You're the Senior Director of A&R at Bad Boy. How did you get your start in the industry?
I started out as an intern. Before I started working at Bad Boy, I was a producer. I got an internship in January of '98 at Bad Boy as an A&R intern. I always wanted to be in the A&R department so I went out seeking for my internship. I was focused on the A&R department and that's where I got started.
How hard was it to rise up through the ranks to where you are now?
Oh, man. It was definitely a serious, serious grind. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of hours. It was a lot of sacrifice. I interned for over a year without making any money, as a grown man. I definitely lost a lot and sacrificed a lot, for my family as well, to do it. It definitely didn't get easier going from an intern to production assistant to coordinator to where I am now.
At what point did you know you were where you wanted to be?
Once I got the internship, from day one, I knew that this was it for me. Not necessarily staying at Bad Boy, but the music industry would be my vehicle to take it to the next level. From then on, I walked in there and literally didn't want to walk out. I just wanted to grind harder and be the best at being an A&R. I definitely consider myself one of the top five in the game.
What do you listen for in music now to define it as being "good"?
Definitely substance and the content of the lyrics. I look at an artist's work ethic and if they have a different, fresh sound and a great personality. Those are just a few things. They have to have great talent, also, but today, just selling great talent is not enough. There are a lot of other things an artist has to do to keep himself relevant in the game today. And I'm not opposed to trying different things.
A lot of fans say there is not a lot of good music. From your perspective, are there not a lot of good artists out there?
I definitely think the quality of the artist has been downgraded from what it used to be. You still have good artists out there, I just think it wasn't as hard to choose from back in the days. There was only a group of artists back in the days and they all were pretty much real artists and had high quality music and substance. So much, right now, it's harder to find the real talent. I think hip-hop has always been correcting itself. And yeah, some of the music does lack quality.
Does more time need to be spent developing artists?
Absolutely. Absolutely. More time needs to be spend developing the artist and more time needs to be spent making the album and making that quality music. I think a lot of people don't understand how to make a great album, Here at Bad Boy, we take our time. Even after everything is recorded, we spend a lot of time on the sequencing. I don't think enough people spend time doing that. That can make a great, classic album or just be another CD with a bunch of songs on it.
How much time do you spend developing your younger artists?
Well, obviously every artist has different needs and are at different places in artist development. It really varies. We want to spend as little time as possible developing artists. We pretty much look for artists whose development is done and it's pretty much up to us to put a little splash of Bad Boy on you to make it work.
Why is it like that?
It's the stage that the business is in. No one can spend 18 months developing an artist. That's time and money spent that we just can't do. It just doesn't make sense anymore with sales plummeting.
Would it be better for labels to concentrate on releasing a few high-quality albums as opposed to releasing 10 average albums every year?
Here at Bad Boy, we always give it 100% with every artist. We're not going to rush an artist out if they're not ready. Looking at Kanye and Common and their sales, that's an example of hip-hop correcting itself. They have real things to say and the fans wanted that.
A big knock on A&R's today is that you guys are after ringtone rap and huge singles. Is that fair?
I think you could say that about the majority. Ringtones and digital downloading is a big business. We're in the business of selling records and making money, so record companies are looking for big records that will sell a lot of ringtones. Here at Bad Boy, we're definitely looking for franchise artists where we can do many albums. It's not just going to be about one song. To sign an artist off of one record is not a bad thing, really. You just have to keep a balance of franchise artists and ringtone songs, really.
How is Bad Boy changing its approach to the game to maximize sales in a digital world?
Well, it's something that's inevitable. It's happening with the digital wave. Over here at Bad Boy and our parent company, we really are embracing the technology in every way. It's really about cutting costs to have it make sense. It's about cutting costs when marketing and promoting and utilizing the internet. Even as far as making the albums, we use a lot of MySpace's and PMPWorldwide.com. I utilize that to find hot producers and hot production for all of my projects. It's definitely something that you have to embrace and you can't run from it. You have to be smart about it because it's not going anywhere.
Have you found a lot of good stuff on PMPWorldwide and MySpace?
MySpace is very saturated and it's hard to find great artists. I find great artist on PMP in terms of producers who are not out there yet. That's a great resource for me. Those producers' fees are cheaper.
How do you see the internet affecting the music business in the future?
It's already there. Print ads are becoming more and more, I wouldn't say "irrelevant", but they're definitely fading away because there are so many places where you can advertise online for a lot cheaper and it has just as big of an effect as placing an ad in one of the magazines.
How do you see the job of an A&R changing in the future?
I see the game going further in that area and myself, I'm a big user of the internet so it does make my job easier. I can wake up in the morning and check the PMP site and go through beats at my leisure. It's more convenient for me. With the amount of meetings I have to take, it cuts down on time in not having to go through mail and I don't know who it's from. I can move faster online and pick and choose. And there's more of a variety of producers out there to check out as opposed to going to the same producers for every album. For example, on PMP, I have a choice of producers all over the world and a variety of sounds and it pushes the envelope. I think it's something that every artist should take advantage of. I still go on MySpace and look for artists.
I spoke to an A&R who worked on a lot of early Ice Cube material. He jokingly said, "Oh, man, think of all the kids I messed up." While that was a joke, music can definitely have a negative effect on kids. Do you ever think about that when you're working on a project?
