BY PAUL HOWARD | April 17, 2020
To the average person, Nashville is likely to conjure images of cowboy boots, cowboy hats, country music, and a predominantly honky tonk culture. Wh
ile this is indeed all a flagship theme of this city, and what’s primarily seen in the national media, it’s far from all that makes Nashville Music City.
This encompasses all kinds of music, regardless of how central and inflated country music is in this town. And don’t get me wrong, it’s what this city cultivated, and I love *real* country music as much as the next person, but people should realize the full scope of talent this city has to offer. The problem is, who’s going to make sure these young, independent and “off-brand” artists get put on the right avenue to being heard and rewarded for their art?
Well that’s where Jamila McCarley and Thalia Ewing, aka Mimi and Muziqueen come in.
Together Mimi and Muziqueen are the powerhouse duo behind Nashville Is Not Just Country Music, which helps cultivate and shine a light on Music City’s urban creatives. Specifically they provide support through hosting urban writer’s rounds, music business education seminars, creating networking opportunities, and more.
Mimi and Muziqueen have over twenty years of combined experience in nearly all facets of the music industry, and together utilize what they know to help young urban music creatives not only find their path, but navigate that path successfully.
We had the chance to chat with both Mimi and Muziqueen, and get a deeper look into who they are, what they do, and their crucial and praiseworthy vision for the independent urban artists of Nashville.
Music Mecca: Where did you grow up, and who or what developed your passion and love for music?
Thalia aka Muziqueen: Well, I am a native Nashvillian, so I have a little unicorn horn sticking out of my head. (laughs) I grew up on the north side of Nashville. Very proud of my city, and I got my love of music young when we’d have family nights watching old Earth, Wind, and Fire concerts, and my dad had some expensive vinyl collections we’d listen to, so that was the early, early part. And then when Yo! MTV Raps hit the scene is when I really fell in love with music. It put visuals to everything I was hearing on the radio. And I knew around 12-years-old what I wanted to do as far as music business is concerned. I knew I didn’t want to be an artist, but I knew I had to be a part of music in some form or fashion. It’s been a journey to figure it out.
Jamila aka Mimi: So I’m from Dayton, Ohio. Home of the funk, right? I grew up like literally one person away from somebody in The Ohio Players, Lakeside, or whoever. My uncle was a part of the local music scene there. A lot of those bands are all family in one way or another. Also my family is big into going to church of course, so lots of gospel influence too. I’m also a Motown head. My mom introduced me to Motown, and that was our Saturday cleanup music. (laughs) I fell in love with Motown. It evolved as I got older, you know, the music was always an emotional mood-changer. I got drawn to the people who were cultivating these bodies of talent. So that’s what brought me into the music world. My family did a great job cultivating it, and they’re all singers and they’re all amazing. I look small to them. (laughs)
MM: So when did you move to Nashville then?
Mimi: I originally moved to Nashville in 2001, and went to school at Middle Tennessee State University, MTSU. I went to be a part of their recording industry music program, and after that I stayed, got married, moved to Memphis for a little while, then relocated back to Nashville in 2007.
MM: So how did you two meet, and what prompted you to work together?
Mimi: I’ll tell the top half of that story… It’s funny. So when I moved back to Nashville in 2007, the first thing that I did was call everybody I worked with musically back in the day. And two people told me to call Thalia, and that she’s known as Muziqueen. So I called her on the spot, real random, she had never heard of me, and I said, “Hey two of my music friends told me to call you, are you able to meet?” And she was like, “Uhh uhh okay?” (laughs) So we met at a Panera bread downtown…
Muziqueen: So I, like Mimi, had started working in the music business in Nashville in the early 2000s when Nashville was a much different scene. A brand had encouraged me to open a publishing company, and I was just getting out and doing things in the community. And I was in a store and I met this guy, and he said “Yeah my cousin she’s a songwriter, you should link up with her.” So we met and put all the dots together, and it just all flowed and the energy was good that day. We stayed and chatted for a long while, just connecting all the people we had known, her journey and my journey, and we’ve talked on the phone everyday since.
MM: Can you give us the scope of Nashville’s current urban music scene?
Muziqueen: So of course back in the early 2000s, it was a completely different scene. It was hard to get any kind of urban shows put together. There was just very little support. But now, today, with Nashville growing and people moving from all over, it’s a whole new demographic of people here. It’s all about supply and demand, and there’s plenty of both. So there’s more venues open to having more urban shows, and the talent is great, so there’s an opportunity to be exposed and showcased. And Nashville’s talent in the urban music scene is comparable with New York, LA, Atlanta- we have some of thee best creatives as far as urban, R&B, hip hop, pop, songwriters, producers- it’s just almost like an untapped goldmine of talent ready to be shared with the world. And that’s what Mimi and I are cultivating and doing. One of the initiatives is Nashville Is Not Just Country Music.
Mimi: Speaking from a creative standpoint within the scope of the urban scene, as a songwriter, the talent here is impeccable, and the collaborative spirit here is like, hands-down the best that I’ve experienced. Everybody is open to collaboration. You can be walking down the street and be like, “hey let’s get together and write,” and they’re like, “Okay!” There’s a hunger here in the urban creative community, because of the lack of opportunities. And then the other thing that is highly notable is the supportive creative community. At local shows you’re going to draw the other artists and creatives, but the camaraderie among the urban creatives is definitely there.
MM: Can you talk about what Nashville Is Not Just Country Music (NINJCM) is all about?
Muziqueen: It started as an urban mixer. Once I began giving back to the artists and the publishing, I began to notice they didn’t know each other all the way. Pockets here, pockets there. [I thought] Let’s find a place where all of these people can get into the room at the same time. And that was one of the first things we did with Nashville Is Not Just Country Music (NINJCM) was the urban music mixers. The first one was at ASCAP where we brought in over 200 creatives from Alabama, Kansas City, Memphis- the support was overwhelming.
