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  Industry Profile

Industry Profile: Cortez Bryant

— By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)

This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Cortez Bryant, CEO of Bryant Management.

Cortez Bryant knows the exact time.

The Lil Wayne brand may be large, he knows, but it’s time to kick another sales/touring goal to keep the juggernaut soaring.

The colorful New Orleans rapper was released Nov. 4, 2010 from New York’s infamous Rikers Island jail complex after serving 8 months in a gun case. He is the first artist in 15 years to release a #1 album—"I Am Not a Human Being"—on the Billboard 200 chart while serving a sentence.

Prior to jail, Lil Wayne reportedly grossed over $50 million in 2009.

Bryant Management works with Hip Hop Since 1978, operated by rap moguls Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua and Gee Roberson (who had shared head-of-A&R duties at Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella Records) to collectively manage Lil Wayne, dynamic Canadian rapper Drake and producer Kane.

Bryant Management and Hip-Hop Since 1978 keep separate staff, offices and clients, save for Lil Wayne and Drake. Hip Hop Since 1978 also manages Young Jeezy, Kanye West, and producer Noah “40” Shebib.

Bryant Management also handles Texan teenage rapper Lil Twist.

Bryant is also co-president (with Mack Maine) of Young Money, an imprint of Cash Money Records, which is the label home of Drake and Lil Twist. Also on Young Money are Nicki Minaj, Tyga, Jae Millz, Cory Gunz, Lil Chuckee, and Short Dawg.

Three years ahead of Lil Wayne (then Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.) at the Eleanor McMain Secondary School in New Orleans, Bryant led the school band’s cymbal section. When Wayne joined, Bryant took him under his wing. However, Bryant tried to discourage Wayne’s rap ambitions.

Bryant went on to earn a mass communications and graphic design degree from Jackson State University, a historically black university in Jackson, Mississippi. Being full-time in music didn’t enter his mind until his senior year, when he received a request from Wayne to oversee his career.

At a career crossroads, Wayne needed a manager he could trust. Bryant accepted the challenge and has since guided his former classmate’s career as he emerged as one of the most important performers in contemporary hip hop.

In the mid ’90s, New Orleans was mocked as a hip hop backwater. The rise of Cash Money Records, and Master P’s No Limit label in the late ‘90s changed that perception.

Wayne was nine when he caught the ears of Cash Money’s co-founder Bryan “Birdman” Williams. The youngster turned up at Cash Money’s autograph signings, and rapped into William’s answering machine.

In 1995, the label signed the 13-year-old along with young rappers B.G., and Juvenile. Lil Wayne appeared on B.G.'s album "True Story" the same year. Two years later, Lil Wayne, Juvenile B.G., and Turk formed the group the Hot Boys that would become the label's most well known act.

At 17, Lil Wayne released his first solo album, “Tha Block is Hot” in 1999. It was followed by “Lights Out” in 2000; both sold over a million units. However, his third solo album, "500 Degreez” had disappointing sales. Meanwhile, the Hot Boys imploded as B.G. and Juvenile departed Cash Money.

In 2005, Lil Wayne dramatically stepped out from the Hot Boys’ shadow as his album “Tha Carter II,” the follow-up to the original 2004 “Tha Carter” album, debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 chart with sales of 240,000 units in its first week of release.

In 2005, Lil Wayne was named president of Cash Money. He then founded Young Money as a Cash Money imprint. However, by 2007, the increasingly busy rapper had stepped down from heading both labels, and handed management of Young Money over to Bryant.

Strategic mixtapes and guest appearances dramatically elevated Lil Wayne’s profile over the past decade. He guested on tracks with Destiny’s Child, Fat Joe, Kanye West, Kid Rock, Fall Out Boy, Gym Class Heroes, Chris Brown, Madonna and Shakira. He also released a flood of new songs online via semi-official mixtapes.

In 2008, Lil Wayne solidified his status as rap’s most celebrated artist. He had the best-selling album of the year and won a Grammy Award for his 6th solo album, “Tha Carter III” which sold a whopping 3.5 million units.

Managing Lil Wayne, however, suddenly became more challenging.

