You just stepped down from Atlantic Records citing a “lack of faith in the major label system.” Was this decision a long time coming?
Yeah. I think it took about three to six months. I knew after the first 18 months there that that position wasn’t for me, but I’m not a quitter. My main thing was to try to stick it out and try new ideas and new concepts, new everything, and I was doing it in an older system. I was trying and I got frustrated and I realized that you can’t do new things with older people. So over the last six months, what I’ve been trying to do, I would groom the up-and-coming generation of interns and assistants and just try new ways of doing things. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
What were you trying to get done at Atlantic that you couldn’t?
I’m not going to get too much into specifics, but there was too much red tape. I came in as an entrepreneur. When you do a mixtape, you get the music, you package it up, you ship it out, you find stores to sell it, you do your own artwork and your own distribution. It’s really an independent thing. I’m used to doing all that. So when you go to another situation and they tell you to go find beats, it’s a little more frustrating. I’m used to getting feedback from the people and the public. I wasn’t used to breaking in as a smaller part of the system.
You were also working on the Saigon project. Was there anything frustrating about working on The Greatest Story Never Told?
Yeah. I’ve known Saigon since 2002. I brought him to Just Blaze at the top of ’04, I think in January or February of ’04. We did the deal with Atlantic in November of ’04 if I’m not mistaken. And then in February ’06, that’s when I get there and now it’s February ’08. It’s been four years. It’s been frustrating and I’m not knocking Atlantic. I’m just not used to that.
How do you respond to the rumors that you got fired from Atlantic?
I mean, people can say whatever they want. I don’t know how to prove it to them. They can go ask somebody at Atlantic. In this game, the only thing that matters is your successes. This game is “What are you doing next?” It’s “Hey, he got fired.” They can say whatever they want to say. I’m not there anymore.
Do you get a lot of unwarranted hate?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I just feel like the more success you get, the more hate you’re going to get. It’s always going to be that balance. It’s funny. When I did the XXL blog, they said such crazy things in the comment section there that nothing else that anybody can really say that can really affect me. I’m not one of those people who just sit there and shut up and do their job. If people don’t like this then they don’t like me. I have a vision and a focus and a goal and people like that are usually not liked by many.
What kind of positives can you take away from your experience at Atlantic?
It was great, man. You gotta understand, you got two years behind the scenes in a major label system and just to see the ins and outs of how that works in every department from the marketing to the executives to the sales to the radio to the legal side of it, doing all those things hands-on and signing an artist and seeing them walk in and work and seeing artists come in on the day they’re signed and being there when they get dropped, the experience behind that is phenomenal. My whole thing is taking my experience from there and twisting it and making it work in the 21st century.
Why do you think so many major labels are not doing well right now?
Most of the major labels are still in the CD business but they’re not in the music business. They’re in the business of making and manufacturing CDs. Music is used to sell all kinds of things. Music is used to sell in commercials. Music is used to sell all kinds of things in this world and I think they got caught up in the selling of CDs part and not in the selling of music and I think that’s what’s starting to hurt them. It’s not that they’re not making money, it’s just that they’re not making enough to cover all their marketing and salary overhead. People are still buying music. There’s a lot of guys like Jeezy and T.I. who are not broke. You just gotta make more money than you spend and I think that’s where the problem is coming in.
Do you think major labels still don’t really understand the power of the internet?
They understand it. It’s a real big machine. The company has hundreds of people working for them and it’s hard for them to shift all of their focus and get it in that one direction. There’s iTunes and everything and they’re starting to grasp the long-term business of it, but at the same time, they’ll never fully grasp it because you can’t teach new things to older people. I can’t stress that enough. If you have somebody who’s been doing radio for 25 years and he’s been doing it one way for 25 years and now you’re telling him to go do it this way, it’s not going to happen like that.
Is the only way the music industry can succeed in the future is to destroy and rebuild?
