The notion of someone in any branch of entertainment being a role model remains a controversial one, with a number of famous types (most notably Charles Barkley) rejecting the concept outright. But the Nashville rapper and record label owner known as M.U.G. (Money United With Game) doesn’t just acknowledge this notion, he embraces it.
Born in Brownsville, Tenn. but raised here, the 25-year-old has been performing since childhood. He sees music not only as a means to an economic end, but a way to provide opportunities for others and also inspire his generation to become involved in positive social change.
“I started doing the rap thing back as an 8- and 9-year-old in talent shows,” M.U.G. said. “My mother’s husband at the time had a cover band and there were four of us doing a dance and rap thing — my brother, two girls and me. At one time they were talking about us going on Star Search, but that didn’t work out. But I already had the music in me at that point, and it’s become a focal point of my life.”
Later came yet another sibling group that included M.U.G.’s brother and cousins.”
Family has always been a big thing for me,” he said. “A lot of people tell you don’t get involved with your family in business, but I’ve always looked at it the opposite way. If you can’t trust and help your family, then who can you trust. By the time I was 15, I was cutting a single. Later we performed at Hunter’s Lane [High School] and we put it down on VHS tape.”
From those beginnings, M.U.G. now has his own label called Villionaire Status Records and will be releasing his second solo project April 29 titled Money United With Game 2 – Standing Ovation (Fear Factor Music/Villionaire Status).
“My philosophy in terms of rap, both in my own music and also the artists on the label, involves creating something that can reach both the people who love old school music and also the people in the street,” M.U.G. said. “One problem that I hear with a lot of the rap out of Nashville is that sometimes artists don’t understand how to expand their focus and vision. Sure, you’ve got to talk about what’s happening in your neighborhood and how you feel about things, but you’ve got to do it in a way that will reach people beyond your little area or enclave.
The songs on his new CD and the things that other acts on the label do will be contemporary and talk about things happening today, but done in a way that won’t worry listeners about whether their children hear the music or not, Williams said.
“I’m a young guy and a product of those same streets and neighborhoods, so I know how important it is to reach out and reflect their experiences,” M.U.G. said. “Where you have to be smart is that you don’t want to lose everyone else except the people on your block. Nashville is right on the cusp of exploding when it comes to rap, but that can only happen if people have the artistic vision, and can reach everyone regardless of age and background.”
He’s teaming with DJ Smallz on the new disc, which he adds will “have the best of East Coast and West Coast production and rhymes, with some definite Southern flavor.”
Another example of M.U.G.’s philosophy, in terms of performance, production and artist recruitment, involves the collaborative he’s dubbed WOU 2 WOU (we owe us and the world owes us too).
“It’s a group of various artists that can either do solo dates or work in a group setting,” M.U.G. said. “It’s an affiliation of performers, and I’m trying to get all types of artists involved. One thing I really want to do is reach out to people who may have gotten into trouble when they were young, got incarcerated and are now out and back in society, but can’t get anyone to help them. I could have easily become someone who got into trouble, but music attracted me and gave me direction and focus. That’s what I hope to do with my label and other affiliations.”
An example of that is his involvement as a member of the “Cashville Hip Hop Movement,” a still evolving organization of area rappers, producers and performers that he sees as a “hip hop equivalent of the Black Panthers.”
“We want to give something back to black people and by extension the whole community,” M.U.G. said. “The people in the Civil Rights movement worked to change things for everyone, and it’s vital that those of us in the hip-hop world who can do the same thing strive to make some positive changes in our society. One thing that everyone talks about is how many young white people buy rap and are influenced by hip-hop.”
M.U.G. sees the music as a chance to create positive music that will influence in a good way, and also expand the audience for the music at the same time.
“Right now there seems to be a feeling on Music Row that rappers and hip-hop people should take their music to Atlanta or Los Angeles or New York,” M.U.G. said. “But I want to make it possible for Nashville rappers to do it right here in town. We want to be an example and inspiration to the current generation and the people coming behind us and to help the Nashville rap community grow and prosper.
“Music can be the driving force, and it can also be a way to help us create jobs, build businesses and benefit everyone.”
The Music Biz appears Mondays in The City Paper. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org