K. Sparks Interview
Here at DJBooth.net, we pride ourselves on catching up-and-coming talents before they blossom into mainstream success stories. Thus, there are a few artists that, though they may not yet be household names outside of their local scenes, need no introduction to our regulars. Without a doubt, online sensation and DJBooth favorite K. Sparks fits into this category. With his hip, independent sensibility, intense devotion to his craft, and prodigious lyrical skills, it’s abundantly clear that the South Jamaica, Queens-born rapper has nowhere to go but up.
Though Sparks has been on the grind since his teenage years (and has a lengthy discography of underground releases to show for it), the 25-year-old emcee’s free, online-only Manic Mondays series may be what finally catapults him into the national spotlight. In the DJ Booth, reviews have been nothing short of spectacular – to name just a few recent cuts from the consistently-superb weekly series, “Visual Sound” and the Dave Barz-featuring “Back Down,” both originally posted in November, made serious waves on our Hip Hop Chart, and “Rewind,” another must-listen, finds Sparks giving a personal shout-out to your favorite hip hop website.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” K. Sparks steps into the Booth to discuss what the majors don’t understand about today’s music industry, the staggering amount of material he has recorded, and where he hopes to take his career after Manic Mondays comes to a close.
Listen to the Interview
K. Sparks Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a South Jamaica, Queens native who enjoys his Mondays on the manic side. Please welcome Booth favorite, K. Sparks – how you doin’?
K. Sparks: What’s up, Z? I’m happy to be here.
DJ Booth: We’re happy to have you. Everybody at DJBooth knows K. Sparks as the guy behind Manic Mondays, but, really, this series is not the beginning of your journey in music, so briefly walk all our listeners through how you got to this point.
K. Sparks: It’s been a long journey, man. I really started freestyling in my teenage years, pretty much – 13, 14, 15 – and I used to do a lot of battling on the local level in Queens. From there, I just started doin’ a lot of talent shows all over Queens, all over Brooklyn, Bronx – you name it, I was doin’ it – and that kinda just graduated to me doin’ the mixtapes. I’ve put out, roughly, to date, maybe 25 mixtapes, and I distributed maybe 10 underground albums independently. What I did recently was I started up my own independent company called Double Up Entertainment, so I pretty much filter all the music through that. That’s pretty much a real brief mini-bio of what I’ve been up to.
DJ Booth: So, from the time you started rapping to now – you’re 25 – did you envision you’d be where you’re at now?
K. Sparks: No, never, man. I just did it ‘cause it was something I loved to do; I didn’t think that it would accumulate into what it is right now. It’s amazing, man, ‘cause you just start out doin’ something that you love, it’s your passion, really like a hobby, and it turns out to be a profession. It’s great; I love it, man.
DJ Booth: I call it a dream.
K. Sparks: [laughs] Yeah, definitely.
DJ Booth: K, you’ve credited artists like Mickey Factz and Crooked I, both of whom have conducted successful online-only series with a weekly release, as inspiration for your Manic Mondays. At what point did you seriously consider doing something similar?
K. Sparks: After Mickey Factz did it, I pretty much saw that this is a real good tool, that can pretty much catapult an artist to the fans out there. ‘Cause everything is digital right now, that’s a real, real major part of the industry. I have so many talented producers, I said to myself, “Why not?” It’s just a natural progression. And we were doin’ songs prior to this. We had a lot of music. To me it’s just second nature. A lot of dudes, they concentrate on doin’ mixtape songs, but I don’t, because I don’t really see the point in rapping over a beat that has been rapped over a million times. Like, you hear a lot of artists on the “A Milli” beat, but who cares? [Everyone’s] heard that beat so many times, so I concentrate on the originals. I was like, “Hey, man, this is a perfect outlet for me to give people quality music, and at the same time challenge myself on a weekly basis to keep outdoing what I did the week prior.”
DJ Booth: So you’re saying we’re not going to hear you jump on the “Swagga Like Us” beat, is that what you’re saying?
K. Sparks: Oh, no, no. [laughs]
DJ Booth: Good, because that one’s been done just as much as “A Milli.”
K. Sparks: Yeah, yeah, I can’t – I won’t do that to y’all.
DJ Booth: Good. While you decided whether or not to do this series, did you think to yourself, “That’s a lot of work; I really don’t know if I wanna put that much work into a weekly series?”
