Chvrches Prepping Glassnote Debut After ‘Amazing Reaction’ To Singles – Billboard.com (March 2013)

Chvrches is self-admittedly tame. For a group that nails crunchy pop hooks with an ‘80s lean, the Glasgow-based trio values its humble approach, recording tracks in a basement studio in lieu of a professional one.

When it comes to reveling in the success of their breakout singles released last year, don’t expect to hear tales of trashed green rooms and gaudy purchases.

“I wish I had really rock and roll stories that we did tons of drugs and did terrible things,” says lead singer Lauren Mayberry, who formed Chvrches in September 2011 with Iain Cook and Martin Doherty. “I think we were lucky that we gelled so quickly. But when you’re just three people in a windowless basement all the time, you need to get on pretty well otherwise you will kill each other. Then, that would be a rock and roll story.”

The chemistry has yielded buzzy results: since the group released its debut single “Lies” last May, they’ve become overseas sensations, earning praise from NME and BBC, which ranked them at No. 5 on its Sound of 2013 list. A deal with Glassnote Records followed months later, aligning Chvrches with the white-hot label behind recent Grammy darlings Mumford & Sons and indie-rock giants Phoenix, among other artists.

Two weeks after its first U.S. tour kicks off in San Francisco on Mar. 10 — both of the band’s Mar. 18 shows at New York’s Mercury Lounge have already sold out — Chvrches will release its debut EP, “Recover,” on Mar. 26, offering three original cuts and two remixes fit for seedy hole-in-the-walls rife with dancefloor-friendly clientele.

The group’s natural success parallels fateful beginnings: 25-five-year-old Mayberry, who previously made ends meet as a freelance journalist, first cut her teeth as a musician as a member of Blue Sky Archives, providing backing vocals and playing keyboards. Cook was tapped to produce an EP for Archives, and after hitting the studio, he asked Mayberry to sing background vocals for a project he was working on with former University chum Doherty, then a touring member of The Twilight Sad.

“I don’t think any of us expected this amazing reaction from people,” says Mayberry. “Obviously, when you’re working at things, you all hope that people will relate to it. I’m not sure if it’s a timing thing, whereby people are looking for electronic pop mixed with a lyrical edge. I guess it’s hard to say, because you can read so many books on how to make your band known. But I don’t think there’s any way of making that happen, really.”

Chvrches’ harmony is due in part to shared influences including The Knife, Erasure’s Vince Clarke and A Tribe Called Quest. Mayberry says that the group keeps sane while recording in the studio by taking breaks to collectively watch Prince and Whitney Houston videos online. But while “similar interests” and “similar senses of humor” are bonding points, she boils down productivity to their creative process.

“When we first formed, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to play songs that are just written by someone else,’” she recalls. “But they were open immediately to changing things and we wrote as a group, which was pretty awesome in terms of them putting their trust in me. And it hopefully paid off, because hopefully we’re doing okay.”

So far, Chvrches is off to a solid start, having already opened for Passion Pit on their U.K. tour last fall. The group has re-recorded all of their demos in anticipation of their full-length debut, slated for release in late summer or early fall, and plans to head back to the lab after the North American tour wraps in late March. For now, they’re trying to deal with the sudden attention without compromising their art.

“We’re in this position where we’re trying not to fuck it up, to be honest,” says Mayberry. “We’re so lucky that so many people have responded so well and we’re just very aware that we have to make a good album that people are waiting on and will actually like. Hopefully, we won’t be distracted by any of the shiny things and do what we came here to do, which is to make a fresh records.”

Billboard.com

Posted: March 25th, 2013
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Vinny Cha$e Talks Epic Records Deal, Major Label Debut & Street Wear Fashion Line – Billboard Magazine (March 2013)

For Harlem rapper Vinny Cha$e, loyalty played a big role in his decision to turn down a deal with Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records and instead go with Epic and A&R Aaron Reid, son of chairman/CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid and a longtime friend of Cha$e. “What really enticed me was my bro Aaron Reid–just the relationship we have as friends. I trust him,” Cha$e says. “[It] wasn’t a big negotiation. We just wanted to do things right.”

Although the contract’s eye-popping price tag – $2.5 million – surely helped as well. The joint-venture deal with his Cheers Club label also allows Cha$e to retain publishing ownership. A former filmmaker for Lil Wayne and Cam’Ron, Cha$e released debut mixtape “The Plaza” in 2011 and built momentum with a stream of high-fashion-featuring videos, amassing 1.6 million views to his YouTube page.

Aaron Reid says he signed the rapper on the strength of his growing movement and relentless work ethic. “They have an amazing thing going on,” he says. “That’s the main reason they’re here today. We all work as a team. Now, they have the machine they need behind them.”

Cha$e is prepping a new mixtape ahead of his major-label debut and is also working on a line of affordable street wear. But he says these recent leaps and bounds won’t mean he’ll abandon the dark production and raspy, New York-centric rhymes of “Biggie and Jordans,” a standout from latest mixtape Golden Army. “We’re not going to jeopardize our brand,” Cha$e says. “We just want to be cutting edge and push the envelope.”

Billboard.com

Posted: March 25th, 2013
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Turn Up The Lights: Fall Out Boy Reunites After Three Years – Billboard Magazine (February 2013)

Three years after the band announced an indefinite hiatus, Fall Out Boy has returned with both fists swinging. On Feb. 4, the quartet, which splintered in 2009 to pursue side projects, announced a multipronged comeback: the release of new single “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)”; its accompanying video featuring rapper 2 Chainz; its fifth studio album, “Save Rock and Roll” (Island Def Jam), due May 7; an upcoming tour; and three intimate shows later that week in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York that sold out immediately.

The response has been substantial. “My Songs” is the Hot Shot Debut on both the Billboard Hot 100 (No. 26) and Hot Rock Songs (No. 8) this week, selling 162,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The video, filmed and released in less than a week, has amassed more than 660,000 views on YouTube and pushed weekly clicks on the band’s Vevo channel past 2 million. On Twitter, the group, which hadn’t tweeted since Sept. 12, 2012, received 48,000 mentions on the single’s release day and more than 100,000 replies in the week that followed. Across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, FOB attracted 130,000 new fans, a 392% increase over the previous week, entering at No. 49 on Billboard’s Social 50 chart.

But internally, the act’s re-emergence didn’t come without trepidation. “The hiatus was the healthiest thing for a while,” bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz says. “I needed to get my head right.”

Wentz explains that the quartet, which also includes lead singer Patrick Stump, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley, began working on new music 14 months ago, but it wasn’t until four or five months later that they produced presentable material. Collaborating with producer Butch Walker, the Chicago-area natives kept recordings under wraps, deciding to announce their comeback on the same day as their single appeared-unusual for a group whose third LP, “Infinity on High,” bowed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 2007.

“I remember there were moments like, ‘Maybe we’ll do this and no one will really care, but we’re doing it because we want to do it,’” Wentz says of the album. “I felt like the best marketing and promotion is just letting it speak for itself. It seemed right.”

Eric Wong, executive VP of marketing at Island Def Jam, says that the 33-date “Save Rock and Roll” tour, which launches May 14 in Milwaukee, sold out in less than 15 minutes. “The music speaks for itself,” he says. “Judging by the immediate reaction to the song, it’s responding really well across the board.”

Fall Out Boy promoted the single with performances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” (Feb. 13) and during the NBA All-Star Weekend (Feb. 16). Meanwhile, Island Def Jam serviced the single to multiple formats upon release, including alternative and mainstream top 40. Radio has reacted strongly, with alternative WROX Norfolk, Va., leading with 70 first-week plays. PD James Steele saw immediate potential. “This is looking very much like it’s going to be a No. 1 hit, unless for some odd reason it doesn’t test well,” he says. “But I highly doubt it.”

But Rich Davis, PD of mainstream top 40 KDWB Minneapolis, which gave the track 43 spins in its first week, says the song needs time to gestate. “It’s too early to tell,” he says. “I listen to a song and decide whether it’s good enough to be on my radio station. That gut is hopefully backed up by the benchmarks I see. It’s fairly early to know, but it’s pretty good so far.”

For band manager Bob McLynn of Crush Management, the single and tour are part of a long-in-the-making plan to start the band’s next chapter with a bang. “We didn’t want to come back and do a tour just to play old songs. It’s all about the future of Fall Out Boy,” he says. “We’ve been putting this plan together for about 10 months. The launch [was] more successful than we could’ve hoped for.”

Billboard.com

Posted: February 27th, 2013
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Joe Budden, Reps Talk ‘No Love Lost’ Album – Billboard Magazine (February 2013)

When it comes to his solo career, Joe Budden is his own conductor. The Jersey City, N.J., native, who released his self-titled debut in 2003, tasted mainstream success with his Grammy Award-nominated breakout single, “Pump It Up,” which peaked at No. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100. But after parting ways with Def Jam, the rapper took an independent approach powered by touring, social media and reality TV that’s paid off. On Feb. 5, Budden returns with his third solo retail release, “No Love Lost” (E1/Mood Muzik Entertainment), a testament to his approach to longevity.

“I’ve tried to eliminate as many of the middlemen as possible in my career, so the fans are dealing with me and the music,” Budden says of the LP, which features guest appearances from such names as Lil Wayne and Wiz Khalifa. “I wasn’t relying on the label to keep me relevant. It was about the relationship between me and the fans. That’s been a good model for me for success.”

Since the release of his 2009 retail sophomore album, “Padded Room” (Amalgam Digital), the 32-year-old has released acclaimed digital-only solo sets, mixtapes and a pair of albums with Slaughterhouse, a supergroup also consisting of Royce Da 5’9”, Crooked I and Joell Ortiz signed to Eminem’s Shady Records. Their latest, “Welcome To: Our House,” bowed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 104,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

For Budden, interacting with listeners has been paramount to staying relevant. He’s given them plenty of free music, most recently the November 2012 mixtape A Loose Quarter, which has been downloaded 265,000 times on DatPiff.com. Last year, he completed North American and European tours with Slaughterhouse and embarked on the Second First Impression solo tour in late 2012. And he uses social media much like his music, sharing intimate moments to create a bond with his audience. He’s amassed more than 638,000 followers on Twitter (@JoeBudden) and 408,000 on Instagram, where he posts lascivious pictures of his girlfriend and screenshots of text-message conversations.

Budden has parlayed his prominent online presence into lucrative opportunities. Earlier this month, VH1 debuted the third season of reality show “Love and Hip Hop,” which sees Budden opening up about substance abuse and personal relationships. According to Corey Newton, who co-manages Budden with Billy Jones, the show not only generated Budden revenue outside of music, it also served as a marketing tool for “No Love Lost.”

“With the album coming out, we thought we could capitalize,” he says. “It just made sense to be on multiple platforms at one time where people could get a look at him in a way that they haven’t [before].”

Some have criticized Budden’s willingness to discuss his personal life as oversharing. Roger Greene, who oversaw A&R on No Love Lost, disagrees. “People still want to see him perform and on television, because he became a lifestyle more than just a rapper,” he says. “A lot of these rappers just give you their three verses, but Joe gives a glimpse into his life. You understand him, because he invites you in, from his romantic side to his battle with addiction. Everyone has a Joe in their family.”

The connection with fans is paying off. His T-Minus-produced single, “She Don’t Put It Down,” which features Lil Wayne and Tank, reached No. 44 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, marking his first solo track to crack the top 50 since 2005. With three to four singles planned from No Love Lost, Budden will tour through the rest of the year and venture into acting, all while keeping an eye on what’s next.

“My No. 1 thing is always trying to stay ahead of whatever’s current,” Budden says. “In 2013, if I could figure out what everyone will be doing next, I’ll jump right on that.”

Billboard.com

Posted: February 8th, 2013
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Wanz Q&A: Meet the ‘F-ing Awesome’ Singer in ‘Thrift Shop’ – Billboard.com (February 2013)

It took only 45 minutes to change Michael Wansley’s life. The Seattle-based singer, known by his stage name Wanz, has found himself at the top of the charts with his bass-heavy credit on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop,” which has now enjoyed two weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100.

Last July, the 51-year-old fielded a call from Street Level Records owner D-Sane who got word that the hip-hop duo was looking for a Nate Dogg sound-alike to guest on their future smash. Wanz, who had heard of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis but never sat with their music, headed to the studio to lay down his catchy refrain at 1 a.m. The session went so smoothly that he was in bed an hour later.

Now, the former software test engineer is taking a shot at solo stardom. Having toured the country with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis over the past few months and performed with them on “The Ellen Show,” Wanz is building his brand on social networking sites and recording a six-track EP that he hopes to release before he joins the pair on their Australian trek next month.

Here, the Lakewood, Wash. native discusses his history with music, rediscovering Macklemore and how he hopes to crack the charts on his own.

What’s your background in music?
Music has always been a part of me. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. I was always in church choir, I was always in school choir. I was always singing, always singing every song on the radio. I went to Central Washington University where I was introduced to jazz. At that time, I had only known classical and pop stuff. And then I went and discovered jazz in college and I studied that for seven years and did pretty well at that.

When did things expand beyond jazz and choirs?
When I turned 21, I had a band called Boys Will Be Boys. We did some INXS covers. [Later] I formed another band called Life Ring and was doing primarily originals, playing bass. Then… I got asked to front a band called the Ghetto Monks and saw a little bit of success. That band kind of went its way and fell off. Then it was about five or six years ago, I started investing in writing my own music because I wasn’t hearing what I wanted to hear. I didn’t see it in the clubs. I didn’t see what I was hearing in my head.

How did you get linked with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis?
Through a strange twist, I got connected with a guy named D-Sane who is the owner of Street Level Records and he was doing underground hip-hop here in the North End of Seattle. One of his guys called me and asked me to sing a hook on one of his songs, and everybody dug it. That led to my career in singing hooks. So that same guy calls me on Monday night in July and asks if I’ve heard of a guy named Macklemore and I said I’d heard of him but I wasn’t familiar with the music. He was looking for a guy that sounds like Nate Dogg. For a decade, I’ve been known as the Nate Dogg of North End in Seattle in that little circle of underground hip-hop. He called me back like five minutes later and said they want to bring you in. So 45 minutes later I’m at the studio and meeting Ben and Ryan for the first time and talking about what my history is, Ghetto Monks this and my own originals and what I wanted to do. Ben showed me the hook for ‘Thrift Shop’ and said ‘Sort of like this.’ I sang a line to him and he said yeah, like that. I go in and get levels and 45 minutes later, I’m going home. Pretty quick, quicker than anybody imagined.

How was it shooting the video for “Thrift Shop?”
I went up and filmed and the next day, I did the boat scenes. By this time, I hadn’t heard the whole song. It’s been about six weeks since I recorded the session and I still haven’t heard the song. So Ryan is taking me up to catch a bus on the North End and I was asking him to play the final song and it was the first time I heard it and I loved it and thought it was great. The video dropped and I’m sitting at my desk watching the numbers go up, it got up to about 1,000, 1,500, I just looked out the window and went, uh oh. I came back the next day and it had tripled in size, and I said, uh oh, and started pushing it out to my Facebook people, and the rest, as they say, is history. I got asked to go on tour. I had never been on tour before. Then, I’m on the phone with my boss’ boss and the HR person and they’re saying, are you going to come back? And I said, well, at my age, these kinds of opportunities don’t come along. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen again. So I’ve got to stay out here and do this, because this is a dream come true. Dream come true shit for me.

What was your day job?
I was about a year and a half working at a company that was paying me really good money to be a software test engineer, and that was my career of choice since music wasn’t panning out. I was doing software testing for 13 years, but spent most of that time contracting out of Microsoft. But I finally landed a full-time paying job with a great salary, great benefits… I thought I had arrived, I thought I was done. It was just doing music on the side, doing my own recordings on the side, that was for me.

Are you surprised by the success of ‘Thrift Shop?’
[Laughs] No. When I left the studio after recording, we were all really just happy as clams. I don’t think those guys had ever been at that short of a session that had been done that well. After the video shoot, I actually went back into the catalog because I didn’t really know Macklemore. [It was] after the first video shoot that I went and downloaded “The Language of My World” and listened to “White Privilege” that I actually connected with him. There are a lot of commonalities in his story that I have. I found somebody who had that same passion, because I had never run into anybody like that before. But I never thought “Thrift” was going to be as big as it was, but then again I didn’t know that he had done all of this work.

What’s next for you? Are you talking with labels or looking to go on the road on your own?
My game plan right now is to first and foremost get myself branded so that I have something. I have a six-song EP that I’m working on, it’s at the mixing stage, and I’m trying to get it all done so that I have it on a site where people can buy it by the time we go to Australia in February. I just can’t put all this attention (72 million views for “Thrift” on YouTube) and just sit at home, not when I’ve been dreaming the dreams I’ve had for all my life.

This is a shot that I get. You do what you’re supposed to do, and that is you put the product out there. I’ve been around so many bands, been around music for so long and watched so many people try and think they know what they’re doing and think this, that or the other. Now, it’s my turn. You only get one bite of this apple. At 51 years old, what are the odds that this is ever going to happen again? Pretty slim.

Billboard.com

Posted: February 8th, 2013
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Lil Wayne’s Manager Cortez Bryant & Mike WiLL Made It Talk ‘Love Me’ Single – Billboard Magazine (February 2013)

Lil Wayne didn’t intend for his new single “Love Me” to grow so quickly after its release in late December. The Mike WiLL Made It-produced track, which features Drake and Future, rises from 53-16 on the Hot 100 with 171,000 digital downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan, bringing its sales total to 249,000. The success comes mere weeks after YMCMB’s DJ Stevie J and DJ E-Feezy debuted the song at a Miami club.

Wayne’s manager and co-CEO of Blueprint Group Cortez Bryant explains that, following the single’s debut, he passed the record off to key influencers in radio and clubs. Without much more promoting, program directors began adding “Love Me,” a single off the rapper’s oft-delayed “I Am Not a Human Being II,” now scheduled to be released on March 26.

“It happened really fast and organically; it didn’t take months to build,” Bryant says. “That speaks for itself, that the record is that powerful.” Universal and YMCMB are now seeking adds at rhythmic and R&B/hip-hop, where it has 1,300 spins, according to Nielsen BDS.

“It will be a No. 1 record for [R&B/hip-hop] radio,” says Phillip David March, PD at mainstream R&B/hip-hop station WGZB in Louisville, KY. Pop potential may be more elusive, though. “Crossover? I just don’t know because even [edited], it’s still got provocative lyrics,” he says. “It’s hard to say.”