In January 2008, Lil Wayne’s tour bus was stopped at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint outside Yuma, Arizona. A search yielded marijuana, cocaine, and Ecstasy. Officials also found a .40 caliber pistol registered to Lil Wayne who had a concealed weapons permit in Florida. Felony drugs and weapons charges were filed against him.

In October, 2009, Lil Wayne pled guilty to having a loaded gun on his tour bus after a Manhattan concert in 2007. He began serving his one-year sentence in March 2010.

While Wayne was in Rikers, a plea deal was reached for the 2008 arrest. He was sentenced to three years of unsupervised probation and no jail time due to the deal, which had him plead guilty to one count of possession of a dangerous drug in exchange for the dismissal of other drug and weapons charges.

Following jail, Lil Wayne quickly returned to business. He immediately began recording at The Hit Factory studio in Miami. He returned to the concert stage in Las Vegas on November 6, 2010 at Drake’s final show of his U.S. tour; Wayne performed “Miss Me” with his surprised protégé.

Meanwhile, with the world—including presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton who have both name-checked him recently-- waiting to hear Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter IV,” which will now be all fresh-out-of jail material, Bryant is checking his watch hourly.

I understand that you’re the man to go to for cymbals?

Oh, wow. Yeah. That’s a shocking question for the first question. You threw me all the way off with that. That’s pretty good.

You weren’t supposed to go into this urban music life. You went to college. You told Wayne to forget rap, and get an education. What happened?

When I first told Wayne to fall back—for him to get his education—that was in high school. We first met in our younger, younger years. I was always a realist and wanted to have something concrete. I thought that diploma was concrete.

You were three years ahead of Wayne in school.

Yeah. I was a junior or sophomore when I first met him, I kind of took him under my wing. I was telling him, “You gotta get out of here. You got to get out of the city. And the way to get out of the city, the real way to do it, the easiest way for us to do it was that we have the opportunity of being at a good school to get a great education. So let’s try to get to college. That could be our escape.” I was saying, “What are you doing with that rapping?”

New Orleans was hardly a rap center in those days.

Right. At that point, Cash Money was our only local (urban label). They weren’t nationwide yet. Nobody had gotten out of our city, and made it on the big scene. To me, that wasn’t even feasible. I saw that we were close to achieving (an education). I ended up going to college, and Wayne ended up sticking with rap.

Were you, like Wayne, from the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans?

Nah, nah, I grew up in two different parts of New Orleans, downtown and the 5th Ward, and New Orleans East. I took my road out to college once I had the opportunity. Cymbals actually got me out of the city.

You’re kidding me now.

I’m serious. I had a band scholarship at Jackson State University (in Jackson, Mississippi). It got me out of the city; I never thought that would happen. It was random when I started playing. It was just one of my homeboys, Wes Watts, was like, “Hey, let’s start a band up.” We started the marching band up. So I was down. I wasn’t doing anything at that time. I couldn’t play an instrument, let’s see what I could do. So that got me a scholarship at Jackson State. That got me my college education. It paid my way through school because I didn’t have any money. Coming from New Orleans, my family was poor so I couldn’t pay for that. I couldn’t afford college.

Why study mass communication and graphic design?

I started out as an engineering major my first year, but I took this calculus class that just busted my ass. I was like, “Let me rethink this.” I was just a freshman going into my second year. So I was trying to think, “What do I like doing? What can I do?” I just was thinking about things that I liked doing. As a kid, one of my aunties had a camcorder and I used to enjoy filming. I used to enjoy filming at all of our family functions, and things like that, putting the tapes together. I found out that there was a major that did all that. So I was like, “Wow, mass communications. That’s what I want to do.” That’s why I picked that.

How was it getting away from home for the first time? Being out of state. Scary?

Yeah, it was my first time outside. The first day that I got to Mississippi, you‘re right. I didn’t know anyone there at the school. But the marching band that I joined, it was like a big family. It was probably the biggest organization on campus, and it became the family that I had away from home.

[The Jackson State University Marching Band is an original show band that was first organized in the early 1940s. It was given the nickname “The Sonic Boom of the South” by band members in 1971. The same year, the majorettes abandoned their batons, and became a dance team known as the Prancing J-Settes. In 1974, “Get Ready,” the iconic Motown song, was selected as the band’s theme number. During the mid 1970s, the “Tiger Run-On” emerged. This is a fast shuffle step that blends an adagio step with an up-tempo shuffle (some 200 steps per minute) then back to adagio—that always brings fans to their feet during half-time performances. In 1990, the band was featured on Motown’s 30th Anniversary television special. In 2003, the band was enshrined in the NCAA Hall of Champions. Also, the marching band was filmed by Electronic Art Sports for the video game EA Sports NCAA Football 2005.]