K. Sparks: Honestly, Z, I never did, ‘cause my whole thing is that I’m very competitive. So, if [nothing] else, it’s something that I do because I’m competitive against myself, and I wanna raise the bar. I never really thought, “It’s too much, I’m gonna get tired of it,” because it’s a challenge. If you really take it seriously, you really love the craft, you really have an appreciation for hip hop as an art form, you should take pride in it. It’s something that I take pride in, every week, bein’ able to give people something that’s quality as opposed to quantity, actually just takin’ the time to say, “Yo, I’m gonna make something dope,” and it’s something for the people, man – I figure they deserve that. There’s enough garbage that they’re bein’ forced to pay for, so why not give them something good for free?
DJ Booth: Absolutely. I know all about garbage; it fills up my inbox seven days a week. I hope nobody listening here takes offense, and if you are I guess that means your stuff’s garbage. K., dropping new material on a constant basis is bound to cause an occasional bout of writer’s block. How often have you experienced what really is probably an artist’s worst enemy?
K. Sparks: I mean, the writer’s block situation, that normally comes [when] I’m really low on beats. Normally, in the course of a week, I might get 30 or 40 beat submissions, but on a low week I might get only 15. If some of those beats aren’t grabbing me, and aren’t motivating me to write something good, then that’s a problem, ‘cause I can’t really write to something I’m not feeling; that’s like goin’ out with a girl that’s ugly – you’re not gonna want to kiss her or do anything with her! [laughs] So that’s the only problem: if the beats aren’t really there, then there’s a lack of inspiration. But for the most part, that’s only really happened maybe once or twice, and even when that did happen to me, I pulled the best out of those beats, as opposed to just sayin’, “Okay, this has to be a hot beat in order for the song to be great.”
DJ Booth: So, for all of you producers out there who are thinking of submitting a beat to K. Sparks, if he doesn’t listen for a second time around, the date is over – it’s over!
K. Sparks: [laughs] Exactly.
DJ Booth: Now, K., major labels have had a very difficult time accepting the Internet as a viable means of successful artist promotion. They don’t know what the word “free” means, evidently. So explain the decision to provide music, knowing that you’re really just paying it forward, ‘cause you’re not getting any monetary gain immediately?
K. Sparks: Right, exactly, Z. The industry has become so greedy; everything is just about the financial return that they get, which, in respect to that, it is a business, so of course they wanna make money off it, but, at the same time, what they fail to realize is that the Internet is a big tool, man, and you could basically put a hot song out there on a Monday, and by the time Saturday comes, it’s all over the world – someone in Africa, someone in London, England, they have your music. What they have to understand is that giving something away for free it’s necessarily a bad thing, because, in the long-term, it can pay off for you. I think that they’ve become so greedy, and everything must make money, because they’re spendin’ so much money on these artists, they’re spendin’ so much money on the videos, they ain’t trying to hear nothing for free. They’re basically just like, “Listen: we know that we paid for this, and we just want a return immediately.” And with hip hop, man, sometimes you’ve just gotta put it out there and let the people determine what it’ll do.
DJ Booth: Let’s say you were offered a cushy executive job at one of the four major labels for one full year – A, could you part with the ability to create new music for 365 straight days, and, B, how would you go about changing industry politics? So, forget major labels, just industry politics in the music business in general, which currently is plaguing this business and its future?
K. Sparks: First part of the question, I would still have to do my music, ‘cause that’s just me, man. Music is my therapy, that’s how I release. If I’m havin’ a bad day, or I’m havin’ a good day, either way, that’s my therapy, when I sit down with that pen and that pad. So, I would still have to do that, man. I’d oversee projects and I’d be like, “Listen, dude, you’ve got a great album, but I’ll listen to it after I do this Manic Mondays song.” [laughs]
DJ Booth: Glad you’ve got your priorities straight.
K. Sparks: Yeah, that’s the first thing, man. The second thing, as far as the [industry politics] situation, you’ve got to get back to artist development. I’m a firm believer in that. I think that Barry Gordy and a lot of people, they really set the bar for artist development – I mean, back in the day, you’re talkin’ about guys who actually took the time to cultivate the artist. They weren’t just concerned with signing you and getting your a Hype Williams video, and just wanting a return – these guys actually [put] real deep effort [into] how you look, how you dress, how you talk, and I think that’s not there no more, man. I think all these guys care about is, “Yo, can he rap? Okay, give him a record deal.”