Mike WiLL Made It, who also helmed G.O.O.D. Music’s “Mercy” and Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” disagrees. He originally created the song with just Drake and Future but knew that Wayne could take it to the top. “It’s almost like Megatron: All the pieces just came together,” he says. “I’m not trying to sound like a cocky-ass producer, but it’s right on time. Nothing sounds like that on the radio.”

“Love Me” is the third single from “I Am Not A Human Being II.” “My homies Still,” released last June, peaked at No. 38 on the Hot 100, while “No Worries,” released in September, reached No. 29. With a music video for “Love Me” on the way, success at R&B/hip-hop radio will dictate future plans on other formats.

“The pop side hasn’t moved yet. They take longer to get on these things,” Bryant says. “My expectations aren’t for that, though. I just put it out as another [R&B/hip-hop] single. So if it crosses over to pop, that’d be wonderful.”

Billboard.com

Posted: February 8th, 2013
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Kitty Gets Serious, Outgrows ‘Tumblr-Wave’ Tag on ‘D.A.I.S.Y. Rage’ EP – Billboard.com (January 2013)

After mining Internet gold with her tongue-in-cheek sleeper hit “Okay Cupid,” Kitty didn’t see a future in hip-hop. Formerly known as Kitty Pryde, the 19-year-old rapstress, whose mildly sardonic tone supports her tee-hee persona, approached the genre with a grain of salt, penning odes to Justin Bieber and turning Carly Rae Jepsen’s biggest hit into the funhouse anthem “Give Me Scabies.”

With her latest offering, the D.A.I.S.Y. Rage EP, the Florida native is trying a little harder. Kitty approached the eight-song project with the intention of taking her career seriously, focusing on producing better work after realizing that she could make an impact within the genre.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to be a rapper anymore. But I had come to New York and started making friends with other rappers,” recalls Kitty, who tells Billboard that Danny Brown encouraged her to pursue her passion. “It took me a while to have songs that I wasn’t super embarrassed of — even though now I’ve recorded them and there’s some regret.”

Her pause doesn’t shine through on the EP, an electro-singed collection of chanting tracks that tout beefier production than previous recordings. The harp-laden “No Offense” plays to Kitty’s dream-rap leanings, while “R.R.E.A.M.” is a dizzying ode to Benadryl that re-interpolates Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” She also revisits “ay shawty: THE SHREKONING,” a gooey cut featured on last summer’s Haha I’m Here EP that recurs as “Ay Shawty” featuring Lakutis.

“It’s a completely different song. But I think it shows that I put work into something,” says Kitty, who normally does tracks in one shot. “I don’t know if it even sounds like that, maybe. I was kind of drunk when I recorded that because I was scared to do it around Lakutis. It was a little bit off, and I wouldn’t do any more takes, so it doesn’t sound that great. But, you know, whatever.”

Kitty’s early introduction to rap was more or less a gag. She released projects titled Jokers in Trousers and The Lizzie McGuire Experience, posting half-sarcastic entries on Tumblr and treating music like a teenage pipe dream. But the redhead mounted Web interest through music videos shot in her bedroom and on the boardwalk with fellow rapper Riff Raff.

When it came time to record D.A.I.S.Y. Rage, Kitty was prepared to lay down a genuine release. She started writing tracks in July and hit the studio in the end of October, petrified by the professional atmosphere. “I actually did it in a studio, which was so awful and terrifying. I hate studios so much. I had to seriously do psychological warm-ups before I went to that studio, it was really weird,” says Kitty, who admits to crying after every live performance. “But I guess in the end, you can at least understand what I’m saying now and it doesn’t sound like I’m talking through a tin can. So hopefully that’s better.”

The independent release, which took a week to record and another to mix, came on the heels of label interest. Even so, Kitty had seen from firsthand experience that inking a deal with a major could hamper her creative integrity. “I’m scared of labels because even before I started rapping, I have a lot of friends at home that are in bands and you hear stories about how they can tell you what to do and keep you from putting out stuff and make you change stuff that you do,” she says. “I’m not on a label right now, at all. I don’t really know what I want to do, but hopefully something cool will happen.”

Currently based in Florida, Kitty is splitting her time between her native Daytona Beach and Brooklyn, where she hangs out with her boyfriend Hot Sugar. Her daily musings can be found on her Tumblr, where she opens up about her battle with an eating disorder and dismissively responds to anonymous anti-comments.

To Kitty, a presence on the social media platform allows her to communicate with those who battle the same demons. “It seems like it would be a teenage girl thing,” says Kitty, who takes offense to the label “Tumblr-wave” often applied to her music. “It’s where people talk about gross or dumb emotional stuff, and that’s what all my songs sound like: someone’s blog post. Which they are. So that makes sense, I guess.”

Following the release of D.A.I.S.Y. Rage, Kitty has no specific plans to drop more music, but promises guest appearances on songs with Ryan Hemsworth and Hot Sugar (she most recently collaborated with Le1f on “Pocahontas”).

“I’m definitely not going anywhere, and there’s a lot of stuff I always wanted to do,” she says. “I’m just kind of doing what happens, taking whatever comes. If I don’t wind up being a rapper, it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to stop me from making music, because if I stop making money, I’d get another job and still make music. Whatever.”

Billboard.com

Posted: January 31st, 2013
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Conor Maynard on ‘Contrast’ and All Those Justin Bieber Comparisons – RollingStone.com (January 2013)

British singer Conor Maynard has made peace with the Justin Bieber comparisons. The 20-year-old heartthrob has similar origins to the Canadian pop star, having uploaded DIY covers of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” and Chris Brown’s “Freeze” to YouTube before scoring a deal with Capitol Records early last year. They’ve even got similarly boyish good looks that fire up fan bases of screaming teens, but Maynard is quick to draw the line.

“The difference between us is in the music,” the Brighton native tells Rolling Stone. “For me, obviously we’re both young and that kind of thing. But when people hear more of the album, they start to realize that it’s maybe not quite a complete copy.”

Maynard has a shot at carving a distinct pop niche with his debut, Contrast, which hit U.S. retail this past week and the U.K. market in July, where it went Number One. For the album, he channels his inner Timberlake with hip-hop and club-thumping accoutrements, enlisting Pharrell for the Justified-worthy “Lift Off” and “Turn Around,” the latter which touts a guest appearance from his mentor Ne-Yo.

Though he’s aware of the responsibility that comes with being in the mainstream arena, Maynard pays it no mind. He’s a self-professed club kid, as evidenced by the dubstep-singed single “Vegas Girl” and synth-heavy “Animal.” Unlike Bieber, who was recently snapped puffing weed, Maynard knows when to keep his private life shielded, and he recalls recent holiday nights at his local haunt where he evaded paparazzi shots.

“You’ve just got to know what you’re doing,” he explains. “You’ve got to sit back and realize that because of what we do, what artists do, they’re interested in what you’re doing. You’ve got to be conscious of that. You’ve got to realize that this is your life and that’s the consequence I have to pay for all the amazing things I’ve achieved. You have to find that balance.”

Maynard’s star is certainly on the rise; he won MTV’s “Brand New for 2012″ award, beating out Lana Del Rey and Michael Kiwanuka. Contrast has landed on Top 20 charts worldwide. On his album, he stakes adult territory with guest Rita Ora on “Better Than You” (“Got everybody lookin’ like I’m a true player,” he croons) and even nabs a coveted songwriting credit from Frank Ocean on “Pictures.” Maynard openly flaunts his love of Lil Wayne and hails Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city as one of his favorite recent releases. “It’s cool how he writes almost like the same verse but changes it each way. The way he writes is incredible,” says Maynard, who also name-checks Jay-Z, Kanye West and Drake as some of his choice emcees.

However, he’s a pop tart at heart. With the Euro-blanched “Turn Around” gaining traction Stateside, Maynard is already back at work on the follow-up to Contrast and plotting how to corner international markets in 2013. He hopes the naysayers witness his live show – “I want to prove them wrong,” he says – but he’s more concerned with pushing aside tabloid antics and focusing on output.

“With incredible names like Pharrell and Frank Ocean on my album, they’re so respected for their music, first and foremost. I feel like that’s the kind of thing I’m going for,” he says. “I want people to respect me for the voice I have and the music I have to give. Whether that means paparazzi chasing me around, I don’t know. But as long as there are people out there listening to and enjoying my music, I’m happy.”


RollingStone.com

Posted: January 15th, 2013
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Ester Dean Talks Debut Album & ‘Pitch Perfect’ Success – Billboard Magazine (January 2013)

Ester Dean has spent the past few years penning hits for everyone but herself. Since 2006, the singer/songwriter has built a resume packed with chart-topping singles including Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been,” Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” and Katy Perry’s “Firework.” But after a few false starts to her singing career, the 26-year-old is ready to take the spotlight.

Following her big-screen debut in movie musical “Pitch Perfect,” the Muskogee, Okla., native is prepping her studio debut, “Story Never Told” (Interscope), which is currently without a street date, though it was completed five months ago. The disc will be led by the single “How You Love It,” featuring Missy Elliott, but Dean drummed up buzz by closing 2012 with a self-financed video for slow jam “Baby Making Love.” She’s also prepping a mixtape for later this winter. She’s flirted with solo success before-2009 single “Drop It Low” with Chris Brown peaked at No. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100-but now, she’s prepared to go full swing.

“I’m more than a songwriter. I’m a creative person,” Dean says. “Some people you just always see. I won’t allow you to see me unless it makes sense. There’s a reason to see me.”

Dean is scoring on the charts with the “Pitch Perfect” soundtrack, which features her singing on several songs alongside the ensemble cast (most notably her rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”). The album has skyrocketed in the past three weeks, rising 45-10-7 on the Billboard 200 and selling 142,000 copies-a whopping 54% of its sales since its September release. The success surprised even Dean.

“It’s crazy because I tried to pause the songwriting part to do the movie, even though I wrote songs while I was there,” says Dean, who penned “Where Have You Been” and Machine Gun Kelly’s “Invincible” on the set. “For me to put a hold on it and it still ends up on the charts? It’s so funny.”

Dean aims to continue acting (though she doesn’t yet have any roles lined up) and plans to launch an animation company to build on her Hollywood breakthrough. She also recently started her own production company and hit the studio with Britney Spears for her upcoming album, though she’s mum on details. It’s all part of Dean’s master plan to succeed on her own terms.

Dean was reportedly signed to Roc Nation management, but a label representative confirms that she is currently without management. She announced the signing via Twitter on January 2012: “I’m so Grateful 4 my Team Past and Present! Bringing in the New Year with my new Team @RocNation 2012.”

“I see what other people do and what songwriters don’t. They don’t get out and take care of themselves,” she says. “Producers turn themselves into a massive brand. Songwriters tend to be under someone else’s umbrella. If you’re building your own legacy, it can’t be under an umbrella. I’m not looking to be an artist to make money. I’m looking to be an artist.”

Billboard.com

Posted: January 14th, 2013
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Fun. Producer Jeff Bhasker Caps Big Year With Grammy Nods – RollingStone.com (January 2013)

In 2012, producer Jeff Bhasker put the charts in a chokehold. The Socorro, New Mexico native, whose name already dotted the liner notes for albums by Kanye West, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé, accented Fun.’s theatrical leanings with shades of hip-hop as the executive producer for their album Some Nights. With two Best Rap Song Grammys already on the mantle for his work on West’s “All of the Lights” and Jay-Z’s “Run This Town,” Bhasker isn’t sweating his four nods for this year’s ceremony.

“It’s kind of exciting, because Some Nights was kind of my baby,” says Bhasker, who was nominated for Album of the Year, Song and Record of the Year (“We Are Young”) and Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. “We did so much, taking this project from ground zero to this point. It’s great for them to be nominated for Best New Artist and all that stuff. Now we just have to win.”

The Grammy hat-tip is the crown on Bhasker’s most successful year to date. He hit the studio with the Rolling Stones for their reunion single “Doom and Gloom,” a crisp jolt of riot rock that recalls the rebellion of recordings past. Though Bhasker’s resume runs long, he bowed to the pressure of shaping the group’s first track in seven years.

“I was completely freaked out about the whole idea of it,” he tells Rolling Stone, noting that future collaborations are a possibility. “It was terrifying at first. I thought they wanted me to do the whole album, and I was intimidated by that. But we worked really well together. It’s like hipsters without the bullshit. They’re not bullshit, but they’re hip.”

Fielding requests from the Stones hasn’t ballooned Bhasker’s ego. Instead, he’s spending the upcoming year producing for newer artists, finishing work as executive producer on pop bruiser Natalia Kills’ sophomore album Trouble (“It’s some of my best production yet, and has its own dark angle on things”). He also crafted a new song for the pouty Lykke Li, describing the track as having a “classic sound that takes you back to the 1950s.”

And after years of studio thumping, Bhasker intends to crack the divide and release solo music under his alter egos Billy Kraven and U.G.L.Y. During his downtime, he’s recorded “blue-eyed soul” songs for the Kraven project, knocking out personal demos that ended up becoming Beyoncé’s “I Care” (originally titled “Who Cares”) and Keys’ “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart.”

“It’s a struggle to find time for this imaginary alter ego that you have,” he says. “Now it’s just like, let’s wrap it up and get it out there.”

He hasn’t yet contributed to Beyoncé’s upcoming fifth album and is quick to skirt around the subject of his involvement with West’s upcoming solo album and G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Winter compilation: “I’d probably be assassinated” if he talked. For now, he plans to take the formula he used with Fun. and apply it to an undiscovered R&B talent.

“I would love to work with the next Alicia Keys and Beyoncé. It’s not out there right now. R&B is just in trouble,” he explains. “Where is the Aaliyah for this generation? I would love to do some amazing R&B songs with a female R&B artist that can really make someone cry or feel something. That would be amazing.”

RollingStone.com

Posted: January 11th, 2013
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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Crash Radio With ‘Thrift Shop’ – Billboard Magazine (January 2013)

Macklemore and his producer partner Ryan Lewis call their own shots. During the past year, the Seattle-based hip-hop duo independently skyrocketed to fame on the strength of rigorous touring, social-media savvy and word-of-mouth marketing, all without major-label aid. Upon releasing their debut, “The Heist,” in October, the album entered the Billboard 200 at No. 2 with 78,000 copies sold and has moved 213,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Following a sold-out 50-date tour through December, the duo is now applying its independent ethos to radio to build lead single “Thrift Shop,” a horn-festooned anthem celebrating fashionable frugality, to unexpected heights. The self-directed video for the track hit YouTube on Aug. 29 and has since racked up almost 42 million views. Backed by radio-promotion muscle from Alternative Distribution Alliance and Warner Bros., the song sits at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Now in its ninth week, it bullets at No. 17 on Alternative, No. 18 on Rhythmic and No. 27 on Mainstream Top 40, which helped propel the unlikely hit to 1.1 million downloads.

Macklemore (born Ben Haggerty) initially met with ADA, an independent distribution arm of Warner Bros., last summer after associates at respected indie labels Sub Pop and Rhymesayers tipped the company to his momentum. Both parties agreed to a one-album deal for the company to handle distribution of The Heist on physical and digital platforms. For Macklemore and Lewis, who run their self-titled limited liability company, keeping complete control over their properties and maintaining artistic integrity were key benefits in partnering with ADA.

“They really let us mold our own deal and they’re very open to different ideas and ways of working together,” says Macklemore, who first met Lewis through Myspace roughly five years ago. “This is the first time that we’d gone with a distribution company and brought in anybody else. They’ve turned into family, and you hope that when you open the doors and embrace the idea of working with new people that they turn into individuals who are friends.”

Days after the video for “Thrift Shop” debuted, alternative radio organically began picking up the track, with WBRU Providence, R.I., serving as the first Alternative chart reporter to give it a spin on Sept. 2. After the clip clocked more than 4 million YouTube views in less than a month and the album’s impressive Billboard 200 debut, ­Macklemore agreed to a one-off deal with ADA for at least three months to service the song in the alternative market. ADA sent the song to key tastemakers, and the response was so overwhelming that it expanded its servicing across stations within the format-an unusual approach for the company, according to ADA president David Orleans.

“While that hasn’t been our history, it’s our present and future,” Orleans says, noting that typical single campaigns span between 10 and 12 weeks ahead of an album’s street date. “We didn’t do the deal because we thought we had a radio hit; we thought we had an album, a touring band, a band that was synced up with a huge social network, and that in itself was interesting enough for us to be very enthusiastic about the project. Then we got into it and were like, ‘Holy shit! Maybe we’ve got a radio record.’”

As the song gained traction at alternative, pop and rhythmic formats independently turned to “Thrift Shop” without heeding to a campaign. Roughly one month ago, Macklemore and his manager, Zach Quillen (formerly of the Agency Group), saw an opening to amplify the track’s success and connected with Warner Bros. to sign a similar one-off deal to service the other two formats.

Macklemore explains that their groundwork afforded them leverage in negotiating with Warner. Playing to sold-out venues across the country, he has built his success both offline and on, touting 267,000 Twitter followers, 476,000 Facebook likes and 169,000 YouTube subscribers. “Warner had never done this,” Macklemore says. “That’s the interesting thing about where the music industry is right now: You have major labels that are willing to take unconventional approaches because the old model is crumbling in front of us. They’re open to it.”

Quillen echoes Macklemore, advising upstart artists to avoid signing to majors and instead hire them for their services and reap the benefits. “Our business is set up exactly how it was when we released the album, but we have access to a great radio department at a major label that we essentially pay for out of our own pocket,” says Quillen, who previously booked Macklemore’s tours but became manager shortly after. “It’s obvious that we’ve built a certain amount of leverage in these negotiations, in that we own our own business, masters, publishing and merch company. Everything that we’ve done, we’ve retained ownership over. We’ve got a lot here that’s appealing to companies like Warner, and I think they’re talking long term.”

For some stations, adding the song to rotation went from taking a chance to meeting demand. Rhythmic KEZE Spokane, Wash., PD Zachary “Mayhem” Wellsandt played “Thrift Shop” on Oct. 16 after noticing Macklemore’s online presence and his sold-out show at the local Knitting Factory. Now, the station leads in spins with 638 plays through Dec. 27-a reactionary response to listeners dialing in.

“I rarely get feedback on records from listeners, just because I think it’s a different time and age and activity, but whenever those phone lines were open, people were calling for it. It was bananas,” says Mayhem, whose station reaches 65,000 tune-ins. “It was already buzzing, and then once we started playing it, it was [an] immediate reaction.”

