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Posts Tagged ‘Lyor Cohen’

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I’d been to Florida on a business trip, and right before that, to New York for the pre-party stuff for that year’s MTV Awards. Def Jam was still being run by Lyor Cohen and Russell Simmons. Rick Rubin had returned to the fold via a label deal, and The Bowery Bar was a location where they held a welcome back Rick launch party. I went with a date, and the Hollywood billionaire, Ted Field. On the way in, we stopped and chatted with an exiting Chris Rock who mentioned that the party wouldn’t have been real if I hadn’t shown up – nice guy that Rock.

We stayed briefly, and then jumped into the back of a limo and headed to a party that Diddy was throwing at Tao, the Asian fusion joint on the East Side of Manhattan. They were all there; Pharrell, Ice-T, Sylvia Rhone, Dame Dash, Rush, Gary Gray – a strong slice of the Urban entertainment player community. If a bomb had gone off in that room that night, Jim Jones would have run shit for a decade. Just another night of fun and networking in the Apple.

I had to get up and catch a plane the next morning. I went to Orlando to meet with the soon to be disgraced kiddie mogul, Lou Pearlman and signed an act that he’d developed. The next day, I took a train to Miami and signed a couple of Dirty South MC’s called No Good. I spent the night on South Beach at The Tides, woke up and got a plane home.

I was living here in Charlotte, and preparing to move to New York to run the East Coast office of ARTISTdirect Records. I slept well, and early the next morning, I got a call from a friend in New York who told me to turn on the television, “A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.”

I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, followed her instructions, and turned on the TODAY Show. I was barely awake, but I saw one plane jutting out from the building it had attacked, and smoke coming from the hole it had created. Moments later, another plane crashed into the other tower and the in studio announcers lost it. So did I. Tears streamed down my face as I watched in disbelief and horror. It’s been thirteen years, but I will never forget the day that terror became more than something that you watched on television. It became a reality show that changed the city I love forever.

For Rebecca, Sylvia, Summer, Caress and the fallen

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Hip Hop, the New York based culture that began in the 70s, gathered steam and creative potency in the ’80s and became the dominant popular culture of the 90s, and beyond; provided economic opportunity to those with entrepreneurial spirits in its early days. It gave us Rap Music-the voice of the voiceless that infused the moribund, early 80s record business with a dose of the beauty of the streets.

On the whole, poor, working and middle class Black people along with Jews with vision, combined to create a new industry that would shape all that it touched, and resulted in playing a huge role in Barack Obama being elected to the US Presidency.

Several recent developments have given me reason to look back on where we were then, and how we’ve gotten to where we are: Jay Electronica, the lyricist to beat in the current game, has teamed up with Mobb Deep to give us the heat rock, “Call of Duty”. The intro features an excerpt from a speech by Winston Churchill that’s used to good effect, Jay shouts the recently departed Steve Jobs out and makes a plea for international unity in his guise as the “Chosen One”. This is Jay Elect’s strongest effort since his “Exhibit C” shook things up, started a bidding war and landed him on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation imprint.

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JAY ELECTRONICA

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MOBB DEEP
Speaking of Jay-Z; he and protégée, Kanye West’s “Watch The Throne” project has had much-needed new life breathed into it by using the recently freed, T.I. on a guest collabo on their “Niggas In Paris”. Def Jam will have great fun using this one to set up the Watch The Throne Tour.

While en route to Memphis University’s Midnight Madness jump off for the 2011-2012 basketball season, Def Jam hustler Rick Ross has experienced two seizures, and been admitted to a Birmingham Alabama area hospital for the second time. Details are murky.

Jive Records was finally laid to rest by RCA; the last brand standing. Corporate maneuvering has resulted in the old home to Whodini, Blastmaster KRS-1 and Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince finally being put out to pasture along with Arista, and J Records, the two labels started by Clive Davis.

Jive’s greatest Hip Hop signing, and former RUSH Productions management client, A Tribe Called Quest were the subjects of a Sony distributed documentary that played better theaters everywhere over the summer. I served as the music supervisor on the project. The film, “Beats Rhymes And Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called” will be released on DVD on 10/18. Coincidentally, this year is the 20th anniversary of the release of, “The Low End Theory” project, the game changer that set the Native Tongue movement off for real.

