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-Hops first openly gay rapper. Garnering media attention
for an openly gay MC proved to be no small feat. After calling into Hot
97s Funk Master Flexs show and receiving no love, Caushuns 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
For Ivan Matias, creating a rapper that the world would be talking
about wasnt 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 hasnt 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
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 lets 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] Lets make up this character and call him up. It was a funny
thing. He wasnt really trying to hear it. Even though he didnt 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
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 doesnt seem like you were prepared for how big this was getting.
Ivan Matias: I wasnt. In the mean time, Im 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 Caushuns 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 masculinitylike I know
this cat isnt coming out saying he is as much of a man as me. In order
to make sure I didnt 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 didnt 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 didnt want him to talk about Caushun
with her. I said do hair and dont talk about Caushun. She didnt 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? Thats 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 didnt know any verses?
Ivan Matias: He didnt 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
Ivan Matias: Yeah, thats what he wanted. He didnt 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 couldnt 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 couldnt happen
because I wrote everything and created the name. She didnt even know
she could edge me out. She tried to sell the publishing not realizing
that the publishing rights already belonged to me. Im a signed writer.
AllHipHop.com: And what happened to the deal?
Ivan Matias: Russell wanted to put out a single, but I knew it couldnt 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 wasnt anything.
AllHipHop.com: So when did you finally say to yourself Im done with this?
Ivan Matias: In 2003. His mom called me to try and give him a job. I
couldnt really do anything for him. He was doing hair for local chicks
for $50 in his mothers living room. He couldnt 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 didnt want to work hard
AllHipHop.com: Do you think Caushuns 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 isnt gay in Hip-Hop.
Ivan Matias: I dont 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 thats 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
Ivan Matias: Ive 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: Its business at the end of the day. In the beginning, it
was a sting, but I learned thats my job. My job is to make things that
people can buy and sell again. Maybe if they dont like my hook, they
can take it and make it their own. If they say they like it, theyll
change two words, cut a check and all of a sudden, they wrote it. The
problem is a lot of artists arent 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] Its all about being in the right circles. You
just cant 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 isnt 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! Thats
already a benefit. I dont 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 wont 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
didnt 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.