EVENT, AND WHAT MADE YOU ENTER THE COMPETITION?
R: I actually entered because someone else in the group was supposed to do it and asked me to compete in their place.
M: WHAT WAS YOUR CYPHER EXPERIENCE LIKE?
R: It was fun. I got to spit with other hot lyricists in the city and show what I could do.
M: HOW DO YOU THINK IT BENEFITED YOU AS AN ARTIST (OR CAN BENEFIT ANY ARTIST)?
R: Of course, as an artist any exposure helps. It also got me some new fans and followers. That plus the networking was more than worth it. Also the prizes, if you win, can really make a difference.
M: HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU WON THE CYPHER FINALS?
R: I’m really conceited so I was like "Yea, nothing to a boss" lol but that's just my personality. As an artist you should feel like the best anyway.
M: HOW HAS THE REACTION BEEN SINCE YOU WON?
R: Well mixed, there's the one side that congratulates and appreciates the flow. There are those who say, well I still don't see it and there are those that wanna beat me now. But for the most part I've been getting good feedback.
M: ARE THERE ANY LYRICISTS IN THE CURRENT RUN OF THE 318 CYPHER THAT YOU THINK HAVE A CHANCE AT WINNING THE TITLE?
R: Truthfully any one of them could do it. I like a couple of them, they just have to believe in themselves and make it happen.
M: WHAT CAN WE LOOK FORWARD TO FROM YOU AND YOUR GROUP(S) THIS YEAR?
R: Nothing but jam after jam. 40 Karats “Dream of Mine” about to drop. An All-Star Exclusive “Chill Music” on the way. My two solo projects are coming too – “No More Losses” and “R. Dot Com”. Also “Something for the Summer” Mixtape coming soon … so stay tuned.
M: WHAT MAJOR (OR LOCAL) ARTISTS WOULD YOU LIKE TO COLLAB WITH?
R: Major artists -- Lupe Fiasco, Kanye, Outkast, Jay-Z, J. Cole. Local -- anybody who wants to work.
Find R.Dot on the Web: Twitter (@RDotThaMan); www.youtube.com/40karats
To Book R.Dot, email: email@example.com
- Check out the Final Round of the 2010 318Cypher (that R.Dot won) below, and find more videos and info about the 318Cypher on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube (or email them).
(R.Dot photos by: mahogani media, see more photos HERE // 40 Karats photo courtesy of 40 Karats)