For all the interviews I do, there’s always an artists who sticks out like a sore thumb, and Penny Shaw stands strong in that bunch. I’m so proud, beyond words, to have the opportunity of presenting him to you and the ever-growing audience here at U.G. Digital Magazine. Much like we’re selective in regard to what we cover and present here, he’s an artist of the same nature. In an industry that has become saturated with nonsense, Shaw stands mightily on his own level. He’s taken the time to build a brand, not from what he’s been surrounded by, but what he, himself, wants to see from an artist. His brand is based on what he wants to represent, how he wants to be remembered, and ultimately, what he represents in life. As the title suggests, it’s all in the Art of Integrity.
Never is it about bashing anyone here, but I will be honest though. Integrity in this business is at an all-time low. There’s so many who conform based on what the rest of the crowd is doing, and it’s beyond refreshing to come across an artist who, although they want popularity, is not willing to budge against their own beliefs, style, and character to attain it. What also reigns clear, not only from this conversation, but just from looking at his journey is when you’re free and willing to be yourself, the popularity is inevitable. Penny Shaw is coasting at an all-time high, and as he puts it himself, he hasn’t even reached the pinnacle yet. Trust, it is coming though. It’s only a matter of time.
In our exclusive, we talk, not just about the simple stuff, but we really get into his mind about his journey thus far in the industry, and how Ill City Blues has put him on that level that so many aspire for. He talks openly about the work he’s putting in as an independent artist to build his brand, who inspired him from his own neighborhood of Queens, the unity he’s built among his team that is ultimately pushing him to the top, and so much more. I’m proud of this feature because among everything, Penny Shaw represents the type of artists that I as the publisher LOVE to present here. His artistry and character is what I envisioned in the artists that we would spotlight with U.G. Digital. Hopefully, you all love his story!
With that being said, I present to you: Penny Shaw: The Art of Integrity.
U.G. Digital Mag: Again, I appreciate you for your time. I love how different you are from everything else out today. I talk to a lot of people in general about the changes in hip-hop. I’m almost 40, and I never want to sound like my parents, but I feel like a lot of the direction hip-hop has gone, I struggle to get into it. The good thing is there are a number of people like yourself who are taking it back to the roots and the essence, if you will, and they really have something to talk about. I believe you’re one of those artists. How difficult is it for you to remain different, and be yourself, given the climate of music?
Penny Shaw: I appreciate you saying that. At one point, it was really frustrating for me. To take a step back, everything that’s on the radio that’s popular, it has a certain sound to it. The way rappers are flowing, it’s almost a copy of someone before them. I think maybe two years ago, it was frustrating. I questioned if I was taking the right path. It felt right, but it’s like everyone else is doing something different. I guess you just kinda navigate through life. With my last project, it was really about finding myself, going through a slump, and just getting through it. It helped to find myself. I’m so comfortable right now that it’s not even funny. I’m comfortable with what I do, and I understand a lot of people who are pushing the envelope and doing different things, it won’t be the most popular immediately, but in the long run people will look back at my catalog and understand that this kid is rapping about what his life is really like; the things that others are scared to talk about.
U.G. Digital Mag: I’m glad you touch on popularity. To me, what you have should be revered a bit more. You think of the artists like Kendrick Lamar, and I place you at that level. I think in the beginning, people weren’t necessarily leery, but they didn’t tap into Kendrick Lamar the way I thought they would have. Now, obviously, the world is behind him. I look at J. Cole, who I feel still doesn’t really get what due to him, but I feel like he’s one of the dopest out there. Does it bother you, knowing that it takes so long for people to catch on, or they sleep on what you have due to the differential content? You speak of being comfortable, but is there ever that part of you that wants to tailor your music to what people have grown accustomed to in hip-hop? Even relating it to our mag, there’s certain things that I’ll admit to watching, but you’ll never find that type of content in our pages because of what I feel like I want to offer the reader. It makes us suffer a bit in comparison to all the other digital mags, blogs, and such, but for me it’s the principle, and it’s non-negotiable for me.
Penny Shaw: That’s a loaded question in itself. A lot of it is somewhat perspective man, because I definitely agree. A lot of people around me, they say people really slept on me. Even when I do shows, people come up and ask if I’m signed, and I say I’m doing it all myself. That’s technically the reason why I incorporated the name Penny, because it’s often overlooked. I said OK. This is a lot of people where I come from, so I’m going to embrace this and speak for them people. It’s really perspective because if you take a Kendrick or J. Cole, they may not get the props I feel they deserve, but it’s perspective because J. Cole is doing a million with no features. His fan base it crazy. Kendrick Lamar with the Grammys, I mean, he has a couple classics. Some people are lucky if they even get one. I feel like longevity-wise, they will get theirs. I’m not too worried. I’m not going to say I want to be underground forever. I want people to hear my music. I’m not one of those guys who wants to sit underneath, but I’m not willing to do certain things just to get there.
