“When you actually become a Backer for [The Indies], it’s like signing a petition; it’s like hey I’m tired of seeing the same thing on tv over and over again. I want to see more stuff like this.”
Today’s the last day to get in where you fit in and become a Backer for the innovative Kickstarter campaign for The Indies. Put simply, it’s a collaboration of animators, artists, and hip-hop musicians to bring back the nostalgia of older hip-hop animations while also promoting current and upcoming musicians. But to go broader is to see how this project aims to give back to the community from which its inspiration comes.
From the Kickstarter: Set in a futuristic dystopian society, The Indies follows an up and coming rapper named Slick. Born into a well-to-do family living on Earth’s Moon, he longs for the opportunity to pursue his dream of becoming a famous recording artist. With a burning desire to make his dreams come true by any means necessary, Slick has a chance meeting with DJ Chopz, one of Hip-Hop’s biggest DJs and record executives. Chopz offer Slick what seems to be an amazing recording contract, which Slick hastily signs without reading the fine print. Slick soon finds out that not only did he sign up to pursue his dream of being a famous artist, but he also signed up for something much more sinister. You see, what Slick failed to realize is that not only are record labels home to some of the universe’s biggest music stars; they also serve as fronts for hitmen for hire services of nefarious crime lords. In order to free himself from his contract, Slick must now work with his new label mates to release his debut album while simultaneously executing dangerous hit jobs. Through these missions, the label mates will explore morality, loyalty, human nature, and discover who they really are at their core.
The Indies is the brainchild of DJ Tony Drake (aka Blue Geek Music), who along with his team, has been showcasing plans for a full-length series to network executives at Comic Cons, which has been met with praise.
What began as an idea for a mixtape evolved as Tony considered ways to differentiate from other mixtapes.
That’s when he started thinking about the hip-hop animation he grew up watching such as Afro Samurai, as well as the secrecy surrounding The Gorillaz. “…you don’t really know a lot about the characters, and I was just like man that would’ve been dope if it was just like a full-on series. So I was like, well maybe I could do something like that with this mix thing. When I was younger, I used to write stories, but I haven’t done it since like elementary or middle school. But I was like, you know what? Let me just give it a shot. Surprisingly, it just kind of came, the ideas just kind of flowed, and the next thing I know I have this whole story and I’m like ‘oh man this is actually kind of good’! And then after that, I was like you know what, I’m just going to go all the way with it and here we are, six/seven years later and we’re at the Kickstarter.”
Since initial reception from networks is positive, Tony and team are attempting to create an animated short to show network executives the very real interest in having The Indies air on television as a full series. The animated short will introduce the characters of Chopz, Slick, Pan, Rani, and Rico. “I’m also trying to explain to people that you don’t have to give thousands of dollars like even if you give a dollar, that’s perfectly—that’s more than enough, that’s fine. Because if you look at it, we’ve raised a ton of money in a short amount of time and there’s no one famous behind it. It’s just off the strength of the story, and it’s just off the strength of the art.”
The Indies derives its name from independent record labels, which are amenable to the larger corporate labels in Tony’s world.
“In the future, I imagine that the entertainment industry is a front for the criminal underworld, and so you’ll have the major record labels that are kind of like the Mafia or the Mob,” Tony explains. “But in order for them to keep their hands clean, they have the independent labels do all their dirty work. So it’s really about the independent labels, or the indies, kind of duking it out.”
Essentially, the artists signed to the indie labels are caught up as hitmen in crumbling cities on a nearly-decimated Earth, while corporate label owners live—pleasantly removed from the violence—on the Moon. In this way, Tony also uses this series to explore present-day socio-economic issues. “I don’t want this part to be so up in your face, but it’s actually looking at socio-economic issues. Like if you’re more well-to-do, if you have the money, you go and you live on the moon. And I kind of feel as if that’s how some neighborhoods are [today]. Like, you might live in a neighborhood that’s maybe a little bit more economically depressed, but if you look a couple of blocks you see these huge houses that are well taken care of and have nice schools. And that’s kind of how it is here—like you’re on Earth, but you can still see the moon. So you still know that stuff is out there, but you still have to live, in this story, in this dystopian world with things crumbling and falling apart.”
In addition to exploring socio-economic issues, The Indies draws from old-school hip-hop rivalries as another form of world-building.
“Growing up, we would always argue who was better: was it Roc-A-Fella or was it Ruff Ryders? They would come out with albums that were like right around the same date and they would beef, or whatever. Growing up, I was like super into that stuff, and just like the different beefs that you have and what was going on, and what song actually started it and actually thinking that if these guys were all on the same label, that they all grew up together and they were family. So kind of playing off of that, and the stuff outside of the music that made me fall in love with hip-hop and just really enjoy it and immerse myself in it.”
