This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Bryan “Birdman” Williams, co-CEO and founder, Cash Money Records.
Bryan “Birdman” Williams, and Ronald “Slim” Williams may live the high life, but the two brothers have worked hard for everything.
Nobody ever gave them jackshit.
The two co-founders of Cash Money/Young Money enclave grew up in the rough, uptown Third Ward of New Orleans. Their mother died when they were young kids. Their father raised them while running a neighborhood grocery store and lounge.
While Cash Money’s headquarters is now in Miami, the Williams brothers are from New Orleans, and they still ride for their town. That's their heart and soul; the base of their careers; and they never want to lose that.
One afternoon in 1991, Bryan and Ronald sat in the family kitchen and they sketched out a simple black-and-white inked logo: A dollar sign bordered by the words, Cash Money Records.
Two decades later, this logo—somewhat redesigned over the years—represents one of hip-hop's most recognizable brands.
When Forbes recently tabulated the wealthiest entrepreneurs in American hip-hop, Bryan placed #4 on the list with a personal net estimated to be $100 million. Bryan scoffed at the estimate. He was quoted as saying, “I should still be a lot more than that. $500 million, $250 million, easy."
With such new-school outlets as MySpace, Twitter and a mobile subscription service delivering ringtones, graphics, video clips, and text alerts to fans of the label’s artists--joining the old-school marketing mix of club, studio and radio--Bryan can probably make his case of greater riches.
2010 was a remarkable year for Cash Money, with a "Young Money Family" compilation release finally debuting long-signed artists Tyga, Mack Maine (now the president of affiliated Young Money Records), and Gudda Gudda, plus million-selling albums from Nicki Minaj, Drake, and Lil Wayne.
In 2010, Cash Money also made a worldwide administrative partnership with Universal Music Publishing Group under which Universal administers all catalog interests from Cash Money’s co-founders, as well as older copyrights from Lil Wayne, Mannie Fresh and B.G. The deal also includes new writers that the pair have signed to their publishing company, including Young Money label mates, Nicki Minaj and Mack Maine.
In the mid ’90s, New Orleans was mocked as a hip-hop backwater. The rise in the decade of Cash Money, and Master P’s No Limit label—with a roster that Master P, C-Murder, Silkk the Shocker, Snoop Dogg, Mac, Mercedes, Soulja Slim, Mia X, Skull Duggery--changed that perception.
While Ronald stayed in the background, handling the day-to-day business end, Bryan took center stage as a media figure, and a rapper himself.
As music journalist Roni Sarig wrote in "Third Coast," his 2007 book on Southern hip-hop, "Where No Limit represented New Orleans in the hip-hop world nationally, Cash Money was New Orleans."
Cash Money’s first release, Kilo G's "The Sleepwalker,” however, sold poorly. With the addition of DJ Mannie Fresh as in-house producer, the label hit its stride with such acts as Pimp Daddy, Lil Slim, Ms Tee and U.N.L.V.
Lil Wayne was only nine when he caught the ears of Bryan in 1991. The youngster turned up at a Cash Money autograph signing, and recorded freestyle raps on his answering machine, leading him to mentor the youngster, and include him on Cash Money releases.
In 1995, the label signed the young teenager, 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 Hot Boys that became one of Cash Money’s best known acts.
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.
In 2005, Lil Wayne 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.
The same year, Lil Wayne became president of Cash Money. He founded Young Money as a Cash Money imprint. The label started slowly, signing artists but releasing little product. Still, largely on the strength of Wayne's prolific mixtape output, its reputation grew though Wayne had to step down due to his growing commitments as an artist.
In 2008, Lil Wayne had the best-selling album of the year and won a Grammy Award for “Tha Carter III” which sold a whopping 3.5 million units.
Lil Wayne, however, soon had legal tangles to contend with.
In Oct., 2009, he 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.
Following jail, Lil Wayne, with Cash Money quickly kick-started his recording career.
This past week, Lil Wayne shattered the iTunes record for first-week album sales in just four days, moving more than 300,000 of his new album, “Tha Carter IV” which hit digital retailers right after his closing performance of “How to Love” and “John” on THE MTV Video Music Awards.
The Young Money album sold 964,000 copies in its first week, according to SoundScan, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200.