Mainstream top 40 KEGY San Diego PD Chris Patyk says that “Thrift Shop” still has room to grow. “It’s going to be on people’s playlists for a long time,” he says. KEGY, which gave the track 483 spins through Dec. 27, has an audience of 500,000. “It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle like that-I don’t even think we’re at the peak yet.”

Macklemore agrees. He plans to let the success of “Thrift Shop” ride out, but since he doesn’t have any concrete plans to follow with another single, he’s instead aiming to bank on touring through the year to expand his presence. He and Lewis have a college trek from March through May and have already sold out Denver’s 9,450-capacity Red Rocks Amphitheatre for Feb. 1, one of their biggest solo shows to date. Following a wider U.S. tour and gigs in Australia and New Zealand, where “Thrift Shop” has been No. 1 for six weeks, the two will either release an EP by year’s end or a full-length LP in early 2014. Additional music videos are on the way, as are collaborations with other artists, but Macklemore hopes that his success serves more as a lesson on how to make the industry work for you.

“It all comes down to leverage,” he says. “We didn’t have it six months ago but [we] have it now. But for other artists, you’ve got to want to still have creative control in order for a deal like this to be intriguing to you. It’s figuring out how to maintain your connection to your core fan base that has ridden with you from the jump and remembering them as you continue to grow. I’m looking forward to that in 2013.”

Posted: January 8th, 2013
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Alchemist Hopes to Launch Label in 2013, Preps Israeli Music-Inspired LP – Billboard Magazine (November 2012)

Veteran hip-hop producer and Eminem tour DJ Alan ” Alchemist” Maman has had a busy 2012. The Los Angeles native has helmed projects for Odd Future’s Domo Genesis (“No Idols”), Action Bronson (“Rare Chandeliers”) and his group Gangrene (“Vodka & Ayahuasca”). He also released the critically lauded solo album “Russian Roulette” (Decon), instrumental LP “Rapper’s Best Friend 2″ and free mixtape “Yacht Rock.” And he has two more already in the can — “Step Brothers,” with Evidence, and an untitled LP with Boldy James — that he hopes to release by year’s end. With plans to launch a label in 2013, Maman, who’s worked with everyone from Rick Ross to Mobb Deep to Dilated Peoples, doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

1. You were exceptionally productive this year. Why?
I don’t know what the hell it was. Just more freedom to swim, less dealing with labels and radio and promotion. I feel like the rate that we work, it’s hard to have a system at this moment that can channel it all out. I branched out to a lot of different people and companies and did a lot of things for different people this year just to see if I could do it myself, to churn out material, because I’ve got my studio and friends that are all excellent musicians. There are so many records I still didn’t get out this year that we worked on.

2. You’ve started to do more full-length collaborations with one particular artist. What do you enjoy about that?
There are stages to go through as an artist. At this moment, that’s where it’s the most comfortable, it’s the most fun, and it just so happens that people that are my friends are pretty much-hate to be arrogant-but they’re excellent. The environment I have over here at the studio is dope, in Los Angeles, in a hideaway. It just made for a good environment for a lot of creative people to come through.

3. “Russian Roulette” drew heavily from the sound and culture of Russia. Have you considered pegging another project to a particular culture?
Yeah. I have an instrumental project that’s coming out with all Israeli records from when I went to Israel. It’s all instrumentals. It’s not like “Russian Roulette.” I’m not sure exactly how I’ll do it, but it’s more beats chopped up. I make the type of shit I like to listen to. That’s pretty much the guideline.

4. Do you feel like you’re in a lane now where you’re more open to experimentation?
For sure. I feel like I play hooky from school sometimes with what I’m doing because it’s like, maybe I wouldn’t have done this at one point. But I don’t give a fuck because I know what I’m doing is coming from my gut and I’m going to make a style of my own. At the end of the day-and at the beginning of the day as well-I’m definitely trying to take more chances. It’s just music. You either like it or you don’t. If you get too much into the technique of it, sometimes you get lost.

5. You’re constantly name-checked as a great producer. Do you get the recognition that you deserve?
It’s a matter of perspective, but I guess that unless we’re at the top of the mountain, and there’s only a handful of people there, then we should always feel like we’re a little slept on. That’s probably what keeps us going. Maybe sometimes it might get a little slept on, but that’s why I try to make a mess and make a big fucking scene and drop a whole bunch of projects.

6. You have many projects in the works. What’s your goal for 2013?
This year was a run for me to see how it would work as far as me doing projects with artists and seeing how far we can push it. So next year my goal for the whole time is to have one outlet, one system. A direct connect to people who fuck with this. It’s in the process of being built. There’s going to be a new studio and everything. I’ve spread a bunch of projects out [in 2013] until my system is in place so I can deliver directly and become a brand you can trust.

Billboard.com

Posted: November 28th, 2012
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Freeway Talks Babygrande Partnership & ‘Diamond in the Ruff’ Album – Billboard Magazine (November 2012)

With more than a decade in the rap game, Freeway still has a hustler’s spirit. The Philadelphia native broke into music as one of the flagship members of Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella Records, and his 2003 debut, “Philadelphia Freeway,” bowed at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 542,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. After 2007 follow-up “Free at Last,” and his release from Roc-a-Fella and Def Jam the following year, Freeway took the independent route with 2010′s “The Stimulus Package” with producer Jake One-a precursor to his Babygrande Records debut, “Diamond in the Ruff,” out today (Nov. 27).

Freeway, who inked a one-album deal with Babygrande in July with an option to release another LP through the label, says the partnership was a no-brainer because of the artistic freedom. “Me being a free agent, the situation at Babygrande was hard to refuse,” says Freeway, who’ll also release the album through his Team Early imprint. “I just basically had total creative control. I got to do what I wanted to do, and it was actually a chance for me to establish my imprint. I’ve been working hard to build my brand, and they gave me that opportunity.”

“Diamond in the Ruff,” which Freeway spent two years recording, features guest appearances from Musiq Soulchild, Marsha Ambrosius and Vivian Green as well as production from Jake One, Bink!, Needlz and Just Blaze, who reunites with Freeway for the first time since helming the bulk of his debut. The LP recalls the gritty, soulful sound of prior albums, which Freeway says was inspired by once again feeling like a young, hungry artist.

Babygrande founder/CEO Chuck Wilson notes that Freeway targets three subcommunities in hip-hop: the streets, his peers and fans from his Roc-a-Fella days. In marketing the LP, Wilson has found that Freeway’s diverse fan base made it more difficult to promote. “For someone like Freeway that has this cross-appeal, you have to cast a wider net,” Wilson says. “You have to position everything so that none of those subcategories are alienated. The hope is that all the different fans will accept that and buy into that ‘agnostic’ marketing.”

To ramp up anticipation for the album, Freeway released his “Freedom of Speech” mixtape in October as a gift to fans and made a surprise appearance with Jay-Z at the ‘Made in America’ festival in Philadelphia in September. Building off the momentum, Babygrande has taken a standard approach to promoting “Diamond in the Ruff,” plotting radio and media appearances as well as eight to 10 prerelease performances in key markets including New York, Chicago and Atlanta. The label, which placed ads for the album on YouTube and handled street promotion, has leaned on Freeway’s interactions with fans on Twitter (@PhillyFreezer, 114,000 followers), Facebook (28,000 likes) and Instagram (66,000 followers), where he actively searches hashtags related to his music and engages in discussions.

Amir Abbassy, who has been the rapper’s day-to-day manager since early 2010, says Freeway’s engagement with online platforms has only increased his relevance between albums. “This time it’s a little different because Free is a lot more active in social media,” he says. “Folks that might not necessarily know about him through blogs can go on Instagram and Twitter and know that this guy has a project coming out. I can already see the difference between this and ‘The Stimulus Package.’”

While Freeway took a few years between albums, he’s already at work on a collaborative album with Brother Ali, a sequel to “The Stimulus Package” and is in talks with Just Blaze and Bink! to record separate full-lengths. Still, he says he’s approaching music like it’s his first day on the job. “I feel like a rookie and that I’m starting over again,” he says. “That’s the mentality I have going into the project. I want to keep giving fans good music and keep working. I still have a lot to say.”

Billboard.com

Posted: November 28th, 2012
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Wiz Khalifa Busts Out the Green at Listening Party – RollingStone.com (November 2012)

Wiz Khalifa has a two-pronged mind set on weed and greed. After locking in mainstream acclaim with his chart-rocking 2010 breakout “Black and Yellow,” the Pittsburgh spitter became one of the sole hip-hop artists in 2011 to blow past gold certification with his major label debut Rolling Papers, a Top 40-leaning bid that might have set back the smoked-out mixtapes of years prior.

Singles are few on Khalifa’s robust, 17-track second album O.N.I.F.C., finally releasing on December 4th after chronic delays. Instead it’s a return to his stoner roots, offset by an inflated need for green. Boasts of king-sized spliffs and stacking cash thread together the album, which was just debuted at the Manhattan strip joint the Westway for wrangled journalists, label personnel and industry vets, including DJ Kay Slay, Statik Selektah and Hot 97′s Peter Rosenberg.

As three jungle-cat-painted strippers gyrated on a rectangular island during the album’s playback, Khalifa puffed a blunt the size of a cotton candy cone before switching out for a modest joint midway through. The LP echoed the event’s atmosphere in musical form: clouded with smoke, glazed with strobing synths and peppered with tales of top-shelf partying.

“I got enough weed to last me the rest of my motherfuckin’ life,” he declares at the onset of “Paperbond,” a melancholy track offset by up-above rhymes and a searing vocal sample. “It’s all about the paper, it’s all about getting paid,” prefaced Khalifa, who emceed the event as nearby associates poured shots of gin. “That’s what brings us all together, this money. We all eatin’ off of this project.”

With that, Khalifa established himself as a coin swallower, tossing out backhanded hooks about fat pockets and riding in his own lane. On stripper anthems “The Plan” (featuring Juicy J) and “Bluffin,” he follows suit, stretching the money-hungry motif present on O.N.I.F.C.: “I got so much paper I just spend it like it’s nothing,” he taunts on the latter. Meanwhile, the album standout “Fall Asleep” is sparse on instrumentation, pockmarked with light taps on a pipe, offset by chest-thumping bars about lavish living.

There are pockets of mild introspection that temporarily lift the veil on dollar-sign eyes. The album takes a breath with “Rise Above,” produced by and featuring Pharrell Williams (“He made the beat for me right on the spot – I sat there and I smoked, like, 40 fucking joints,” recalled Wiz). The velveteen track features his tattoo artist, Tuki Carter, and baby’s mother Amber Rose, who offers a glimpse into the life of the man behind the materialism. On the Jim Jonsin-produced “Up In It,” Khalifa takes it to the bedroom, peeling back the hard-green coating of the rest of the LP.

O.N.I.F.C. is no Rolling Papers, neither in stature nor sound, but that’s actually part of its charm. Khalifa has entered another tax bracket over the past few years and he’s not afraid to show it, setting his triumphs against an intrepid soundscape that plays like a club-friendly version of Drake’s Take Care. His interests haven’t changed – it’s still all about marijuana and cash. While that’s still at the forefront, it somehow feels sincere, something that’s been lacking from his recent tracks.

RollingStone.com

Posted: November 27th, 2012
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Omarion Talks ‘Care Package’ EP & Career Growth – Billboard Magazine (November 2012)

Omarion doesn’t want to be seen as a teen pop star anymore. The 28-year-old singer, who stepped onto the scene as frontman for B2K in the early 2000s, began his solo career with 2005′s “O” (Epic), which debuted atop the Billboard 200 with 182,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Sophomore set “21″ (Epic) garnered similar success in 2006, crowning the chart with 119,000 units, but just four years later, “Ollusion,” released through Omarion’s imprint StarrWorld Entertainment and EMI, fell short, entering the Billboard 200 at No. 19 with only 21,000 sold.

After signing with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group earlier this year, the R&B star is ready to step into his adult shoes and release music that diverges from his previous teen-geared fare. On Nov. 29, Omarion will deliver his “Care Package” EP (Maybach Music Group/Warner Bros. Records) for free through file-sharing sites. The project features contributions from Problem, Tank and Wale, who appears on its first offering, “M.I.A.,” which is also included on MMG’s ” Self Made Vol. 2.”

For Omarion, the EP signifies a shift in his public perception and musical content, ushering his themes into a more mature strata. “A lot of my fans are adults and have children and lives. It’s really interesting because they still come out and support, the fans that used to chase my car. I think they ready,” he says. “This is the real grown-up me. This is that age when Beyoncé had ‘Crazy in Love’ and Michael Jackson had ‘Thriller,’ when Justin Timberlake had ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds.’ I feel like I’m at that age. I can’t wait to display this new me.”

His evolution from boy to man has been calculated. Prior to the release of “Ollusion,” Omarion was briefly signed to Young Money Entertainment but parted ways with the label after a few months. With his manager, Ketrina Askew, the former teen heartthrob planned to ditch the underage pandering and take control of his career. He planned on signing a deal with E1 Music, but happened to bump into Rick Ross at a strip club, putting the wheels into motion in getting a fresh start.

“We look at it as starting over from scratch. That’s where our approach is-that we don’t get complacent,” says Askew, who started working with Omarion after “Ollusion”‘s release. “This is the reintroduction and reinvention of Omarion. It was important that people see the real him, for people to know who he truly is. He’s not a teen-pop boy band singer anymore. He’s a grown man.”

To bolster the EP’s impact, Omarion shot a video for “M.I.A.,” which logged 250,000-plus YouTube views in its first three days of release. Warner plans to bank on Omarion’s social networks (@1Omarion, 737,000 followers) and saturate the online market with music videos.

“Omarion coming into the game, of course he was a singer and dancer but he had great visuals, which are going to be a big part of the EP as well as his album,” Warner urban A&R director Alaska Gedeon says. “This is a platform that allows him to get back to where he left off and then some, and then he can evolve into being more of a creative.”

Gedeon says the label plans to service “M.I.A.” to radio but is treating the EP as a “precursor” to his fourth solo album, for which Omarion has recorded 50 songs and hopes to release in the spring. He also plans to dabble in acting and open up a dance studio franchise in Los Angeles. Once fans hear the EP, he just wants his presence to be felt.

“I hope that they hear the emotion and take away one thing, and that’s that I’m coming,” Omarion says. “I’m going to continue to create music. I’m here, and that’s what it is.”

Billboard.com

Posted: November 27th, 2012
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Andre 3000 on ‘Making History’ as a Gillette Spokesperson and His Biggest Style Blunder – RollingStone.com (November 2012)

As the brand ambassador and “Master of Style” for Gillette, Andre 3000 is asking men to handle their facial hair with care. The OutKast rapper is supporting the Movember initiative for men to sprout and shape moustaches through the month, encouraging growers to upload a snapshot to Gillette’s Facebook app each day. For every pic put on the web, Gillette and its partner, Prostate Cancer Foundation, will donate one dollar to prostate and testicular cancer initiatives, as well as display the best ‘staches on a billboard in Times Square.

While in New York on the eMO’gency Styler Tour, Andre spoke with Rolling Stone about being considered a style icon, “making history” with Gillette and his biggest hair mistake of all time.

What made you want to get involved with Gillette as a style ambassador?

They reached out and they were doing a new campaign for style. They were like, “We’ve been doing research and we’ve noticed that men are changing facial hair.” In the history of Gillette, which is 150 years now, they never had anybody in their ads with facial hair. It’s always a clean-shaven guy. The world’s different now, so you see guys with beards. They’re trying to address that and the styling products to kind of do anything. I just felt honored that they considered me a stylish person and I just thought it was cool. I like to make history when I can. Today, we’re just taking it a step further with their support with Movember. So it’s all these cool guys with facial hair that supports a cool cause, prostate cancer. Women get their cool breast cancer thing. We need something cool, too.

So obviously, Movember is coming along pretty well for you.

I’ve been [doing] Movember since I was about 25.

Has this inspired you to style your facial hair differently?

I can’t do too much. My hair doesn’t really grow [on the sides of my face], it’s just kind of little pieces. My beard can really grow long, but I don’t want to look like Fu Manchu. I just keep it right here.

You’ve been looked at as a style icon in the hip-hop world, in that you take risks. Is your sense of style validated often?

Not often. But you know, in the business, it’s all about selling product and publications. So if you’re hot that year, you get that: “Oh, that person’s stylish!” And it’s really sometimes just to bring attention to the publication. So sometimes, you don’t know if you’re really stylish, or am I just cool for right now?

When you look back on your fashion choices over the years, is there anything that you regret?

One time, I just wanted color in my hair. I’ve always been obsessed with people who live underwater and mermaids and people from outer space, and my idea of what people from outer space would look like from other planets would be that everyone had white hair. For some reason, I’m obsessed with really old people with beautiful white, silver hair. I’ve always wanted to have it. So onstage, I started to wear white wigs. I really dug that, but then I took it a step further and had someone weave in white hair in my hair. So it was this white sculpture kind of thing. It really wasn’t cool at all.

You had a white hair weave?

Yes. It was not cool.

I mean, it sounds cool in theory.

Yeah! It was theatrical, I could say that. But when I look back on it, I was like, yeah, you were really having fun that day.

Over the past few years, we really haven’t seen much of you in the public eye. When you were doing the Gillette campaign, it came as sort of a surprise because it doesn’t seem like something you would normally do. What does it take for you to endorse something?

I think because I’ve been in the business for a long time, it has to be a reason. I don’t just do it because it’s here. Early in my career, you do everything that you can do to get out there. But now, being famous is not even cool to me anymore. It’s almost lame to be an entertainer now. It’s not fun. I kind of have to pick projects that I’m happy about or I feel like it’s a history-making thing, like it was cool to be part of this. At this point, it’s about making history more than making anything. The older you get, the more you’re like, everything has to count. You don’t just do stuff.

What’s been your reaction to people growing out moustaches for Movember?

It’s cool styles. One of my favorites is that right now, in 2012, you’ve got handlebars. That’s such an 1800s kind of thing, but it’s cool when you’re wearing jeans and boots. It’s like, I don’t know, like you should ride a [penny-farthing].

What do you hope this campaign accomplishes?

It’s stuff that’s going on anyways in the streets, but I think Gillette has tapped it and it’s about presenting it to the world and saying, hey, you got these guys. It’s not just one look. For 150 years, it was the clean-shaven look. That’s all that you had. Now, you have guys from all walks of life with different styles. It’s really just saying it’s a diverse world with facial hair. That’s it. With Movember, it’s the guys with that hair; now they can do something with it. Prostate cancer is really huge, especially in the African American community. It’s style for a good cause.

