feat_ivan

Ivan Matias: Hip-Hop’s Secret Trapped in the Closet

How

far can a joke on Hip-Hop go? According to Ivan Matias, far enough.

Matias is the wizard behind the invention and rhymes of Jason “Caushun”

Herndon, Hip-Hop’s first openly gay rapper. Garnering media attention

for an openly gay MC proved to be no small feat. After calling into Hot

97’s Funk Master Flex’s show and receiving no love, Caushun’s exposure

to the world was taken to another level after morning show hosts Star

& Bucwild decided to play voicemails of Matias rhyming as Caushun.

A move proved to be the catalyst for a full-on media frenzy promoting

Caushun as the missing MC in an industry that has often been perceived

as homophobic.

For Ivan Matias, creating a rapper that the world would be talking

about wasn’t difficult at all. Already a successful artist in Europe,

he knew what it took to generate buzz for an artist. In this tale, the

only thing missing was the right persona to take that buzz all the way

to the bank and make history. Although, he hasn’t worked on the Caushun

project since 2003, he still gets many requests. This busy songwriter

and ghostwriter chopped it up with AllHipHop.com on the creation, rise

and fall of the MC that never was, ghostwriting and the business of

music.

AllHipHop.com: How did the whole Caushun thing come about?

Ivan Matias: It started out as a prank that we pulled on Funkmaster

Flex. A couple of us were hanging out at my crib. The Bash Brothers

were there, a Black magazine editor, a major record company publicist

and a music publicist. We were all sitting around listening to the

radio and decided we wanted to prank Flex while he was on the air. We

said let’s call up in a flamboyant way and get on his records he was

putting out at the time. [The Funkmaster Flex 60 Minutes of Funk

series] Let’s make up this character and call him up. It was a funny

thing. He wasn’t really trying to hear it. Even though he didn’t let me

spit the rhyme, the next day and night they were all talking about it

on the radio. The next day, we decided to call Angie [Martinez] and try

it again. She let us spit. She thought it was hot. That became an

internal joke. For two weeks we would take songs that were classic

Hip-Hop joints and act as if the artist really existed. People were

really buzzing about it. One of the people suggested that we get

someone to pretend to be the face of Caushun and send them to the

station. So, I called Jason.

AllHipHop.com: So Jason Herndon became known as the face behind the voice of Caushun?

Ivan Matias: Exactly. I grew up with him. His voice was like the voice I was putting on the radio and he was out there.

I reached out to him. He was an assistant hair stylist at Oscar

Blondie. He wanted to get up in the mix. He wanted to do it so he could

get his name out there for hair and use it for his career. I recorded a

joint and gave it to him. He went to the station and delivered it and

they were feeling it.

AllHipHop.com: So he had to learn the rhymes?

Ivan Matias: No. I did it in the voice and all he had to do was show up

with the demo. He never learned the rhymes. The tape he gave them was

what I

did. He never spit for them. When he went to the station, he said he

was Caushun, showed them the CD, and that was that. He gave them my

number so if they had to talk to him, they would talk to me. I was

thinking I could put out a novelty record on him, sell 500,000 records

to females, another 500,000 to the gay community and have a platinum

record without selling to anyone else. When Vibe called and asked if we had a record coming out, I was like, “Hey, why not?”

AllHipHop.com: It doesn’t seem like you were prepared for how big this was getting.

Ivan Matias: I wasn’t. In the mean time, I’m trying to buy time. I was

battling people on the morning show as Caushun while Jason was learning

the raps. I was trying to create a media train. MTV called. Star &

Bucwild wanted him to do a show. In a six-month span, he learned two

verses. That was all he could learn. So we had to find a way to make a

show around two verses. We got some dancers and did it.

AllHipHop.com: Why do you think it caught so quickly? What do you think was Caushun’s appeal?

Ivan Matias: I think the initial appeal came from the media. What the

media gravitated towards was the fact that they have dealt with many

people in Hip-Hop. They know there is an underlying issue of sexuality

that is not dealt within Hip-Hop and urban culture in general. The fact

that there was someone willing to challenge that, or at least bring

that conversation to the forefront, was the appeal.

AllHipHop.com: So are you saying had he not been Caushun “The Gay Rapper” then folks might have taken it the wrong way?

Ivan Matias: If Caushun would have come out gangsta or thugged out,

people would have felt like he was challenging masculinity—like I know

this cat isn’t coming out saying he is as much of a man as me. In order

to make sure I didn’t put him in danger, if we kept it funny, people

would laugh instead of feeling threatened.

AllHipHop.com: Although this started as a joke, as it took off, were

you trying to make a social statement and do some business?

Ivan Matias: There was no way for me to tell how it was going to go. A

lot of people had a problem with him being so feminine. The only one

reppin’ Hip-Hop and being gay and he was feminine. He got an award from

[gay rights group] GLAAD. He was collecting awards and people were

depending on him.

AllHipHop.com: That sounds like the dream that didn’t come true. Where did things go wrong?

Ivan Matias: Well, the gift and the curse was when Kimora Lee Simmons

came into the picture. Jason was doing her hair and called me up. He

does her hair and calls me. I didn’t want him to talk about Caushun

with her. I said do hair and don’t talk about Caushun. She didn’t know

who he was. She called him back twice to do her hair. The third time

was for Fashion Week. As they leave the tents, someone called him out

as Caushun and wanted to interview him for a show. Kimora was like,

“What?” That’s how she found out. At first she was tight because the

attention was on him, but after a while, she got over it and wanted to

bring him into her circle. So she did.

AllHipHop.com: What did that connection do for him?