As well, eight Lil Wayne titles debuted on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart from the album. As four of his titles previously on the Hot 100 join the eight newcomers, Lil Wayne has 12 songs total on this week's chart, the most simultaneously-charting songs by a soloist in the chart’s 53-year history.
According to Billboard, only the Beatles have held more concurrent positions, having placed 14 songs on the April 11, 1964, Hot 100 chart, as well as 12 each the weeks before and after.
"Tha Carter IV" stayed at #1 on the Billboard 200 for a second week, selling another 219,000 copies.
Another good week for “Tha Carter IV.”
Yeah, a very exciting week for us as a whole--as a brand, as a team. We are all just grateful, and blessed that God is even blessing us like this.
With these sales figures, coupled with sales of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne” album, it shows that retailers can still sell physical product today.
It’s great for retail as a whole. You’ve got so many retailers closing because of how bad the business has become since 9/11. You have a lot of projects like these come out, but really the business is not putting out as much music, especially urban music, like it used to. So, when you have these types of artists drop albums it makes up for a lot of projects and product that the music industry just isn’t putting out anymore.
You have said that Forbes’ estimate of your net wealth at $100 million is too low.
(Laughing) But they are going to get me right next time. Forbes looked at me, but they didn’t look at me right. But it’s cool, I ain’t tripping.
Why brag on money? You want an audit from the I.R.S.?
No, not at all. I’m up on my dough, though. I ain’t worrying about that.
You and Slim are starting to draw comparisons to such urban music trail blazers as Berry Gordy Jr., and Gamble & Huff.
I’m hearing people saying that.
You two certainly have built an empire though the mainstream media has missed that.
Definitely. I guess it (respect) will come in time. I feel like that will make me work harder too. That’s another motivation. I like that. Because if you ain’t giving it to me, I’m going to take it, and I respect that. We need to work harder, and I understand that too. I don’t have a problem with that.
Could you have done what you’ve done without Slim?
Nah. Nah. My brother plays a major role. He’s one of the reasons why…he kept me humble. In my life, I come up different. I am the opposite of my brother. Sometimes I got hot-headed in my younger days, and my brother never gets hot-headed. He’s somebody that I would really like to be like in life. He’s smart. He’s cool. He’s special.
New Orleans is a rough town to be raised in.
I know it, man. I will still to today be looking at how strong that we have been and how much we have been through. Just to wipe all that aside to get out of where we came from. We come from a city that is built on murder, and there are no opportunities. It’s tough. It’s hard. You have to be a stand-up guy, and you have to be a smart person too, and not get caught up in things that you are surrounded by. Understand, we come from poor. We come from the Project.
You’re from the Third Ward Uptown, right?
Magnolia Projects where I’m from, Lil Wayne is from Hollygrove, which is the 17th Ward. Everything is five minutes from everybody. You can reach anybody in five minutes (in New Orleans). Ain’t nothing far.
[The Magnolia Projects has been vacated, and the majority of buildings razed. It was one of America’s most dangerous housing districts with a local crime rate higher than many full municipalities in the U.S.]
In the mid-‘90s, New Orleans had America's highest per-capita murder rate. Kilo G, Pimp Daddy and Yella Boy were all shot to death back then. At the end of last year, your girl Magnolia Shorty was shot dead there.
Yeah, she just died. That’s what I’m saying. It’s so easy to get caught up in that city we come from. Just being able to still be here first of all, and to be here working hard, and being successful, all this comes from where we come from, and how hard we come up.
Really, I look at it like the way we brought up set me up for life. Now I can deal with situations. I don’t think there’s too much that can scar me because I’ve been scarred--I’ve been hurt--since I was a kid. Life is about accomplishment, and I can’t see past us just accomplishing because I know what it’s like. I know where we come from, and I know what it is still like. We still go there, and they make us work harder because that’s not where we ever want to go back to be.
[In Dec. 2010, Magnolia Shorty, aka Renetta Yemika Lowe-Bridgewater, was shot and killed in a car in a double homicide at the Georgetown of New Orleans apartments complex in the New Orleans East neighborhood of Edgelake. Police described the crime as a drive-by shooting. At the time of her death, she had been working on her second album for Cash Money.]
