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"Raydar Ellis: Off the Radar"

Brick Records has forged a reputation for building Boston’s independent Hip-Hop market. Having put out cult-followed records for MF Doom, D-Tension, and 7L & Esoteric, the presence goes beyond Beantown too. But after over a decade of grinding, Brick brought it back home with an unlikely newcomer, Raydar Ellis.

Ellis, a Berklee School of Music graduate, has been a fan of Hip-Hop since seeing graffiti in his travels growing up in northern New Jersey. Since getting his knowledge in New England, the dorm room student moved to the mic, and in doing so, won over the respect of everybody from Ed O.G. on down. His debut album, The Late Pass is a dynamic album that looks at Hip-Hop’s origins, its future, and everything that’s been funny along the way. Raydar spoke with AllHipHop.com about his development from fan to MC, and his academic approach to the music. Tardy or not, here Raydar comes.

AllHipHop.com: What’s up with the Raydar part of the name? Is that a M.A.S.H. reference or what?

Raydar Ellis: Raydar came from a bunch of my friends in high school. They’d go out and party and stuff, and I’d pretty much be at home, working on music or researching things. I was always thinkin’ ‘bout stuff. I could be sittin’ around, watchin’ Hollywood Squares [on TV], and all of a sudden, I’d start looking for information on the history of [the show]. They said, “Yo, you’re like a Raydar, you’re always lookin’ for stuff.” It stuck.

AllHipHop.com: Where’d you grow up?

Raydar Ellis: I was born in White Plains, New York. Then I moved to New Jersey for 13 years, and on to Connecticut for high school. I was always in the tri-state area.

AllHipHop.com: What kind of research did you have to do to make a record like “Graffiti Rock”?

Raydar Ellis: A lot of came from my homies and stuff, ‘cause I’m not a writer myself. My homies are writers. Just kickin’ it with them and really wantin’ to be a student of the culture [inspired me]. The thing about Hip-Hop that separates it from so many other genres is that you can never play a note and still be Hip-Hop. It always struck me like, “Where does this come from?” I understand what hieroglyphics are, and I understand what Sanskrit is, and what graffiti is, but how does that all come together? “Graffiti Rock” gave me that opportunity.

AllHipHop.com: New Jersey has more graffiti today than a lot of places. Was it prevalent in your growing up?

Raydar Ellis: I was always seein’ it and everything. My first real understanding of it was when my mom would go to get her done. I came from a mostly white, middle-class neighborhood. There weren’t a lot of kids throwin’ stuff up on walls. When my mom got her hair done, she went to black neighborhoods – that’s where the salon had custom graffiti stuff on the side of the building, just ridin’ around the city. When we went into New York, as well, in Harlem, I was always on the lookout for it. Before I made music, I was painting. So from a color perspective, [it interested me too].

AllHipHop.com: Does one writer really resonate with you?

Raydar Ellis: Hmmm. My boy, Broma. I shouted him out on the beginning of the song too. He was the catalyst for that. The kid, he’s an all-around great dude and such. He pulled me aside and [taught me everything]. He opened me up to the individualism that graffiti can bring.

AllHipHop.com: You’ve got another interesting record in “Sambo Song.” Last year, that was a hot topic with Little Brother’s Minstrel Show album. From an independent situation on Brick Records, not being forced into the cookie-cutter role, do you see that syndrome playing into your career?

Raydar Ellis: Oh yeah, definitely – in life. Growing up in a mostly white, New Jersey neighborhood, [I went] to an all-black college, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. When I first got down there, kickin’ it with MCs and all that, they were like, “Why you talk like that?” - things of that nature. “Can you send a lil’ bit more urban?” It was like actors on casting-calls. It’s funny that you brought up the minstrel thing and Little Brother, because I didn’t really wanna compare myself as an MC doing it, I wanted to talk about the actor’s element. A lot of people equate “sambo” as slang for sellout.

AllHipHop.com: In underground Hip-Hop right now, there is a sense that it’s largely white audiences buying these albums. Approaching your audience right now, what element does race play to you?

Raydar Ellis: I’m not really gonna sit there and be like, “Man, he’s not black, so he shouldn’t be buyin’ my record!” That doesn’t make any sense. I’m just happy…ears are ears. Shoot, the human race is the only race I’m tryin’ to reach. I don’t segregate. Berklee [School of Music] definitely taught me a lot about different cultures, and different ways to connect to people.

