The natural balance of life can be baffling. For every moment of joy, quite often there's a moment of sadness. Why it can't all be sunshine and Shiner's, I'll never know. All I know is, today when I got home from work I was entirely all too excited to receive a copy of the 15th Anniversary Issue of Murder Dog. I hadn't been so stoked to dig into a magazine in years. They published a photo of me and my daughter Eva outside wading in the water on our street after a smallish flood in Houston in 2003.
But as I flipped through the pages, seeing photos of mi compadres in the game (see all your favorite Murder Dog writers, photographers and contributors in the flesh. Including never before seen BLACK DOG BONE AND MARY DOWNS. Well not in a long time at least) I saw a rather touching photo of one of the closest and dearest friends I made during my time at Murder Dog, Brian Bartholomew.
And in the text just below a photo of him with his arm around Mary Downs, it says: "Brian Bartholomew is from Grenada, via London. He bought Murder Dog in London and was amazed. He used to call us a couple times a week, just to celebrate. He came to America to create a documentary on rap music (Feel Me Before They Kill Me), a project he took on with a passion. He travelled from California to the South, filming and connecting with people. A year later, he spent 3 months in Vallejo with us, editing the film, meanwhile doing interviews and photographs for Murder Dog. Brian was a beautiful person. He died on May 27, 2008. We love you, Brian. You're always with us."
The above was written by Black Dog Bone and 110% reflects how I feel about the dude as well. We met at SXSW in 2004. He came down kind of on a whim when he heard that Dizzee Rascal would be performing with Swisha House, Bun B, Grit Boys, Play N Skills, Bavu Blakes, Chamillionaire, MC Fatal, and more. Murder Dog was co-presenting the showcase and he decided that he just could not miss it.
We linked up right when he got into town and pretty much just kicked it. I wasn't working full on for SXSW yet, and really in 2004 only did 2 shows. So we pretty much just did it up all day all night at the conference, checking out music, drinking, smoking, walking, cavorting, and such. He was real chill, with his own energy, he was down for whatever, and genuinely had a passion for the music he was hearing coming from the streets all over the world. Dude knew his shit!
Anyway, Black Dog mentions that he'd call a couple times a week just to celebrate. Well with me it was more like once a month. But every now and then, my home phone would ring with Number Unavailable on the Caller ID and it'd be Brian, hollering just to chat and to plan out the many things we really should have done together. Club nights, compilations, tours, DVD's, etc.
He was a real motivating factor in my life for a minute. Just always coming with new, fresh ideas, hipping me to new music from his city - London. Dude seriously made an impact on me man, and he is sorely missed.
---Brian and I in London at YoYo, the night DJ Chill, Rapid Ric, Semtex and Seb Chew all played a couple years back.
I knew he had cancer. The last few calls I made went unanswered, but no one else called me to let me know that he had actually passed. He left us with his wife and three wonderful children and actually quite a lot of the art that he was creating that were two be two films. Feel Me Before They Kill Me is a documentary about independent rap and the streets. Extremely intelligent and well made, this has to see distribution. I know he was also working on a documentary about Black Bike Weeks around the country. Though I never got to see any of that work.
Brian Bartholomew, from me, my family, Rapid Ric, DJ Chill and all you touched along the way we love and miss you bro!
Also this... I remember Devin the Dude's reaction when he first met him. He had not only never met a black dude from England, he never really even evisioned them existing. I don't think at least. Cuz when he met Brian he tripped out as soon as he started talking. And would always chuckle about his British accent.
---This is me and Brian in the lobby of the La Boheme Hotel in Amsterdam just before a Devin the Dude show. The photo was taken by another Murder Dog contributor, Remington Steele (my man!) and the beers were brought across the Belgian border by my brother LeanSippa!
---This photo is entitled Boyznadaze, also taken by Remmy. It's Steve, LeanSippa, me and Brian outside the melkweg before a Devin the Dude show and after a day of non stop hash smoking in the coffee shops of the Dam. I recently read a blog by my man Bubonic B from Belgium that recounted this Devin show night and he said something about how I was nice but seemed to be a bit of a mess. I was searching for "The Dude" and was a bit out of my head. Which well, is true. This was quite a day. Brian and I actually didn't have that many days, but the ones we did were always quite the adventure.
He was THAT type of DUDE!
---This is Brian and I crossing the street in Austin, during SXSW '04, one of the first days we had known each other. He took this spontaneously whilst I was probably giving directions to some rapper headed to Austin.
---Then he stopped these girls and made me take a photo with them. I was actually a little embarrassed but it was funny cuz one looks like X-tina and one looks like Britney. And I always wondered if that was on purpose. I'll never know...
(To learn more about this man and his work check out his website www.fourthboy.com. I'ma talk to Black Dog, as I am sure there must be plans to help his documentary see the light of day. However if there's not, I know someone out there reading this works in the film industry, we should talk. I've seen the film and it's a very, very important document of this music.)
I met Brian through Murder Dog. I met a lot of people through Murder Dog. The magazine brought me in contact with people from all walks of life, all united under this universal love for music. One thing that brought us all together was that while we obviously have a certain reverance for street music, that feeling resonates across so many genres within the Murder Dog family. Everyone I met who worked for the mag had eclectic, forward thinking tastes. I learned so much from everyone.
