From Rap Editor to Filmmaker: California To New York Transplant Thembisa S. Mshaka

Posted by Billyjam, April 23, 2013 04:48pm | Post a Comment

A couple of weeks ago in New York longtime Bay Area to NYC transplant Thembisa S. Mshaka, through her company SEEIT Films, held the premiere screening of her first movie, the short The Divorce Counselor (pic above with Rachel Noerdlinger, CEO, Noerdlinger Media is from the red carpet of that screening that received positive reviews). Already busy working on her follow up projects the LA born, Mills College alum, renaissance woman who used to oversee the rap department at now defunct San Francisco radio trade magazine The Gavin Report and later in NYC worked at SONY Music's headquarters as Advertising Copywriter, recently took time to chat with the Amoeblog about her decision to get into film making and about her career to date which she described as, "a series of amazing, blessed experiences.  I was fortunate to be the first woman and African American Rap Editor for Gavin, and held the position longer than anyone before or after me--from 1993-1998."

The role of rap music editor in 1990's hip-hop was an extremely important and influential one to hold. "Being able to connect artists, radio, and record execs through Gavin during arguably hip hop's most intriguing, diverse and profitable time was incredible. It taught me the power that comes with being a member of the media. I take that power very seriously and don't take it for granted. That has guided me through all my roles as campaign writer, promo producer, and now, filmmaker," commented Mshaka whose bylines have appeared in such magazines as Honey and BLAZE where she was contributing editor penning a column that addressed the convergence of gender and hip-hop culture. Four years ago her book Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business was published by Business Plus.

Speaking of now being a filmmaker I wondered if the transition from journalism and music biz into film making has felt like a natural one? "Absolutely. After so much success writing and producing in the promo and commercial space, it was natural for me to want to tell long-form stories--without a sales imperative attached. I love business and marketing writing but I have many more stories to tell," she said noting  that the whole experience of writing, directing and producing a film is still a daunting amount of work: "It is a lot of work, but having a lean, mean team that comes ready to work makes it fun. Filmmaking ultimately is a test of leadership if you want all those credits. I realized that doing it all comes with a tremendous amount of pressure and that I prefer to wear two out of three hats at any given moment: writer/director or writer/producer but not all three.

My actors and crew were so professional that whatever issues we had were resolved smoothly. Shouts to my production team: First AD Tank Burt, Co-producer Jamaal Lewis, co-writer T-Mor and event producer for the NY premiere, Quan Lateef!" Regarding the storyline of her new film The Divorce Counselor (see trailer below) including the Mr. & Mrs. Jones characters I wondered where the inspiration come from? "My own marriage and our experience with a particularly bitter couples therapist. We eventually left him because for a marriage counselor he seemed to be pretty anti-marriage," shared Mshaka noting that, "In an odd way, he helped us to see how much my husband and I meant to each other."

The Divorce Counselor trailer (2013)

With her insights and experience in the music industry dating back two decades I wondered what Mshaka sees as the most significant changes / developments in the music business? "By far it would be the digital age. I go into this in detail in my book on the entertainment industry, Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business. It has created a seismic shift in how audiences discover, enjoy, and recommend content--and how companies generate revenue. Not to mention the myriad ways it has blurred the lines of popularity and data capture on consumer tastes and spending. The battle for control over dollars, creative and the eyeballs has never been more intense." Speaking of the Digital/Information Age - has it helped create more equality on a racial level and on a gender level? "No," replied Mshaka. "It has created greater access and visibility for people traditionally marginalized by society--but it is by no means an equalizer. I do appreciate the velocity it gives social movements to effect change: from documenting revolution in Iran and Egypt to exposing the bias of Stop and Frisk and voter suppression--but people are always at the source. The Internet is a tool."

Up next on her agenda Mshaka will be producing her first feature, Skateboard Skateboard, which is inspired by a short of the same name written and directed by Tank Burt. She is also working on a LGBT  docu-series for television and, she said, "Finally I am tackling my first feature length screenplay; a non-traditional romantic comedy. SEEIT Films is keeping me very busy!" For more information visit and watch The Divorce Counselor, which also has its own Facebook page.


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Thembisa S. Mshaka (1), The Divorce Counselor (1), Gavin Report (1), Rap (134)