Do you still keep in touch with other members?

Yeah. I’ve got two of my best friends from there. They were my college roommates, and they are my best friends. We talk at least three or four times a week.

With college, you tend to bond with people you spend the rest of your life with.

Yeah, and I would never have thought of that. One of the guys is from Detroit, and the other is from Atlanta. While I was in New Orleans, I would never have thought that I would have friends, best friends, 10 or 20 years later from other places in the country, places that I had never been. It is amazing. It was a blessing on my life that I got to experience that. I believe that everything that I learned in college—just from the experience, dealing with people, learning about new people, and learning new cultures from the different people, I think, helped me prepare for what I am doing right now. I think everything fell in place for a reason.

You realized there was a bigger world outside New Orleans.

I was sheltered there, right. Man, it was a culture shock going to school. I lost my New Orleans’ dialect. People thought that I was speaking French. I thought I was speaking regular. I was like, “You don’t understand what I’m saying?”

Was it devastating going back home to New Orleans after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005?

When I first went back, yeah. Not so much now because they have built a lot of places back, but, it’s still amazing just to see it. The New Orleans East, where I used to live before I moved away from home and went to college, is a booming part of the city right now. The things that were (once) there are not there anymore so it’s still kind of dead. The homes are back up for the most part, but the businesses that were there aren’t.

New Orleans East used to be a very centralized community.

It was like a whole mini-city out there where we didn’t have to go anywhere. Now the residents have to travel to the city for a grocery store because there are no grocery stores out there. It’s just amazing to see the difference, to see how things haven’t bounced back yet almost six years later.

[New Orleans East is to the east of the Industrial Canal and north of the Intracoastal Waterway in the city. It was developed as "suburban-style living within the city limits” and, before the hurricanes, resembled typical American suburbia.

In 2005, Eastern New Orleans flooded severely from Hurricane Katrina, and additional levee failures. Recovery has been slow. Slightly more than half of the pre-Katrina population has returned since. Numerous national retailers operating there in 2005 have not reopened their stores.]

Outsiders think of New Orleans primarily as the French Quarter, but it dodged the massive flooding experienced in other areas.

Everywhere else was definitely devastated. Those places still haven’t come back yet. The city is still transforming. It is not back to where it used to be from before the storms.

How did it feel for you and Wayne to go back to Eleanor McMain Secondary School for a visit?

That was a great feeling. He had a great time, I had a great time. I had a little sister (Dominique) that was part of that experience. She was part of the art class (there), so I felt good coming back.

[Eleanor McMain Secondary School, serves grades 7-12 in New Orleans' Parish School District. In 2008, the school’s best-known former student Lil Wayne visited its art room here along with Cortez Bryant—also a McMain alumnus. Lil Wayne grew up in the Hollygrove neighborhood, and New Orleans East. In the early 1990s, he spent two years at McMain before moving on to Marion Abramson Senior High School.] You couldn’t even tell your sister that you and Wayne were coming.

No, I couldn’t tell her.

Did you see Wayne play a Munchkin in “The Wiz” at Eleanor McMain when he was 12?

With Miss Bivins. I remember the teacher. I didn’t see the play, I was at the school at the time, I was a senior when he did that play. He probably wasn’t going to let me know. I remember that he was taking the (drama) class though. I remember that it was a fourth period class. It was a brand new class that just came in the curriculum of the school. He used to tell me it was a whole lot of fun.

[In 7th grade, Lil Wayne appeared as a Munchkin—complete with big red nose—in a McMain production of “The Wiz.” “He didn’t always behave, but as far as an actor, you couldn’t ask for anything better,” recalls Marta Bivins his drama teacher. “He was very talented. He was very committed to his character.”]

You called a Saturday cymbal practice at your house, and Wayne was the only person who showed up?