You and Slim sat around a table and planned out Cash Money Records, and had a logo. How did you figure out your roles?
At that time, that was kind of my decision. I was doing all that at the time. I wanted everything to be around money because that’s what we were about; trying to make some money to help us, and to help our people; trying to make a better way out of these projects. So I kind of did that. I left more of the business decisions up to my brother. At the end of the day, my brother called the shots. Whatever he says go. That’s just how I do (what I do). That’s what it is.
You both have business savvy beyond street smarts--business savvy to set up publishing, a book company, and a mobile business. Where did the vision come from?
Just something that we wanted to expand. Just seeing that we could do more in music. We’ve got a machine, we just as well might use it. I think that we have the best staff in the business right now for radio, marketing, our street team; our whole staff is very strong.
We have always been trying to do it (expand) but, when I look back, we were ready visual-wise, but staffing wise we weren’t ready. Now in the last couple of years, we have all of our pieces together for us just doing all of these different brands. Like our merch company, our movie company, and our book company; we have a bus company, our studio company. Just branching off into different things.
I always wanted to do different businesses, but I like to be hands-on. I don’t want to be not a part of my business because I feel that I can run them better. I know how to do the things that I need to do. So I just wanted to do enough businesses that we can run; that we can be involved with; that we can market. I also now have a liquor deal too. I just did a deal with GT Vodka (Grand Touring Vodka).
I just want to keep our little circle where I can be hands on because I want to be hands on with the businesses.
In an interview with Billboard’s Gail Mitchell a few years ago, Slim said, “This is a job, not a party.”
It started as a party because we were young, and we were excited. That’s why I’m saying that it is so important for the young world to get this education because they can skip the party part of it; and remember that it is a business, and don’t get it fucked up. It’s a business. We were just young, got the money, partying and having fun, still making money, but if I’d known better, I would have done better.
It took for a couple of years to grow up to be like, "You know what y’all? I can see how we can do this, and make more money.” I just saw how this shit ain’t a party no more. Now it’s about us making this a business. This is our life. This is how we are going to feed our families.
But a lot of those youngsters just don’t get up in the rap of it because the shit can come like a wave. You have a lot of motherfuckers that never had nothing, wake up to something, and it’s hard to keep it. That’s why education plays so such a part in this shit, and in life in general. I tell anyone who does this, “Get an education.” I am fortunate enough to have a high school education. I have that. I also have other smarts that goes with my game, and what I am trying to accomplish in life. But, I tell anybody, “Get your education. It’s important because you can get the money, and if you are just dumbfounded with it, you will be right back where you started.”
We have to be smart with whatever we get. It might be as much as we done got, but whatever you get, you just have to be smart with it. So that when it comes back around, you won’t be like a lot of our peers who have done this, and niggers be back broke with nothing.
[After graduating from high school Bryan Williams attended Salisbury University in Maryland for a year before dropping out and starting his career.]
The music industry is full of artists and entrepreneurs who crashed and burned after their success.
That’s why I would like for the new world, and anybody who does this, (tell them) you have to study your craft. I studied my craft. I studied everybody who did this before me. I learned from trial-and-error. I made mistakes, also learning; but you got to know what you are getting yourself into. So if you get into it, you have a feel of how to deal with it. I studied everybody who did what I am doing before me.
Who did you study?
Tony Draper, James Smith, Russell Simmons, Eazy-E, Jermaine Dupri, Master P, Diddy, Suge Knight, I looked at all these dudes, these pioneers, these dudes that do what I do. They are CEOs. Some rapped, and some didn’t rap. I was just a CEO that rapped. I watched them, and their lifestyle and everything that they went through.
A lot of them were dealt a bad hand because nobody ever owned anything. Everything was took from the start. You understand me? I never wanted to be that way. So even when I was young, and when I worked out my deal, my first thing was, “I ain’t giving up anything for nobody.” It was like there was too much blood on this money because I lost a lot of friends, and family members growing up. I felt for me to work harder, for us to work harder, why would I go and give you half? That ain’t making any sense to me. My people are dead. I have to find a way to make it better for us as a team. I am looking at us as a unit.