Absolutely. I'm definitely conscious about what an artist says and if their vibe is too harsh. You don't want to really hide the truth. So much of what the artist talks about is negative and things that are true in life. You have to have the freedom of expression and speech. What we do is we put out a clean album and it's definitely up to the parents. We can't put raising our kids on the rappers and make it their responsibility. The parents have to monitor what their kids listen to and buy the clean album as opposed to buying the dirty album. It's really that simple.
Do you ever draw the line with artists where they're talking about reality versus being extreme to be extreme?
We don't really have any artists like that at Bad Boy that are just talking crazy.
You worked closely with Diddy on Press Play and brought in ghostwriters like Pharoahe Monch and Royce da 5'9". How important was it to have writers like that in on the project?
Overall, I think it was important to just have great writers. Pharoahe Monch is definitely incredible. Also Aasim is incredible. And Puff co-wrote on a lot of that stuff. They brought great ideas. That album was incredible to me, both musically and lyrically. So yeah, it was key. It was key in bringing them in.
Where does Press Play rank in Diddy's catalogue?
To me, I think it's in the top two. No Way Out is the top, to me. I would say Press Play comes in right after No Way Out.
You worked with Yung Joc on his debut album Yung Joc City, which made him a star. Did you know Joc would become a star?
Honestly, Joc has big things and it was obvious that the records were going to be huge. Even after "It's Goin' Down" he had "I Know You See It". He's a hard worker and it was in his future to be a big artist and a great star. It was definitely great working with him and with Block Entertainment. They really make my job easier as an A&R. They're really a self-contained unit.
How far can Yung Joc go?
I definitely see him hanging around and being relevant. That's half of the battle, staying around and being relevant. I definitely see him being a great businessman too.
What's going on with Aasim?
We're looking to release a white label sometime soon. Every artist has their time. We don't rush anything, but he's working and he's definitely working on his album.
Have you been happy with Ness and his progress?
Yeah. Ness is another one. He's ready to go. It's just a timing thing.
Bad Boy's recent releases have been Yung Joc, Gorilla Zoe and 8 Ball and MJG. Bad Boy was always known for hardcore East Coast music. Can you get that vibe back with Aasim and Ness?
They can and they will and they are. There's a different thing happening in the South. It's not as easy to break East Coast rappers and East Coast songs as far as penetrating the radio. A lot of stations are just leaning towards the southern records. You have to take your time with the East Coast stuff.
When you're looking to work with new producers, what exactly are you listening for?
First it's getting to know the artist. It's also us being in tune with the movie we're trying to create. It's also a feeling. I know if the artist is going to sound hot singing or rapping on that song. I know the tone of the music and how the artist is going to sound. I just go with my heart on the feeling and how the music makes me feel. And then we get it in conceptually with what the song is going to be about.
How do you find music that fits with the current trends but still sounds original and has the potential to be timeless?
I don't think it's that hard at all, if you're smart. One of the ways I've been doing it is utilizing online. PMPWorldwide.com is a serious resource for me as far as finding an abundance of quality producers. It's not that hard. You just have to put the work in as far as going through the music.
How can you tell when an MC has true potential?
Substance and unique flow. Someone that can talk about different things. A lot of rappers are repeating something that I heard 10 times already or I heard the song five times already. It's really a unique artist that can give you substance and something that hasn't been talked about before.
You have your own company, Big Bang Music, Inc. What is your company about?
It's a production company. It's not really active right now. One of my main focuses is my Hitmakers company and that's more of a consulting company. I just saw the need for that years ago. There are a lot of artists out there who are hot. Getting creative direction is so important to an artist's success. I saw what the artist was doing but they didn't really know what they were doing but they didn't have anyone on their team advising them and finding them hot records and talking about what they should be talking about. It's about making hit records and timeless songs. That's what it is. I started the company based on the needs the artists have.
Where do you want to take Hitmakers in the future?
We just want to branch out and work with artists signed to majors. I think a lot of majors have the same problems with their artists and right now I'm mostly working with independents.
What's the most valuable advice you could offer to up-and-coming producers and rappers?
Take your time with perfecting your craft. Study the game and keep your business straight. Take your time and everything else will fall in place, man, if you really do that. A lot of guys want to rush and put their album out and you have to make it quality. If you just put together songs to get out there quick, you'll fall on your face and your career will be over.
What projects are coming up for you?
Danity Kane is coming up. We're doing a new Makin' Da Band album from the recent MTV show. Aasim is coming up. I'm working on Elephant Man, Cheri Dennis, Mario Winans and a host of others.
How does your approach change when you're working in different genres?
I approach each album the same as far as how we're going to get it done. The process doesn't really change. But every artist has a different sound. I understand music and I listen to all kinds of music and good music is still good. It doesn't matter what genre it is. And that's the focus when you're making great, quality music. It's about understanding the market for each genre. That's really the difference. You have to understand what's going on and what's happening in each genre of music. But good music is good music.
What do you want to say to everybody?
If you're aspiring to be an artist, producer or executive in the game, do your homework and think about where you belong in the game. Artists, writers and producers, study your craft. If you're aspiring to be a businessman in this game, then definitely study the game and do your research. Find a mentor and someone who you can follow in their footsteps. Just see how they do business and just take your time with your career. Don't rush it. You really only have one chance, so figure out all the things that you should be doing and do all of the right things most of the time. It's really that important. It's a very saturated business and it's very competitive and you have to know what you're doing.