Yep. How do you know this stuff, man? Wow. He was at a point where, after he had that self-inflicted gunshot, his mother wanted to take him away from everything that had to do with rap. He was trying to do everything that I was doing at that point. I was in the band, so he joined the band to play cymbals. I taught him how to play. He was dedicated. He was dedicated to doing that. I called a practice, he was definitely the only one that came to my house, and we just chilled out. That might have been one of the moments that really created our bond. You just brought me back to that moment. That might have been a key moment to us connecting. He had just moved out to New Orleans East. He started coming over to the crib, and staying over. Wow.

[At age 13, Wayne accidentally shot himself with a .44 caliber gun with the bullet missing his heart by two inches.]

What did you do after Jackson State University?

I came straight to the music business. First I took a couple of semesters off during the school year just to see. I went on a couple of tours with the Hot Boys, including the Ruff Ryders/Cash Money tour with DMX (2000), and (Nelly's) Nellyville tour (2002).

You took a couple of semesters off to see if you really wanted to be in the music business?

Once Wayne made it (as an artist), I saw that it was good. I traveled, and I got to see places. I got perks, same as Wayne. They gave me a car. I had the perks. I was living the life, but I was basically, “Nahh, this is not for me.” I ended up going back to school.

What do you remember about being on the road?

I was just on a ride at that point. I wasn’t paying attention to the business because I never thought that was what I wanted to do. I was just a roadie. I was helping out wherever they needed me. If they needed me to grab some bags or pass out some shirts or something, I was there to do it. Just for the ride. To jump on the bus, get in a hotel room, and just experience the life of going to these different cities. I never really paid attention to the logistics of the business. At that point, I was just having fun. I’m going to ride. He’s my homey, he’s on the radio every day, he’s hot, everybody knows him.

Wayne called you up in your senior year in 2003 and asked you to come and work with him?

He told me that he was ready to move further with his career as an artist. That he could be expanding outside of what he was doing. He wanted me to help him out. He was in an unpleasant place at that time. He needed someone to help him out; (someone) that he thought was smart enough to do it. I guess that I was the college guy, I’m the smart guy, I’m the nerd of the crew. So he hit me up as a friend. I ended up going on the road on weekends for my last semester in school when he was doing clubs shows and things like that. Just to help out, to break in. Once he asked me, I said, “I don’t know what I’m doing but together we can get it. I can learn.”

You are day-to-day with Wayne. How do you separate that from the Young Money label side of businesses? Does it all run together?

It all pretty much runs together for me. It’s like a beautiful collage. Everything comes together. I guess I just run Lil Wayne in all of his entities. We have new ventures coming up, clothing, and debit cards that we are launching. I pretty much take it all on. He’s the creative guy, and I’m the voice. I have to be there, hands-on to speak on everything he has to do. I take that upon myself. I told him that was what I was going to do from the beginning. We will be in it together on anything that he wants to do.

So many things are coming at you these days.

It doesn’t slow down. All I do is, as it comes, is learn how to filter out the good and the bad more and more. I just try to put out filters, and get people into place. We have a PR team, we have (publicist) Sarah Cunningham (The Chamber Group) to filter out what’s real and what’s worth looking at before it gets to me. That’s all put into place. So, I can keep it coming. I invite it in. It’s good that we are staying busy because a lot of people aren’t as busy as us so we are blessed to be this busy. I just put people in place to filter out the real from the fake.

What people tend to overlook about Wayne is how hard working he is. If he isn’t touring, he’s in the studio. If he isn’t in the studio, he’s touring.

Wayne has a work ethic that I have never seen with anyone else on this earth. You just spelt it out—he’s always working. In his down time, he’s in a recording studio making music. On holidays, he’ll spend a day with his family on Thanksgiving. If the studio was open, he’d be there that night. It’s just like that. But that’s all fun to him. To us, it seems like he’s working because he’s making music, making the product that I can put out there and sell. On the outside looking in, it seems like it's work, but, to him, it’s pleasure. Working is for me to tell him that he’s got to sit on the phone, and do an interview. That’s work.

Following his release, Wayne has been in the studio in Miami.

Yeah, every day. Making music is fun to him. He’s having fun.

When Wayne was in the Rikers Island jail, was one of the hardest things he left behind that ability to record? For a studio rat, that’s a hard thing to pull away from.