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All of this Def Jam/RUSh related energy has made me look back. I met the late George Jackson, the Hollywood film producer who hailed from Harlem when I was the National Director of Promotion for Def Jam, the tiny independent that was partially based in the college dormitory room of co-founder, Rick Rubin. The other base of operations for the little label that could, was the office of RUSH, the production and management firm that Russell Simmons headed.

At that time, Jackson and his producing partner, Doug McHenry were producing,”Krush Grove” the fictionalized disaster that was loosely based on Def Jam.. We had plenty of opportunity to get to know each other. Jackson & McHenry enlisted me to convince Simmons that a then little known Blair Underwood would be ideal to play the starring role in the film. Jackson remembered that I had decent film instincts, solid music chops and mad contact when 5 years later, he was looking for a soundtrack home for another project of theirs.

This is the twentieth anniversary of the release of the film “New Jack City” the crack epic with the tight screenplay penned by the noted journalist and author, Barry Michael Cooper. Blaxploitation scion, Mario Van Peebles directed and Jackson and McHenry produced

The film made stars of Ice-T, Chris Rock and Wesley Snipes. The soundtrack made an overnight success of racially mixed new jack swingers, Color Me Badd by introducing their smash, “I Wanna Sex You Up” to a hungry film going and record buying consumer base, and Giant/Warner Brothers Records became players in the early 90s Black Music business. I had a large hand in curating the soundtrack, and you can read a more detailed account written by Tamika Anderson in the current issue of Juicy Magazine that’s on newsstands now.

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FORMER DEF JAM CEO LYOR COHEN AND CO-FOUNDERS RUSH & DJ DOUBLE R

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Last night, Rubin and Simmons held a joint lecture at the New York Public Library to publicize the release of a somewhat historically truncated coffee table book that’s been curated by the label’s former publicist, Bill Adler and it’s art department head, Cey “City” Adams. The recently released book takes a look at the first 25 years of the label in this, the 27th year of it’s existence.

Tweeting live from the event was Andre “Dr. Jeckyl” Harrell, the former head honcho of Motown founder of Uptown Records, mentor to Diddy, Mary J.Blige, Heavy D and Al B.Sure, former VP of RUSH Nd the progenitor of the world view know as Ghetto Fabulous. It was in his capacity as an executive at RUSh, that he convinced Russell Simmons to hire me as the first employee of the label that initially recorded The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.

During Rick and Russell’s talk, Harrell began to Tweet about the late Sylvia Robinson, who along with her husband Joe, founded Hip Hop’s first dominant label, Sugar Hill Records, and how he’d inadvertently crashed his car while we were riding down the tree-lined street where the Robinson’s lived, when I pointed out the home of my former boss. Harrell was a kid from the Boogie Down and was overcome with excitement when he got his first glimpse of how much comfort a Hip Hop mogul’s money could by.

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A MORE SEASONED ANDRE HARRELL

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THE LATE SYLVIA ROBINSON & FORMER TOMMY BOY PREXY MONICA LYNCH

Sylvia and Joe’s oldest son, Joey, picked me off of one of the basketball courts in Soul City, and gave me my first shot in the record business by making me the head of college radio promotion for the label. I spoke with him on Monday, and conveyed my condolences on his mother’s passing.

Mrs. Robinson’s funeral was last Tuesday in Soul City. She was brought to the Community Baptist mega church, in my old neighborhood, by a horse-drawn carriage, reaffirming for one last time that there was truth in the title of her last hit as an artist; “It’s Good To Be The Queen”. RIP

I met Harrell in the VIP of the Roxy, the Money Making Manhattan based, roller skating disco that turned into Hip Hop central every Friday night in the mid 80s. It is the place where I first met Rick Rubin, Kurtis Blow, Rev. Run, saw Madonna perform to a track in a half empty club, and heard the Zululu overlord, Afrikaa Bambatta spin breaks, beats and classics for Hip Hop’s first crossover audience. Russell “Rush” Simmons woke Harrell from a sound sleep so that we he could be introduced.

A friend from Soul City was the son of one of the earliest Black card holders in one of the stage hand union’s for film. As a result, he was grandfathered in, and was working on Hollywood film sets in the early 80s. He’d been working on “Beat Street”, Hollywood’s earliest attempt to cash in on the Hip Hop heat that was based on the goings on at the Roxy.