AllHipHop.com: I interviewed Edan before, a Berklee dropout. He said that it’s hard for Hip-Hop to be taught in a higher education sys - AllHipHop.com

"Getting real, his way: Brian 'Raydar' Ellisis a middle-class rapper with decidedly high expectations."

Getting real, his way
Brian 'Raydar' Ellis is a middle-class rapper with decidedly high expectations
By Russell Nichols, Globe Staff | March 24, 2006

His days and nights revolve around bars. Not the local pubs in Harvard Square, but bars of music, which Brian ''Raydar" Ellis, 23, uses to measure the hip-hop tracks he produces and raps over. That's how he spends much of his time: at his apartment in Cambridge behind a computer screen, making music. Ellis, an only child who grew up in middle-class neighborhoods, has never been one to get out much, his dad says.

But Ellis, whose debut single is coming out on Tuesday, knows the value of hard work, especially since his lyrics shy away from more mainstream rap verses that exalt spinning rims and flipping drugs.

''I wasn't a corner thug or a kid on welfare," he said. ''Being yourself is really the best way to be different."

In Boston, just 200 miles from hip-hop's birthplace in the Bronx, underground artists have long been striving to step out of New York's sweeping shadow. The Hub's underground scene has been expanding year by year and while some rappers tread on familiar tales-from-the-hood territory, Ellis refuses to stray from his roots for recognition.

He doesn't rap about struggling with food stamps or surviving shootings. He writes about whatever he feels, from a song about fitted caps to an ode to overweight women. His track ''Sambo Song" is about how corporations try to force black MCs to rap a certain way for entertainment:

They keep telling me to paint my face / Then they tell me to pimp with a lean / Then they tell me keep the gun by my waist / but what they really mean is sing Sambo, sing.

On his tracks, he doesn't try to recycle a rags-to-riches success story. His journey was different.

It began with Ellis in the eighth grade moving from New Jersey to suburban Weston, Conn., in 1996. Money was good because his parents both worked for IBM, baby boomers in the corporate world.

In the hip-hop world, with the emergence of gangsta rap, more artists began illustrating personal stories of growing up and hustling in the slums. Ellis was listening to rock artists like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins at the time.

Then one day he and his father saw a video from the hip-hop trio the Fugees, and he started writing and reciting rhymes at the back of the school bus everyday. The white kids thought he was cool, Ellis said, but where he lived and how he talked made it hard for him to fit in with the black crowd.

''It isolated me in terms of my people," he said. ''A lot of black folks would be looking at some cat that raps and say, 'He's real, he's on welfare,' or 'He's real 'cause he shot somebody or has been shot,' like that makes you more black."

His father, Wayne, didn't want his son to be excluded from black culture because they lived in a white, suburban neighborhood. So he'd buy Jet, Ebony, and The Source magazines for his son to read. When Ellis first told his parents about his new passion, it was hard for them to accept because of the genre's negative images.

''I didn't feel comfortable with the fact that that's where he wanted to focus," said Wayne, 55, who grew up listening to Earth, Wind & Fire and the Temptations. ''But . . . I knew he needed to have that as part of his life because that was part of the black culture."

His parents bought him a stereo and a keyboard and Ellis grew more serious about hip-hop. So serious that when Ellis was in ninth grade, the school's guidance counselor called Wayne and explained that Ellis had been writing lyrics instead of doing his class work. Wayne said Ellis didn't even want to leave his room to get his driver's license when he turned 16.

In 2001, Ellis graduated from his mostly white high school in Connecticut and entered North Carolina A&T State University, a historically black college in Greensboro to study electrical engineering. There, he found friends with dreams and drives similar to his own. They would spend countless nights rapping with each other, eventually creating a group called the Short Bus Alumni.

On the weekends, as his friends would hit the clubs, Ellis would stay in his dorm room, behind his computer screen, making music.

''That man works 25/8, not 24/7," said Russell ''RuDi" Devino, 23, of Dorchester, a core member of the group who met Ellis in college during a freestyle rap session.

Ellis chose to study electrical engineering because he knew he would make money. But after two years, he decided to ditch the corporate path and pursue music full time. He moved to Boston, enrolled at the Berklee College of Music, and started from scratch.

''That's not what we had planned," Wayne said, ''but he didn't want to be in corporate America like us."

