Tell us what you do?
Should I explain to you what do I do? Haha...
I’ve been a DJ since my teenage years but for most of my life I have been basically passionate about music, and subsequently worked at major labels as an A&R manager; I have also been a club promoter; and producer/artist manager.
The passion all came from vinyl records (yes, and I still love them to this day), do you remember ‘records’ round hole in the middle? I actually recall buying my first record in 1983 when I was 14.
How did you get into music?
I’ve always been into music; probably because my parents used to have music playing in the house and I listened to pirate stations on the radio. This led me to go to the records shop and buy records.
Eventually working in London’s premiere hip-hop record shop in Soho, Wyld Pytch Records whilst I was studying for my BSc degree in Computers and Media Communications, which included television and culture at University of East London. When I left school I worked as an accountant for six months, but that very soon became boring, so I left and I started a really good job at a company called McDonald’s. I was based in Tottenham Court Road and all clubs in the West End were open as I finished my shift so I became a regular face on the West End club scene. It was undeniable fun and I did that for a few months. Afterwards I went to work with the government in Lord Chancellor’s Department in Holborn for two or three years until I went to Uni.
When did you start to DJ?
While I was at University I started to play in the West End clubs, then all my friends started to come to the clubs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. When you invite your friends to party in the West End on a guest list, hundreds of them turn up. Being a DJ at University everybody wants to be your friend. I already knew a DJ on the scene, Trevor Nelson, he’s a UK music celebrity and is on the biggest national station; BBC Radio One and he also presented an urban music TV show on MTV for 10 years, he is one of the biggest DJ’s in the UK. In the 90’s he was on KISS FM, which is also a very big station, he asked me to be his right hand man on his show, and I did that for about 2 years.
Back in the 90’s there was a girl band named All Saints, and Simon Aldridge from ZTT who had signed All Saints knew me from the record shop where I worked.
A lot of people working in the record companies and music industry came to this record shop to buy records and used to enquire from the staff which bands/artists were going to be hot. So, he said to me he had a new white label Vinyl for some girl group, which was All Saints and because I knew all DJs, he gave me money to promote the song and subsequently I distributed the record to other DJs to to get their feedback. So naturally I started to meet and interact with new record company personnel.
In April 1996, Simon Goffe who was also a DJ was managing Drum and Bass legend Ronnie Size & the Full Cycle Crew (really big UK Drum & Bass syndicate) and became Snr A&R manager at Universal Music. Simon knew me and believed I was knowledgeable, to offer me a job as A&R manager (artist & repertoire) at Universal Music.
I proved he was right and worked there for 5 years; during this period I signed lot of people in the world of urban music (Spacek, Hinda Hicks, Kele Le Roc, Glamma Kid, Lewis Parker, Blue (singer of Basement Jaxx Red Alert) Phoebe 1, Structure Rize) going back and forth to LA, NY, Toronto, Detroit, Norway and Europe in general.
A&Rs - what do they do?
An A&R manager is a person whose job is to guide and create the music of a recording artist. Their role is to find songwriters, producers, studios, collaborative artists, and musicians etc to facilitate the recording process. They are tastemakers and experts; in a similar capacity to music programs like X-Factor or American Idol and decide whether an artist is any good or not quite cutting it. As an A&R manager you are supposed to have knowledge of DJs, singers, songwriters and contemporary beat makers (producers). Basically the tools of your trade to help your recording artist deliver music on schedule. At that time I started working at Universal I was 25, my passion and love for music emanated since I was young, I knew everything about Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, George Benson and all the greats, because of my dad buying records and him being an extremely competent guitar player.
Working as an A&R must have been hard. Did you stop your DJ work?
I was still a DJ running my weekly Hip Hop/RnB event at the Raw Club on Friday nights (at the time this was one of the key International drop in clubs for global artist) in Central London, with the average 1500 audience every week. This lasted for 4 years and on Saturdays, I ran another club, Ormonds (now LOW) for another 4 years. The knock on effect of my club night was that I was privileged enough to be asked to DJ in nother countries, Switzerland, Iceland, Sweden, Cyprus, Greece, Scotland etc.