I haven’t had that conversation with him yet just because as soon as he came out all he wanted to do was to get back to recording and working. The only thing that I’ve heard him say was that he joked about the food being a culture shock. Going from having a personal chef serving him three times a day to what they got to give you there and to eat it. I know that was a big thing. And oh, I think that his biggest thing was the kids. His kids were the biggest thing. He did mention that, not being able to see his kids when he wanted to see his kids. Because he had newborns that just came into his life and for that to be taken away from him so soon, that was a big thing.

[Wayne’s second child, Dwayne III, was born on October 22, 2008 in Cincinnati. His third child, Lennox Samuel Ari, was born to actress Lauren London on September 9, 2009. He had his fourth child, Neal, on November 30, 2009 with singer Nivea.]

Wayne’s 12 year old daughter wants to be a singer.

Reginae is just a star. She wants to be singer, an actress, she does it all. A great personality. She takes after him. He’s going to nurture whatever she wants to do. He’s supporting her in anything that she wants to do. So, if she says she wants to sing, I know that Wayne is going to do everything in his power and help her fulfill that dream, and I’m going to be right there to nurture it.

While in the Rikers Island jail, Wayne jumped on the Drake/Jay-Z track "Light Up.” How hard was it to do that Riker’s Mix on the telephone?

Wayne called (Young Money president) Mack Maine and told Mac to have his engineer set up in the studio. They figured it out over at The Hit Factory where the phone went straight to the board to record, and it was done. There was a time that he was going to call in, and everybody was ready.

There’s been talk of Wayne doing recording projects with Juelz Santana, Lloyd, T-Pain and Drake.

The only thing we are concentrating on right now is Carter IV, so he’s recording. We are making progress. We are looking forward to a release some time next year. I just want to stay focused on that, coming soon.

When will Wayne tour?

February to April (in the U.S.). We should be putting up an announcement before the end of the year. He will probably be out for the rest of the year once we start, all over the world. That’s the plan. I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but that’s the plan.

Will there be problems touring internationally due to his criminal record?

Canada will probably be our only problem. For the first annual OVO Fest (Drake’s 1st annual day-long OVO Fest on August 1, 2010 in Toronto) Jay-Z was able to get in. It worked for him. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do it too. There were a couple of guys from Live Nation (Toronto) that helped the situation. Hopefully, we will get in.

[Convicted criminals may be prohibited from entering Canada. However, American rappers Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent have obtained temporary resident's permits in the past allowing them to play Canadian dates.]

Wayne has guested on tracks with Destiny’s Child, Fat Joe, Kanye West, Kid Rock, Fall Out Boy, Madonna and Shakira. Are collaborations part of branding? Strategically plugging him into different audiences. Or do these things happen informally? Someone sends in a request, and you decide to do it.

It is a little bit of both. It is more us—me, my team, and my partners—wanting to brand Wayne, and to bring him to that place. We wanted to take away the cliché that Wayne was an urban hip hop rapper thug. Any kind of stereotype he had in the beginning of his career. It stuck on him. Going into the Carter II and Carter III phase we wanted to break Wayne out, and a lot of those features were strategic. My partner Gee Roberson, having Kanye (West), and working at a label (Roc-A-Fella) that was a great plus for me and for Wayne because that opened up a lot of doors, and a lot of relationships with those people. Gee got the vision. We had the same vision about how to bring Wayne to another place, and we used some of his relationships to make some of those moves happen, the Madonna thing (“Revolver”), for example.

Was there a danger of losing street cred, that Wayne’s core audience might have considered doing that a sellout? You have to walk a fine line.

Wayne wasn’t that artist. Wayne would be on the phone with Madonna one day, and the next day you’d hear him on the phone with Gucci Mane. He made sure he gave all of his fans some of him. The fans who made him, who created him back in the day, he still makes music to satisfy them. I think that when he goes in to record he keeps that in the back of his mind because he teaches that to some of those artists; especially to artists like Nicki Minaj who started out with the same type of following and who is now going more pop. He gave her the advice, “Don’t forget about the people who created you, who were there from the beginning. You have got to deliver for them.” I believe that Wayne has a fine balance. He makes sure that he doesn’t…Just because he did a song with Madonna, or Weezer, or anybody else on that (mainstream pop) side, that doesn’t make him think that he’s too big to do a song for any urban hip hop act.