My man had a lot of access, and had copped a couple of tickets to a break dancing and rapping contest that Coca Cola was sponsoring at Radio City. He came by my crib, scooped me, and we hopped on a bus and the A Train to mid-town. Inside the hall, a trio of overweight MCs called the Disco 3 won the rap contest. They would eventually rename themselves the Fat Boys, and would be positioned by Russell Simmons in conversations as the Monkees to Run/DMC, his little brother’s more serious band, who he viewed as Hip Hop’s Beatles.

The evening of the contest was a beautiful Spring New York evening. It was 1983 and the night that I met Russell Simmons, the man who along with Joey Robinson would be most responsible for my being embraced by the Hip Hop community. It is ironic that Joey’s mother, whose creative success inspired an industry was laid to rest the same week that DJ Double R and Rush were reminiscing about the label that picked up the baton that Sugar Hill passed on, and took it to a place that Jay-Z and Kanye are still running with. I love Hip Hop. This was a week that reminded me.

Shouts to Rush, Dr. Jeckyl, The Beasties, James Todd Smith, Glen E., Heidi Smith, The Ab, Tokyo Rose, Barry Weiss, Karen Durant, Chrissy Murray, Nelson George, Joey Robinson, Iris Perkins, Leslie, Sharon and Ruby, Flash, Master Gee and…The Wirk

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Atlantic Records was a diskery built by catering to the tastes of working class Black folks. Ahmet Ertegun, his brother Neshui, Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and others collaborated on a direction that eventually led them to sign, market and sell music by Wilson Pickett, Ruth Brown, The Drifters, The Modern Jazz Quartet, John Coltrane and two of the titans of the American Soul tradition: “The Genius” Ray Charles and “The Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin. Other eventual signings to the venerable label were: CHIC, Aaliya, Brandy, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Bette Midler, Hootie & The Blowfish, Jewel, and through a distribution deal with Al Bell’s Stax Records: Otis Redding, The Staples Singers, Johnny Taylor and Rufus Thomas. Along with sister labels, Elektra and Warner Brothers, they comprised the Warner Music Group.

THE DRIFTERS

THE DRIFTERS

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THE STAPLE SINGERS

The thing that eventually happens to all great businesses of any kind happened to them; they got cold, and were then forced to find a solution that would improve their lot. They were spun off from the AOL/Time Warner conglomerate, and were acquired with the help of third party financing by Edgar Bronfman Jr. the scion to the Seagrams spirits empire.

Bronfman had previously diluted his family’s position in the Dupont Corporation in order to finance the acquisition of a controlling interest in the Universal/MCA Entertainment Group, and was widely believed to have gotten in over his head. He then sold off his interest, and at the time, it was thought that he’d had a very expensive post graduate experience, and would not be seen attempting to make a go of the record business again. But, business (especially show business) breeds an animal that takes defeat poorly, and inspires more comeback attempts than even Brett Favre’s.

So Bronfman did what anyone in his position would do; he gave it another shot. And this go ’round he installed former Def Jam CEO Lyor Cohen as CEO of the Warner Music Group to do the heavy lifting. Lyor is a hip hop pioneer, and after a period of West Coast party promoting, began his record business career in earnest when he was hired to be Run/DMC’s road manager. It was during this period that we met, while I was the National Director of Promotion for the Rick Rubin/Russell Simmons owned, NYU based startup. Another character of interest was the VP of Simmons’ Rush Productions and Management company, a bespectacled buppy who moonlighted as half of the Harlem based rap duo, Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, shared the playa’s love of soul food, and R&B and would be the eventual progenitor of the world view that would come to be known as Ghetto Fabulous.

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THE GHETTO FABULIST & THE FORMER ROAD MANAGER

Andre Harrell, the architect of Ghetto Fab who would eventually leave Rush, start Uptown/MCA Records, run Motown, sign Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Al B. Sure, Heavy D, Anthony Hamilton, Biggie Smalls, and discover an intern that went on to make a little history of his own, came to town and called me on Wednesday with that unmistakable humor in his voice. “Collards? It’s your man Chitlins!”

“Dr.? Fux up witchoo?