I looked at how all of the older people did it before me. They all had been dealt a bad hand. They all started with half (of a company). Some of them never had nothing. I never wanted to go that route. I always wanted to be better than what they did. I salute them all because they all paved the way, but also I would look behind me. If I’m going to do this, I have to make a way for my son, and for all of the artists that are on the label so we can all survive with not being everything took from you.
Coming from where you came from, and being outside the traditional music industry—as negative and difficult as that is—it is also your strength. You know the streets; most people in the music industry don’t.
The mainstream music industry couldn’t figure you out.
Because I kept us to us. We 100% own of our brand. But if I would have done what a lot of my peers did because a lot of them started on half of their brand, or maybe 25% of their brand, they were always funded by the machine, by the label.
How do you keep street today? By having young people around you?
Yeah. I stay young staying around youngsters, and I feel young.
You are the old man of the camp now.
I’m 42. Hanging around these youngsters, I feel really young. I feel real young. I don’t want to ever get old because if you get old you die, man. So I feel young. I want to be young as long as I can. And to you youngsters, stay as you are as long as you can because when you get old, you are going to wish that you were young. You got to feel young to be young.
In recent years, Cash Money has signed a lot of younger artists like Drake, Nicki Minaj, Jay Sean, Kevin Rudolf and now Savvy, the label’s first pop act.
Yeah, I love to be around a young world, and a really a young world is the music industry, and they are going to change the music industry. Of course, with what Wayne, Drake, and Nicki are doing. Wayne is a veteran, but he’s a young one. I think that with us expanding (being) more dominant rap, I would like to be as dominant on the pop side as well. We want to as a brand—that is why we have Jay Sean, Kevin Rudolph, and we have Chris Richardson (the 5th-place finalist on the 6th season of “American Idol”) on Tyga’s new record (“Far Away”) which is doing good at radio, and we just signed Savvy. As a brand, I’m looking to expand the pop side just as much as we have on the rap side.
In New Orleans, you and Slim grew up with R&B, soul, rap and hip-hop.
Definitely. New Orleans, we have blues, soul, (and we listened to) Maze, Teena Marie, Rick James, and these type of people. But I grew up on rap. I was a big fan of N.W.A., Ice-T, Public Enemy, all of those (rap) beginners who did it. Run-D.M.C., all of those guys.
Those artists led the way.
The older artists make an impression of the young world with the music. We get a lot from them. I know a lot of older acts and a lot of older companies, people that did it before me. All of them have been dealt a bad hand. The game wasn’t what it is today. I pride myself on being today’s time, and doing better than what they did, making sure that my position, and my deals are done better because all of them have been dealt a bad hand. Everybody who has done this before. I just make sure that our situation be different. I want to be today’s time, modern time in how we make deals, and how we do deals.
Bobby Marchan helped you in the early days.
Right, wow. Bobby’s a legend. We heard that he was somebody, but we didn’t know that he was at first. Bobby was one of the first people we met in the business who was already in the business, and had a familiarity with the business. He helped a lot of people from New Orleans. He helped us. We had our own local sound that we were doing our own thing, and Bobby did a lot of booking and marketing, promotions. That was someone who, when we first started, was one of the ones who helped us to get into different areas.
[New Orleans-based R&B icon Bobby Marchan had a solo career, and also toured and recorded with Huey Smith and the Clowns. As a solo act, Marchan had a #1 Billboard R&B hit with "There is Something on your Mind (Part 2)” in 1960. Marchan's vocals can be heard on Huey Smith and the Clowns’ classic R&B recording, "Don't You Just Know It" which reached #4 on Billboard’s R&B chart in 1958.
In the 1990s, Marchan’s company Manicure Productions was involved in local hip hop music booking and promotion.]
You paid for Bobby’s funeral in 1999.
Yeah, I did pay for his funeral. I do that a lot in my city. That’s one thing that I do. A lot of people reach out. A lot of people in my neighborhood. I just buried a friend. I buried my “daughter” Magnolia Shorty. That’s something that I take pride in doing. If somebody reaches out…because I know that my city is hurting.
Did Bobby Marchan teach you about distribution and radio promotion?
No, not that perspective of (the music business). I learned that from just being in the business on my own. Nobody really taught us how to do things. I always took my music to the streets, and let the streets embrace us and then it went to radio. As an independent, we never really had radio airplay, except the local station in New Orleans Q93, still to today. But we started getting radio airplay once we signed with Universal.