No. They’re going to be around, I just think they’re going to be a lot smaller and they’re going to focus on a lot less acts and really develop the talent that they have and they take advantage of all the revenue streams that they have. Atlantic took a chance on a kid who has never been an intern and never even went to college. There’s a whole lot of people out there taking risks. Memphis is doing a great job over at Jive. Columbia is switching it up with Rick Rubin and Hip Hop. You have to make change and switch it up. The labels that make change are the ones that are going to win.
What are you going to be focusing on now that you’re not at Atlantic?
The same thing, The Famous Firm. We’re working on developing talent, and not just rappers and singers but a lot of people who are talented. There’s graphic designers, bloggers, there’s talented sites…There’s all types of talent in this world and I want to put all of that talent in one place so the synergy is there and together and on the same page. Their YouTube page will match their photo shoot which will match their bio which will match their video which matches their album. That’s why a lot of camps win, like Cash Money and Rocafella. They have a system of in-house people that handle things. My main objective is to unify all of these nontraditional talents to help up-and-coming rappers and up-and-coming singers and up-and-coming athletes. That’s my main thing. I think that’s a full-time job.
And it’s not like I’m not working with Atlantic anymore. I’m just not working inside the system. I’m still working with them on a day-to-day, but I’m just not working from the inside anymore.
Where do you want to take The Famous Firm in the next year?
My whole main thing right now, I really believe that next year we will represent the fresh generation of talent in the world and when I say “talent”, I don’t mean just rappers. We’re going to represent the next big rapper, videographer, writer and blogger. We’re going to develop all of these nontraditional talents that people just aren’t paying attention to.
People who are 29 or 30, they’ve been around the block a few times and they can be frustrated. That’s why I try to work with young, fresh people under 25 years-old who are ready to go out there and take on the world and think about it in a new way. I feel like in a year, we’ll have a nice, big office in Manhattan with young kids running around and these labels will be buying into the philosophy of artist development and talent development and talent representation. I think you will absolutely see that next year. I think we can help every label and every organization. Everybody can email me and be able to get help in a certain way, shape or form. Some type of service that we have will be helpful. We can help people on both sides, not just the rappers and not just the singers. We can help all kinds of talent and that’s my main focus.
Do young people not get enough credit in the industry for being tastemakers and movers?
Sometimes you gotta take your credit. Sometimes you gotta take over and you just gotta go for it. You gotta take what you want. That’s like in war, whether it’s corporate mergers or whatever. Sometimes you gotta be the aggressor. You can’t wait for somebody to give you a job or wait for somebody to start something for you. You have to go in there and take it. That’s how you get your respect. Now I know that if you want something, you have to go out and take it and they’ll have no choice but to give you the credit because you’re taking the credit.
You’ve also been working closely with Spot for the last two years. What are your plans for Spot?
I love Spot with all my heart. Spot is somebody that I really took a chance on, time and energy-wise. Spot was on a lot of mixtapes and I heard about Spot when he was on a song with Papoose and I met him. Spot’s an incredible talent. Spot’s somebody who will be in the studio, hit the record button, run into the booth and rap, then run out and stop it, and he made the beat. He has an incredible focus for where he wants to go in life and I think Spot is going to take it to the next level. It may take longer than a Soulja Boy to take off because he’s really talented. You got to see the progression. I have all the faith in the world that Spot will be that next guy and I’m working with him to help him get to the next level. We’re taking the time to develop Spot. You have to put the work in so you have a foundation. As long as he stays focused and keeps on putting out great music like he’s been doing, it’s going to be wonderful.
What’s the next move for Sickamore right now?
The Firm. I’m working on a photo shoot for a stylist that we rep and a model that we rep. I’m working on one for a makeup artist that we rep. It’s going to end up as a great shoot and then we’re going to send it to a graphic designer that we rep. Everybody’s going to make money and everybody’s working. I’m just taking it one day at a time. I really believe that this is going to turn into the next level and the next generation of being a talent label. Not a record label, a talent label. I think in about three to five years, this will be almost a new label, not a record label, but a talent label. I put the focus on talent rather than put the focus on selling records. And that’s the way that it’s going to go. I think The Firm will be the first-ever real talent label rather than a record label.