Local emcee and hip-hop impresario M-Eighty is well-schooled. Using a law degree and microphone skills, he has not only built businesses with his industry idols, but he has collaborated musically with them as well. And not one ounce of it has been luck.
M-Eighty is one of those individuals who back up what they talk. In fact, even when he's talking, he's active.
His newest venture, A&R firm The Academy, will be launched with a compilation album featuring songs by artists from his clientele, including Rza, Keith Murray, Planet Asia and Strong Arm Steady.
More than mic skills, M-Eighty's greatest talent is his ability to communicate. Years ago, when he saw a Wu-Tang poster for a show at a venue he had recently played, he convinced the club owner to add him to the bill. It was only one step in reaching a larger goal.
"People just want to feel like they can meet genuine people," he explains, speaking to me from an office in his home. "I never went to a show or a club or event, and met someone [in the industry] just to say I met them. I nurtured and fostered those relationships to the point where we can hang out. It doesn't have to be business."
Music is M-Eighty's full-time job. He reinvests his income into upcoming projects, personally funding them until a record contract is hashed out.
"Its clear as day that I could just take the money and invest it into the next ringtone rapper, and see that come back a hundred fold, as far as the finances," said Eighty. "But that's not where my heart is at. So for a city to deflect that, and to give more light elsewhere, that's what pains me the most."
As for his solo material, M-Eighty likes to wait until inspiration hits, and assemble work with a final project in mind. The first single for his next solo album is called "Ungrateful" and addresses M-Eighty's feeling that he is being disrespected in his hometown. A video for the song has already been shot at familiar Indianapolis locations.
"It pains me that I've toured all around the United States, and when I leave Indy and go to New York, or California, or Florida, wherever, people know M-Eighty, they know the accomplishments with Wu-Tang, they are definitely fans of The Almighty [a group featuring Eighty, Killah Priest, Bronze Nazareth, Son One, C-Rayz Walz, and 5 Star]. But I don't have that same praise in Indianapolis that I do everywhere else. So that's kind of like the theme of the video for 'Ungrateful.'"
Maybe it's the unwritten rule of art that you are never truly appreciated at home. Still, M-Eighty has hung tough, choosing to base The Academy out of Indianapolis. His industry clout makes him a conduit between the Indianapolis hip-hop scene and the outside world.
Eighty has made it a point to invest in Indianapolis, organizing concerts featuring local talent alongside national legends, and signing and developing Naptown artists like rapper Son One, a member of The Almighty.
Eighty has been successful because he's been able to navigate the changing landscape of music. Bonus material and exclusive deals make purchasing his album online a sensible option to help curb the bootlegging blogs and Web sites. International distribution will keep his physical product in the hands of the consumer. Regular touring schedules have established his artists' presence in multiple markets. And new collaborations have kept the audience growing.
Now, with the release of the Academy album and launching of the new company, M-Eighty is in the enviable position of keeping hip-hop his full-time occupation for some time to come.