Detoxaholic held the great pleasure of speaking with Queens-bred creative hustler, Shani Kulture. He is the producer, and co-host of Ebro in the Morning on Hot 97. In addition to working on one of the top rated radio stations and morning shows in the country, he’s also the founder and CEO of the Kulture Movement, which is a socially progressive, multi-tiered media platform that personifies his ever-evolving social elevation on life, and how hip hop culture can be used as a positive tool to provide encouragement and outreach to urban communities worldwide.
As a proud Tri-state area chick, I was excited to conduct this interview because Hot 97 dominated the radio waves during my childhood. I’ve always admired the progression of Shani’s hustle, and couldn’t wait to tap into his mind! Thus far, this was one of my favorite interviews because we chopped it up in his SUV riding around the streets of downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan. We initially planned to conduct the interview in a park, but as the sun was setting we canned that idea because we didn’t want to cross paths with any NYC thorough bred rats. Although I was squeezed into his event-filled day, he warmly shared his journey of growing up in Queens, NY, grinding as a MC with his band, performing around the city, his beginnings and trajectory at Hot 97, and his creation and evolution of the Kulture Movement.
Shani was born in Hollis Queens, and raised in a working class household with his siblings between Queens and his native Trinidad. His mother was a teacher, and primarily raised him and his four siblings on her own as a single parent. He shares how his mother always serves as a person that provides him with spiritual influence and guidance. On the other end, Shani’s father is an ex-Black Panther who was a member in helping Jessie Jackson start the renowned Rainbow Coalition, and was a major advocate of influential civil rights leaders such as Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela. Shani shares how his father instilled values of the importance of social awareness and justice, and how important it is to join forces with like-minded people in bringing this perspective into fruition.
His grandmother was a trained concert pianist who taught all of his siblings how to play the piano, and they all had a chance to perform for audiences in Carnegie Hall in New York City. Shani was the youngest of his siblings, and his grandmother passed away when he was only four years old, so he wasn’t able to learn the gift of playing the piano like the rest of his family. However, he was still fortunate to gain musical influence from his stepfather and his uncle who were both in Calypso bands and they taught him how to make steel pan drums.
By the time Shani reached the latter part of his adolescence, his mother moved his family to the suburbs of Long Island. He describes the neighborhood as being the total contrast of his surroundings in Queens. The suburbs were safer, quiet, and he was interacting with different nationalities of people. Although his mother thought that moving her family to the suburbs would keep her children out of trouble, Shani confesses that he started to find street life during his time in Long Island, his friends in Brooklyn and Queens became more attractive because he was so bored living in Long Island.
Fortunately, his love of hip-hop music and culture saved him from diving too deep into street life.
In their youth, Shani explains how his older sister, who was a budding MC, wrote her own rhymes and performed in hip-hop cyphers. He was awe struck by her talent and he would try to mimic her rhymes and delivery out of his admiration for her. As he grew older, he began to perform in cyphers using his own lyrics and began to view music as a possible career he wanted to pursue.
For the next ten years, Shani performed as the front man and MC of the crew and band that went by the name Planet U. They were able to gradually gain notoriety for their live shows in the college and indie circuits. During that time, Shani put out a project entitled “Natural Progressions”, and he contributed verses with other great artists like for the song “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” with notables Talib Kweli and Mos Def (aka Yasiin Bey). Although his career in entertainment transitioned into a different path, Shani shares how he was always proud of his strides in music and felt like it was a genuine reflection of where he was mentally and spiritually during that time in his life. His aim was to always promote social consciousness and pride in his African and Caribbean roots.
While he transitioned out of being a full time musician, Shani also gained notoriety from hosting shows and parties around New York City. He wanted to continue to extend his tides and education in the music industry, so he began to work for Hot 97 on the street team with promoting different events for the radio station. He used to host an online MC competition called The Cure, and he was asked to bring that competition to the infamous annual Summer Jam festival stage in front of sixty thousand people. He impressed some execs at the station with his natural charisma and command over the audience.
A few months later, the station asked him to take on an engineering job for their morning show in which singer turned radio host Ms. Jones was hosting at the time. Shani shares how when he took on the job he thought he would only last about a week because he was totally naïve to the duties of a radio engineer. Although it was a rocky start with learning the technical and hosting aspects of radio, he was grateful for the learning curve. By jumping out of his comfort zone, he still sustains a long-standing and reputable career with Hot 97 where he is the producer and co-host of the infamous Ebro In the Morning show with his co-hosts, Ebro, Peter Rosenberg, and Laura Stylez.
In addition to his career strides in entertainment, Shani is also proud of his multi-faceted media platform aptly called The Kulture Movement. It consists of his own radio show on Hot 97 every Saturday from 3-7pm, his Kulture Lounge after work mixers and parties held around the city, the Crown Holders showcases where he invites undiscovered music acts to perform for a live audience, and his philanthropy efforts with the #NoDisrespect campaign which is an outreach program he started with media personality Roxie Digital, that’s geared toward adolescents and combines panel discussions with workshops to encourage young people to not allow their harsh, inner city environment to deter them from accomplishing their goals and dreams.
Shani shares how the campaign was inspired by the murder of black teenage youth, Trayvon Martin, and the epidemic of young African American and Latino youth being judged and discriminated against based on their physical expression of hip hop culture (i.e.hoody, jeans, sneakers, etc.) He shares how his goal is to encourage the youth that they’re in control of the parameters and display of their images to the world.
While he is proud of his achievements, Shani insists, he has so many more dreams to fulfill. From his years in the industry, he’s learned that hard work, consistency, and building relationships are key aspects in success. He doesn’t feel that there are secret cliques or walls blocking anyone from building their name in entertainment, Shani believes that you have to lay your own groundwork to success: attending events, expos, conventions, and staying current with industry-specific websites and blogs. He’s learned that you have to spotlight your talents and figure out how you can be an asset to the platform or business you choose to be affiliated with, and build upon your worth and growth from that foundation.
Shani is currently preparing for the launch of a new website for the Kulture Movement. His goal is for the website to serve as a lifestyle hub that entertains and educates audiences of events and people that are pushing the global boundaries of hip hop culture. His goal is to hire professional creatives that share his cultural perspective and showcase their talents and contributions to the world. He hopes that his website can provide a forward thinking, new wave perspective on society. The site will also have Kulture Movement-themed merchandise where part of the proceeds go to college student scholarships, and for the site to have a column for high school and college students to contribute work for credit and building their portfolio.
Shani Kulture’s platform isn’t slowing down anytime soon. It was wonderful to discuss his genuine appreciation and love for the culture, and how he continues to find ways to share his success with the world. He’s definitely forced me to gain re-focus and pride as I continue down this Detoxaholic path, and I’ll certainly continue to view his achievements as a source of inspiration.