RollingStone.com

Posted: November 19th, 2012
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Andre 3000 on New Music: ‘Things Are Up in the Air’ – RollingStone.com (November 2012)

Andre 3000 knows he’s being watched. The Atlanta native, who rose to prominence as one-half of genre twisters Outkast, has lived quietly the past few years quietly, poking out his head to deliver spotlight-snatching verses on songs by Chris Brown, Ciara and Young Jeezy. With fewer than five musical cameos in 2012, the 37-year-old is aware that each guest appearance is another crank on the pressure knob.

“I miss creating all the time and I miss going with blinders on and not thinking about anything,” says Andre, who was in New York City promoting a Gillette facial hair trimmer. “It’s such a sad thing because now, people judge everything that I do. Because I don’t do it much, they analyze every word and before, you could’ve had a shitty verse and people just forgot about it. So it’s different now.”

Following the release of Outkast’s last album, Idlewild, in 2006, Andre went into near musical hibernation. But partner-in-rhyme Big Boi raised hopes for a comeback this past May, tweeting that his second album, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, would precede 3K’s solo debut, allegedly scheduled for this year. While Andre says that he flirts with some musical ideas, he has no concrete plans for a solo album and isn’t sure if he’ll release one.

“Things are kind of up in the air with me, and some days, I feel like yeah, I’ll do it. Some days, I feel like, I don’t. I don’t know the future of music right now. I have no idea what I do. I honestly don’t,” he says. “I record and I write ideas. I think I’ll always do that, for some reason. But I don’t know if it will go to another artist or will it be my stuff or will it go to some movie? I don’t know. I just kind of keep creating and hopefully, it’ll fall into a slot.”

Three Stacks was quick to skirt around Outkast reunion talk, and he said he was unaware of rumors that the duo was headed to Epic Records to reunite with L.A. Reid. “What’s crazy is, I don’t read the Internet. I’ve never had a Twitter, I’ve never had a Facebook,” he said. “None of that kind of stuff, because it makes me mad to read it sometimes. I just don’t. I don’t hear all the rumors.”

Though he’s off the grid, fans can expect to hear Andre 3000 on standout cut “Sorry” from T.I.’s upcoming album Trouble Man, as well as see him channel Jimi Hendrix in the biopic All is By My Side. For now, he’s working with Gillette to support the Prostate Cancer Foundation and tackling new music, one guest verse at a time. “My whole motivation is, I don’t want to mess these people’s songs up, more than anything than let me do something great,” he said. “I try to do great, but it’s just a different mind frame now. I don’t sit around and rap everyday. I don’t.”

RollingStone.com

Posted: November 19th, 2012
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First Listen: Rihanna Previews ‘Unapologetic’ Album in NYC – Billboard.com (November 2012)

With her seventh album in seven years, “Unapologetic,” Rihanna is finally growing up. Over the past few years, the Bajan crooner’s albums were dotted with kitschy double entendres about private parts (“Cockiness (Love It)”) and hat-tip anthems to knocking back shots (“Cheers (Drink to That)”). Her public image has been both slandered and bolstered by her personal decisions: she’s back in a friendship with her former lover Chris Brown, has been snapped by the paparazzi smoking marijuana on vacation and tweets expletives in strings.

But on “Unapologetic” (Nov. 19), pop’s busiest bad girl shapes up, focusing on matters of the heart over flaunting her musical middle finger. Yesterday (Nov. 10), Rihanna debuted the album for fans and press at Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club in Manhattan. To gain entry to the event, Rih Rih permitted access only to those who brought supplies for victims of Hurricane Sandy, adding to her own donation of 1,000 sleeping bags to the Daily News’ Hurricane Sandy relief effort.

Rihanna arrived after the album’s first play-through, making her way to VIP in black stockings, untied Timberland boots and a red-and-gold jacket adorned with bird stitching. She greeted label personnel including Roc Nation’s Jay Brown and Def Jam’s Gabe Tesoriero, demurely sipping a drink as fans gawked from general admission.

Her professionalism shone through, another facet of the confident yet love-perplexed grown woman behind “Unapologetic.” For an album title that underlines a lack of personal remorse, the 24-year-old is simultaneously vulnerable and commanding on the 14-track offering, enlisting guests including Future, Eminem, Chris Brown, David Guetta and Mikky Ekko to help shape the diverse project.

There are times where she lets her walls crumble, trading pledges of romantic allegiance to Ekko on the emotive ballad “Stay.” She gives into urges on “Loveeeeeee Song” featuring Future, where the two duet, “I don’t want to give you the wrong impression / I just want your love and affection.” And on album standout “Get It Over With,” co-written by James Fauntleroy and Brian Seals, her voice floats over a smoldering arrangement, hovering above a warren of harmonies. “I keep wondering, won’t you just fucking rain / And get it over with?” she sings.

Though self-reflective, she still likes to have fun. Ri playfully samples Ginuwine’s hump-dance anthem “Pony” on “Jump,” cutting the deadpan chorus with a blistering dubstep breakdown. Previous collaborator David Guetta helms the sinister opener “Phresh Off the Runway” and zippy “Right Now,” while “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” interpolates The Police’s “Message in a Bottle.”

The LP’s most surprising delight comes in the form of her duet with Chris Brown, “Nobody’s Business,” where they trade lines over a disco-kissed beat. “You’ll always be my boy,” she sings, to which he responds, “You’ll always be my girl.”

It’s at the end of the album that Rihanna sheds light on her greatest frienemy: the fame. Onlookers who swarmed her upon arrival were given a listen to the Emeli Sandé-penned deluxe edition bonus track “Half of Me,” a percussive ballad where the heroine explains that she’s more than just surface. “I’m the type that don’t give a fuck,” she sings, with a caveat. “Saw me on the television, that’s just the half / You saw the half of it / This is the life I live, and that’s just the half of it.” It’s an introspective cap to an album that tightropes between fleeting youth and accepting responsibility, in matters both public and private.

Billboard.com

Posted: November 13th, 2012
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Taylor Swift Hosts ‘Red’ Listening Party in New York – RollingStone.com (October 2012)

On the evening of the release of her fourth album, Red, Taylor Swift pit-stopped at Manhattan’s Skylight West to celebrate her partnership with Target for an exclusive deluxe edition that features three bonus studio cuts, two original demos and an acoustic version of album opener “State of Grace.”

Throngs of select teenage fans and corporate types mulled about the red-and-white hued space inspecting a dozen booths of Swift’s “favorite things,” including a candy buffet, photo stations and a CoverGirl makeup bar. Attendees convened at the lip of the main stage in anticipation of the country-pop princess’ arrival listening to Red jams, including the sprightly “22″ and the Nashville-cured “All Too Well.”

Following a brief introduction from TV personality Ross Matthews, the milk-voiced star emerged to greet fans who traveled from as far as Australia and Arizona. Sporting a sharp black cocktail dress and a severe fringe, Swift explained that she settled on the title for Red – which is saturated in tales from the romantic brink, including lead single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” – because it captures the breadth of feelings she experienced during the two years she recorded it.

Red, to me, is symbolic of really bold emotions, whether they be love emotions or hurt, anger, frustration, jealousy emotions. On either side, you’re feeling the most intense amount of emotion,” explained Swift, who wrote 30 to 35 songs for the project. “So these are really intense emotions for my songs, and I thought that would be the perfect title for it. I went to my record label and I was like, ‘I want to call my album Red.’ They shook their heads and said, ‘Target’s going to love this.’ And here we are!”

In the spirit of corporate cozying, Swift fielded questions from Twitter followers, including “What’s the one word to describe how you’re feeling today?” (Answer: “mystified.”) The 22-year-old bopped along to the crunch-pop anthem “Girl at Home” and shed some insight into one of her patented John Doe breakup ballads, “The Moment I Knew.”

“That song is about the worst birthday party I ever had,” she said. “My boyfriend just decided not to show up. And then we broke up. That’s the story! It’s going to be fine, I’ll be OK.”

Referring to songwriting as her at-home therapy, the bubbly blonde waxed melancholy with the bonus track “Come Back . . . Be Here,” a lesson in failing to take your own romantic advice. “It’s a song I wrote about a guy that I met, and then you meet someone and then they kind of have to go away, and it’s long distance all of a sudden,” says Swift, who bemoans her intercontinental fling on the mid-tempo cut. “You’re like, come back! Be here! It’s something I face constantly.”

With upcoming appearances on The View and The Late Show with David Letterman, Swift capped the evening with a moment of gratitude. “I didn’t think I had a shot at this,” she admitted. “But the thing about a song is that it’s a little message in a bottle, and you write something and you send it out into the world and maybe, someday, the person that you wrote that about, the person that you feel that about, might hear it. It’s kind of romantic.”

RollingStone.com

Posted: October 25th, 2012
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Stevie Nicks Headlines Elton John’s AIDS Foundation Gala in New York – RollingStone.com (October 2012)

The stars aligned for Elton John’s 11th annual “An Enduring Vision” benefit Monday in downtown New York, where VIP guests helped raise $2 million for the singer’s AIDS Foundation and Stevie Nicks took the stage as the night’s marquee performer.

“I think we used to hang out and do drugs together many years ago – if I could remember when [Fleetwood Mac's] Tusk came out,” joked John, arriving at Cipriani Wall Street with his partner, David Furnish, under sheets of pouring rain. “We’ve never asked her to do anything. The last few years, we’ve had R&B performers, and they’ve been brilliant. We thought, let’s just go the other way this year and ask Stevie, and she said yes, so we’re so thrilled.”

Inside, host Anderson Cooper guided the black-tie affair and introuced John and Furnish, who delivered their mission statement to guests including Brooke Shields, Alan Cumming, Courtney Love, Lance Bass and Cheyenne Jackson. “We’re going to keep shouting for as long and as loud as we need to end this epidemic,” exclaimed John. After an auction of an Andy Warhol print and tickets for Alec Baldwin’s Broadway play, Nicks closed out the night with a rousing, hour-long set of material both old and new. Caressing a mic stand adorned with swinging gold chains, the Fleetwood Mac frontwoman performed “Soldier’s Angel,” dedicating the track to John’s AIDS efforts.

“I started going to visit the soldiers at Bethesda from 2005,” Nicks said. “Elton is a soldier’s angel too, for AIDS, because we wouldn’t get anything done without him.” Nicks also took a stroll down memory lane with “Stand Back,” “Rhiannon,” “Dreams” and “Gold Dust Woman.” She slowed her pace for “Landslide,” calling the song “the foundation of [Fleetwood Mac's] whole career” before revving back up for the closer “Edge of Seventeen.” It was a raucous end to the evening, with tambourines shaking and uneaten slices of cake left behind.

Earlier in the night, Love told Rolling Stone she was excited to see Nicks perform for the first time in seven years. “When I was a little girl, I grew up on Elton and I grew up on Stevie,” said Love. “I’m really excited to be here.” The Hole frontwoman also revealed that she’s diving back into her solo career with the release of a new single, “This is War,” that comes ahead of a possible album. Love, who turned to ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha to assist with production, is eyeing a February 7th release for the upbeat track.

“I’d put it out right now because it’s a two-minute, 59-second song and it’s sick, slamming, great,” Love said. “I think it’ll go Number One in the U.K. However, in the United States, who fucking knows? I never thought I’d put out a 130, 135 BPM song. It’s a really fast rock song. I’m telling you, it’s probably the greatest rock song I’ve ever heard.”

Former ‘N Sync member Lance Bass also shared plans for new music. “I haven’t been in the studio for almost 10 years now. This year, I’m actually getting in the studio and working on some solo stuff,” said Bass, who remained mum on his collaborators. “I can’t say just yet – it’s a little premature, it’ll be a few months. But I’m excited to get the wheels turning again.”

RollingStone.com

Posted: October 16th, 2012
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Ke$ha’s ‘Warrior’: The Billboard Cover Story – Billboard Magazine (October 2012)

When Ke$ha burst onto the scene in 2009 — rapping through an Auto-Tune filter about brushing her teeth with whiskey and boys trying to “touch [her] junk” — the then-22-year-old quickly positioned herself as pop’s resident troublemaker and made the charts her home. In sales week that ended two days after Christmas of 2010, her bratty debut single, “TiK ToK,” smashed the record for highest single-week sales for a female solo artist with 600,000 digital downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan (the previous record-holder, Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” sold 419,000 one year earlier), and soared to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Dr. Luke- and Benny Blanco-produced anthem took just 11 weeks to top the chart, holding the peak position for nine weeks on its way to becoming the longest-running No. 1 debut single by a female artist since 1977, and the highest-selling digital single of all time, second only to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” with almost 14 million copies sold.

Ke$ha’s debut album, “Animal,” crowned the Billboard 200 when it arrived at the top of 2010 with 152,000 copies in its first week, according to SoundScan. Driven by an attractive $6.99 initial price point, it leveraged the sales record of “TiK ToK” with iTunes’ Complete My Album program and took full advantage of the holiday shopping season with a preorder program that launched Dec. 15, 2010. The result was another digital benchmark, this time for sales of a No. 1 album.

A series of top 10 hits, including “Your Love Is My Drug,” “Take It Off” and “Blah Blah Blah” (featuring 3OH!3) followed, and in November 2011, Ke$ha once again shot to the top of the Hot 100 with “We R Who We R,” the lead single from the EP “Cannibal,” which was also included in the deluxe-edition repackage of “Animal.” “We R Who We R” bowed at the peak position with more than 280,000 digital downloads. Ke$ha, who co-writes her own songs, was a hit factory, mining chart gold.

That is, until she took a break. After touring as the opening act on the North American leg of Rihanna’s 2010 Last Girl on Earth tour (which grossed $13.1 million from 18 reported shows, according to Billboard Boxscore) and then headlining the Get $leazy tour last year (grossing $2.1 million from nine shows), the Nashville-raised singer went on a month-long sabbatical before taking on her sophomore LP, “Warrior” (RCA/Kemosabe). Now, with “Warrior” set for a Dec. 4 release and lead single “D ie Young” gaining at radio (it’s the Greatest Gainer this week, despite falling 13-14 on the Hot 100), Ke$ha is back, much to RCA’s relief.

“I had the label breathing down my neck to come back and make a new record, and I kind of had to tell everybody to fuck off for a month,” says the singer/songwriter born Kesha Rose Sebert. When her solo tour wrapped in September 2011, Ke$ha dropped out of the public eye after Rio de Janeiro’s Rock in Rio Festival, making stops in South Africa and other locales before returning to the States in late October. She calls it a “spiritual journey,” a chance to get off the road and back to herself and the land: “I needed to get my head back on straight and sleep in the dirt for a little while. And then I came back and have literally been working on my record ever since.”

After a 14-month break from the top 40, Ke$ha returned to the upper reaches of the charts with the release of “Die Young” on Sept. 25. RCA chose WHTZ (Z100) New York to debut the track as part of Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio World Premiere program on the “Elvis Duran and the Morning Show,” which reaches 7 million listeners in 50-plus markets each morning. For the first day, it played the song every hour. The response was so strong that Z100 moved the cut to its “power new” category, playing the song every other hour to give it maximum exposure.

“You don’t really see reactions like this so quickly,” Z100 PD Sharon Dastur says. “It’s been a week-and-a-half and we feel like it was selling well. We put it into our research and it was enormous. It was just so interesting to see how a song could connect so quickly. I just know that this is going to be a huge, huge album for her and she’s really going to just pick up where she left off.”

The same day RCA distributed “Die Young” to digital retail, standard and deluxe edition preorders for “Warrior” were made available on iTunes for $9.99 and $11.99. (The latter includes four extra tracks.) This time, RCA opted out of iTunes’ Complete My Album program and instead offered consumers a free download of “Die Young” with every preorder of “Warrior.” Leading up to the album’s release, each of those preorder-driven free downloads counts toward the single’s total digital tally.

RCA Music Group president/COO Tom Corson says that so far, the method is paying off. “The preorder is beating our expectations and doing well,” he says. “Ke$ha had an incredible run with the first project, with ["Animal"] and then “Cannibal,” the repack. It was global. Hopefully, that’s what ["Warrior"] will do. Our intention is to cement her as an established pop star. When you listen to the album and all the possibilities on it, we have high hopes.”

That meant heeding to Ke$ha’s creative vision for Warrior. After dousing her vocals in Auto-Tune for her debut gave the critical community reason to believe that her voice was the product of technological tricks, Ke$ha set out to banish Auto-Tune almost entirely from the project and incorporate more guitars, which she had excluded from “Animal.”

“I got really sick of people saying that I couldn’t sing, because I can do very few things confidently in my life, and one of them is that I can sing,” she says. She was so adamant about proving herself that she first contemplated making “Warrior” a rock album. “I remember thinking [with "Animal"], ‘Oh, it’s just processed. People will learn that I can sing later.’ But after reading some reviews that were like, ‘She can’t sing,’ I finally was like, ‘Fuck that.’”

RCA senior VP of A&R and operations Rani Hancock notes how her abilities shine in the studio and onstage, echoing how critics often mistake the use of Auto-Tune for a lack of talent. “Ke$ha is really one of the best singers I’ve been in the studio with,” says Hancock, who served as A&R rep for “Warrior” as well as “Animal” and “Cannibal.” “She has an amazing voice and having been out on the road like she has, her voice has opened up from what it was previously. She really can sing her ass off. I think that she had a bad reputation, and her bad reputation was not justified.”

By going light on Auto-Tune, “Warrior” brings songwriting to the forefront. The LP features the collaborators who made “Animal” a pop powerhouse — Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco and Cirkut — but it also makes room for what Ke$ha terms her “dream team” consisting of the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, Iggy Pop, the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and fun.’s Nate Ruess, who co-penned “Die Young.”

FOR THE FULL COVER STORY, ORDER A COPY OF BILLBOARD

[Billboard.com]

Posted: October 16th, 2012
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Macklemore & Reps Talk ‘The Heist’ Debut & DIY Marketing Plan – Billboard Magazine (October 2012)

Seattle rapper Macklemore has finally arrived. After releasing his debut EP, “Open Your Eyes,” in 2000 (as Professor Macklemore) and his first solo full-length, “The Language of My World,” in 2005, and then taking a hiatus to battle his addiction to drugs and alcohol, Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis have built a buzzy movement without major-label backing. Yesterday (Oct. 9), the pair released its independent debut LP, “The Heist,” with distribution by the self-operated Alternative Distribution Alliance.

Lead single “Thrift Shop” peaked at No. 5 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Songs chart. It moves 25-23 on the tally lask week with 112,000 singles sold to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan, ahead of the album release.

