It’s one thing to have a dream, but another to live it. Meet Joel Daniels, (pronounced Joe-elle), a talented poet and emcee formerly known under the alias, “MaG.” He’s been featured in popular music outlets such as BBC Radio, URB and The Source. He’s performed all over New York from Webster Hall, Brooklyn Bowl, and S.O.B.’s, to other popular venues throughout the US. In 2013, he dropped his second album titled, Freedom, creating major media buzz and assembling a hefty fan base. Shortly after, he received The Bronx Council of the Arts BRIO award in the poetry category and he’s been steadily on the come-up ever since—spreading love through his art while enjoying the journey.
Daniels isn’t your “everyday rapper.” He’s one of those rare folks you can have a conversation with and instantly feel like you’ve known them forever. He’s an old soul that’s refreshingly down to earth, defying the stereotype that all emcees have big egos.
Hailing straight from The Bronx, NY— indisputably known as the birthplace of hip-hop, he embraces his upbringing and gives credit to the city for influencing his style at a young age. “I was around five years old when I recognized hip-hop was the music I was in love with. My older brother would play mix tapes in our living room: everyone from LL Cool J, Kid Capri, to Ron G, (all the legends), and it blew me away” he recalls. “New York is filled immensely with hip-hop history. People like Fab Five Freddy, Kool Herc, and Grand Master Flash—they set the precedent here, and I take what I do very seriously. I not only want to change opinions on how some people may view hip-hop, but hopefully my music can affect people the same way it’s affected me.”
Daniels attended a high school tailored for artists, and shortly after graduating; he experienced his first “ah-ha” moment. “I met with a casting agency before heading off to college, and they told me a guy who looked just like me was getting a lot of work playing drug dealer roles on shows like Law & Order SVU. I remember leaving the office thinking, I think I can live without acting. But writing? Wanting to create music? That felt like air to me. That’s when I knew music was going to be my end-all, be-all and I officially began my emceeing career.”
Emceeing however is not Daniels’ only passion. When he’s not writing, or performing his music, he can be found working and giving lectures in poetry workshops and classes. He dabbles in acting, and recently performed in a play last February called “What It IZ” that riffs off the 1978 musical, The Whiz, (loosely based off the Wizard of Oz).
When it comes to personal style, Daniels notes that the same artists who influence his musical tastes are also some of the same people who influence his style. “Mos Def, Andre 3000, and Kanye West are big style guys for me… and also unrelated is Paul Newman. Not just style, but the way he carried himself. I don’t do it enough, but I should ask myself, ‘what would Paul Newman do? His style was so effortless, ‘I like these pants, so I’m just gonna wear them all-the-time guy.’ And I’m like that. If you think you look good and feel comfortable wearing something, it will convey that way on the outside. I went through the baggy phase, and now that I’m a bit older, I want things to fit—and next naturally, comes the beard.”
Living as a bearded artist, Daniels feels his beard is a huge part of his identity. “I feel people take me more serious with a beard. There’s also a few other hip-hop heads that have full beards, and some folks associate them as being Muslim, but for me, there’s a certain pride in having one. Whether I’m performing or around people who have no idea I rhyme. It’s part of my rhyme. Part of who I am. My beard is my thing.”
His whiskers also have a favorable impact on the females. “It’s definitely a thing, he says. “And it’s a conversational piece too. People wanna touch it—even men. I’m like as long you have your hands clean, sure, why not? I think we’re in the age now where defining what masculinity is up to the individual, whereas before, there were certain standards and uniforms to follow. There are so many different layers to men now. But, the beard just adds a little more—well, badass.”
Shaving it off isn’t in the cards for Daniels. “The beard is here forever. The only reason I’d shave it would be for something important like a film role. My mom hates the beard—she threatens to shave it while I’m sleeping. It would literally take Obama to say it looks great for her to like it, but I honestly love it, women love it, and until they say no to that, I’m keeping the beard.”
As he continues to make his mark, Daniels has a packed roster of performances. He’s featured every third Sunday on the web-based show, This is Not the Radio: a sounding board for local artists and musicians. He also performs at The Melting Pot: a musical collective every second Wednesday at Pianos in New York’s Lower East Side. In reflecting on a few highlights of his music career, he mentions a recent nod from one of hip-hop’s legendary lyricists, Talib Kweli, “I had sent off a submission for one of his upcoming projects, and I didn’t know if he had listened to it or even got it. I direct emailed him to follow up, and he responded saying he knew who I was… and next thing I know I was featured on his community mix tape project.”
Aside from pursuing his passions, Daniels wants to inspire others to follow their own dreams—especially youth. He says, “To all the art-school kids out there in the back of the class scribbling away at their dreams…keep scribbling. It’s worth it.”