Means Cameron left New Orleans for his hometown of Cincinnati in 2011 to pursue music. And yeah, he realizes how crazy that sounds. But if his ability to pack the house at PRVLGD on West Fifth Street late on a Tuesday night in January for the live release of his new hip-hop album is any indication, the man knows what he’s doing.
This much is also fully evident in the lyrics on Tape Ten, which he independently released under his artist name, Macho Means. They range from ambitious (“We used to hustle timid but now we disown limits”), to melancholic (“Mrs. Heartbreak / Let go your hold, that for my heart sake / Picking up pieces, my only hope is they all straight”), to introspective (“Stay Up” addresses his childhood); it’s autobiographical without a hint of self-indulgence. “I fell in love with [recording] because I was able to say what I wanted to say and people would listen,” he says.
Sonically, his style draws inspiration from Nas, Jay Z, Timbaland, and Pharrell, as well as classic R&B. There are moments he channels Kanye (e.g., “Alligator Shoes”), and his refusal to let the beat overpower the lyrics is reminiscent of J. Cole—but it still feels wholly original. The album’s title references the idea of a “perfect 10.” “You get tapes and you want to skip, skip, skip,” says Cameron. “I wanted to make something that people would listen to all 10—versus just a few—songs.” He also committed to making it a Cincinnati album; producers Tony Spokes and M-80 are local, as are all featured vocalists/musicians.
That hustle ingrained in his music translates well to Cameron’s “day job,” BlackOwned, the clothing brand he started with business partner Marcus Ervin in 2011. It was an idea driven by a tough string of months in Cameron’s life when he moved back to town. “I felt like I was losing ownership of what I thought my life would be,” he says. “I wanted to have something for young people to look to and say Ownership of self is important, one, but Ownership in general is the new us. We can own things, too.”
Cameron and Ervin put the branding on a shirt, got 15 or so friends to wear it to Mixx Ultra Lounge one Friday night, and had people calling with orders the next day. The duo sold tees, sweatshirts, and other items out of their cars and Ervin’s home before opening an Elm Street storefront in 2014 (set to double in size this spring). “A lot of people think we were an overnight success, like this was easy,” says Ervin. “They don’t know that we put our last dime into BlackOwned.” The line has received national attention on MTV, BET, and a recent Rick Ross music video, and the team is hard at work pushing into new markets.
It hasn’t been welcomed with all smiles, though Cameron expected as much—and knew controversy wasn’t all bad. That’s not just gut instinct, either; he has a business degree from Miami University. “A lot of times, it makes people feel uncomfortable when it’s black or white,” he says. He points out the window of the Sixth Street Starbucks downtown at the Kiji Steak House sign across the street that reads Japanese Cuisine. “We look at that and say, Hey, that’s their culture, that’s great, let’s go in. There are all these pieces of other cultures that we embrace. But with black culture it’s like, Explain yourself to me. Why are you making this statement?”
He’s pushing forward, unapologetically. Which is not a surprise to those closest to him. Early on, as BlackOwned grew, Cameron’s music took a back seat. He had been working on Tape Ten for awhile, but when he finally focused on releasing it, he scrapped all but one song, “4th Quarter,” and started over. “He’s an artist. He’s a perfectionist,” says Ervin. “Sometimes I tell him, it’s not always going to be 100. If it’s 95, we’re probably better than most. [But] he’s passionate about it. He wants everything right.”
Ervin also serves as Cameron’s music manager, but as the scope of each enterprise broadens, roles are in transition. “I always tell him, man, just be a rapper,” says Ervin, who’s known Cameron since they were kids. “The way [BlackOwned] is running now, I got it. But now his music is bigger than our city.”
That’s the plan. At that January release show, Cameron performed with a live band—pretty unheard of for a local hip-hop artist, and something he plans to continue—and he’s since opened for The Lox at Bogart’s in March. From here, it’s about getting his music heard, in town and on tour, an ambition reflected in the urgency and sincerity of Tape Ten’s lyrics and beats.
It therefore seems impossible that an e-mail signoff could succinctly encapsulate someone so dynamic and multi-hyphenate, but Cameron is the exception. His: “Don’t quit.”
Tape Ten is available on iTunes, Tidal, Spotify, SoundCloud, and at BlackOwned.