Macklemore and Lewis met through Myspace roughly five years ago and released the joint debut “The VS.” EP in late 2009. The duo took its time building an audience by expanding regional popularity into a nationwide movement, staging sold-out tours across the United States and marketing tracks through social media.

“We are perfectly fine putting it out ourselves,” says Macklemore, born Ben Haggerty, who operates his indie company Macklemore LLC. “We are a small business that’s becoming a medium-sized business. With that, there is a learning curve and there are times when you feel like you don’t quite have the manpower to operate the business to the best of your ability. But we’re growing and we’re adapting to the best of our abilities.”

The Agency Group’s Zach Quillen played a key role in pushing Macklemore and Lewis beyond Washington state lines. After witnessing the group’s home-court prowess as an opening act at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre in 2010, Quillen soon became its booking agent and, later, manager, testing the duo’s reach by scheduling small shows along the West Coast. The gigs quickly reached capacity, signaling the artists’ room for growth.

“I’ll never put them in a venue that they can’t sell out,” says Quillen, who also encouraged Macklemore and Lewis to grow their online audience by filming more music videos for songs. The self-directed clip for “Thrift Shop” clocked more than 4 million YouTube views in less than a month. “Mackle­more and Ryan are extremely creative across a lot of different mediums. It’s not just music they focus on.”

Without a publishing or record deal, Macklemore and Lewis spent a few years recording “The Heist” on their own, employing the same DIY approach applied to their merchandise, tour posters and website. The group also inked a licensing deal to use the track “Can’t Hold Us” for an international Miller Genuine Draft campaign.

“It’s a lot of good ingredients coming together,” says Agency Group VP Peter Schwartz, who now books the duo with agent Joshua Dick. “[Mackle­more] is not as known yet as others that are taking the same route and are doing well, and he’s doing even better. There are a larger amount of variables contributing to that, but he’s putting out quality music and videos and has a great connection to his fans.”

With a small team that handles everything from marketing to graphic design, Macklemore and Lewis aren’t averse to one day linking with a major, so long as they keep all revenue from touring and merchandise. They just completed an almost entirely sold-out European tour and will swing back to the States this fall to play nearly 50 shows, including a headlining gig at Seattle’s WAMU Theater that already reached its 7,500-person capacity. They also plan to release an EP in 2013 following another tour. The wheels are moving fast, but with years in the game, Macklemore can keep up.

“It feels like I put a lot of years into this,” he says. “It hasn’t felt like it’s come overnight, but it’s moving faster than it ever has right now.”

Billboard.com

Posted: October 10th, 2012
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Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music Crew Take Manhattan – NME Magazine (September 2012)

Posted: September 27th, 2012
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Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J Explores His Solo Side – Billboard Magazine (September 2012)

After almost two decades in rap, Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J is making a grand entrance as a solo artist. With a handful of solo mixtapes and a pair of independent albums, the Memphis native took off from his longtime crew to sign a joint deal with Dr. Luke’s Kemosabe Records and Columbia, putting his major-label debut into motion.

The signing comes in the wake of Juicy J’s breakout hit, “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” featuring 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne. The solo version of the song was released in May, and the 37-year-old rapper tweeted a link to download the remix version of the Mike WiLL Made It-produced anthem in June. The track exploded on the club circuit and soon became a hit at R&B/hip-hop radio. This week the track is No. 14 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 11 on Rap Songs. It has sold 39,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The song caught Dr. Luke’s attention in the months that followed its debut. The producer had worked with Three 6 Mafia four years ago and reconnected with Juicy J to sign him to Kemosabe, which he brought to Sony in November 2011. Juicy J, already signed to Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang imprint and Columbia under his Three 6 Mafia deal, seized the opportunity to go into business with Luke by forming a mutually beneficial partnership.

“I call us ‘the Powerhouse 3,’ and we’re going to get in the studio and make hits,” Juicy J says, referring to Taylor Gang, Kemosabe and Columbia. He’s recording his first album as part of the deal and has already banked roughly 60 songs for the untitled project. Though Luke’s official involvement with the album is currently undetermined, Juicy J hopes to knock out an additional 15-20 songs with him. “I’ve been in the game for a while, and I do my shows now and sell out venues — 3,000, 4,000 people at a time,” he says. “It’s going to be something big.”

Luke, whose recent credits include Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been,” Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R” and B.o.B’s “Strange Clouds,” notes that Juicy J’s relationships in the industry prove his ability as a businessman and praises his drive.

“Juicy was already signed to Columbia, and they were gracious enough to say, ‘Hey, let’s do this together,’” says Luke, who executed the deal in less than two weeks. “I don’t look at it as just this record. I look at it as a long-term relationship with an artist that I have a ton of respect for and believe in. I’d love to be involved.”

With the record now a top 20 hit, Columbia sees Juicy J’s success as “traditional,” yet bolstered by his passionate work ethic. “It’s a great story of an artist who’s found his own renaissance,” Columbia senior VP of marketing Scott Greer says. Senior director of A&R JR Lindsey adds, “He’s got something that separates him from other artists. He’s definitely focused on making this one of the best albums he’s ever made, and that’s one of the most inspiring things, especially as an A&R.”

Juicy J is finishing up his Kemosabe debut and will hit the road as part of Khalifa’s 2050 tour through the fall. Another Three 6 Mafia album is up to Columbia, but he’s focused on keeping his solo buzz sustained. “I’m not going to go out without a fight,” Juicy J says. “I’m the guy who’s always going to hustle to the end. It was unexpected to me — I didn’t expect to be a solo artist. I was just promoting and it happened to come back to me. You can’t argue with that.”

Billboard.com

Posted: September 24th, 2012
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Future – Inked Magazine (September 2012)

Future’s career in hip-hop is about as long as his history with ink. While getting his feet wet in the rap game during the mid-’00s, the Atlanta native sharpened his lyrical tongue under the guidance of Dungeon Family members, including Goodie Mob’s Khujo, Big Rube, and his cousin Rico Wade.

To pledge his allegiance to the team, Future (born Nayvadius Wilburn) headed to Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood to get the crew’s name inscribed across his forearms at age 18. “It was just my crew. We had built that relationship and that was a way of showing my loyalty,” explains Future, who has since added his daughter’s name, a trumpet, and a pair of hands holding a rosary to his body.

His devotion to Dungeon Family paid off. Over the next few years, the rapper steadily gained his footing in the industry, releasing buzzy mix tapes like 2010’s Dirty Sprite, last year’s Free Bricks with Gucci Mane, and his latest street project, Astronaut Status. Signed to Epic Records in September of 2011, the rugged emcee scored hits, including the anthemic “Tony Montana” featuring Drake, “Magic” featuring T.I., and “Same Damn Time,” he also earned brownie points as co-writer for YC’s smash “Racks.”

But when it came time to release his major label debut, Pluto, in April 2012, Future knew that his star had potential to shine brighter. “I feel like it was one of those albums where people will catch on later, because I understand that with a name like that, it would take a while to go to space. So it takes a while for people to catch up, which is the bottom line,” he says. Future had previously released three mix tape tracks as singles from the record, and only recently delivered an original album cut, “Turn On the Lights.” “People get a chance to look at it in a whole different light. I’m a new artist again. It’s like my first run,” says Future.

He isn’t stopping there. This month, Future returns to his mix tape roots with the double disc Super Future, a prelude to his sophomore album, Future Hendrix, to be released in February 2013. He also plans on starring in and recording the soundtrack for the film LBG, which tells the story of kids who grow up together in a group home. And to commemorate his latest accomplishments, Future is eyeing real estate on his chest to tattoo his company’s name, FreeBandz.

For now, it’s all about taking his skills set sky-higher for upcoming projects. “I just want to show why I’m so different,” he says. “Elevation is growth, so I know I’m growing over a year’s time. The sound is going to be so much broader than Pluto. You’re going to be able to tell the first time you turn it on. You’ll hear the difference.”

InkedMag.com

Posted: September 19th, 2012
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Hot Dogs According To Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz – Brooklyn Bound Magazine (July 2012)

Posted: September 11th, 2012
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Go Inside Will.i.am’s Out-of-This-World Song Premiere – Billboard Magazine (August 2012)

NASA’s Curiosity rover wasn’t the only presence on Mars this week. To premiere his latest single, “Reach for the Stars (Mars Edition),” Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am partnered with NASA to beam the orchestra-laced track to the rover while it traveled to the Red Planet.

Upon landing, Curiosity transmitted the song back to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, Calif., where Will.i.am debuted the cut for NASA officials, JPL personnel, VIP attendees and 53 students from his hometown of Boyle Heights, Calif. The transmission of the song from Mars to Earth took nearly 15 minutes.

The unusual premiere speaks to Will.i.am’s larger initiative to inspire students and young people to cultivate an interest in science. At the JPL event, the artist, born William James Adams Jr., also announced a partnership between his i.am.angel Foundation and digital resource provider Discovery Education for a program called i.am.STEAM, intended to bring science, technology, engineering, art and math (or STEAM) to K-12 classrooms around the country.

Will.i.am isn’t the first musician whose music cracked Earth’s atmosphere. The Voyager deep-space probes, launched in 1977, house a copy of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” for instance, but Will.i.am became the first to have a song on Mars. He initially connected with NASA after buying a $5 million time block on ABC for the back-to-school one-hour TV special “i.am.FIRST-Science Is Rock and Roll” last August. (The special was filmed at the 2011 FIRST Robotics Championships for kids.) After the show, NASA administrator Charlie Bolden was piqued by Will.i.am’s educational initiative, inviting him to attend the Curiosity launch at Cape Canaveral in November and putting in motion the idea to beam an original song on a 708 million mile round trip between Earth and Mars.

Will.i.am set to work on the track, enlisting a 40-piece orchestra, two youth choirs and producer/rapper Lil Jon, who contributed additional vocals. But the song’s main goal was to engage the next generation in continuing science education. “We realize that as cool as this is, there was a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of STEAM education here on Earth,” i.am.angel Foundation executive director Justin Paschal says.

Shortly after the song’s out-of-this-world premiere, “Reach for the Stars” was made available to streaming services like Spotify and to iTunes. The track’s high-profile launch coincides with the upcoming release of Will.i.am’s often-delayed solo album, #WillPower, due this fall on Interscope. Will.i.am wouldn’t confirm that the song will end up on the album, which reportedly features guest appearances from Britney Spears, Nicole Scherzinger and Rihanna, instead saying that the focus is more about using music to highlight his mission.

“I have a record coming out but I have a whole bunch of facts and passion projects that bring opportunity to people that are [also] coming out. So if my music brings awareness to those things, that’s amazing,” Will.i.am says. “I’m not doing music to sell records. Even though selling a record is cool, the song being heard is more important. I have some of the most downloaded songs [of all time]. Am I supposed to compete with myself? Because I’m probably going to lose to myself. So I need to start doing things to bring opportunity.”

While the initiative stirred up media attention, Will.i.am is more focused on continuing his relationship with NASA, hoping that more will join in his efforts.

“We need the help of popular culture because if we don’t care and don’t start caring, then people that care about profits that contradict wellness and helping lives can manipulate the fact that we don’t care,” he says. “There are a whole bunch of forces out there to distract you from that. We need to make a difference.”

Billboard.com

Posted: September 2nd, 2012
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Slaughterhouse, Paul Rosenberg Talk ‘Welcome to Our House’ Album & Success – Billboard Magazine (August 2012)

Rap supergroup Slaughterhouse doesn’t quantify success in numbers. Following its self-titled debut on E1 Records in 2009, the quartet started work on its sophomore album, “Welcome to Our House.” Consisting of Royce Da 5’9″, Joe Budden, Crooked I and Joell Ortiz, the group-signed to Eminem’s Shady Records in January 2011-believes mainstream acclaim is secondary to what it has already accomplished.

“Eminem is arguably one of the most successful artists in the whole fucking world,” Crooked I says. “And he signed Slaughterhouse. You can’t get much more successful than being signed to that guy. Wherever the project goes, that’s where it goes. Hopefully people will feel the music. I know we put our best foot forward.”

On “Welcome to Our House,” due Aug. 28 through Shady/Interscope, the foursome builds on its prior projects-including last year’s Slaughterhouse EP-with marquee production from No I.D. and AraabMuzik, as well as guest slots from Cee Lo Green, Busta Rhymes, Swizz Beatz and Eminem, the lattermost also producing and mixing the majority of the LP. For Shady Records president Paul Rosenberg, signing the group aligned with the label’s respect for rappers who care more about lyricism than scoring a hit.

“The goal is to make a great album and, obviously, if we can get some wider acceptance in the process, we want to do that,” Rosenberg says. “I really believe that the [members are] in a group because they are the type of artists they are and make this type of core lyrical hip-hop that not everybody else is making these days.”

Under E1, the group had six days to knock out the debut LP, which has sold 77,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and debuted at No. 25 on the Billboard 200. Shady allowed the members to take their time in laying down tracks for the album and have a hand in determining a release date. The four artists scheduled breaks from their solo careers to record “Welcome to Our House” together in a studio, as opposed to shipping verses through the Internet. The benefits of signing with Shady became immediately evident.

“We were just allotted everything with a much greater scale this time,” Budden says. “There was much more support and a bigger budget, more brains, more ideas, more people invested.” Royce Da 5’9″ adds, “This is the first project that I was involved in that I didn’t feel was rushed. We made time to get together to record the album together. The fans will actually hear the cohesiveness of that.”

Following Yelawolf’s 2011 debut, “Radioactive,” Slaughterhouse is the first in a line of Shady acts with albums in the queue. In conjunction with Aftermath/Interscope, the imprint has already put out 50 Cent’s “New Day,” featuring Alicia Keys and Dr. Dre, which precedes the November release of 50′s next album, “Street King Immortal.” Eminem has begun work on the follow-up to 2010′s “Recovery” and last year’s “Hell: The Sequel,” a collaboration with Royce Da 5’9″ under the name Bad Meets Evil. There’s a deal in place with Casio and G-Shock in connection with Slaughterhouse and Eminem (both acts kicked off G-Shock’s 30th anniversary with a special show in New York in early August), and the label is considering the possibility of a Shady 2.0 tour for next year as long as it makes “financial sense,” Rosenberg says.

The label’s resurgence is part of a rebranding effort known as Shady 2.0, signaling the imprint’s return following a prior incarnation that featured acts including D12, Ca$his and Obie Trice. Mike “Heron” Herard, who co-manages Slaughterhouse with Crystal Leslie, acknowledges Shady’s efforts to promote the album through an online video series (the group’s YouTube channel has more than 1.7 million views) and international touring.

“It’s not about spending a lot of money,” Herard says. “They’re not expensive. But people are caring to put effort into making things happen. You get on these conference calls and endless shit with things never happening. But someone will follow up with you. It’s pretty amazing stuff.”

Prior to its Shady debut, Slaughterhouse released a comic book to iTunes on Aug. 14, as well as the single “Throw That” featuring Eminem on Aug. 21. The group also released its DJ Drama-hosted “On the House” mixtape featuring all original music. The penchant for releasing free songs speaks to the respect that the group holds for fans’ patience. “If we do something today, we feel like it’s old. So we want this mixtape to be fresh, and we’re getting it done,” Ortiz says. “We want this to be the pregame to the Super Bowl.”

While members of the group tease focus on solo careers post-album release, the quartet stays unified-but is willing to cut loose along the way. “As soon as the album comes out, you can find me at the local strip club, hanging off of the Hollywood sign,” Crooked I says. “We’ll probably do some shows, go out there and have fun with the fans. No doubt.”

Billboard.com

Posted: August 29th, 2012
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Busta Rhymes Is Back With ‘Year Of The Dragon’ – BlackBookMag.com (August 2012)

Busta Rhymes still has heat. On Tuesday, the hip-hop veteran released his new album Year of the Dragon for free via Google Play, a mutation of the free mixtape model that put rappers like Drake and Kendrick Lamar on the map. The project, which features guest appearances from Gucci Mane, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Robin Thicke and more, comes on the heels of his unique deal with Google to release music through its new platform, lumping him in a select chosen—Maroon 5, The Rolling Stones, Dave Matthews Band and Coldplay—to have the financial freedom to hand out free music while adding zeros to annual net income.

To promote the project, the 40-year-old Cash Money/Young Money artist sat down with BlackBook at Platinum Sounds Studios in New York City, pausing only to chow down on tilapia placed aside two empty glasses of rose. While puffing on a Newport cigarette, Bus-A-Buss explained why it’s beneficial to drop a freebie at this point in his career, what’s up with his untitled Cash Money/Young Money debut, if he would ever collaborate with Leaders of the New School on a record and how listening to his music involves shopping at the “Busta Rhymes supermarket.”

You released Year of the Dragon for free, which doesn’t happen very often in hip-hop. Why do a free album at this point in your career?
I just felt like saying thank you. A lot of people have just been riding with me for years and a lot of people who are now fucking with me as a result of the new and recent shit that I’ve been doing that’s become so successful, at some point, it’s just good to say thanks.

New shit meaning your Cash Money deal?
New shit meaning the fans and the success with the new support and the old support that just continues to come. There’s been a lot of turning points in my career throughout my run, and each situation that’s defined as a successful turning point makes the fans that have been rocking with you continue to love you, if not love you even more. And it gives the new fans a whole lot of reasons to start fucking with you. So everything that’s been happening from the days of “Scenario” to “Look at Me Now,” recently, it constantly gives the old fans more reasons to ride out with you and the new fans more reason to feel good about supporting you as their new favorite. At some point, you’ve just got to say thank you for that as an action, instead of just saying it.

Do you think this deal you did with Google is going to become a norm in hip-hop?
It’s definitely something I consciously made a decision to be a part of so I can trailblaze and continue to lead the new, to be able to feel like yo, this is a way to do things. This is a new thing that’s refreshing and unconventional and goes against the grain, and it sets a new standard and allows people the opportunity as far as artists are concerned to share their content in a way that will allow you to monetize it and control it and benefit from it outside of the conventional method. It’s important that it works successfully, and whether it does or doesn’t for me, the fact that at this stage in my career, I can’t just do the regular degular shit no more. It’s just not fucking interesting and fun and exciting for me to do the same old, same old. So I was just dealing with trying to do something that I thought was going to give me the opportunity to just reinvent the wheel real quick, and I’m just glad that Google used me – one of five major brands – to experiment and try something new and fresh with. They did this with me and Coldplay and Maroon 5 and Dave Matthews Band and Rolling Stones. I think that’s an incredible company of people to be associated with and something as groundbreaking as this. So it just feels good.