Ivan Matias: Well, he started traveling with her to do hair. By the

time this happened, we were already out there. Kimora basically jumped

on the bandwagon. She had a Baby Phat record label. After she found out

who he was, she wanted him to spit for Russell and Rev Run.

AllHipHop.com: How did he spit when he didn’t know any verses?

Ivan Matias: He didn’t do it. He just gave them the demo with my voice

on it. So the demo they had was the one that I did for him to learn the

rhymes. Russell thought he was really hot and had some hot lyrics.

AllHipHop.com: As the exposure increased, was Jason happy? He was

getting the shine, doing hair, getting in the circles he wanted to get

into…

Ivan Matias: Yeah, that’s what he wanted. He didn’t care about anything as long as he was getting attention as Caushun.

AllHipHop.com: So what would happen when people tried to book him for shows?

Ivan Matias: That was the problem. The whole time he was Caushun, over

six years, he only did six shows. He did a Vibe show one time and fell

off the stage. He couldn’t keep it professional. He would tell her

[Kimora] he was in the studio for hours, learning rhymes, getting up

for shows, and doing interviews, making me out to be a bastard manager.

The whole time I was the one doing all that! But then he was telling me

that everything was going well as far as making a record deal happen. I

kept telling him play your position, but then he got locked up for

identity theft. The whole time he was Caushun, he was still boosting.

When he got arrested, Kimora bailed him out and picked him up in a

limousine from in front of the courthouse. He started to play us

against each other. Kimora even moved him into an apartment Uptown. She

basically gave him an advance in the form of an apartment. She wanted

to give him $50,000 and make her driver/assistant the A&R person. I

think I was trying to be edged out. But I knew that couldn’t happen

because I wrote everything and created the name. She didn’t even know

she could edge me out. She tried to sell the publishing not realizing

that the publishing rights already belonged to me. I’m a signed writer.

AllHipHop.com: And what happened to the deal?

Ivan Matias: Russell wanted to put out a single, but I knew it couldn’t be done because Jason only knew two verses.

AllHipHop.com: During those years, were you making money?

Ivan Matias: Not really. We were making a little money here and there from appearances, but that really wasn’t anything.

AllHipHop.com: So when did you finally say to yourself I’m done with this?

Ivan Matias: In 2003. His mom called me to try and give him a job. I

couldn’t really do anything for him. He was doing hair for local chicks

for $50 in his mother’s living room. He couldn’t get any work after it

came out that he had legal troubles. He is one of those people that I

would say are just like the people who are consumed with MTV and urban

culture. He wanted everything fast and now and didn’t want to work hard

for it.

AllHipHop.com: Do you think Caushun’s acceptance did anything good for

Hip-Hop? A gay rapper has a lot of built in irony, along with already

generated hearsay on who is or isn’t gay in Hip-Hop.

Ivan Matias: I don’t think he was mocking Hip-Hop. He was just a fraud

with it. I think a part of this project was good because it showed that

Hip-Hop is not as homophobic as it projects. Out of everyone else who

could have popularized something as trivial as the color pink, it took

a masculine culture like Hip-Hop to popularize that on men. This showed

a good side of Hip-Hop that’s its open and diverse.

AllHipHop.com: You are a part of a strong songwriting team and a

well-known ghostwriter for Hip-Hop. Did being the mastermind behind the

Caushun project bring you any more opportunities? How big is the

ghostwriting industry?

Ivan Matias: I’ve been ghostwriting more since I did the project. Ghostwriting is a lot more common than people think.

AllHipHop.com: There has got to be a downside to not getting the shine. Ever take it personal?

Ivan Matias: It’s business at the end of the day. In the beginning, it

was a sting, but I learned that’s my job. My job is to make things that

people can buy and sell again. Maybe if they don’t like my hook, they

can take it and make it their own. If they say they like it, they’ll

change two words, cut a check and all of a sudden, they wrote it. The

problem is a lot of artists aren’t always “nice people” for lack of a

better word. It gets to a point where you get to a certain level of

success and you start believing the hype. I ghostwrote a joint for

someone and saw them a year later. They barely seemed like they knew

who I was.

AllHipHop.com: And what do you say to people who want to ghostwrite and not care if they get any credit for it?

Ivan Matias: [Laughs] It’s all about being in the right circles. You

just can’t run up to a rapper and say “here!” You are just going to get

your stuff stolen and not get paid for it. Ghostwriting is sweet and

sour. I have seen people bite my rhymes and turn a part of Hip-Hop

culture into something that isn’t even real.

AllHipHop.com: Do people ever get offended that you ask for proper publishing percentages?

Ivan Matias: I should get offended that they are planning to sell

records and bank their whole career on something that I created. If

what I created is so hot that you are willing to sell records with it,

then you should be happy that you even found a joint that can sell your

records, you can tour, market and merchandise off my joint! That’s

already a benefit. I don’t necessarily write what I like. I create a

product that people are going to want to buy. Once I create it and know

that people want to buy it, resell for fifty times what was paid for

it, why should I be eager to give someone 20% of my royalties?

AllHipHop.com: Who should all good ghostwriters have on their teams?

Ivan Matias: I have a lawyer and a session coordinator. I get half the

money up front. Then, my job is to produce a finished record. In

between we have to agree on a studio and a budget. I usually have to

sign a waiver that basically means that you are giving them the rights

to the song and won’t sell it to another artist.

AllHipHop.com: Would you say you have achieved success?

Ivan Matias: After four record deals, I had to define success for

myself. I thought maybe this spotlight thing might not be for me. I

didn’t want to spend my life trying to duplicate previous success. I

have success as a songwriter and a producer. There was something good

about being able to have success, being in the mix, and go where I

wanted to go. What I learned is the best and most valuable thing you

have is your freedom.

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