Tony has been a DJ for the past decade, plus a year or two, and has amassed a number of industry contacts, including the Grammy award-winning House Studios DC, who is producing the music for The Indies.
Since this world is one where music is featured just as prominently as any animated character, Tony already had a lot of sounds in mind that he wanted to be captured. Collaborating with House Studios granted Tony access to a wider range of musicians and producers, who worked with him on those sounds and offered new ideas too. “House Studios is an amazing, amazing studio with a lot of talented individuals. It was a collaborative effort where I was able to explain what it was I wanted to accomplish and they were able to make sure that I was able to reach that and able to obtain that goal of sonically what I wanted the soundtrack to sound like.”
The first EP, consisting of four songs, is already complete. His vision for the TV show wouldn’t end in the recording studio, however. Part of his plan to continue connecting with and paying homage to the hip-hop world would be to promote artists beyond their music.
Ideally, he’d work with the musicians in the studio to record a track based off a particular scene, a certain character’s internal struggles, and the overall tone he’s searching for. Once the song is wrapped, Tony would want to ask if that musician would have any interest in voice acting or perhaps being drawn into a scene. Tony explains, “because then that’s not only am I promoting that artist by having him on the soundtrack, but I’m also promoting him by allowing him to say like ‘hey, tune in on Thursday because I’m gonna be on The Indies.’”
“So if I wasn’t a DJ, I don’t know how I would have any of those contacts. So like hip-hop has just given a lot to me, to be able to tell these stories through art, through music, and to meet these different people and have these different interactions. That’s the beautiful thing about hip-hop; it’s not just music. There’s a whole culture underneath it and there’s a lot of different facets and avenues to it. So it’s just really allowed me to just grow and explore my creativity, and get my stories out there. That’s why I want to make sure when I do this, it’s coming from a real and a pure place and it’s not just trying to take take take from the culture, but actually, give something back.”
It’s also worth noting that Tony has a background in electrical engineering, not animation. “It was one of those things where a lot of the times what stops people is like the fear of not knowing how to do something,” he says “so, what I did was I took this problem and I broke it down. Alright well why can’t I have an animated series? Oh, because you don’t know how to draw. Alright well how do I do that? Do I teach myself how to draw? Then it’s just like, nah, you have to find someone else who knows how to draw. And then you get to that point, you’re just like where do I find artists? How do I communicate with artists? And so you keep on asking these questions until you get down to a question that you can answer, and then once you answer that question you kind of just go back up the tree and then before you know it, you’re back at ‘why can’t I have an animated series?’ and if you’ve answered all those questions, then yeah you can go ahead and you can create an animated series. So I think the big thing that I want people to take away from what I’m doing is whatever you want to do, you can do it! You just have to be willing to go out and do the research and look and learn and just be humble and know that you’re not going to know everything and that you are going to sound silly when you’re asking these questions. But just being honest with the people you’re talking to and with yourself.”
The Kickstarter includes vinyl toys, full soundtracks, and even a chance to become a character in The Indies—it’s been a while since the hip-hop community has seen itself reflected in the animation world, and Tony’s Kickstarter is reviving that dream once again. “… if you look at it, we’ve raised a ton of money in a short amount of time and there’s no one famous behind it. It’s just off the strength of the story, and it’s just of the strength of the art. So, you gotta think if people are willing to get behind this, they’re feeling for something like this; they’re feeling for something that talks to them, that they can connect to. So by doing the Kickstarter, this is proving it. This is proving it.”
Equally as impressive as Tony’s Indies Kickstarter goals are the fact that he and his fiancée, Leslie, have been planning a wedding throughout this process as well! “So we’re in the middle of planning a wedding, so Leslie has been great about like allowing me to really pour myself into this, because there’s a ton of stuff that goes into planning a wedding and stuff that’s going on, and she’s really really holding me down. So it’s amazing to have someone who is 100 percent supportive of you and like she’s doing things like she goes to Comic Cons with me, she gives me tips about like what to say like if I’m writing emails and writing the stuff, she’s reminding me like ‘hey, you have to eat something.’ She’s just really amazing and there’s NO WAY, there’s no way I would’ve been able to do any of this if she wasn’t in my life, so I’m just really appreciative of her.”
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Diondra Powers is an editor, contributing writer and social media correspondent for Black Girl Nerds. She finds great joy in volunteering and exploring the world through a camera lens. In her spare time, she embarks on epic adventures that take many forms—from reading to climbing to Dungeons & Dragons.