U.G. Digital Mag: You also mention doing it all on your own. I look at artistry, and I feel like independence should be the goal. I know that’s backwards considering how most begin, but I do believe that. I look at the big picture, or grand scheme of it all. There’s a lot more money to be made, and a lot more respect to be gained. There’s a lot that goes into being independent obviously, and a lot of artists are not ready to put in that kind of work. Where do you sit in regard to that? Would you want to be anything aside from independent? Would you sign to a major label, or any label for that matter?
Penny Shaw: I always say I will never rule anything out of the equation. I was good at writing music, and making songs. I didn’t realize that for as long as it takes you to make you a song, you need to push it for just as long, if not longer, just for it to make it. Nobody will hear it otherwise. So myself, and one of the guys who also produced my project, he owns the studio that I record at. So it’s myself, him and this dude is a jack of all trades. He’s a producer, he does mixing, videography, and one of my other boys is into videography. So it’s really me and my peoples. We’re doing this, and they’re like “we’re going to make this work”. These guys are helping me. I would say independent artists, not even just making music but pushing yourself independently, it’s frustrating as hell. Sometimes it’s like, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to email this person, or take care of these logistics. At the end of the day, if the right deal comes to me, then it’s really like, I’ve been paying for this, that, and the third. You need to be able to offer me better. I should not be able to do your job better than you.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s perfect in that sense. Should the opportunity come along, you know immediately if they are trying to play you because you’ve already been doing it yourself, and doing it well I would add. With everything you’ve done already, you’ve built a massive amount of success alone. There’s not much they can offer you that you haven’t already provided for yourself.
Penny Shaw: Exactly. And it’s really just the dollar amount. That’s really it.
U.G. Digital Mag: I think the setup you have is perfect. You have a massive amount of success already, and it’s only going to get bigger.
Penny Shaw: Definitely. I’ve just been blessed. I don’t even think I’ve reached anywhere close to my potential, and I’m still being blessed with so many opportunities. Even artists that are “so-called” bigger or more popular, they don’t get some of the looks and opportunities. I’m just blessed that people look to me and my music for certain things.
U.G. Digital Mag: Obviously, you come from Queens, and there’s so many artists from there. You have L.L., you have Run DMC, and so many others man. Who were those artists that you listened to, and not so much emulated, but moreso who you looked up to? Who is or was doing it where you want to get to their level?
Penny Shaw: Queens has a long list of artists man. I would say I didn’t necessarily grow up to them, but I’m a student of the game so I went back to all the classics. Actually, they just put up Phife Dawg Way around my neighborhood, right where A Tribe Called Quest was from, so I had to go back and listen to them. They’re one of my favorite groups. Mobb Deep, but my biggest inspiration from Queens is Nas.
U.G. Digital Mag: Surely he’s one of the dopest out there man.
Penny Shaw: Yea, most definitely. It’s funny because usually you had to pick which one, between Jay-Z and Nas (laughing). It was like, I remember being more partial to Jay-Z. I don’t know if I even understood what he was saying. I think I just liked it at the time. As I grew up, and understanding more about Nas, I realized his poetic flow was so intricate. I would say he inspired me because of his career, ups and downs. He pushed the envelope, whether it was with the Damian Marley album, or the song with his pops, but he did a lot of things to push his creativity forward. I really respect that.
U.G. Digital Mag: I look at him and Jay-Z both. Jay has clearly been out there, but so has Nas. 1995 and 1996, it was my first year of college, and I can remember Nas had out Street Dreams, and If I Ruled the World with Lauryn Hill, and that was like the introduction to him for me. It made me go back because he definitely had hits before that moment. Even just until that point, that was 25 years ago. Like, he’s done so much, and inspired so many. It still sounds fresh, even when you listen to him now. He’s not dated, but he still sounds fresh. I would also lean more toward Nas, looking at how he has maintained through it all.
Penny Shaw: Listen man. 25 years. I heard that artists are lucky if they get to two major albums.
U.G. Digital Mag: Definitely, because tapping back to the independent side, there’s a lot that you know because of your independent status, and most artists have someone doing those things for them. So when it comes down to sales being low, or people not knowing what they’re doing, or the labels don’t stay behind them, it results in them falling off. Keeping it real, many don’t get past the first album. For the time you’ve been here, and looking at careers of artists like Nas and Jay, it says a lot to be here and have that longevity. It’s hard out here artistically, especially as an independent because you’re fronting the money before you get any money. It takes time to put it together, and promote it, and it’s not cheap.