DJ Booth: The irony of what you said is, labels are signing people who can’t rap. You don’t even need to rap to get a record deal these days – it’s amazing!
K. Sparks: Exactly.
DJ Booth: Many of our members who leave comments for your Manic Mondays feature every Monday use the word “real” to describe your work. Over the past few years, though, I feel like the word “real” has become cliché; it’s lost its real meaning – no pun intended. Do you think its usage when referring to your work, though, is fitting?
K. Sparks: Yeah, I really do, Z, ‘cause, you know what? I really take pride in everything that I write. I can’t tell you how many times I might write something and actually throw it away and say, “Nah, man, I can’t say that.” Because I hold myself to a higher standard than most of these other rappers. And that’s not tryin’ to take no jabs at nobody, ‘cause everybody can do what they do, but I really pride myself on bein’ real and bein’ honest, and I actually try to maintain that sense of integrity. You know, it can be a club record, but there’s still a way to go about it in a classy way – you’re gettin’ your point across, but they know it’s comin’ from a sincere place. I’ve been through a lot of stuff, Z – like, stories for days – so that’s why, when I step in that booth, I’ve always got something to say. I can say it in a way that can captivate the person and just hold their attention, because I really put that effort into it, man. It’s about the passion.
DJ Booth: You’ve put a lot of people at ease, knowing that you have material for days. A lot of [our members] are probably thinking to themselves, “How long is he gonna actually be able to do this series?” and I read on your blog, you’ve got 38 more cuts ready for us, right?
K. Sparks: Yeah, Z! I mean, to this day, I probably have over 500 songs recorded.
DJ Booth: So, who puts out material for a longer period, you or Pac?
K. Sparks: Wow… Pac is the man. I’m tryin’ to keep up with Pac. It’s funny you brought him up, ‘cause that’s one of the dudes that I still look up to, to this day, even though he’s no longer here – God rest his soul. That’s what made me want to do music: his passion and his drive. You’re talking about a man who, even after he passed, this guy still has music comin’ out, and that’s where the rumors start, like, “Yo, is he really alive in Puerto Rico? Is he recording?” That’s exactly how I want to be, man. I’m glad you brought that up.
DJ Booth: The only difference, though, is that I would like for you to be alive to see the success throughout all the releases.
K. Sparks: [laughs] I would like that very much, too.
DJ Booth: I figured you’d agree with me.
K. Sparks: Definitely! [laughs]
DJ Booth: K., once Manic Mondays are a wrap, what do you hope will be your next move?
K. Sparks: The ultimate goal, man, I’m really looking to take things to the next level. And just a major distribution deal would be best. You know, I’m not looking for your typical record deal where artists feel they have to be signed to a major to do everything for them, ‘cause with Double Up Entertainment, we’re self-contained. Everything that needs to be done, as far as distributing the music and everything, we do that. We’re havin’ a lot of success on the independent level. There’s always a plus and a negative side to everything, and I think the plus with a major is, they still have the ability to reach more people. At the end of the day, they can always have that extra leverage. Maybe something on that level as far as distribution, just to get the music out there a little bit more. And that’s really it, man, ‘cause, like I said, financially everything is cool. We’re not one of these bootleg labels that really doesn’t have anything going on – it’s a movement.
DJ Booth: Well, that sounds like a hell of a plan; I hope to see it come to full fruition.
K. Sparks: Thank you, man.
DJ Booth: No, thank you for joining me inside the DJ Booth and making great music. K, give everyone a website, a MySpace page, so they can find out more.
K. Sparks: Definitely, Z. The best spot for them to catch me at is on MySpace. That’s myspace.com/ksparksmusic. And pretty much I post up the Manic Mondays there every week, I put the download links so people can download [them], they can get the new music. There’s a lot of mixtapes comin’ out, a lot of independent album projects, so I’ll keep the information posted up on the blog, for anybody that wants to support the movement, which, you know, it’s a lot of people. I appreciate it, man. Much love to y’all, DJBooth.net. I told y’all when I did that song, “Rewind:” I f*ck with DJBooth.net, ‘cause y’all are some real dudes, and I just appreciate everything that you’re doin’. Thanks a lot, Z.