You recently released your Foundation compilation for Coalmine Records. How did you go about putting this together?
It started when I was introduced to Shuko’s production by my man JJ at Foundation Media. I did a record with my artist Bekay and another one with Big Noyd and Phil Da Agony. I loved what Shuko was doing. He had some records that he had already crafted through other artists. I started doing more tracks with some other artists and we got some good stuff there for the compilation. We were going to do it like an album mixtape. It’s not all new material. A lot of it, or some of the tracks, are mix joints, like the sound quality on some is a remix. There’s some new, exclusive stuff, like the joint with Revolution was made just for the project. So we aggregated a bunch of joints together and we wanted to do something more like an album and less like a disposable mixtape that’s here today and gone tomorrow. We wanted to do more classic-sounding records that are DJ mixed together. I also DJ as Dutchmaster so I figured that was my way of putting my stamp on the project. The Heltah Skeltah record is the marquee record on there and having them host it made sense. We kind of used those elements and put them all together and just had a bunch of features and that’s what it is. And we put it out there. It was actually released overseas first, actually a little while back. It was supposed to come out around the same time here but it didn’t for whatever reason, distribution, et cetera. It did not happen in the timely manner that it was supposed to. Finally it worked out and I have the U.S. version and the official version, if you want to call it that. It’s newer. We took some songs off and changed some things around and kind of put a new, fresh look on it. There it is.
How did you get what you wanted from Shuko?
Well, I was definitely going for a type of sound and I wanted more street-type records and it definitely sounds like that. Some of the records that I put together, it was just a collection of him sending me beat after beat after beat and me trying to match them and A&R’ing what would work and what direction I would want to go. He was pretty much always on the same page with me so it was pretty easy. He also had some records in the stash. For example, there was a Hell Razah record that was licensed off of Nature Sounds. He’s a real street poet type of dude and that was content that was already there. There were a couple of records that were already there. By the time we put the catalogue together, it was really easy to work with and I used my instincts. It was real easy and by the way, he’s really, really cool to work with. He’s just a good dude and working with people like that, it only makes it easier. You don’t have to worry about the conflicts or working together and it’s just business. He’s a really nice guy and it made it kind of fun.
You’re trying to launch a new label in 2009. What’s the most important thing you can do to have success in the digital era?
I think it’s tough and I think you do what you can. It just can’t be the label. Listen, if your pockets are deep and you’re really breaking a new artist and you have the budget to have some sort of an imprint on a major or an indie, that’s a different story. But what I’m doing, it’s so grassroots that it comes down to using the internet and being multi-faceted. If someone’s doing a mixtape, offer some sort of a barter. Listen, I’ll include you in my email blast if you can put my label on there. It’s about not just limiting it to a label and putting out music and being cool. That’s probably not gonna work, but if you do other things and are involved in management, that can work. With M-Phazes, I’m his U.S. rep and he’s one of the best producers around right now and I think anyone paying attention to hip-hop right now would agree. And having my name stamped to that is cool but it’s even better when I’m using his tracks for putting out my own records. I’m kind of bringing him into what I’m doing and representing him comes back and helps him as far as putting out records. Also, trying to use this as a leverage. I also am involved in working with a whole bunch of singers and songwriters. So having the label on the side, it makes people take me seriously. They know I’m not an industry schmuck. They see that I’m passionate about music and I put out my own brand and my own style and I’m trying to do things with singers and songwriters and major industry producers and trying to shop beats to various labels and A&Rs. They take my tracks seriously because they see I’m not just chasing a buck but I have my own label. It helps. My whole point is that if you just want to stay in one lane you’re gonna fail. If you wanna be successful in this day and age, you gotta use the internet and you gotta piggyback on somebody else’s shit and vice versa and build a network, bottom line.
Bekay is one of your main artists on Coalmine. What do you see in him?
He’s definitely been my biggest investment to date and I think he does have his market. If you look at the Asher Roth crowd and the R.A. the Rugged Man crowd, if you take your R.A. crowd and your Asher crowd and you meet somewhere in the middle, there’s a huge market for Bekay. I’ve heard it all and I think that the music that we have to come out, we have an album coming that I A&R’d and did all the cuts on it, that should be big. We have Alchemist, DJ Babu, J.R. Rotem, Illmind, Marco Polo, M-Phazes and Shuko. On that underground level it’s dope but it’s also got some commercial-sounding joints. It’s real hip-hop.
