Anyone who is familiar with the hiphop scene in Buffalo, has heard about Tephlon Ent. Tephlon was formed in 2005 by a headstrong youth by the name of Emmanual Kulu (rap name Kulu), who had just graduated from Erie Community College. It was there that he met some other rap talents, and realized that there might be something to gain in the industry and life through music. With a host of talented rappers knocking on his door, Kulu suddenly found himself as the head of an inspiring hiphop music business that immediately gained traction – and with traction came respect.
Kulu himself began to rap in 2001, and soon learned that there was a thin line between the business and performing. Thankfully he had a number of people who would help him along the way, including his older brothers Stephen and Karl, and his cousin Rock Breeze.
Tephlon gave Kulu a chance to escape what he felt was a cyclical trap, where there were few alternatives to street life for young black males growing up on Buffalo’s East Side. He used the brand to promote the idea of unity in Buffalo, instead of simply using it to further leverage the oft-violent nature of the streets (though unity and rap sensibilities are frequently at odds with one another). In a recent Challenger article, Kulu proudly stated that there is not a neighborhood in Buffalo where he does not know someone who he calls a friend. Torn between growing up on Rough East Side streets, working with a ubiquitous hiphop lifestyle brand, and dreaming of a city that might one day be accepting of all people, Kulu certainly had his work cut out for him under the Tephlon banner.
Kulu disbanded Tephlon in 2011, after what amounted to an illustrious, yet not profitable, stint in the hiphop business. The rapper/promoter was left despondent. The man had worked as hard as he could to grow the industry in Buffalo, and while there had been glimmers of hope, he felt that it was too hard to break into the national music scene. But his resilient nature gave him the strength to rethink his path, combined with the deaths (murders) of two people that were very close to him. Once again, pain and anguish led to determination and drive, which ultimately culminated in an epiphany. Instead of throwing away all of his learning experiences, he decided that he need to tell the story through film. And along with the film came a new direction and business called Black Art Visions.
Following is an interview with Kulu regarding his life choices, and the artistic paths that he continues to follow.
Marketing. The problem is it’s hard doing the business and being the artist/s at the same time. If I could focus on product development, I’d be a millionaire by now. We have talent – we just need people to help with the business side [with connections to a major record label].
Was Tephlon involved with music production, scouting talent, marketing, and the rest?
Yes we did all of that, being independent.
I am in it for the passion, but I couldn’t do full-time unless money was involved (one has to live after all).
But there must be someone that knows how to get the job done, who isn’t necessarily an artist? What about bigger names in the local circuit?
They know the struggle as well.
So what’s it going to take? What is Buffalo missing?
BUFFALO has no “discover channel”.
Is it Buffalo? Or is it that the industry is tough to break into regardless. I know that it’s an urban lifestyle. How does that translate to business? What about Detroit? Is anyone making it big there? Or Cleveland? You would think that there would be Rust Belt promoters. Maybe a circuit?
Well the street life is popular nationwide – everyone loves the have nots. So BUFFALO has a similar story to other cities that you mentioned. But to break into the industry you must know someone. “To be one, you must know one.”
You would think that those who have made it big would be scouting cities where the real artists are living. The ones that live the lifestyle, who understand the music because they live it.
Not always true – very few live to tell. Or some are in prison.
How did you do it when Tephlon was on top in Buffalo? Or was it still just too tough, even though you got some traction?
Traveling and working with other local artists. This increased our value – we did show, and allowed other locals to perform as well. And Tephlon had me. Lol. [But alas…]
Tephlon is over – Black Art Visions is next. I will be the main artist, with four members from Tephlon – Mr uno, E.billz, Mercedes and Cold Cash. We will use what we did in our past, to show in the Upstate Region… to increase interest [in the brand].
How does it break out?
Through the film. After Tephlon (in 2011) I looked at all my videos and pictures and got depressed. But then I realized I should make a movie out of all this footage.
What else is motivating this new chapter?
The murder of my nephew, Denell Baker, is the reason I’m inspired today – to tell the story of BUFFALO streets to those who don’t know what’s happening on the East Side. The movie is also driven by the murder of one of our Tephlon member, Kenzel Fleming.
The Rize & Fall of Tephlon Ent. – First Buffalo Hip-hop movie | Directed and produced by Emmanuel Kulu Jr. of Black Art Visions | In collaboration with Joseph Wilson of Speedy Enterprise Pro, and Tywan Abrams of Aura Films | To be released in December 2015
“Hip-hop is often looked at as a derogatory and degrading form of music, due to the freedom to express one’s self with freedom of speech (curse words and harsh language) which is an expression of oppression to African Americans.” “Hip-hop seems to be one of the only things that Blacks in America can take full credit for – it belongs to us.” – Kulu, as quoted in The Challenger
Film features Dwanye Terry of Unsigned Hype, Dj Kid Kold (platinum producer for Dmx), Dj Iceberg, Dj Flash, Dj Cranberry, Dj Dclyve, Dj Big Rob, Komadyan, Levino Johnson, 30 in 30 out boys, Rock Breeze, Pastor Stephen Kulu, Karl Kulu, Micah Harris, Mercedes Wright (Tephlon’s president), Kourage, Grease Wavey, Gary Threat, Dj Ace, Indiana Swazzie, Grandad, Ndure, Not Rated, Freshman Gang, Cold Cash, E.billz, Dj J.Reezy and many more appearances.