picture of M. Kim1. Your Twitter handle, Meluminati, is great. What’s the inspiration behind that and how is it a reflection of your personality?

“Meluminati” is a play on words of my name and Illuminati, but it just means I’m responsible for my own success, whether you believe it or not. I call myself a “conspiracy analyst” as opposed to a “conspiracy theorist,” so it’s not that I don’t buy into the idea, but I question everything to include the idea of questioning everything, lol. I think pop culture feeds off of people’s belief in the Illuminati, which adds to the mystique and controversy (i.e. free publicity), but it’s hurtful because instead of inspiring people to work hard, be consistent, and build lasting relationships (factors for success), it encourages people to believe that certain heights of success aren’t reachable unless you sell your soul. That’s crippling to the psyche. I don’t believe that, so I’m working to prove it’s not true. Guess we’ll find out.

2. Culture doesn’t really have any boundaries; social status, age, ethnicity. But there’s always going to be folks who don’t get that. Do you get questions about your ethnicity as it relates to hip hop?

I’m Asian, thirty-something, a woman, and a mom who works with hip hop artists...there’s a few questions about my entire existence lol. I experience racism and stereotyping more from the general population than I do within hip hop, which is probably why I originally gravitated to it. I think that as hip hop grew into a cultural force and global medium (and Wu Tang made all things Asian cool lol), those who grew up within it are more open-minded. I still get questions asking if I eat dogs and cats, which martial arts I know, do I do nails, how do I speak English so well, etc. and I probably always will as long as America exists. The real questions and issues within hip hop are about me being a woman. That’s a book.

3. No doubt you are a recognizable force in the DMV hip hop scene. How did you get started, what’s your background?

I got started by loving hip hop. I’ve always kept bumping into or becoming friends with people in some aspect of the music and entertainment industry, unintentionally, accidentally, and coincidentally. I guess that happens when you surround yourself by what you love. I never set out to be involved, I literally just wanted to help out some friends by providing my professional skills as a business consultant which seemed to be needed. The more I became involved, the more I saw the fundamental issues in the DMV that were deeper than an absence of business acumen, professional standards, or an industry infrastructure. I wanted to support those who were interested in changing the culture and setting the standards, not just talking or complaining about it. That’s the big picture story. The actual story goes like this: I met Jay Mills on Twitter who invited me to the Anti Club (which was everything the name implies), where I met Pro’Verb. I began working with Pro’Verb and helped to start Will Rap 4 Food. Through Will Rap 4 Food, I met Visto who launched Hippie Life Krew and Dirt2Gold. All of these brands are grassroots and promote inclusivity, positivity, teamwork, and other great concepts that shouldn’t be so rare...all things I believe in.

4. You’re busy. You’re an artist manager, COO of the non-profit Will Rap 4 Food, and a managing partner of Dirt2Gold. To crown all that, you’re a mom. How do you juggle all those roles and continue to maintain your aura?

Trust me, I have my days. I fail, I let people down, I let myself down, I want to quit, I get discouraged, frustrated, angry, etc. I am a human being (as I frequently have to remind people). I maintain whatever aura I have by being able to maintain perspective and priorities. I have to remind myself why I’m involved and what it means to my number one priority, my children (who are creatives). A few good friends who understand, tolerate, love, and believe in me and what I’m trying to accomplish also work wonders for the spirit.

5. We’ve written about Will Rap 4 Food and all the great things the organization is doing. Tell us about Dirt2Gold.

Dirt2Gold is more of a concept and brand right now than a business entity. As the name implies, it’s about turning nothing into something. It’s about the grind, the journey, the process...respecting and manifesting. We are researching business models that will be able to support and adapt what we envision, but ultimately we want it to become a platform that enables artists to financially sustain themselves as well as support each other. Currently we attach the brand to events and projects our team works on that align with the brand messages, like #PlaylistTuesdays, the monthly listening and networking party we co-present with 368 Music Group. Playlist is a consistent platform (since October 2013) that mixes different genres and demographics within hip hop and allows up-and-comers and established artists the opportunity to connect in a more intimate way with their fan base, as well as the opportunity to make fans and contacts outside of their normal support system.

6. You’re involved in managing an artist we’ve really taken notice of; Visto. How would you describe his artistic trajectory and what needs to happen for him to get to the next level?

Visto is where he is because his humility allows him to listen, his grind and hunger make him apply, and his art allows him to transcend. I didn’t start working with him because of his music, I was interested in his work ethic and vision. I could hear the potential in his music and recognized that his sound and look (or what he wanted it to be) wasn’t just restricted to a niche within hip hop. I’m really proud of the leaps and bounds he’s taken over the last year in his artistic and personal growth, which are manifesting externally into career opportunities and milestones. For him to get to the next level, he needs to do what he’s doing now: not get comfortable and continuously evolve. Also, he has to be able to filter out all the “noise” that comes with notoriety. People don’t seem to realize that artists’ lives can change very rapidly, and few are emotionally equipped to handle the changes, both positive and negative. It takes a very special person to make it to certain levels and not become lost in themselves or to the industry. Or they’re just Illuminati, lol. I believe in Visto. I wouldn’t work so hard for him if I didn’t.

7. DC and the surrounding area is a great place to be in the music industry.  At the same time, it’s a tough place to realize any traction. It’s kind of sink or swim, would you agree? And the problem for music industry professionals is if you spend all your time trying not to drown, you never have time to work on strategies for success.

I look at the DMV as an ocean of opportunity for artists and industry professionals, because there isn’t much established so we have the freedom to innovate and build in relatively uncontested space. We’re in a phase where the like-minded people who recognize that are all working together to help build the infrastructure. I believe it’s working...the tides are turning. Within the last year I’ve experienced a different energy in the DMV. I see more collectives, people and brands you wouldn’t expect to work together working together, unprecedented quality and diversity in music from the area, and opportunities for indie artists that didn’t previously exist. We still have much work to do and it may be a few more years before we become the next [insert major city with established hip hop industry here], but we are on the way, no longer wallowing. I wouldn’t want to be involved at a different time.

8. You work with so many people in the area, and on so many projects. Who are some of the folks you’ve drawn inspiration from and/or are just tremendously cool to work with?

There’s not enough space and time in this interview to name my inspirations or the people I enjoy working with. I work with large teams through Will Rap 4 Food, Hippie Life Krew, and Dirt2Gold, and every person brought into the core teams are people I believe in. That’s why I work so hard building the artists and brands I work with, because they are platforms to empower the many who have touched my life.

9. What’s the best venue in the area for listening to live music?

The studio while it’s being created :)

10. On a chill day for Melisa Kim, where might folks bump into you getting your eats, shopping, or relaxation on?

I’m an introvert, so chances are on a chill day (which are rare), I will be somewhere people can’t bump into me. I prefer home-cooked meals, shopping on the Internet, and relaxing in my bed trying to do as much of nothing as possible.

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