Long phone coversations with Charlie Braxton have helped me get through many frustrating days. Chats with Allen S. Gordon in a hotel after a long day of interviews and photo shoots about everything musical under the sun, (and also a bit about raw food and how we both love to cook so we don't know if we could ever actually go that route) will remain in my brain forever. Trips with Al Kapone, namely to Dallas in 2002, experiences with Marcus Hanschen and Eric Johnson and Barry Underhill and everyone I met through Murder Dog will forever be with me.
Word to Wicked Entertainment, EC Illa, Militant from Gary Indiana, Miami Mac, Tanqueray from Minneapolis, Big Karl in Austin, the Hoomanakaz, there's so many people I linked with over these past years I can't possibly list them all. Though maybe someday I will.
I wrote this next lil essay for Murder Dog when Black Dog told me about the issue, but I mean, you know, Murder Dog really isn't about essays.
Ha. Read on and THANK YOU MURDER DOG FOR EVERYTHING YOU DO!
Murder Dog is the Realest
By Matt Sonzala
When I first saw Murder Dog, 15 years ago, I sensed that things were going to change radically in the independent rap world. Before them, no one was covering independent hip-hop from beyond the coasts except for maybe 4080 Hip Hop Magazine, and even 4080 was a bit commercial compared to this new, oversized chronicle of the real music that was reflecting and infecting the hoods of the U.S. on a genuine and organic level.
I remember seeing articles on people like DJ Screw, Kottonmouth and E-40, not to mention groups like Three-6-Mafia and Psychodrama, before anyone outside their respective cities had heard of them. This meant a lot to me because as a burgeoning “hip-hop journalist” I was always pitching crazy street shit to the “bigger” magazines to no avail. I remember being told by one major magazine that “Nobody cares about UGK.” This baffled me, because where I lived, Houston, everybody cared about UGK.
Murder Dog represented for the underdog and continues to do so to this day. While other magazines have been bought, sold or closed down, Murder Dog continues to thrive because it doesn’t chase the same dollars everyone else is chasing. Murder Dog set it’s own path and that is what attracted me to it from day one.
I used to send pitches and clips to Black Dog Bone and Mary Downs back in those days to no avail. I couldn’t even get a response. I had no idea that such an important magazine was such a bare bones operation with Black Dog, Mary and a few reps around the country handling all of the business. Every month or so I’d make a call or send a package of my work in hopes of getting the chance to write for the magazine. For the first couple years I never even got a call back.
Then I moved to Chicago and a friend of mine, E.C. Illa needed a photo taken for an interview he had done with Murder Dog. I jumped at the opportunity, and when Black Dog called me to tell me what he wanted, I basically assaulted him with information and pretty much pleaded with him to let me write and shoot for the magazine. He gave me a couple small assignments, and soon after I started covering different cities underground scenes. Black Dog and I developed a strong relationship and the trust he put into me made me feel as though I was really doing something in this “hip-hop journalism” shit.
Murder Dog sent me to cover all kinds of scenes, starting in Chicago, then just east to Gary, Indiana and eventually on to Miami, Minneapolis, Houston, Dallas, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Milwaukee, Louisville, Detroit and even Honolulu. I’d fly into a city, get a rental car and basically go visit everyone I could meet that was doing real, independent rap music in each scene. Murder Dog dedicated countless pages to these artists who may or may not ever advertise, who may or may not be around in the coming years, who may or may not even put out a real CD. But they were out there grinding, and we were there to try and help them get to that next level.
In my travels I met, interviewed and photographed people like Rick Ross and T-Pain before they ever got on. I spent time with Twista, Scarface, Al Kapone, Bun B, Devin the Dude, and pretty much every real rap artist from East of the California State Line (the home office had Cali sewed up).
I learned the true meaning of independence by going from hood to hood, often one deep, into the homes, studios, schools and parks of cities that most consider to be way off the hip-hop map. Places where the “bigger” magazines would never even think to go. This was before the south blew up, it was before anyone outside the Midwest gave a damn about Chicago, it was when the music business thought they had it all figured out. Turns out, they didn’t.
Today all of the above mentioned artists have careers while so many who have come and gone before them do not. They were able to survive through perseverance and determination and a relentless passion to not only do what they want, but to do what they want on their own terms. Which is really what defines Murder Dog.
I learned so much in my years with the magazine. I made a lot of friends, many of whom I speak to regularly to this day. I saw the real side of our nation from sea to shining sea and beyond and was able to forge my own little independent path that I remain on today. I want to extend a loud shout of extreme gratitude to Black Dog Bone, Mary Downs and everyone I have met via Murder Dog over the past years. You all have meant a lot to me, and your contribution to rap music and culture in general is very much appreciated by us all. Murder Dog touched more people than we will ever truly know and I am glad to see that it is still around to this day.
Cuz this biz is a beast y’all. Murder Dog is a true testament to the grind, and what the American dream is really supposed to be.
And speaking of the grind...
TONIGHT IN AUSTIN TEXAS! ICE MIKE AND DJ CHILL LIVE AT THE WHISKEY BAR!