Lil Twist has been working on a mixtape with Justin Bieber.

Actually, they just did the remix of “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars. Justin sent him his version of him singing it for Lil Twist to put a rap verse on it. I think that’s going to be the first song that they leak out.

Why the Lil Twist and Justin Bieber recording? You get the pop mainstream for Lil Twist while Justin gets some street cred?

It didn’t start out as a whole business play. Twist and Justin have been friends before Justin Bieber became Justin Bieber and his career blew up. Just from being on the internet, those guys are internet crazed, so it has always been about a friendship. They are doing this together because they are friends. They hang out with each other. When he’s in Atlanta, Justin comes to the crib and hangs out with Twist. They play video games and do different things together. I have never had a conversation with Scooter (Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun) about, “Let’s leverage this situation” or anything like that.

Of course, if it does happen then Justin will probably be looked at as being on the cool side with the Young Money (crew) culture movement that’s going on. It would definitely help Twist with all of the fans that Justin has on the pop side. But this mix tape they’ve done is not being done for any kind of strategic business moves. It is just because they are friends, and that’s what they wanted to do.

With the internet, all the cultural obstacles are down.

The internet is bringing people closer together from all around the world. It has torn down racial barriers.

Drake’s debut album “Thank Me Later” sold an eye-popping 447,000 records in its first week, reaching #1 on the Billboard 200.

We still have room to grow with Drake. We’ve had a great run, it was very successful. We are still on a run. He just finished his (U.S.) tour; he has to go on the European leg of it to break over there. We’re trying to break him worldwide. He’s also recording for his next album, which will probably be out sometime next year (2011).

What attracted you to working with Drake?

I first heard him when Jazz Prince (son of Rap-A-Lot Records' CEO J. Prince) played me a CD (of "Comeback Season”). I was like, ”Wow. This guy, I can understand everything that he is saying. His music feels so real.” Then when we flew him in, and I met him, it was like, “Oh, wow. This guy’s a star.” His personality just rubbed off. I could tell that he was a genuinely good person.

Is that an important factor for you?

That’s big. I think that’s the key. There are a lot of people out here that are talented. There are a lot of people out here that play great basketball, but not everybody is Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. So there are a lot of good rappers. When I first heard Drake I thought he was a great rapper, but when I saw everything else—his look, the personality—I was like, “Okay, he’s a superstar.” But even at that point, at the first meeting, I never thought that I was going to be managing him. I just thought that he would be a good fit for Young Money. This was me being the Young Money executive. I thought he’d be great to add to the team. He asked me to manage him. I was like, “It will be my pleasure. I definitely believe in you.” I told him from the beginning that I thought he was a star. That’s how we kicked it.

With his television background, he could also be a film star.

And, I didn’t know about that. It was three to four months before I found out. I was DJing for Wayne at the time. I was Wayne’s DJ for the past five or six years. We were on the road for about three months (touring). Drake would hang out with me after the show, time to break down, and we’d just leave.

We were in Salt Lake City or Denver, I can’t remember what city we were in, but it was in the middle of nowhere in the Midwest, and we are breaking down. The show is over. We had a great show. We killed it. There’s about 200 people still lined up in front of the stage, most of them women, most of them little white girls screaming. So I‘m like, “I must have done a god job. Wow, they’re screaming for me. Wayne’s going on in about 10 minutes. They are really still screaming for me.” But I start hearing, “Jimmy, Jimmy.” I’m thinking, “Who the hell is Jimmy? They are not talking about me.” I look to the right, and I see him waving and smiling. “Hello, what’s going on here?” He whispers over to me, “I forgot to tell you. I was on this (Canadian TV) show for, like seven seasons, called “DeGrassi.” Jimmy was my character." I was like, “What? You act too? Oh, my God.”

[Canadian Drake (born Aubrey Graham) got his start as a child actor in Toronto on the popular teen show "DeGrassi: The Next Generation" playing the wheelchair-bound character Jimmy for seven years. Through his earnings, Drake funded his first two mixtapes, "Room For Improvement" (2006) and "Comeback Season" (2007), along with a video for "Replacement Girl."