Why sign with Universal Music Group for distribution?
After seven years as independent, it was time for us to grow as a brand. We had done so much, and we were spreading so fast. I wanted to get with someone who could help us with radio and video. At the time, I felt Universal was the strongest brand for that.
[The Universal Music Group distribution deal in 1998 allowed Cash Money to expand its roster of young artists, and let it invest further in Lil Wayne.]
You used to take cassette tapes around New Orleans and sell them out of the back of your car. I remember seeing Cash Money tapes at Odyssey Records.
That’s where we started out. I used to bring them there. I used to sit out all night because they used to order so fast. I’d leave them with a lot (of albums). Odyssey Records played a major part in our careers. Independent stores, that’s where we started from.
DJ Khaled was working there.
Yes, Khaled was working there.
[For DJ Khaled's 2010 signing to Cash Money Records, the Williams’ brothers threw an extravagant yacht party as lawyers were flown in by helicopter to make the deal official. DJ Khaled is enjoying success with his #1 R&B/hip-hop single "I'm on One" featuring Lil Wayne, Drake and Rick Ross from the album “We the Best Forever.”]
And you were selling tapes out of the car?
Yeah, we were. That’s how we started. Independently hand-to-hand. We’d post up on our block in our project, and people used to come from everywhere just to buy our music.
Is it true that Wayne started leaving song messages on your answering service?
Yeah. He used to call me every day at my office. I’d be like, “C’mon over, man.” He’d call me at the office every day after he got off school.
The photo on “Tha Carter IV” looks like it’d be from around that time.
He was younger than that. He was looking like that though when I first met him, but he was younger.
Cash Money recorded Wayne when he was 11 with B.G. who was then 14. What appealed to you about the pair?
I knew what route that they were going. I knew that they were heading for the same shit that I was already off into. So I was looking at them. I was young. I was about 18 years old. Maybe I could save their life--let them do music and, maybe, they can get us out of the ghetto. Besides that, whatever I was doing, they were going to do. I just wanted to show them a more positive way of life. “This shit that I am off into, I need you all to try something else in life.” And I dedicated my life to them just trying to be somebody. You understand that these were people I just met. We liked each other as kids. I just wished that I could produce a better life for them. That was my whole goal in life was to try and not have them go to jail or penitentiary or get killed. So I’m going to try and get them a better life. “You want to do music? Okay, this is what we are going to do.”
You teamed up with Mannie Fresh to form the duo Big Tymers.
I never did consider myself a rapper. I was forced to rap because they were so young.
You put the Hot Boys together, Lil Wayne, Juvenile, B.G., and Turk.
Yeah. They all were young.
Mannie Fresh came in as an in-house producer as well.
Yeah, he helped a lot because he already was into music. Fresh taught him (Lil Wayne) how to write sixteens, and a hook. Wayne didn’t know about any of that. (Mannie Fresh) was already into music. He kind of showed (Wayne) how to do that and do the music. I also used to make them (Hot Boys) stay home and just write. All day, every day.
Wayne is a hard worker.
An extremely hard worker. We dedicate our life to it. There’s no second guessing what we are trying to accomplish. You heard how hard it is in our minds to focus to go straight. He’s a blueprint to hard work. He took everything I taught him, and he molded it in today’s time in what he does. What we are doing right now, we did this 10 years ago with some other acts and him. Wayne just took the formula and formulated on himself.
You passed Wayne the baton by having him set up Young Money Records.
Yeah. I told him at the peak of my career, “It’s all about you.” I’m straight. I knew that wherever we we’re going to go, he was going to be the one that takes us there. “So now this is your flow.” He was about 16 or 17. “This is your flow, do what you want with it. I’m going to follow your lead.”
What was your belief in Wayne based on?
I always believed that he was going to be the one. He had the talent, and (he was) what I was backing so he didn’t make mistakes because I was already making the mistakes. I had made the mistakes by not knowing no better. I just didn’t want him to make the mistakes--to just focus on the music. And that’s what we did. We cover all of the other shit (backroom business), and let him focus on the music. That’s where we are at.
What does Wayne have to do now in his career?