Expectations for a free album might be different for you from a label album. Do you have a bar of success for this album?
Yeah, that success is every single car banging that shit in the street. Every single club playing the records when I step in it. I don’t have to send somebody and see if the DJ got the music or not. When I see the downloads exceeding numbers that supersede my levels of expectation, that’s when it’s successful. At the end of the day, I just want the music to be in everybody’s possession.

Do you see a lot of new fans coming into the fold? Do you feel relevant to them now in a new way?
I mean, it’s not even a feeling thing. It’s just the facts. It’s obvious. Everybody saw what [Chris Brown’s] “Look At Me Now” record did and the phenomenon it created. I don’t think we’ve seen that ever. I don’t think we’ve ever seen people want to learn one of the most complicated raps ever in the abundance that these kids try to learn it. They turned it from a game into a phenomenon. You have people who have actually been able to start careers just learning how to say the raps from that song. Karmin is a perfect example of that, and a couple of other people who has been able to spearhead opportunities for themselves by just learning how to say the song. I think an entire generation of new fans has made it very clear that they think Busta Rhymes is the shit.

You’ve been in the game for 20 years. You recently reunited with Leaders of the New School, which was a huge moment for hip-hop. How did that come about?
We just got on the phone with each other, after all of this time that’s passed and us not really connecting or vibing or interacting. It was just time to bury the hatchet and it was as simple as picking up the phone and reaching out. I think [Charlie] Brown reached out to me first. Me and Dinco [D] was always talking, and Dinco kind of helped put that together. I called Brown back because I had missed his call and we got on the phone and we just hooked up. And that was it.

Do you have any desire now to record any new music with them?
I don’t know. We’ll have to see, because for me, it’s all about the product and the energy and the vibe and we haven’t gone to the studio to work on shit yet, but when it happens, if it happens, as long as that music feels like it’s supposed to feel… Because for me, the shit got to be hot and it gotta feel now. I’m not one to live in the yesteryear shit. I don’t do that yesteryear shit. So whatever we did in the past was cool, but that has no significance to me right now when it comes to the music that we gotta share with the people. Our music and our legacy, I will always cherish that and hold onto that. But when you gotta give the music to the people, you’re not giving a fuck about what was going on and you gotta make sure the shit you’re doing now makes extreme levels of sense and that it’s going to be something that they can feel proud of. That’s something we gotta be careful with because we don’t want to tarnish the legacy neither.

Is it something you want to do, personally?
I don’t rule out nothing. Right now, I’m focused on what I’m doing because I got an album [out] and I’ve got another album I’m trying to put out in November with Young Money/Cash Money. So my plate is full. But in the meantime and in between time, if the opportunity presents itself for us to be able to get in there and start cooking, then absolutely I’m with it.

Speaking about the Cash Money debut, is it still titled E.L.E. 2 or is that not concrete?
I never actually decided whether or not that was going to be it. I know a lot of people wanted me to make it that. I’ve been hearing that shit for the last year or two. “E.L.E. 2! E.L.E. 2!” So I don’t know what I’ma do as far as what I’m going to call it, but I’ve been recording for three years for this particular album and when it’s done, I’m going to know if it warrants that, because Extinction Level Event 1 was such a huge album for my legacy that it has to be the standard in order for me to feel good about making a part two to it. I don’t want to fuck up the legacy of the success. That’s probably one of the biggest albums I’ve had to date, on a SoundScan level and success level. Those moments that I had on there set a standard and I have to meet it in order for me to even feel good about me entertaining an E.L.E. 2 about an album that I’ma make the Cash Money debut. I definitely feel extremely proud of the shit that I’m sitting on, because I had a lot of time to record and be patient and be experimental and approach a lot of shit in a different way creatively, that I definitely know for a fact that it ain’t too far from warranting that. It’s just not all the way there – if I’m going to go in that direction, because that wasn’t what was in my head as I was making the music. I just wanted to record a bunch of phenomenal records and then try to figure it out as I get closer to a deadline that I have to come up with a direction. That’s really where I’m at still. I’m still recording and doing what feels like the thing that music needs. When I feel like I got all of my ideas off and I’m done, because there’s no other idea left that I want to try for this particular project, that’s when I’ll start figuring out what I’m going to call it.

DJ Scratch told me about a year ago that you worked together. People want to hear you with Scratch and rapping over J Dilla beats. Is that something that you think is going to make this album?
I gotta wait until the end and see, but I definitely have all of your favorites on the album that I’ve worked with from my previous album. Scratch shit, Nottz, Dilla of course, even Rockwilder. He did some shit on the first E.L.E. I did shit with him for this project. Swizz Beatz is on E.L.E. He got new shit for this too. It’s all of the ones who are the usual suspects from my prior projects. You got some pleasant surprises on the new one, too. So between Year of the Dragon and the new project that’s going to come out after that, that’s my official Cash Money debut, you’re definitely going to get the Busta Rhymes arsenal that you’ve grown to know and love, because it ain’t misled me yet, going that route.

Being signed to Cash Money, people expect you to collaborate with them for the album.
We’ve been collaborating, as you can see. I’m on a Lil’ Twist record, I’m on Tyga’s album, I was on [Lil Wayne’s] Carter III and Carter IV. We’ve always had love and respect and great comradery with each other. You can definitely expect to hear the right collabs from the family on the project as well. Because I’m about making records that make sense, and if that person is on it, it’s because they made sense for the idea of the song. I don’t just do songs with anyone just because of the heat that their name might attract, because they’re popping in the market at the time. I like to make sure that people understand, because I don’t take the intelligence of the consumer for granted. I feel like a motherfucker gon’ feel it if the energy between me and who I’m collaborating with doesn’t resonate as a genuine one. I done seen and heard records with motherfuckers who’s slapping a bunch of dudes together because their names might be popping at the time. You hear the song and you ain’t really too impressed by the finished product. So I don’t want to be that dude, ever. When that music is right, all that other shit is gonna fall into place. So, as of right now, I have two Young Money/Cash Money artists that I’ve recorded songs with and I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but we’ll see what the outcome is when the product is done.

What do you hope people walk away with from Year of the Dragon?
I just want people to walk away from this album just feeling like… They can feel my love in it. Still. That’s really it. The shit is dope, and that they can feel that I love it, because that in turn is going to make them love it even more. At the end of the day, I’m doing this shit because I love my job and I love what I’ve been blessed with the ability to do. So when a motherfucker pick my shit up and read it and hear it and look at the picture and the artwork and read the credit, it feel like this motherfucker really loves what he does. He puts time into his shit and he makes a conscious effort to satisfy the general consensus across the board, no matter what type of music you like. All of your fuckin’ desires will be fulfilled when you pick up my shit and you’re only going to be able to buy this product or get this product from the Busta Rhymes supermarket.

BlackBookMag.com

Posted: August 23rd, 2012
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Brandy Wants to Bring R&B Back With New Album – RollingStone.com (August 2012)

Brandy wants to bring R&B back. Yesterday afternoon, RCA and Chameleon Records invited select media to preview 11 tracks from Brandy’s upcoming sixth album, Two Eleven, dropping October 16th. It’s Brandy at her most realized: romantically shaky, vocally sharp and musically sound, thanks to an honors corral of producers and songwriters spanning Sean Garrett, Bangladesh, Frank Ocean, Mario Winans, Hit-Boy, Ester Dean, Harmony and more.

Over the course of her decades-long career, Brandy has become a woman before our eyes, outgrowing the baby-lamb naiveté of 1994′s Brandy and assuming the role of self-actualized woman (2002′s Full Moon). But it was with 2004′s Afrodisiac that she faltered in her steps, openly wallowing in a bitter divorce, before rising above the dancing flames on ’08′s Human. On Two Eleven, she juggles heartache and romantic solace, a nod to past delusions filtered through the hindsight of 33-year-old reticence.

Chameleon CEO Breyon Prescott emceed the session. “I saw music going someplace else,” he said. “I was like, the only way Brandy should come back is bringing R&B music back. I see everyone doing dance music, and I was like, we can’t do this,” said Prescott, who acknowledged side work on Dr. Dre’s mythical Detox, promising its imminent release.

“We gotta stick to the core, which is R&B. I got to bring you back to 2012 with hard beats, but the melodies are soft, and the content of the songs are going to be Brandy.”

Throughout Two Eleven, a nod to her birthday and the date of mentor Whitney Houston’s death, Brandy is as quick to pledge allegiance to lovers as she is to scorn them. On the upcoming Sean Garrett-penned single “Wildest Dreams,” the follow-up to lead track “Put It Down” (featuring Chris Brown), the emotional rug is pulled from under her: “Never in my wildest dreams did I think someone could care ’bout me/ Not just the way you love me, but you know I’m emotional (sometimes),” she croons over a thwacking beat courtesy of Tha Bizness.

Producer Bangladesh helms the wobbly, club-geared “Let Me Go,” which features an interpolation of Lykke Li’s “Tonight,” as well as the oiled slow jam “So Sick,” written by Garrett, where the singer shoves off a violating lover (“How far do you think I’ll let you push me before I cross the line?”). Mike WiLL Made It, known for ratchet anthems including Meek Mill’s “Tupac Back” and Gucci Mane’s “Too Sexy,” shows his softer side with “Do You Know,” where Brandy cuts down her man for failing to return her affections.

Elsewhere, Brandy acknowledges that her own emotions have betrayed her on “Wish Your Love Away,” written and produced by Mario Winans. Over a piping pan flute and serrated drums, she bemoans a man who played her for a fool – “Remember that you told me you were with it, and all them other bitches you could do without?” – but she can’t shake the spell.

Rico Love and Jim Jonsin lace the pecking mid-tempo ballad “Hardly Breathing,” where she suffers as her lover walks away, while Hit-Boy blesses the smoldering ballad “White Flag,” an admission of emotional defeat.

Two Eleven, still a work-in-progress set to include 15 tracks, also features the Frank Ocean-written “Scared of Beautiful,” which will become a duet pending the Odd Future singer’s vocal addition. Over double-time instrumentation, Brandy stops seeking reciprocity and focuses inward. “I wonder why there’s no mirrors on these walls no more/ You can’t tell me why you’re so terrified of beautiful,” she sings. She’s looking only to herself – no man to safety-net her feelings – and she is ready to face her reflection.

RollingStone.com

Posted: August 21st, 2012
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Why Mariah Carey Released Three Versions of ‘Triumphant’ Single – Billboard Magazine (August 2012)

With latest single “Triumphant (Get ‘Em),” Mariah Carey is offering something for everyone.

During a Def Jam conference call with media on Aug. 2, the singer debuted a hip-hop version of the track featuring Rick Ross and Meek Mill, while simultaneously releasing a “vintage throwback remix” and “pulse club mix” on her website, MariahCarey.com.

Previewing the multiple versions of the single — co-written and co-produced by Carey, Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox — reveals the diversity of musical genres expected on her untitled 14th album, tentatively due in March 2013. According to Carey manager Randy Jackson, releasing the three different versions of “Triumphant” speaks to her ability to cater to multiple audiences and radio formats.

“The vintage throwback mix will remind fans of remixes she did years ago, and she’s had a lot of Billboard No. 1 dance hits as well,” Jackson says. “She went in and re-sang the vocals, knowing that the two verses on this first version of this single with Meek and Ross were going to be hip-hop verses where people were rapping. We wanted to have something for all of her fans.”

The radio attack plan is multipronged as well. The single has already been released on YouTube in streaming format, having racked up almost 500,000 views since it was uploaded earlier this month. Island Def Jam plans to service the hip-hop version to R&B/hip-hop radio on Aug. 13, and is mapping out strategies to deliver other versions across dance formats.

Releasing three versions has played to Carey’s benefit. Some fans criticized the fact that Ross and Mill overshadow the singer on her own song and gravitated toward the club-geared mixes.

“Most people probably don’t understand this, but you always play to what’s best for the song,” Jackson says. “You don’t go in and say, ‘Wait a minute. I know they’re rapping on these verses, but I need to be singing on these verses. Me, me, me.’ It just turns out that way.”

For Carey, enlisting rappers for a single is nothing new. Since the onset of her career, she’s collaborated with Jay-Z, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Busta Rhymes, adding hip-hop flavor to pop-leaning tracks. The choice to release three versions of “Triumphant” mirrors a similar strategy used for 2009 single “Obsessed,” for which she shot two music videos: a solo edit and a remix featuring Gucci Mane. The original version of the cut peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the club remix later topped the Dance Club Songs chart, scoring a hit across formats.

“Her idea with all her music is to get it out to her fans, and hopefully lift everyone’s spirits a little bit,” says Jackson, who notes that “Triumphant” was inspired by Carey’s husband, Nick Cannon, and his struggle with kidney failure earlier this year. “It’s really about having it succeed, and people are hearing it.”

In anticipation of the single’s release, Carey has already shot a video directed by Cannon and set for release in the forthcoming weeks. She has a “big performance planned soon for television,” and will appear in director Lee Daniels’ upcoming film, “The Butler.” Of course, she also recently cut a deal to serve as a judge on “American Idol” that’s rumored to be worth $18 million. During the next few months, however, Jackson insists that completing the album is her main focus.

“The album is going to be one of the great Mariah Carey albums,” he says, “with a lot of stuff that you’ve come to love about her over the years.”

Billboard.com

Posted: August 10th, 2012
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Olly Murs Ready to Begin Pop Conquest of America With Debut LP – RollingStone.com (August 2012)

England’s Olly Murs doesn’t consider himself a pop star. After finishing runner-up in the sixth season of the U.K.’s The X Factor, the cherub-faced Brit went on to achieve megawatt status, scoring two double-platinum albums and three Number 1 singles since 2010. Girls clamor for him, lucrative opportunities are long and Katy Perry couldn’t edge him out for the chart’s top slot. And yet, he’s still got a small-town state of mind.

“I feel like Olly Murs from Essex, and I still live here with my parents and my friends and I stay home as much as I can,” admits the 28-year-old. “I still think I’m learning the trade and learning all the time and I don’t feel like I’ve reached my peak and where I can get to. So yeah, I don’t think of myself as a pop star just yet – but I’m getting there.”

His next conquest: America. This past spring, Murs hit the road in the U.S. as opening act for heartthrobs One Direction in anticipation of his Stateside debut, In Case You Didn’t Know, which topped the U.K. charts when it came out in November 2011. The Motown-tinged collection, a mash-up of songs from his first two LPs, boasts the Chiddy Bang-assisted lead single “Heart Skips a Beat” and its follow-up “Dance With Me Tonight,” bolstered by marquee songwriting from Claude Kelly (Britney Spears), Mark Taylor (Lady Gaga) and Steve Robson (Rascal Flatts). He’s also been sharing his road adventures with American fans through his video blog series “Olly-mpics.” Rolling Stone has the exclusive premiere of the sixth challenge, “Egg and Spoon Race.”

Becoming a tabloid staple in the U.K. was unfathomable for Murs before he auditioned for The X Factor in 2009. The Witham, Essex, native swallowed dreams of becoming a pro soccer player after tearing his ACL, instead settling for odd jobs that included giving callers advice on energy bills as a phone operator. Experience gleaned from pub singalongs surprisingly translated to the stage during his stint on The X Factor, where he wowed the judges with songs from childhood inspirations Stevie Wonder (“Superstition”) and the Jackson 5 (“Can You Feel It”). Though Murs finished second to Joe McElderry, show creator Simon Cowell signed him to his Syco Records in partnership with Epic Records, putting his post-Factor career into motion.

Currently bubbling under outside of his home base, Murs returns to the States next month for a press run ahead of the September 25th release of In Case You Didn’t Know. The anti-pop star is still getting used to the spotlight, but there are a few things he wants Americans to know before he invades the charts. “I don’t like boiled tomatoes and I’m a big lover of hot wings and buffalo wings,” he jokes. “I think with me, what I say to fans is, whatever you seen in music videos and interviews, what you see is what you get with me. There’s no hidden agenda. I’m just the crooked guy that you see in the videos and the interviews. I’m no different. I’m just normal – a normal kind of guy.”

RollingStone.com

Posted: August 10th, 2012
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Drake, Missy, Timbaland? Blackground Clarifies Rumors Swirling Around Aaliyah Album – Billboard.biz (August 2012)

Update (4:00 pm): Following publication of this article, Blackground reached out to Billboard.biz to officially confirm that Drake and Noah ’40′ Shebib will be co-executive producing the album alongside Blackground. The story has been amended to reflect the update.

Last week, a report claimed that a posthumous Aaliyah album was in the works and that Drake would executive produce the project. Additionally, the Young Money rapper was supposedly set to feature the late singer, who passed in August 2001, on his latest single.

Instead, this past Sunday (August 5th), Blackground released Aaliyah’s “Enough Said” featuring Drake to Soundcloud. The ghostly cut touted previously unheard vocals, a smoldering beat from producer Noah “40″ Shebib and a verse from Drake. Three hours after it was posted, the song racked up more than 100,000 clicks. As of press time, it has more than 620,000 listens.

The song ignited debates about the possible existence of a new Aaliyah LP. Many fans speculated that Aaliyah collaborators Timbaland and Missy Elliott would not be involved with the project. Some criticized the fact that Drake, who has continuously expressed his love for her music, would oversee an album when he had never actually met her. Aaliyah’s brother Rashad Haughton posted an official statement on Facebook that her immediate family will not support this project, which Drake later countered by claiming that “everybody from her family to her old management and label” were behind the record. Billboard.biz reached out to Haughton but had not received a response as of press time.

Aaliyah’s cousin Jomo Hankerson, who runs Blackground with his father Barry Hankerson, spoke with Billboard.biz about the posthumous release, confirming that an album is in fact in the works. Using 16 unreleased songs and “fragments” from Aaliyah’s archive, Blackground hopes to release the LP by year’s end, enlisting “contemporary artists” to color the project and help repackage her vocals. This marks the first release from the late singer since 2002′s I Care 4 U, a compilation album featuring previously heard and unheard recordings, and is intended to introduce her to younger listeners by updating her sound.

“We really felt like it was time. There’s a real new generation that doesn’t know her necessarily, and we wanted to continue her musical legacy with this new generation,” explains Hankerson. “That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to do very contemporary music. We didn’t want to make it a nostalgic project; we already did that with the I Care 4 U album. The idea was to release new music for her diehard fans, and also reintroduce her music to a new generation that doesn’t really understand how much influence she has in the music that they’re listening to today.”

Hankerson says that Drake will appear on “more of the records” and that Shebib is “heavily involved” in reshaping the music, adding that both will co-executive produce the project alongside he and his father. After moving its publishing to Reservoir Media in July, Blackground reached out to the Canadian producer on the strength of his work with Alicia Keys (“Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)”) and his unique sound. It seemed only “natural” that Drake would contribute to what would become “Enough Said.” Blackground was so pleased with the result that they released the stream before having a marketing plan or radio strategy in place.