It’s interesting. He’s been with us. Although we have been involved with each other for the longest, since the inception of Coalmine, we’re only at the tip of the iceberg as far as the music he’s put out. It’s been a couple of 12” and his mixtape from the Rawkus 50 project. We gotta get him back out there and use the whole viral strategy to get him back out there. Once we do that he will be in a very good position to hone in on his market. Whether or not it sells incredibly or well, the people who do buy it are going to love the project.
Another artist that I've been very involved with (I don't want to say "signed" him, but we have a digital distribution arrangement set
in place) is A-Pinks, an artist with tremendous talent. A-Pinks is just tremendous. I call him confidently weird. He’s got his own swagger that can’t really be put in a box. He’s not trying to be anybody else. He’s not mimicking. He’s kind of like a street poet that meets Andre 3000. He’s very poetic. He’s not afraid to really take it left field and go there. We’re really polishing his, I wouldn’t say craft, but we are just crafting a good project. He’s got his own type of sound and we’re definitely trying to get things bigger. I think for what he’s done himself is tremendous. He got his own video on MTV and he’s on Comcast On Demand if you want to see his videos. Pinks is tremendous and what he’s done himself is tremendous. I think he’s really got a future. He works hard and he knows what’s required. He realizes that he does have to put a lot of his own work into it, which a lot of artists don’t get. A lot of artists think whether they’re signed to an indie or a major, once they sign, their work stops. They think they have people working for them and they don’t have to do shit, when in reality it’s the contrary. You have to actually work harder. He’s definitely got the right attitude and I think good things are going to come from his career.
Most everything else has been a lot of side artists’ projects and work for hires with every single artist I’ve ever wanted to work with. We dropped The Foundation and then we’re going to drop Bekay’s album. In the interim there’s all these other digital projects that I do and constantly aggregating other people’s music, whether they’re in the States or overseas and helping them distribute their own music and the stuff that I’m personally branding as Coalmine will have very staggered releases. You can expect to see one per quarter. We’re looking for August or September for Bekay and then after that we have another compilation project that I’m just putting the finishing touches on now. We have a lot of big names on that. I also brand myself as a DJ so I did the cuts. It’s kind of like a modern day Lyricist’s Lounge. We’re taking artists from the whole span, like your G. Rap’s to your Emilio Rojas’ and everyone in between and it’s hip-hop. It’s strong records. Every record is just straight heat. And after that we’ll probably move forward with A Pinks. But there’s a lot of other artists out there that are becoming more and more relevant. I definitely have a roster that will take me into the next year and a half and we’ll see what happens after that.
What advice would you offer to artists dealing with digital labels and getting heard?
Definitely link up with a good proudcer and try to get a sound that sounds like it would be something you would imagine the artist on. Emilio paired up with M-Phazes and they have a signature sound. That combination has worked. Look at Blu and Exile. A lot of artists have kind of branded a certain sound. Also, link up with a producer who’s sample-free game is off the fucking meter, just crack. It doesn’t have to be all synth-heavy and cheesy beats. It can be some real dope hip-hop shit. Illmind makes some of the best sample-free beats in the industry right now and it’s raw and straight crack. Definitely find some sample-free production. It’s easier for film placements. Try to get it on CDs, radio and film. Try to use these other angles that are more open and so easily available now to indie artists. You have these film companies and if they have two songs to select from, an indie and a major, they’re gonna go with the indie and if the shit is sample-free, you’re getting paid. So use that angle. Also don’t get lazy. Constantly make music. Don’t be scared to give music away but also know what you need to hang onto and cherish. It should be your version of The Chronic but don’t hold onto it thinking that because you have that album you’re good. Hold onto it, sure, but constantly leak shit and try new things. Stay relevant, constantly, and pair that with being in the face of the camera and put yourself out there. I think once you do that, you’ll have a lot of success transferring over and developing a large consumer base that’s gonna really check your project digitally.