We’ve got a hell of a plateau, but we are still growing. We are still trying to sell a lot of records. I still think that we got so much more to do. Michael Jackson sold (an estimated) 750 million records, man. We got a long way to go.
Will there be a Wayne and Drake duo album?
Yep. And me and Wayne have a Father Like Son (“Like Father, Like Son”) album. We are definitely going to see both of those projects.
Definitely. I also have an album coming out November 22nd called “Bigga Than Life.” My first single is “Why You Mad” with me, Nicki and Wayne.
You haven’t put out many solo albums over the years. This will be your fifth.
I have been focusing on (our artists). I always knew it ain’t about me, it’s about them. I can get in where I fit in and I can do me when I want to. But for us to have this all happening, I knew it was all about building their careers. That’s what I focused my stuff on--building their careers. That’s what was important to me. I can always drop an album. I do that shit whenever I feel like it. I drop a record whenever I want to. I can get a hit record for my “son” (Wayne), Nicki, Drake, Tyga, Jay Sean--any one of them whenever I feel like it. By my main concern, as an entrepreneur and CEO, is them. I need to get them straight. I need to get them off the ground. Get their careers going. Let’s focus our drive into them because they are the future. and they are the stars.
[Along with his releases with Big Tymers, and for his solo career, Bryan has recorded numerous tracks with Lil Wayne, including “Like Father, Like Son” in 2006. He began his solo career in 2002 with "Birdman" and he has been featured on remixes of such celebrated rap singles as "We Fly High" by Jim Jones and "Make It Rain" by Fat Joe.]
Is it hard wearing two hats: businessman and rapper?
Not for me because I have got not only Slim, but I’ve got Wayne. So I got me, Slim, Wayne, and I’ve got Mack Maine, and Tez (Cortez Bryant). So with all of this help and support, we good. For me to wear either one of those hats, I have been doing it for so long that it’s easy for me. I could do it in my sleep, honestly.
What does Nicki have to do in her career now that she’s had her breakout?
She’s still got a lot to accomplish. She only put out one album, so she’s got to keep growing. I would like Nicki to sell a million in one week. I would like Drake to do that. I think that they are the next two artists—period--that are in the game to do that. One of our goals as a brand is to get them up to that level, and on the way. We have to keep growing; keep putting out records; keep expanding our brand; and keep working together as a unit.
A unit will always outdo individuality. We work as a team. I believe in family and we have a lot of family around here. I think that Nicki is one of the most talented females ever to touch a microphone. It takes time to prove that. She’s got to keep putting out records; keep putting out music. I’m excited about Nicki. I think that Nicki’s next album will probably be the best album in her career.
Where is Drake at in his career?
Drake is one of the most talented acts that I have ever been around. He’s amazing. I don’t know how to put Drake in words. He is bad. He’s super bad.
Drake’s whole story is amazing. I’ve got so much love and respect for him. He’s just the coolest. When I first met him, I told him that he was a legend. He didn’t understand me, but he will understand me in a few years. That boy is a great artist. He is a well-rounded artist. He does it all. He’s not just an average rapper. No, Drake is what you call a musician artist. He’s special.
Can you take Drake to film?
I think all of ‘em are movie stars. Drake is a movie star, Nicki is a movie star, Wayne is a movie star, Bow Wow is a movie star. I think all of them are movie stars. We just have to go, and get that movie money.
[Drake (born Aubrey Graham) got his start as a child actor in Canada 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 Feb. 2009, followed by a debut EP of the same name in Sept. 2009. Drake’s sophomore Young Money LP, “Take Care” will be released Oct. 24, 2011.]
You have to resurrect Bow Wow’s music career.
Yeah, definitely. You know that Bow Wow’s a straight up movie star. He’s a movie star. He’s still on a movie set. I have to be getting him off a movie set to come and do some music for me, man.
[Since signing to Cash Money Records in 2009, Bow Wow has been working on his label debut, “Underrated” The release date, however, has been pushed back to later this year. Bow Wow announced the delay on his blog, saying that the reason is over “mixing plus clearances for the records.”]
Cash Money’s signing of the pop act Savvy--you looking for some of that Justin Bieber money?
Savvy, somebody brought that to me, and I watched them. They are international TV stars. I was enthused by the talent of them together. I think that they are going to be special. Their new series started (in the U.S. on Starz Kids & Family channel) and they are internationally huge. They show everywhere.
