Last updated: 02/28/2012 11:00:00 AM
Ever notice that when you listen to New York radio the rotation of rappers you’re listening to hasn’t changed since the year 2002? The airwaves are still dominated by Jay-Z, Nas, Diddy, 50 Cent, Dip Set, and Fat Joe, just to name a few. Meanwhile, the Big Apple is stuck in a rut of monotony, and most New Yorkers are convinced that the game isn’t what it used to be. But maybe the game isn’t the issue at all – perhaps it’s the players. It’s time for some new blood. Time for the emergence of fresh talent to identify with a new era of hip-hop fans. It’s time for Maino. Having used the mixtape circuit to cull a strong following, Brooklyn, NY native Maino is no longer his borough’s best-kept secret. The swagger-rich MC is now in a position to present a brand new look to hip-hop with his debut Atlantic album, If Tomorrow Comes… “I don’t want to say let’s bring New York back, but let’s bring New York forward,” he says. “And the only way to bring it forward is to breathe new life into it. That’s how you keep hip-hop alive, you give birth to the new. I want to be the one bringing that new life.” Surely bold proclamations from rappers are nothing new, but with Maino it’s his captivating approach that’s refreshing. “I’m not trying to be the next anybody,” he says. “I can’t do what Jay-Z does. I can’t do what Diddy, 50, or Wayne can do. I can’t do what Big or Pac did. I can only be me and master what I do.” And what Maino does is blend gritty lyricism with riveting street flair, combined with a magnetic confidence that’s both hard enough for the fellas and appealing to the ladies. It’s a proven formula that all the greats utilize, and it has come through in his music, starting with buzzworthy mixtape joints like “Rumors,” “All Eyez On Me,” and “The Diary.” “I come to the people as one of them,” he says. “I’m not Hollywood. I’m coming from the ground up, trying to get to the top.” Able to overcome a daunting ten-year incarceration, Jermaine “Maino” Coleman made the transition from nobody to somebody look relatively easy. However, the journey was anything but trouble-free. Raised in the heart of Bed-Stuy Brooklyn –Nostrand Ave to be exact – Maino developed an affinity for hip-hop during the genre’s classic ’88 era. Legends such as Rakim, KRS-One, and Brooklyn’s own Big Daddy Kane were some of his early inspirations. In fact, Maino’s fondest memories were the late-night radio mix shows that he’d record. “I’d make my lil’ tapes so I could have something to play for me and my friends,” he recalls. “I wasn’t really writing rhymes yet; I was doing it because I was such a fan.”
Unfortunately, for Maino the golden era of hip-hop coincided with the crack epidemic in America’s urban communities. Music was unable to shield the tough Brooklyn kid from the effects of the plague. As a youngster he saw both his parents succumb to drug addictions. “I watched my dad go from being a good father to a fiend,” he says. “My mom developed her own little habit, but she never let herself get to the point where she was in the streets.” Barely a teenager, Maino was forced to fend for himself and his younger brother. Committing petty crimes became a means of survival, which snowballed into bigger problems. By the early 90’s Maino found himself in the middle of a “drug related kidnapping,” that led to a 5-to-15 years prison sentence. “We didn’t really know what we were doing,” he recalls. “We had a great idea, I guess, but we wound up getting caught.” During his decade-long prison term Maino caught the emcee bug as a result of boredom. “I’d be in the box for twenty-three hours a day,” he recalls. “I just started rapping as something to do. I feel like hip-hop kept me alive.” While listening to DJ Clue mixtapes featuring some of “Brooklyn’s Finest” – Notorious B.I.G, Jay-Z, Lil’ Kim – the vibe only got stronger. Maino adopted the “no writing” technique of emceeing. “I was never comfortable writing my raps down.” Upon his release in 2003, Maino immediately launched Hustle Hard Entertainment. A chance meeting with DJ Kay Slay that year led to Maino’s first appearance on the radio. “It’s been a helluva fight,” he says. “I went through every step a rapper could take to build his name up, and that was the first.” From the radio appearance and through pure hustler’s ambition Maino garnered a ground swell of attention through various mixtape appearances. However, it was an unforgettable appearance on the Smack DVD Vol. 12 that put him on the map for good. Dubbing himself “Brooklyn’s Future,” the determined upstart proved he wasn’t afraid to put his neck on the line to get results – or a nice buzz. Armed with a label deal from Universal, and a show-stealing effort on Lil’ Kim’s “Gimme That,” Maino added to his rapidly rising appeal. Unfortunately he soon learned the price of being on a label that wasn’t quite sure how to push “New York rap” during the height of the South’s dominance. Maino and Universal split in 2007, and just like that he was back to square one. But with a drive as aggressive as his music and with a vital ally in T.I. – who saw some of himself in the self-assured New York rapper – Maino quickly inked a deal with Atlantic Records. “Universal was on the job training,” says Maino. “I appreciated the opportunity, being signed at a time when New York rappers weren’t really getting deals, but being at Atlantic I feel like I can go to another level.”
Before Maino gets his opportunity to ascend to hip-hop’s elite echelon, If Tomorrow Comes… is going to have to acquaint him with the masses that might not be familiar with the hard work he put in under the radar. And he’s already begun the process with the hard-charging “Be Me.” Not an official single, the Nard & B produced track is a fitting introduction to a rapper who’s been known to attract some controversy every now and then. “I don’t want to scare the money away,” says Maino. “But I’m not about to shy away from who I am. And this record speaks to that.” You can expect more of the same unadulterated candor throughout If Tomorrow Comes… It doesn’t get any more straightforward than the Alex Da Kid-produced “Role Model.” Toying with the staccato flow made popular by Brooklyn rapper Smooth Da Hustler, Maino offers a disclaimer to fans of all ages: “I’m bad company; don’t look up to me.” As unruly as that may sound, one listen to the vibrant clubbanger “Hi Hater,” and you’ll see why it’s easy to root for the bad guy. Produced by newbie Mr. Raja and Maino, with a classic Jimmy Spicer sample (most recently made popular via Mary J. Blige’s “Be Happy” remix), the track is the quintessential anthem that’ll help Maino crack the repetitive rotation on hip-hop radio. “You got to make records that compete,” he says. “I see what I have going on as a movement. This is the type of song that pushes a movement ahead.” To ensure that Maino makes a serious push to become the “new life” in hip-hop, If Tomorrow Comes… is stacked with a broad spectrum of bangers. From the raunchy southern-tinged bounce of “Dump Dick” to the introspective “Back 2 Life,” Maino piques your intrigue on many levels. Along with collaborations with B.G., T.I., and Cool & Dre, Maino’s debut leaves an indelible mark on first impression. “Nothing can compare to what I’ve been through,” he says. “Dudes in jail used to tell me ‘when you get your shot make it work.’ Now that I got it, I want to make it work.” And for our sake, if it does, what we hear on the radio won’t be more of the same. It’ll be something new.