Penny Shaw: Right. It takes money to make money.
U.G. Digital Mag: So where do you see things moving? You’ve had a number of projects out. You get a lot of accolades for Ill City Blues.
Penny Shaw: We put it out in March, and we kinda just let it run. Then August and September I was basically doing shows in the Northeast. We did a few shows in New York. We went up to Boston and opened for Ras Kass, and I was able to go to D.C. and do this huge music festival they have called the H Street Music Festival, which brings thousands out. During that time, we’re filming all these videos. We just launched the first video, Questions, a few days ago. We haven’t even started our run for Ill City Blues yet. It’s just the first of many visuals we’re putting out. This weekend, I’m actually having my own pop-up shop in New York because we’re launching some merchandise to further my brand a little bit. So at the end of the year, I’ll have my own pop-up shop in Harlem. We’ll launch the merchandise and I’ll do some performances. I just want to expand the brand a lot more and promote a lot of this music, and give people a different angle of viewing it as well.
U.G. Digital Mag: So for the pop-up shop, what’s your big picture? I’ll precursor that by saying that there could be a lot I just don’t understand in it all. Do you see a profit from that, or do you expect to see a profit at all?
Penny Shaw: I guess it depends on where your shop is, what you’re selling, and your venue. I’ve seen cases where it costs tens of thousands to get it. I do a lot of other people’s events, and go to different cities, so once a year, I throw my own event and push our own brand the way we want to. For this, it’ll be a real intimate performance. For anyone who has come to my shows, I don’t just get up and do things the way you hear it on the CD. I switch it up. We’re doing it at art galleries. Some of the painters I’ve connected with, we’re putting their work up on the walls. Everyone I’ve had relationships with, and really it’s for the brand. I want to connect with people. Of course, you want to be profitable at the end of the day, but its one thing to be profitable for the moment, and another thing to think long-term.
U.G. Digital Mag: I would imagine this will affect things long-term.
Penny Shaw: Exactly. You may take a hit in the short-term, but you come out better in the long run. It’s about how you look at it and what you want.
U.G. Digital Mag: Again, I look at the love and respect you get. What’s next for the project?
Penny Shaw: We just dropped Questions. We’ll probably go into four more videos. We’re heavy into the visuals, and we’re really creative. Around the spring time, I want to do another batch of shows around the east coast, but perform the project in full for cities where I have a big supporting fan base.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s like the dopest thing when an artist can come and perform every song from a project, especially when one song plays off the other and it’s like a story. Lately I’ve seen a lot of artists doing that. Notably, being based in Cleveland, Bone Thugs is from here, and lately they’ve been in that mode of basing their concerts off one entire album and performing each song from that project.
Penny Shaw: Definitely. I always tell people, everyone is different. I try to create moments. For the pop-up shop, I’ll do a special performance for that. I don’t want to do the same shows for people, so when I come back in the spring, it’ll be a different look. I just want people to come out and get their money’s worth, and get something different each time, and not expect the same thing.
U.G. Digital Mag: You sound like someone who enjoys crowd interaction and participation. Are you partial to smaller, more intimate sets like The House of Blues, or do you prefer the larger scale arenas?
Penny Shaw: I’ll be honest with you, it really doesn’t matter. I just realize performing is one of the best ways for me to connect with people. My visuals have been one of my strongest assets. I like to get out there and talk to people, take pictures, and have these memories.
U.G. Digital Mag: As far as touring, what type of line-up is set so far?
Penny Shaw: Right now, I’m focused on the Northeast. January 6 I’ll be in D.C., and as far as doing the project in full, I’ll start in New York, then New Jersey, and that whole Tri-State area.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s cool knowing where your best places are to perform, but obviously, you’ll know that as an independent.
Penny Shaw: Definitely.
U.G. Digital Mag: In terms of final comments, you have a lot of people who read these because, they too, are artistic and want to do this for a living. What type of final comments do you have for them?
Penny Shaw: To anyone out there pursuing music, or anything, you have to keep going. There will be ups and downs. The frustrating moments are what take you to the next level. Push through it when it’s something you want to do. When I get frustrated, I know it’s just GOD testing me and preparing me. I’m not too much of a religious dude (I know I just sounded like it… laughing), but that’s really just how I think. As far as the project, I just want everyone to listen to it, and know that this is a project you can go back and listen to and pick up something new each time. It’s intricate and we put a lot of thought into it. If you don’t get it by listening, the visuals will help you. We just want to paint a full picture and give a full 360 video for us to connect.