While the album is in the early stages, Hankerson confirms that Timbaland and Missy Elliott will participate in assembling the LP. “Timbaland will be involved with this project. One of the records that we had that was never released was a Missy record that we obviously are going to be refreshing,” says Hankerson, who did not clarify if Timbaland has already produced songs for the project. “This record ['Enough Said'] really kind of came sooner than we thought it was going to come, so it’s really the beginning of the creative process for us. We’ve got a record out while we’re still creating the project. A lot of that is still up in the air, but I can tell you that Timbaland will definitely be involved, Missy will definitely be involved.” Timbaland declined to comment for this story, while Elliott did not respond to Billboard.biz’s request as of press time.

Reservoir Media Management EVP Rell Lafargue estimates that there is enough leftover material for two posthumous Aaliyah albums, while Hankerson says that approximation might be “a little premature.” Talks between Blackground and Reservoir began roughly 15 months ago for the latter to acquire the 500-song catalog that includes Aaliyah’s archives, music from Static Major and albums from JoJo, Timbaland, Magoo and Tank. As part of the deal, Reservoir, a boutique publishing company with top 40 hits from 50 Cent, Madonna and Justin Timberlake, will market Aaliyah’s music to television and film, as well as release songs to online services like iTunes and Spotify where much of her music cannot be currently found. Additionally, the company will assist with licensing of songs for covers and sampling (Lafargue notes that there are talks of Dr. Dre sampling “Rock the Boat” for a new song).

“Part of taking new music to market is to release old music as well in different forms. There are tons of old interviews, video, things that were shot before her passing will be part of any and all repackaging. There are alternate takes and different remixes that never got released,” says Lafargue. “The one thing that was just confirmed, the demand, was Aaliyah’s 10-year anniversary of her passing. The ratings on the BET special were huge for that network and there’s a demand for it. I believe that we recognize the demand and want to give her fans what they want.”

Billboard.biz

Posted: August 9th, 2012
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Bruno Mars’ New Music Has ‘Throwback Nina Simone’ Feel, Says Producer – RollingStone.com (July 2012)

For a musician who spends weeklong writing blocks playing ping-pong and shooting hoops, Benny Blanco manages to stay busy. The producer-songwriter, whose credits include chart-toppers for Maroon 5 and Katy Perry, has filled his schedule since the start of the year, clocking studio time with fellow hitmakers like Paul Epworth (who co-wrote and -produced Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”) Rico Love and longtime collaborator Dr. Luke. Among the artists he’s worked with: Ke$ha, for whom he produced an untitled tune co-written by fun.’s Nate Ruess, and Bruno Mars, who’s at work on the follow-up to his 2010 breakthough, Doo Wops & Hooligans. The latter session yielded a piano-laced track intended for Mars’ new LP.

“I got a really cool song with him. Me and Paul [Epworth] just got together and Bruno wrote an amazing song on top of it. It kind of all came together,” Blanco tells Rolling Stone. “It’s like some throwback Nina Simone type shit, like ‘Sinnerman.’ It’s Bruno. He can sing the A.B.C.’s and you’d be like, ‘Holy fuck!’ He knows how to vibe.”

Blanco also hit the studio recently with Empire of the Sun, Wiz Khalifa and Marina and the Diamonds, stretching across genre lines with his spectrum of gigs. Known mostly for his work with pop stars, Blanco hopes to dig back into his hip-hop roots (his early credits include work with Spank Rock and Hell Rell) via collborations with with Rico Love. The pair most recently co-produced Trey Songz’s “Heart Attack” with Love, and Blanco says his work with Khalifa upcoming O.N.I.F.C. album is a testament to his intentions to broaden his horizons.

“I’m trying to do different stuff than I’ve ever done, to challenge myself and dip into a lot of R&B and hip-hop. Maybe some shit I don’t even know yet. I just really want to break any boundaries that I thought I might have,” explains Blanco. “Paul [Epworth] is showing me great things that I never even thought of. We’re doing records with live drum sets, we’re playing live bass guitars and chopping them all up and doing just really cool, interesting stuff, trying to challenge ourselves and the listener.”

He isn’t ditching pop, though. Blanco hasn’t caught wind of a new Katy Perry album – “I haven’t heard of anything for a record, and I have not started anything yet,” he says – but credits his previous work with the singer as building blocks for his current work ethic. He names “Teenage Dream” as one of the most difficult tracks of his career – the product of artistic differences.

“At first, Katy didn’t even like those tracks. And then finally, we got ‘Teenage Dream’ to have great writers on it like Bonnie McKee and Max Martin. All the stars were aligned,” he says. “We had to rewrite lyrics to that song seven times. Some of those records are like that. When you finally get it right, it’s like, ah. It makes it all the better.”

RollingStone.com

Posted: July 19th, 2012
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Pop Hitmaker Benny Blanco Talks ‘Payphone’ Success, Ke$ha’s New Sound – RollingStone.com (July 2012)

Benny Blanco knows how to make a hit. The 24-year-old producer-songwriter, who first cut his teeth with Dr. Luke, has helped architect some of the past half-decade’s chart-toppers, including Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls,” Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” and “We R Who We R,” and Britney Spears’ “Circus.”

For his latest gig, the Reston, Virginia native piggybacked off last year’s success in producing Maroon 5′s chart-crashing single, “Moves Like Jagger,” with “Payphone,” a pattering earworm that features rapper Wiz Khalifa. After working with Khalifa on his latest single “Work Hard, Play Hard,” Blanco wanted to throw a wrench into the Maroon 5 machine by adding some hip-hop flavor to the band’s sound. “I love when things don’t make sense, like, ‘Holy fuck!’” explains Blanco. “You don’t hear him on the song at all. I like when bands dip into a whole different genre.”

Co-produced with Sweden’s Shellback, “Payphone” is lodged at Number One on Top 40 radio and Number Two on Billboard’s Hot 100, just one Carly Rae Jepsen phenomenon away from the top slot. The falsetto-bolstered tune is the product of a collaborative session between Blanco and writers Ammar Malik and RoboPop (a.k.a. Daniel Omelio), who constructed a piano line and demo track that Blanco molded into a proper melody, then handed off to Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine for lyric treatment.

Five minutes before Khalifa arrived at the studio, Blanco laid the sound beds for the finger snap-driven portion of the jam. But Max Martin, who executive produced Maroon 5′s latest album Overexposed, wouldn’t let the original hook stand. “He was like, ‘Yo, this song is so awesome, but the chorus should be a little different,’” Blanco says. “We wound up making it more acoustic sounding and wanted it to have an up-tempo feel, but have it still feel natural.”

Blanco is also lending that stripped aesthetic to longtime collaborator Ke$ha for her anticipated new album, due out later this year. Recently, Ke$ha and Blanco hit the studio with producers Dr. Luke and Cirkut to work on a song that he describes as “old hippie rock,” co-written with fun. lead singer Nate Ruess. “It’s stomps and claps, and the chorus doesn’t really have any drums in it, basically. The feeling is so good,” says Blanco in his surfer drawl. “And then the verse just pops in, and it’s very unexpected and it pops into electronic. So it’s rock, it’s big electronic breaks and drums.”

Though Blanco relishes his solo success, which recently includes winning Songwriter of the Year at the BMI Pop Awards, he’d rather keep his team of pop technicians close. “When you’re making music, it’s meant to be shared with people. Sometimes, even if I’m writing a song, someone else brings a vibe. There’s something different about it,” he says. “If someone can play a better bassline than me, I’ll let them do it. I’m just here to fit in and see where it goes.”

RollingStone.com

Posted: July 19th, 2012
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Azealia Banks Brings Her Mermaid Ball to Bowery Ballroom – BlackBook.com (June 2012)

Azealia Banks finally came home. Less than nine months after unleashing the adrenalized clip for her breakout single “212,” the Harlemite descended on her native digs for her first post-hype solo gig at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom, the second show of the day following a parking lot performance at Hot 97’s Summer Jam festival that afternoon.

Expectations ran high. The freshly legal rapstress has ridden the fame rocket to heights normally unimaginable by new emcees, let alone female ones. She’s dazzled cool-for-school crowds in Paris at Karl Lagerfeld’s home; signed a hands-off record deal with Interscope/Polydor to release her debut album Broke with Expensive Taste in the fall and, last week, her debut EP 1991; and managed to chump old guard rap fixtures like T.I. and Lil’ Kim simply by throwing out a few one-two-punch tweets.

In a relatively brief amount of time, the self-stamped Yung Rapunxel earned the right to let eccentricities fly at her first NYC show, themed as a “Mermaid Ball.” Fans were encouraged to don their best aquatic attire in hopes of landing a $1,000 prize, given to the best merman or mermaid in attendance. Looming tufts of aqua hair and seaweed-inspired DIY fashion dotted the sold-out crowd, where seapunk attire abounded and heels were unisex. Opening sets from Maluca, Roxy Cottontail, WcKids, Tigga Calore and House of Ladosha greased patrons, who nibbled gratis cones of blue cotton candy and wielded balloons before the mistress of ceremonies emerged at one AM.

Descending the stairs to a tinkering instrumental, Banks warmly greeted her adoring fans with few words. “Yo, this is my first official New York show,” she said. “Shout out to everybody who came out.” She was dressed for the occasion, rocking a see-through body suit divided between red and blue hues, exposing breasts adorned with heart-shaped pasties over her nipples. Banter was minimal throughout: she prefaced most songs with a hometown shout-out and thanked her openers. Otherwise, it was a full-on rap attack.

Or, at least a moderately valiant attempt. For a penwoman who folds over words with lyrical ease, Banks hasn’t entirely hit her stride. Fans in the front row pumped fists to “Grand Scam (Lyrical Exercise)” and “Barbie Shit,” but enthusiasm trickled to the back. A pair of dancers kept the spectacle alive on stage, but Banks merely thrusted her hips and swished her feet-long hair, her energy seemingly set to medium. Songs like “Bambi” rang a few bells, but most seemed unschooled on her pre-“212” material.

That disconnect boiled down the set to the 1991 EP, which was performed in full at the end of the show. It made the personality seem bigger than the music, a cocky one at that. She strutted across the stage like she owned the place—it was her ball, after all—but her satisfactory live chops underlined how far she’s yet to go, and perhaps how short she’s come.

But judging by the clamorous response to the CeCe Peniston-inspired cuts from 1991, she’s on the right track. Launching into the EP’s title anthem, Banks Franglished her way through the lounge-ready anthem, cranking the heat to full blast with the bloopy “Van Vogue.” It was when she launched into “Liquorice” that the venue broached full throttle. The audience shouted back her lyrics, filling in the gaps when she paused mid-rap to let the instrumental take hold. It’s a synth-zapped ode that deads any doubt of her being a one-hit wonder, a vestige of versatility she’s continued to prove.

At that, Banks wrapped the 30-minute set with the jam that dropped her into plain sight. As the Lazy Jay instrumental revved up, the venue was filled with unison chants to “212”: “I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten,” “I’mma ruin you cunt.” She didn’t sing the bridge—in fact, most singing was relinquished to the backing track—but the effect was still strong. Concertgoers vigorously danced as lyrics tumbled from the sound system. Balloons showered from the ceiling and confetti burst through the air. At the show’s end, Banks bid her seafolk adieu, retreating from the stage with a wide grin. She was confident in her performance. The crowd was on her side, and she knew why.

BlackBook.com

Posted: June 4th, 2012
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Freeway Talks Jay-Z Announcement; Readies Upcoming Mixtape – Billboard Magazine (May 2012)

On May 14, Jay-Z held a press conference on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to announce a new two-day music festival, Budweiser Made in America, to be held Labor Day weekend (Sept. 1-2) at Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Parkway in Fairmount Park. To make the announcement, Jay-Z-who is headlining the event and curating the bill (presented by Budweiser, with proceeds benefiting the United Way)-was joined by Philly Mayor Michael Nutter, the United Way of Southern Pennsylvania president/CEO Jill Michal and Anheuser-Busch chief marketing officer Paul Chibe. Also present, at stage left, was an unexpected sight for many longtime Jay-Z fans: Philadelphia native and former Roc-a-Fella Records artist Freeway.

“I was there because I wanted to see my friend, and I wanted people to know that me and Jay are still cool,” says the rapper, born Leslie Edward Pridgen, who stood silently onstage during the announcement. “If you follow me or you’re familiar with what I do on the Internet, whenever anyone comes to town in Philly that I’m OK with, I usually come and support them.”

Still, Freeway’s presence at the press conference caught many by surprise. A street-tough rapper with an unmistakable bristly voice, he signed with Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella Records shortly after his appearance on the song “1-900-Hustler,” which was included on Jay’s chart-topping 2000 LP “The Dynasty: Roc La Familia.” His Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam debut, “Philadelphia Freeway,” followed in 2003, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 with 526,000 sold to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

However, a follow-up was slow to arrive, and after Jay-Z announced his retirement in 2003 (and with the future of Roc-a-Fella uncertain as a result), the devout Muslim made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Sophomore effort “Free at Last” (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam) finally arrived in 2007, the same year that Jay-Z left his tenure as Def Jam president. But with 115,000 sold and a No. 42 peak on the Billboard 200, it made little noise. By 2009, Roc-a-Fella and Def Jam had released Freeway.

Freeway’s attendance at the press conference didn’t come without controversy. The rapper wasn’t included in a group photo op at the event, prompting media to assume that his presence wasn’t actually welcome and sparking a flurry of chatter online that found Freeway the butt of many jokes. Still, he remains unfazed.

“All press is good press, and I’ve definitely been doing a lot of press,” says Freeway, who took to Twitter (@PhillyFreezer, 88,000 followers) during the press conference to post a picture of himself with Jay-Z at the event with the note: “Stop that shit, Jay my N***a!!” “I’m happy for the press, because the truth is, Jay knew that I was there and it was all love. There’s nothing negative about that. People just turned it into what they wanted to. I actually thought it was kind of funny.”

Since breaking with Roc-a-Fella, Freeway has been releasing music independently, including 2009′s Philadelphia Freeway 2 (14,000 sold) on Real Talk Entertainment and The Stimulus Package (32,000), which arrived on Rhymesayers Entertainment in 2010. Currently, the free agent is working with e-commerce site Karmaloop and clothing company Rocksmith to release his new mixtape Freedom of Speech, which features production from AK47, B. Jones, Mike Jerz and Just Blaze.

Set to arrive next month, Freedom precedes upcoming album “Diamond in the Rough,” which Freeway hopes to deliver by the end of the year or the top of 2013. The 34-year-old is still unsigned, but with “60%” of “Diamond in the Rough” completed, he’s hoping to secure a worthwhile deal to release the LP through a major label or on his own. Additionally, he’s in talks to record separate full-length albums with Just Blaze and Bink!, who produced two tracks on Free at Last.

As for Made in America, Freeway is all for it. “I think it’s huge for Philly,” he says. “Everybody’s already talking about it.” The festival’s full lineup will be announced May 21, with tickets going on sale May 23.

Billboard.com

Posted: May 29th, 2012
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Kreayshawn to Brush Off Critics on ‘Fun-A**’ Debut Album – RollingStone.com (May 2012)

Bay Area rapper Kreayshawn pays her haters no mind. The 22-year-old rose to prominence last May when the video for her swagged-out ode to anti-materialism, “Gucci Gucci,” went viral, logging almost 35 million YouTube views – and more than 33,000 “dislikes” – to date. With her Columbia Records debut Somethin’ Bout Kreay now slated for a summer release, Kreayshawn says she couldn’t care less if people dismiss it.

“I think there are people who are just waiting to hate. This could be the best album in the world and they’ll hate it anyway,” Kreayshawn, born Natassia Gail Zolot, tells Rolling Stone. “I’m not really concerned with trying to turn haters into believers. I just think it’s going to be a fun-ass album for my fans that I have now, and for people who have only heard one song.”

Kreayshawn enlisted producers Diplo, Boys Noize, DJ Two Stacks and Jean Baptiste to broaden her hyphy-leaning sound. “One song will be like, super hip-hop, and one song will be like Bay Area hyphy music, and another will be like Chicago house juke music and one will be New Orleans crazy booty-bounce music. And one will be a crazy, witch-house-sounding track,” says Kreayshawn. The LP also features guest appearances from 2 Chainz, Kid Cudi, Sissy Nobby, DB tha General, Chippy Nonstop and V-Nasty.

Album cut “Twerkin’” features a hook from the track’s producer Diplo, who Kreayshawn says inspired her to pursue her film career (she’s directed videos for Soulja Boy Tell’em and Lil B). “When I grow up, I want to be like Diplo, for sure,” she says. For the Kid Cudi-assisted “Like It or Love It,” she says the pair drew from punk’s influence. “We were in the studio and we kind of made a new song with a whole new genre … [Cudi] actually played some guitar on the song and we made a break there with instruments,” Kreayshawn says. “The song is just like, punk. If you like it, then do it. Do whatever you want if it makes you happy.”

Since inking a rumored $1 million deal with Columbia in June 2011, Kreayshawn has laid relatively low, appearing as a featured guest on tracks by 2 Chainz and Juicy J and building up her performance chops with a headlining slot on last year’s Noisey college tour. In the meantime, other white female rappers have penetrated the game like Iggy Azalea and Kitty Pryde, whose “Okay Cupid” video has drawn comparisons to Kreayshawn for her aloof delivery and teen appeal.

“I saw her stuff. She’s cute. I love kitties,” Kreayshawn giggles. “I wouldn’t say [her flow is] similar at all. Her style is super poetic and well-written. My style is more like freestyle, crazy, whatever I’m thinking of. Ponies and blah blah blah. But her shit is tight, for sure.”

With her self-described “super upbeat” and “uptempo” debut arriving in a few months, Kreayshawn says she’s also cooking up duets with Insane Clown Posse, Sissy Nobby and pop-rap duo Millionaires. The former Berkeley Digital Film Institute student is also itching to pick back up the camera soon, and she hopes to record a new mixtape while promoting Somethin’ Bout Kreay, which will be released as a special-edition cassette tape for 100 fans. As for those haters? “I hope that this makes them think that they should shut up and listen to my album every day of their lives.”

RollingStone.com

Posted: May 18th, 2012
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Killer Mike Teams With Adult Swim For ‘R.A.P. Music’ Album – Billboard Magazine (May 2012)

mike

For rapper Killer Mike, independence is key. The Atlanta native born Michael Render launched his career with 2003′s “Monster” (Columbia Records), but label issues delayed the highly anticipated follow-up. Three years later, in November 2006, his second album, “I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind,” was released through his own Grind Time Official imprint.