During the 90’s I was approached by Red Bull, to launch their energy drink product in the United States, this meant taking the brand over to America and tie it in with me djing across major cities, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC. It was my first entry into affinity tie up, it was a very rewarding experience and ended up being a good period of networking presenting new opportunities with other brands.
Forward to 2000 and a high powered and well respected music journalist named Kwaku, was aware of what I was doing in music industry worldwide. He followed it up, by writing a whole page in USA’s number 1 music industry publication, Billboard Magazine. This as you can imagine, rose my profile and I got to be recognised by the American market. By the end of 2000, I left Universal and went to live in the USA, to set up my own company called 2Rype. There the flood gates opened I met numerous people like Common, J Dilla, Slum Village, Masters at Work, Bahamadia, Mark Ronson and their A&R personnel and managers.
Another friend of mine, Clive Black, who held a senior position in both Warner’s and EMI, became the boss of Edel Records UK and offered me a job as A&R manager. Clive encouraged me to come back to England to be his A&R, which I did for 4 years. Clive also co-managed US rapper ‘The Game’ with Jimmy Henchman and his dad Don Black is a famous songwriter who wrote the song ‘Diamonds are Forever’ for Shirley Bassey (James Bond Movie) and also the song ‘Ben’ for Michael Jackson.
What did you do after you left Clive Black & Edel Records UK?
In 2005 I started to work for Zons PR/MOBO. Based in the Mobo office; organising artist’s radio pr campaigns and scheduling acts for the MOBO annual club tour; after that I went to work for an independent record company, Mona Records looking after UK RnB artist StarboyNathan. Simultaneoulsy I was doing consultancy A&R for a mobile phone concept via Def Jam Mobile, also running my companies 2Rype and Big Promo, at that time I was co-managing female songstress ‘MPHO’ with now Virgin Records a&r Jade Richardson and also managing Urban Music Award winning Hip Hop producer Baby J. (Skinnyman, Dead Prez, Mark Ronson).
How did you get involved with the Arts Council? What does the Arts Council do?
The Arts Council is a lottery funded public body via which the Government allocates a pot of money to groups; individuals to champion, develop and invest in the arts. My proposal to the Arts Council was a project called RAP - Rhyme & Poetry Project, I searched for some young people, who lived within the Camden Borough and used Community centres, who could rap and perform poetry-fused with the musicality and rhyming skills of Marvell; the participants were predominantly talented unemployed youth. The purpose of this project is basically for a talented group to engage in structured rehearsals and to hone their writing and performance skills set to music. My whole ethos for this was simply to give back to the community. We staged performances, that took place at the Guardian Newspaper HQ and the British Library.
How did you use the fund that was given to you?
I used the money to pay for rehearsal space; film equipment; recordings; photographers; editing etc. Plus coordinating after event production and manufacture of RAP lyrics and booklet. I engaged my resources and invited reputable sports clothing labels to take part on behalf of the young people; it paid off, in that Nike UK stepped to the plate and kitted out the whole crew; sincere thanks go out to Ronojoy & Phoebe from Nike UK. Attendees came from the likes of senior record company personnel, fashion PR, local Government, music producers, artist, Mobos team etc.
Who did help you with that project? Did you know how it should work from the beginning?
It was my own concept and advice came from a facilitating company; Small Green Shoots. I went to the people who were the link between me and the Arts Council; who have a proven track record of soliciting Arts Council funds; The plan was presented and was deemed favourable and viable.
Where exactly did the young people come from? How did you decide which young people should be in the project and how many were involved?
I found them in Youth Centres, estates, parks, which provide activities for young people after school. Their age range of auditionees ranged from 14 to 22; I went there with permission to talk to them and explained that I was searching for young people that could rap and recite poetry.
Similar to my long standing a&r experiences I systematically went around local community centres in Camden and where young people hang out to find ‘talent’. The whole process took me approximately 8 weeks and I employed the literally and rapping skills of Lowkey to aid me in preparing the group for their performances.
There were four rappers, 2 poets and 1 beat box. The youngest one was 16 and the oldest one was 22.
What kind of poetry is that?