Drake's early success came by releasing an unconventional, free, downloadable mixtape, “So Far Gone” in February 2009, followed by a debut EP of the same named released in September 2009. The EP featured five songs from the mixtape, and two new songs. In April 2010, the EP won Rap Recording of the Year at the 2010 Juno Awards in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Drake also won as New Artist of the Year, and joined fellow Canadian pop phenomenon Justin Bieber on stage for a live performance of Bieber's hit single “Baby.”

Drake will host the 40th anniversary of Canada’s Juno Awards on March 27, 2011 at the Air Canada Centre in his hometown of Toronto.]

Mixtapes are a way for young artists like Drake to get their music out there. Mixtapes put Wayne where he is in his career.

Yeah, that’s the way that these artists are doing it now. It’s like a platform for them to get their music out there. Mixtapes, for us, were always a way for Wayne to give away (music) because he’s always recording. There was a time when we first started doing mixtapes way back with the Squad series when he was in between albums, he had with (Hot Boys’ fellow members) Juvenile, B.G. and Young Turk. All of those people put out albums, so Wayne was still recording every day. He had to figure out what to do with all of this music, so he just started putting out mixtapes. It was always to stay out there, then it turned into fan appreciation. As he got bigger, after the Squad series, after the Carters, after he started putting out the dedications and mixtapes like that on a national level, it became about just giving away (music) to the fans. A lyrical exercise for him, and more about just giving himself to the fans.

How did you feel walking into Best Buy and seeing “Dedication 2” there when you gave it away?

I was shocked when I saw a mixtape in Best Buy. That upset me because producers and the publishers, they look at us thinking that we are making money off of these products, and we’re not making a thing. All we did this for was to put out free music. There are people that are pimping the situation. When I first saw the mixtape in a Best Buy, I called my sales manager at Universal Music. I asked “Do (Best Buy) not do due diligence, and see if something is not real. This is a corporate entity.” He basically told me that because CD sales are hurting, a lot of these big companies are just looking another way if they can get anything that can sell. That they are not really doing the due diligence about checking to see if (a release) is all the way legit.

So the mixtape hadn’t come through Universal’s system.

No, it didn’t come through Universal’s system. I was told that the store probably took it because it was selling off the shelf; and (retailers) are not moving CDs off the shelf like they used to. That’s what my sales manager told me. Because I’m asking, “How did they let that through the door knowing that it’s not coming from the Universal system?”

CDs sales have dropped off so drastically.

Sales are definitely on a decline, and they are declining each year. It’s nothing for (labels) to be shook up about because Taylor Swift made a million sales recently in first week sales (Swift’s “Speak Now” was released October 25, 2010). So 70% of that was physical (sales) and 30% was digital. The (sales) climate is definitely changing, and the record companies know that they are in trouble. That’s why they are locking artists into these 360 deals, and things of that nature. (CD sales) are on the down right now, but it’s not like that in the next six months that we aren’t going to see CDs anymore. Maybe, in the next five years, we won’t see CDs anymore, but I don’t think its right here on our doorstep yet.

How did it feel to have someone impersonating you this year?

First I was like, “Wow. Are they serious? Are they really doing it?" I was upset. I was so upset because the worst thing in the world I can’t stand is (dishonest) promoters and people who try to get over people. And I felt bad because I would get calls (from promoters) and I would have hearts to hearts with people (who’d say), “Yeah, I sent this guy my money, ta da ta da." I would try to coach them because there are always people who don’t have a clue, who try to promote shows and concerts and don’t know what they are doing.

It must have been a strange feeling.

It’s crazy. There have been situations where I talked to people who talked to the fake me, and they would be really convinced it was me. It was like, “No. I talked to you. You called me from this number.” I’d tell them, “That’s not my number. That’s not my email. I don’t know that number. You didn’t talk to me.” It’s been crazy.

[Someone earlier this year was trying to pass themselves off as Cortez Bryant. The person allegedly created a false Twitter account and an e-mail account which were allegedly utilized to secure deposits for false bookings and club appearances.]

Are we going to see a Hot Boys’ reunion?

Do you know what? We were getting into that. We had an agreement with Juvenile and B.G. They were both onboard. They did a track (together), but Young Money blew up. Drake came along, Nicki started buzzing and that was it. The whole temperature shifted toward what we are doing. We definitely were interested at one point right before “So Far Gone” (Drake’s third official mixtape, released February 13, 2009).

Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times.

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