On a recent Friday night, Ellis is at his usual spot. There's a keyboard to his left, a drum machine, and a record player on his desk. To his right is a bookshelf with stacks of records from Duke Ellingt - The Boston Globe

"Raydar Ellis-Biography"

Born to a middle-class family in White Plains, NY, Brian Ellis spent most of his life in New Jersey and Connecticut (where he moved right before high school). It was in Connecticut that he first began to get interested in hip-hop, writing rhymes constantly and working on beats as often as he could. Nicknamed "Raydar" by his friends because of his habit of researching and tracking down information, Ellis enrolled in North Carolina A&T State University in order to study electrical engineering. While there, he started the Short Bus Crew with fellow hip-hoppers and friends, but after two years Ellis decided he wanted to pursue music more seriously, and transferred to Berklee in Boston to study music synthesis and business, as well as to continue making beats and writing rhymes. As part of the group Hood Official, Ellis performed at the 2005 NBA All-Star Game concert, releasing his debut, Late Pass, on Boston-based Brick Records in 2006, after which he moved to Atlanta to continue collaborating with the Short Bus Alumni. ~ Marisa Brown, All Music Guide
- Billboard Magazine


Late Pass, Brick Records - Rayar Ellis

Boombox, Brick Records - Raheem Jamal
Exclusive Production by Raydar Ellis

The Dimebag - Raydar Ellis Sampler CD



Producing Life Music that Lasts Forever

At one point in Raydar’s life, no one would have believed he would become the Hip-Hop purveyor he is today. Reared in Connecticut with both parents working for IBM, Raydar’s early years were far from the hard-life most rappers talk about. Rather Raydar’s struggles came later as he was forced to navigate through a social and psychological maze of being black but living experiences that most would consider “white.” Regularly Raydar listened to artists like, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins but it was a video of Lauren Hill and the Fugees that changed his life. From that moment on, his heart, soul and mind belonged to Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop belonged to him. Still fighting the urge to focus on music - a profession that becomes a career typically through luck and good fortune, Raydar enrolled in North Carolina A&T to major in Electrical Engineering. Unable to escape from the inevitable, his passion continuously pursued him. On campus, he found friends with hopes and dreams similar to his and soon, he was packing his bags and heading to Boston, approximately 200 miles from Hip-Hop’s birthplace.

Today, the Berklee College of Music graduate and Brick Records artist, RAYDAR ELLIS has earned a reputation as a phenomenal producer, MC, writer and all out "worker bee." With the ability to write a great song about any topic, URB Magazine proclaimed Raydar Ellis as one of "Next 20 Artists to Look for in 2007." On the album "BOOMBOX," you can witness Raydar's superb production skills as he brilliantly delivers classic beat after beat perfectly blending with Raheem Jamal's clever flow. In a review by AllHipHop.com, one writer proclaims that "Jamal and Ellis back each other perfectly though each track and the one artist-one producer combination makes BOOMBOX a record for the masses without the fluff and hype of having a commercial value."

Soon the world will hear even more from Raydar Ellis. Recently, Raydar produced two songs for Dr. Dre protege, Dawaun "MostArt" Parker and his group, The GodBody. This obviously makes Raydar an underground force to be reckoned with as Dawaun Parker himself is an in-house producer and keyboardist for Dr. Dre's Aftermath Records. The good news is that the industry is starting buzz about the up-and-coming, Hip-Hop superman. One album review passionately champions Raydar's cause by stating that Raydar's own 2006 release, "LATE PASS" was "criminally slept-on." Other writers proclaim Raydar to be the "Next School." Proving that he can demand the attention of audiences without discussing bling and drugs, "Sambo Song," a cut about the stereotypes and struggles of black actors and Hip-hop artists reached #2 on the RapNetwork Record Breakers Top 30 and #3 on the RapAttackLives.com 2007 rap charts.

In 2005, Raydar's own group, the Short Bus performed at the NBA Allstar game opening for Ludacris, Ciara and others. Two years earlier, Raydar Ellis was also a part of the Beats for Peace Tour with Slum Village, Pharoahe Monch, Cee Lo Green & The Jazz and Hip-Hop Allstars. Other credits include performances with Edo. G., El Da Sensei, 7L & Esoteric, Edan, Termanology, Slaine, Tanya Morgan, OC, Casual, Kaze, Kev Brown, Sheila E., George Duke, Me'shell N'Degeocello, George Porter (The Meters), Donald Harrison, & Christian Scott. An accomplished speaker, Raydar has participated in various panels including the Hip-Hop Empowerment Summit and the Essence Magazine, Take Back the Music Songwriting Contest.

Be notified, Raydar is definitely ready for the airways and radio plays. Those Hip-hop enthusiasts desiring sonic art from a pure musician and talented artist should be sure to get their own radars pointed in Ellis' direction.