[Hailing from Texas, Savvy came together in 2004, and later headlined Radio Disney's "Feeling Groovy" mall tour. After the group released its first CD, “The Road to Fame” a TV series "The Wannabes" was developed around them. Launched in 2009, the series follows five high school students who attend a classical arts academy while pursuing their dream of becoming pop stars. The series is televised around the world.]
Cash Money’s signing of British R&B star Jay Sean in 2008 came as a surprise. He’s the first male British Asian singer to sign with a U.S. label
Jay is a different type artist to me. He makes great music. I love his new album (“Freeze Time”). It’s incredible. So far, he’s been a big digital artist. I think this album is the one we get both digital and over-the-counter on him.
Is it different marketing a rap or hip-hop artist than an R&B act?
Yeah, it’s different. It is very much different. Two different formats. Two different ways of marketing that are totally different. Some people like listening to that kind of music and there are people who listen to all that kind of music. Some people listen to just pop music. It’s different. Tying them all together makes sense to me. Tying Jay Sean and Wayne together; tying Nicki and Jay Sean, Wayne and Kevin Rudolph, and Tyger, I be tying it all together.
Mixtapes are a way for young artists to get their music out there. Mixtapes put Wayne and Drake where they are.
Mixtapes are another form of the culture. It is another form of the promotion; another form of being heard. Mixtapes have done a lot for careers. Now for us, it is just a form of getting the words out ‘cuz they (our artists) really like to rap a lot. Wayne dropped a mixtape before the album. Cory Gunz has got a mixtape. Jay Sean has got one. Twist. All of them do mixtapes. It’s great because people get them. You might have millions of downloads on them. Bow Wow has got one right now. It keep them (artists) relevant.
[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.]
Mixtapes also can sell in stores where you didn’t put them.
Man, that’s crazy. I don’t like that at all because there’s been the situation where you can get sued for shit like that because (people) are thinking that you put that out. We do mixtapes to give them away. We don’t sell mixtapes. But people get your music, and they do that.
Is it hard getting rap and hip-hop into retail these days? Are retailers receptive.
It is hard to get as much in the stores as it used to be. 9/11 changed everything. If you are not an artist with a name or haven’t made some popularity for yourself, it is really hard. That is why you have so many new and older artists that are doing so much less numbers than everybody on the rap side because stores are just not taking as much (product) as they used to, and people are not buying as much as they used to with new names.
Music on mobile phones is exploding.
Yeah, that’s the new world. It’s a different time.
Has it been difficult to keep returning to New Orleans following Katrina?
It’s difficult for me going back, period--because I have so much blood out there. So many of my people. My daddy’s dead; my mama’s dead; my sister’s dead; my brother’s dead; my grandparents on both sides are dead. For me, when I go back it’s like I go back to that. It brings me right back to my loved ones. I still go back but I don’t go to liking it because of the feeling I get when I do go back.
How difficult was dealing with your sister Tamara’s death in 2006?
That was the joy of my life right there, my sister was the next best thing to my mom, and I only knew my mama two years because she died when I was young but she was the world to me. That’s something that…
Tamara was studying to be a nurse.
She was graduating a week later, man before that accident happened. That was a pill that I could never swallow. I live with that pain, and I just pray on it for the strength. That was something that was hard for me to get through, but you know my “son” Wayne and my family strengthen me. Every loss that I take, every loss that I done took, I always tried to make it to me to be strong because I know that can weaken you. I watched my mama and them be weak because she lived through these debts too, my stepmother, my daddy, and her mom. So I got to be strong for the team. I let a loss always make me into a gain. I never let it pull me down because I’m human but I never let it do me that.
[In 2006, Tamara Williams, 26, was killed in a head-on collision when her 2006 Toyota Camry was struck by a motorist driving in the wrong direction down New Orleans' Causeway Boulevard. A married mother of three boys, she had been studying for a nursing degree at Our Lady of Holy Cross College in New Orleans.]
With your wealth, what charities do you support?
Well, we have our own foundation. We do school events. I think that is very important. We have sponsored a few parks. I do giveaways, randomly. I try to help my community, where I come from. I’m open to anything that makes a better way for the youngsters.
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. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
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