To me as a child and fan of rap culture I grew up reading literary greats like Harding, Chaucer and Shakespeare but was equally aware of Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, James Baldwin and W D Dubois. Through Hip Hop culture I often admired the literary skills of KRS 1, Rakim, Jay Z, Biggie, Nas, Jehst, Immortal Technique, Poisonous Poets, Dead Prez etc - rappers who were also intelligently lyrically gifted with a penchant for social awareness. I have been observing for years how street culture really appeals to young people of all shapes, creed and colour. It was natural therefore for me to want to give them a chance to showcase their witticism and mastery of their craft to an influential audience, who in response liked the fact that the poetry was really thought out and intelligent and the rap was funny and humorous.
Are there any new projects at the moment?
From around now till October there are a lot of UK music festivals like V Festival, Love Box, Wireless and Camden Crawl.
Camden Crawl is an eclectic music festival with many genres of music being represented; it takes place at many venues in the heart of Camden Town (the clubs and bars etc. are all utilised) it’s in its 15th year and attracts over 25,000 people during the first Bank Holiday weekend of May. I have been head hunted to serve as a committee member and I’m part of the selection of artists process. This year I’ve been very integral in securing urban music’s Internet sensation SBTV as media partner and to host their own SBTV stage, plus also facilitating Choice FM’s DJ Abrantee Afrobeats to host an event likewise.
Another thing I’m equally proud of, is being a visiting lecture, at (UEL; De Montfort, BBC Bursary), where I lecture to the youth about what I do and my experiences.
You run a Promotion Company - what does a music PR do?
On a day-to-day basis my company Big Promo deals with predominantly new music promotion. Artists furnish me with their music (mp3’s, CDs etc.) and we formulate PR strategies within media (club/radio dj’s press, online, TV) to get artists ‘out there’, specialist/ regional radio plays, TV video rotation, all predominantly within urban music.
With my management company I take songs or beats (instrumentals) to other artists who are looking for new material and songs. For example, I work with Battle Roy who produced the song for Eminem and Bruno Mars ‘Lighters’. Producers like Timbaland, Kanye West, Dr. Dre - they all make beats for rappers to rhyme on and for singers to sing on.
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you in your career?
It happened at the Jazz Café: I was introducing Mpho Skeef (I used to manage her) to the audience, I fell off the stage, flat on my back. I got up and continued like a true pro. It was funny though.
Let’s talk about simple things, different from music, e.g. tell me about your ordinary day?
Mostly my life is about music, the usual merry go round of phone calls every day; and interacting with clients in international time zones. USA, Europe and Asia, alas I’m on my Blackberry way too late...
What role did you play in the song ‘Valerie’ by Amy Winehouse?
Well, there was the Mark Ronson’s cover version featuring Amy Winehouse of ‘Valerie’; Sony a&r’ department approached me for a remix and sent me the parts; I gave it to my producer Baby J. He flipped the reggae beat and put some of UK’s most credible rappers on the record. We sent it back to Mark who loved it and then James from Baby Knotted films filmed the remix music video and was the creative force behind the individual rappers coming to life on the posters. After this all the record companies started asking who did the remix. So, 2RYPE manages both artists and producers. One of my former projects that I a&red and took to America to work with Kanye West during my time at Edel Records is RnB powerhouse Cassius Henry who was a contestant on new BBC ‘s Saturday night TV programme ‘The Voice’.
How often do you find new beats and how do you choose the best ones?
Every day. First, it depends on your own musical taste. However, I source beats for what the enquiring artist needs. Obviously throughout the years I’ve worked with many artists; songwriters; producers. I just have to listen to what the client wants and try my best to facilitate their needs.
What plans do you have for the future?
Good health, success and longevity in the music industry.
Do you want to have children?
Yes, I’d love to.
What is the best way to get into music business nowadays?
In my personal experiences, my only vision was to make records and find talent in the music industry. I was fortunate enough to get a job in a record shop in the 90s and to promote many successful rnb/hip hop clubs during that period. My relationship as a club dj/promoter was integral in securing this; in today’s climate, however, I advise new entrants to simply apply for unpaid internship at record labels/publishers and to become entrepreneurs.