Mimi: With NINJCM, the name says it all. We’re nurturing and cultivating a creative community, bringing in that exposure to the other music communities. We’re shining a light that most outlets aren’t shining a light on. Thalia was great when she started this thing as far as making sure the music business educational component was there. That’s where we lacked the most in the urban music scene in Nashville, so that’s we started focusing on that. We looked to country music as a model because they have a very streamlined infrastructure, and we honor what they do, so we’re trying to do exactly that for these other more urban genres.
MM: Mimi, can you speak on your experience as Founder and President of Collab Music Network and how that’s shaped your current vision?
Mimi: So of course we believe in everything being in the name, so collaboration of course is the tone. I focus on becoming a better collaborator. And through that concept of collaboration, you can build a team that can turn out a product. That was always my goal: how can I turn my thoughts into a product. What people are necessary to be a part of that process to bring that thought to life. Second was music. Everything I did was centered around music. The music remains the hub of the network. And that leads to the third piece, which is creating a network. Building a strong network of capable individuals who share in some shape the vision you have yourself. So that’s what I aim to bring to NINJCM.
MM: How about you Thalia? If you could speak on your experience with Muziqueen Publishing Administration and how that’s shaping your current vision.
Muziqueen: A lot of my vision and ideas came from my experience from Corporate America, working at Sony and BMI. That’s where I saw what I thought was really going on in the music business, but it really had nothing to do with what was actually going on behind closed doors. So I felt the need to help the community in getting a better understanding of publishing, the importance of publishing, and why it’s vital to your career, and that basically started Muziqueen Publishing and Administration. To help independent artists make sure that they are in a position to win as they advance in their career. Especially when you’re independent and you need to maximize every dollar out there, and publishing is one of those. It’s been a mission of mine to educate and put them in a position to collect royalties and be prepared, make sure all the paperwork is good, and maximize the monetary potential of their music. Otherwise it’s just a hobby.
MM: What artists are y’all working with now who you’re excited about and trying to hype up?
Mimi: So when I was on my journey as a songwriter and building my network of artists, songwriters, engineers, and so on, one friend said, “You gotta work with this artist!” And her name was Tahne. So I pulled up some music, and I was like, “I’m going to call her right now”. So I work with her and she’s great. I’m super excited about her, and she’s got an EP coming out, she’s in the lab right now. I have a record out called Lights that I wrote with an up and coming artist, 2’Live Bre, who cut that record along with a handful of others. Lights is out right now, super excited about that. And then a producer and writer, Patrick Brooks, who’s a super dope producer. He’s from Memphis, but he’s been in Nashville for about four or five years. And Brian Johnson is a songwriter/artist- I’m just excited about all of these people.
Muziqueen: Patrick and Brian are a songwriter-producer combo that we signed to our publishing company and we represent them in that aspect. We do publishing, artist development, and we do a lot of services based on our experience and things like that. We want to help them flourish where they need.
Mimi: I will say within the NINJCM urban writer’s rounds, we’ve had a chance to work with over 120 Nashville artists of all kinds of genres, so in that vein, we’re excited about the whole community. There’s so much talent right here in Nashville in all genres.
MM: Pandemic aside, what events/happenings/projects have you hosted and are you looking to host to raise awareness for what you’re doing?
Muziqueen: We’re definitely keeping with the urban writer’s rounds, but kicking them up a notch. We’re taking them online so that if you don’t live in Nashville you’ll still be able to experience an urban writer’s round.
Mimi: And we’re doing something similar with your Nashville Deck Sessions, and it’s NINJCM Live. So we’re filming the rounds, because again it’s more exposure, and two, we’re sitting down and talking with these artists one on one. They’re speaking about their creative journey. Everything is tailored towards the Nashville creative community, and how they navigate this scene within other genres. And I think people are going to be very surprised about what is right here in Music City.
We’re also doing Mimi and Muziqueen Live, where we share the journey of the women behind NINJCM, and we talk about being women in the music business and being double minorities. We talk about the music business education and again one that’s one the staple things that are highly important to us. And another thing we’re excited about is last year we made a deal with RipTide. So we do a lot of syncing and licensing with RipTide. The whole team is amazing, and this is another way we’ll be bringing opportunities to the Nashville creative community. We want to facilitate and be the bridge for these artists and the music business. There’s no greater joy than delivering a check to an artist for their music.
MM: As a whole, what do you think makes Nashville such a special and unique community?
Mimi: We honor what country music has done and love that, but our focus and vision has been on this community of urban talent. And when I say “urban” I don’t want people to just think about Hip Hop or Rap. Outside of country music there’s a hundred genres that we’re catering to. All kinds of genre-bending music. I can’t speak enough about the supportive creative community.
MM: Now this may be the most important question and it’s largely for my own personal benefit, but what food establishments in town can you not live without?
Mimi: For me, this is a recent one, and this company was on Shark Tank, but Big Shakes in Rivergate. I typically for the most part have a clean eating habit, but at least twice a month I gotta get over to Big Shakes and get some Fried Chicken, fries, a milkshake- I just love it. I’ve told Thalia about it a hundred times. It’s a great environment too.
Muziqueen: I love a good Slim & Husky’s pizza. The white sauce is slammin’.
Mimi: Oh my God yes. Have you had that?
MM: I’m ashamed to say I have not…I’ve heard nothing but great things.
Muziqueen: It doesn’t even make sense to get a Slim, you might as well always get a Husky.
Mimi: I will say this about them, aside from their food, they’re so invested in the community. You feel that when you go in there.
Muziqueen: And they have the best Cinnamon Rolls at The Rollout, too.
Mimi: Carb city, baby.