“I’m in Charlotte, and I’m throwing a party tonight! It’s a Black and White Ball, and it’s going down at the House Of Jazz. You know about my Superstar Soul Search, right?” he excitedly asked. “I’m doing the first round right here in your town. You coming? I’ll send a car for you!”

I’d heard through the grapevine that with the backing of the aforementioned former road manager with the big title, the charismatic Harrell was launching a new joint venture with Atlantic Records, and doing it with his Superstar Soul Search. An internet driven contest that pits vocalists against one another for the right to compete in a final showdown on July 31st in Atlanta. The grand prize? A recording contract with the newly formed Andre Harrell Music/Atlantic label.

I passed on Wednesday’s party, and made my way over to the competition the next day. The room I entered was filled with dreams, ambition and talent. A deep, rich and hungry pool of black gold. Church trained, secularized gospel singers looking for a way out. A new generation of precisely the kind of people that Atlantic signed, and catered to while experiencing their original success. All of them singing in styles that the current record business has all but abandoned in pursuit of hip pop crossover agendas.

With radio being dominated, and marketing budgets being absorbed by the likes of Chris Brown, Ga Ga, Rhiana, Usher and such, it seems as though truly soulful singers have been driven underground. The Superstar Soul Search and Andre Harrell Music/Atlantic has been conceived to address this problem. And take advantage of this niche.

After many years of attending talent showcases all over the country, I’d never seen anything like this before. The last time I can remember witnessing this much high quality underground Black talent was in the seventies when I frequented Harlem’s world famous Rucker Basketball Tournament on the hallowed ground at 155th Street and 8th Avenue. The place where hoop dreams were lived out, and ghetto ambition was channeled for a ticket to the “show”, while people climbed trees for a clear look at the dramas that were played out on that blacktop stage.

Charlotte, NC (home to Jodeci, Fantasia and Anthony Hamilton) was the first of six cities to host showcases. Harrell came in town with his usual flourish, and took over one local radio station for 3 hours, and as promised, threw a party on the eve of the event. He then did a morning drive-time interview on a competing station on the day of the contest, and made his way to preside over the competition along with the help of celebrity judges K-Ci Haley of Jodeci, and Brooklyn-born MC, Special Ed.

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SPECIAL ED

With the help of his celebrity judges, and a few friends, Harrell was to settle on one winner that would compete in the finals against eventual winners from Atlanta, Philly, DC, Detroit and Houston. Then, the Harrell dream express rolls back into Atlanta, and gives a kid with soul a shot at a dream. Charlotte made it kind of hard on him by forcing him to take two contestants to the next round.

One of them, Baltimore-born songstress, Amaye’ took the stage, entered our hearts and won the right to move on. When asked about her background, she informed the playa that she’d been a pre-med student with 3 years toward a chemistry degree when the feeling overtook her and forced her to postpone her senior year.

I also asked about her musical beginnings, and she hit me with, “I was a poet, and really considered myself to be more of a poet than a songwriter. I was too shy to sing. I’d also been a dancer, and that was my main vehicle of self-expression until I sang on an occasion in college. After that,” she continued, “I was home one night in Baltimore, and I was on my way out of the house at an unusually late hour, when my father asked, ‘Where you going?’ I said, the studio, and he said, ‘You can’t sing,’ I told him, ‘Yes I can.” The playa agrees with the young lady.

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THE MERCHANT & CHARLOTTE SUPERSTAR SOUL SEARCH WINNER AMAYE’

The other winner was a classically smooth soul singer who was the obvious winner a full three hours before he was chosen. J Remy was the playa’s name, and he can blow. He covered the Temptations over a hip hop beat, and gave us a reinterpretation of David Ruffin that cut through. When asked about his background by Harrell, he said little and let his singing do the talking. He spoke volumes.

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J REMY

The express moved on to Atlanta. I accompanied Harrell to the airport. We spoke fondly of the past, and boldly of the future. He’s onto something with this web and radio based contest/promotion (Radio 1 & Interactive 1 are his partners). By creating a triangle that allows the internet and radio followers the opportunity to track the rise and fall of these young aspirants, and feeding directly into one of the majors, he has streamlined the American Idol approach, and given it what it has been sorely lacking; soul. The dream lives!

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