For his sixth album, “R.A.P. Music,” the 37-year-old took a different route. With four indie releases to his name, Killer Mike parlayed voice-over appearances on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block into a record deal with the company’s Williams Street Records, which will release “R.A.P. Music” on May 15. The partnership proved unusual but fruitful: In addition to pairing Mike with a pitch-perfect producer in underground rap legend El-P (a relationship forged by Williams Street’s Jason DeMarco, who handled A&R for the album), the label also gave him creative freedom.

“For me, independence is what has given me a 10-year career,” Killer Mike says. ” Ice Cube’s success for a few years was going gold independently. For Odd Future, staying independent has worked. If a label wants to change your life and give you a million dollars, I’m not going to tell you, ‘Don’t do it.’ But, for me, independence has worked.”

Killer Mike’s relationship with Adult Swim goes back five years, during which time he’s performed voices for the show “Frisky Dingo” and provided the song “Blam Blam” to the soundtrack to “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters.” The soundtrack experience led Mike to approach DeMarco about doing an entire album. With producers Flying Lotus and Clams Casino in mind for the project, DeMarco paired Mike with El-P eight months ago for a test run in Atlanta. The session yielded three demos and a “bromance” that led to a full-length collaborative effort.

According to DeMarco, the chemistry was immediate. “El’s and Mike’s aesthetics are so defined that the songs almost came into being fully formed,” he says. Williams Street, which also has released albums by Cerebral Ballzy and Cheeseburger, plans to integrate tracks from “R.A.P. Music” into Adult Swim shows and hopes to work the album through the rest of the year. “When a record like this is really good,” DeMarco says, “it has a longer life span than one with just a couple of great songs.”

Killer Mike’s manager Joe Baker explains that working with Williams Street opens opportunities to tour through the rest of the year and gain new fans from El-P’s “backpacker” fan base. Baker says Mike and El-P will co-headline a tour this summer with opening acts Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire and Despot.

Given his experience so far with Williams Street, Killer Mike hopes to release more solo albums in 2013, and intends to record all future solo sets with El-P. In addition, he confirms plans for a group album with Big Boi and Pill, references recent studio sessions with T.I. and Grand Hustle signee Iggy Azalea and is looking to compile a sequel to 2009′s “Underground Atlanta.” He and El-P have already begun picking beats for the successor to R.A.P. Music.

“I hope it does whatever they need it to do so they’ll cut us a check to do another album,” Killer Mike says. “I want this record to go gold, I want it to come out of nowhere and shock the shit out of everybody. Hopefully word-of-mouth and smart use of money will help that happen. I want Adult Swim to say, ‘We’ve got to do this again.’”

Billboard.com

Posted: May 18th, 2012
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‘Go! Pop! Bang!’ Signals Rye Rye’s Imminent Sonic Explosion – BlackBookMag.com (May 2012)

With her debut album Go! Pop! Bang!, Rye Rye just wants to have fun. The Baltimore native, who established relevance as M.I.A.’s choreographically gifted hype woman, has spent the past four years attempting to lift her career from the party rap trenches. Her staggered attempts to crack the mainstream—“Bang” and “Sunshine,” both featuring M.I.A.—were virtuous, but fizzled upon impact. The baby-voiced spitfire had been eclipsed by her mentor, whose star had already risen with “Paper Planes” years prior.

On Go! Pop! Bang!, the 21-year-old firecracker delivers, intent on proving she’s the club’s true lifeline. Long overdue, Rye Rye’s introductory opus is insatiably sweaty and aggressive, shape shifting between songs without letting the beat drop. Previously released anthems dot the tracklist: “Bang,” “Shake, Twist, Drop,” “Sunshine,” “Boom Boom” and “Never Will Be Mine” featuring Robyn all have a home on the offering. But it’s in sequence where they thrive, cozying up to bizarre attempts at party fodder (“Better Than You” outright samples Ethel Merman and Ray Middleton’s “Anything You Can Do” from Annie Get Your Gun) and mainstream back-pats (“Crazy Bitch” featuring Akon, “DNA” featuring Porcelain Black).

For Rye Rye, introspection isn’t a concern. She spends most of the LP asserting her bad bitchness through hypnotic raps, chanting choruses suitable for a game of double dutch. “I’ma shake it to the ground and bring it back up / Twirl it all around, yeah, you know what’s up,” she deadpans on “Shake It to the Ground.” It’s about as deep as it gets.

But that’s not the point. Rye Rye has waited in the wings for years, finally getting her shot at making an impression without having to bank on gimmickry. The creativity is there, set against a feverish backdrop care of producers like Bangladesh, The Neptunes and RedOne. They’re glam jams without unnecessary spitshine, confident with a touch of arrogance. Top 40 success may not be the outcome for Go! Pop! Bang!, but Rye Rye at least sounds like she enjoyed making it—a rarity in the pop realm.

BlackBookMag.com

Posted: May 10th, 2012
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Sade Step Back Into Spotlight With ‘Bring Me Home’ – RollingStone.com (Apr. 2012)

After nearly three decades of making music, Sade Adu still has a hard time letting fans in, preferring to limit her press ops and take decade-long stretches between new album releases. But the British-Nigerian singer and her band are inching back towards the spotlight with the May 22nd DVD/CD and Blu-ray release of Bring Me Home – Live 2011, which chronicles their mega-successful Sade Live tour. The 54-date trek touched down in Europe, America, Australia and Asia and celebrated Sade’s platinum-certified 2010 LP, Soldier of Love.

Despite the tour’s success, Sade’s frontwoman approached the idea of a live LP and behind-the-scenes documentary with typical temerity. “Initially I didn’t want to do it, because I had this feeling that it was a great moment and I was afraid we couldn’t convey the atmosphere and the feeling of the whole tour,” says Adu. “There’s always that fear and trepidation. But you have no choice but to go on because you’re in it.”

Directed by Sophie Muller, who also designed and produced the tour, the 20-minute documentary compiles rare footage of Sade behind-the-scenes that chips at the notoriously elusive singer’s shellacked persona. In one scene, she harmonizes “Amazing Grace” with her backup singers; in another, she gazes pensively into a mirror during a rare moment of open reflection.

For Adu, returning to the stage after a 10-year hiatus was admittedly daunting. She rebuffs her celebrity but says that collaborating with Muller gave her the confidence to perform like a “gladiator.” Explains the 53-year-old singer, “I’m tough. I’m a Nigerian. I’m into the moment and I put my entire self into that. I suppose I am reluctant to share my life. My life is in the songs, and I’ve already done that. I don’t think our fans have those expectations from me.”

Muller, whose work with Sade stretches back to the Eighties, encouraged the band to go grand onstage without compromising the intimacy of their songs. They conceptualized the show as a negotiation of extremes: tour opener “Soldier of Love,” for example, is set against a towering slow-exposure backdrop of passing clouds, while Sade duets with a naked electric guitar-saxophone combo during her perormance of “Promise,” perched on the lip of the stage.

“Each song has its own personality and we wanted the whole visual panorama to completely change, dependent upon the character and atmosphere of the song at the moment,” explains Adu, adding that she hopes to take her live show to Africa “if” she tours again. “That’s what I felt was something great about this show. You’re in this tiny miniscule theater, and then suddenly, you’re in a stadium. It was an overriding sensation.”

Already, there’s a two-year stretch between Soldier of Love’s release and that of Bring Me Home. But Adu says she no immediate plans to record new music or return to the stage, although extracurricular activities could keep her star from dimming. “I’ve got some plans for some projects that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I think I’ve got a lot of energy,” says Adu with some restraint. “As far as music goes, that’s something that I’m not very pragmatic about. I let it sort of appear and grab me. It could be two years or 10 years. I don’t make plans like that. It somehow happens.”

RollingStone.com

Posted: April 30th, 2012
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“T.I., 2 Chainz & More Struggle to Keep Mixtape Music off iTunes, Amazon” – Billboard Magazine (Apr. 2012)

A version of T.I.’s single “I’m Flexin’” has sold 2,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The song, which features Def Jam artist Rick Ross, has been available in the iTunes store since Jan. 24 as part of the DJ Cortez and DJ Ransom Dollars mixtape “Fuck the Competition Vol. 3.” But something isn’t right: T.I.’s Grand Hustle camp has never licensed this version of the song for retail, and hasn’t seen any revenue from these sales.

It’s an issue that’s plagued rappers who often use mixtapes as promotional items, rather than product for sale. Grand Hustle CEO Jason Geter speculates that DJs partner with distribution companies to mutually profit from major mixtape releases. “Fuck the Competition Vol. 3,” distributed by Green Light Records through SongCast, is also up on Amazon and Rhapsody, where the “Flexin’” remix is available for purchase.

“No one should be seeing money off of a T.I. record if we’re not seeing money off of that, period,” says Geter, who co-founded Grand Hustle with T.I. “With Amazon or iTunes or any major distributor, they should be held accountable.”

Both iTunes and Amazon have copyright infringement policies that allow anyone to lodge complaints. (ITunes vows to “terminate the accounts of users who violate others’ intellectual property rights” in its copyright policy.) Rights-holders must specifically request that a song be taken down, yet despite this safeguard, tracks often reappear in the digital stores shortly after their removal, requiring artists and management to constantly track the use of their music. Neither iTunes nor Amazon responded to repeated requests for comment.

T.I. isn’t the only rapper who has found his songs for sale without consent. New Def Jam Recordings signee 2 Chainz has struggled to keep his mixtape material off digital sites. In November 2011, he released his breakout mixtape, “T.R.U. REALigion,” hosted by DJ Drama. Then unsigned, the Atlanta native put up the non-DJ version for sale on digital platforms to profit from the project, which comprised original content. After signing his deal, 2 Chainz’ team removed the tape from iTunes as he transferred the masters to the label, but tracks continue to appear on the digital retailer on other compilations. “T.R.U. REALigion” wasn’t taken down from Amazon, where it’s still available for purchase.

One of the tape’s standout tracks, “Riot,” can be found on iTunes in remixed form on the compilation “We Turnt Up Vol. 6,” released through AMB Digital, a label affiliated with the Independent Online Distribution Alliance/the Orchard. According to SoundScan, the anthem featuring Warner Bros. artist Gucci Mane has sold 1,200 copies since first appearing in the store on Feb. 1. “We Turnt Up” credits the song to “2Chainz & Gucci” — a slight name variation that doesn’t register through any basic search on retail sites. The tactic frequently helps deter artists and management from finding unauthorized tracks. On “We Turnt Up,” other names are also modified, such as Rick Ross (“Rozay”), Alley Boy (“Allley Boy”) and Jim Jones (“Jimmy Jones”).

For 2 Chainz’ manager Teknikz, battling mixtape profiteers in the digital realm has become routine. “We constantly have to go after them,” says Teknikz, who also manages Travis Porter and Jose Guapo under Street Execs Management. Teknikz physically sifts through online retail sites and makes a list of who illegally distributes their content. “It comes down to doing research and seeing who’s putting your stuff up,” he says, adding that repeat offenders are a constant hassle. “I was just doing this a month ago, and now I have to go back and do it again.”

Mixtapes have appeared at retail for years, legally or not. Throughout the ’90s, they were often labeled as “for promotional use only” while bootlegged and sold out of car trunks and on street corners. DJs and rappers often earned profits from those sales. With the rise of the Internet, mixtapes were sold on websites and some even appeared at physical retail as label-sanctioned releases.

Some labels have stepped in to regulate the unauthorized sales. Bad Boy Worldwide VP of marketing Jason Wiley says the imprint monitors mixtapes from artists like Machine Gun Kelly and French Montana since it’s beneficial in the long term to promote free material. “It’s a constant battle,” Wiley says. “We’re always tracking our sales, tracking our numbers, seeing how it relates to fans and tour dates. So, in doing all of that, we’re looking at this person buying and selling a song illegally.”

It’s still unclear if distributors are aware that they’re perpetuating copyright infringement. The Orchard, for one, declined to comment. ­Either way, Grand Hustle’s Geter sees the major labels as the answer.

“When you say [a T.I.] record sold 1,700 copies, on a big scale, that’s nothing,” he says. “But [those sales] add up at the end of the day. It’s going to be a problem if major labels don’t address it and make these companies accountable for their actions.”

Billboard.com

Posted: April 30th, 2012
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“B.o.B Talks ‘Strange Clouds’ Album & Sponsorship Deals” – Billboard Magazine (Apr. 2012)

For his sophomore album, “Strange Clouds,” B.o.B hopes to take his corporate connections sky high.

Following the success of his 2010 gold-certified debut, “B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray,” the Decatur, Ga., native looked for ways to boost his image, striking deals with Target and Coca-Cola in addition to a pre-existing Adidas sponsorship and an appearance in an Electronic Arts Sports videogame. The singer/songwriter, who cracked both pop and R&B markets with the singles “Nothin’ on You” and “Airplanes” (peaking at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on the Billboard Hot 100), wanted to expand his business portfolio with his second album and use those ties to introduce his music to a wider audience.

“I definitely see the benefit behind building a brand for whatever venture you catapult yourself into,” B.o.B says. “But for me, the driving force has always been the music-it’s just a way to get my music heard by more people and [potentially] more fans.”

With “Strange Clouds,” arriving May 1 on Rebel Rock/Grand Hustle/Atlantic, the 23-year-old signed a deal with Target to promote the album through TV and online campaigns. His conversations with the big-box chain date back to “The Adventures of Bobby Ray,” but the partnership was solidified after he played them several cuts from his new project. TV spots and online ads begin April 29, and culminate with a New York event on the album’s release date. Target will also sell an exclusive version of the set with five bonus tracks.

Target doesn’t typically work with rap artists, but the company has previously signed exclusive deals with several rock and pop acts including Pearl Jam, Lady Gaga and Ricky Martin. Marsha St. Hubert, director of marketing at Atlantic Records and product manager for “Strange Clouds,” says, “B.o.B isn’t just a hip-hop artist, although he raps and makes hip-hop music. He also has the ability to do more. He sings, he plays instruments, he has a broader and more universal appeal. That’s probably what makes the partnership with Target so unique.”

That diversity is evident on “Strange Clouds,” which teeters between the grittier rap sound of his mixtape fare and the pop sheen of “The Adventures of Bobby Ray,” which has sold 597,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (“Nothin’ on You” and “Airplanes” have sold a combined 7.5 million copies.) The album is led by the platinum title track (1.2 million copies), featuring Lil Wayne, touting a buzzy, Southern-influenced beat and such radio-unfriendly lyrics as, “Stay on the greenest greens, call us vegetarians.”

While B.o.B plays to hip-hop audiences with guest appearances from Grand Hustle label head T.I., as well as Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and Trey Songz, he balances the urban angle with pop and even country artists making contributions. Taylor Swift duets with him on “Both of Us,” while OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder croons on “Never Let You Go” and R&B songstress Lauriana Mae contributes to “Chandelier.” As with his debut, production comes courtesy of pop masterminds Dr. Luke, Cirkut, Benny Blanco and Alex Da Kid. The album’s pop-geared single, “So Good,” is also approaching platinum (869,000 copies).

B.o.B dates his musical flexibility back to his adolescent years. “I had always had that approach and could talk to everybody-from the jocks and cheerleaders to outcasts, nerds and gangsters,” he says, describing himself as “a drifter.” Later on, he says, “I developed a wide range, and it grew with my music career. I feel like I can speak different languages when it comes to music.”

The artist plans to perform on the European festival circuit beginning in July, returning to the United States in August for a headlining tour he claims will continue for two years. He’s already at work on an upcoming mixtape and has been recording songs with T.I. for a collaborative album titled The Man and the Martian, which will be released after “Strange Clouds” and T.I.’s forthcoming “Trouble Man.”

“The last album was about the songs. The songs were bigger than Bob,” B.o.B’s manager Brian “B-Rich” Richardson says. “This album is about B.o.B the brand, and letting people know who he is.” Richardson notes that partnerships were in place for the first album with Nintendo, Adidas and EA Sports. “Each album cycle, you have to get bigger,” he says.

Beyond his touring and recording, however, becoming an entrepreneur is a top priority. ” Will Smith, T.I., André 3000 and Cee Lo Green are artists who have longevity in entertainment and the business world and even beyond music,” B.o.B says. “No matter what road you’re on, it’s going to keep moving regardless of what happens, good or bad, high or low. You’ve got to keep moving on that road and make the best situation out of whatever is thrown your way.”

Billboard.com

Posted: April 30th, 2012
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“Usher Premieres New Album Off-Broadway” – RollingStone.com (Apr. 2012)

Usher doesn’t want you to just listen to his seventh album Looking for Myself – he’d rather you feel it. To debut his Euro-splashed LP, coming out June 12th, the R&B sexophile integrated himself into two performances of Off-Broadway’s “Fuerza Bruta,” a senses-stimulating live experience combining vigorous slam dancing, surgical lighting cues and participation from a clumped standing-only audience.

A foggy haze permeated the cavernous performance space at New York City’s Daryl Roth Theater, where the 33-year-old theatrically sequenced the entirety of the project to strobing lights and choreographed moves. A booming voice introduced the night as “a journey for each of the senses,” and warned the audience, “what happens stays here. Consider yourself lucky.” Those in attendance for the first of two pre-public performances took note, heeding commands to crouch low to the ground and pump fists in the air.

Emerging from the dark, a fauxhawk-coiffed Ursh, clad in a snow-white suit accented by a black tie, trotted across a conveyor belt in beat to the Diplo-produced “Climax.” As the tempo galloped and his pace quickened, he clutched his stomach as a gunshot fired and blood spread across his torso, leaving the evening’s protagonist injured but able to mingle with fellow players as the crunchy title track, produced by Empire of the Sun, boomed through the system.

That sense of wounded ache counteracted his desire to command the crowd, a balance struck tightly on Looking for Myself. The LP piggybacks on the ephemeral club appeal of his recent hits, including “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love” featuring Pitbull and David Guetta’s “Without You,” and weighs it against vulnerable demi-ballads à la “Papers,” pointing the pen inward while reflecting on the concept of fidelity.

At his most frivolous, Usher dominated the room. As the audience shuffled to accommodate the constantly shifting set pieces, he orchestrated flash dance parties, bringing attendees onto a pint-sized stage to boogie to the sounds of the album’s second single “Scream,” produced by Max Martin and Shellback. Even when he splayed across a makeshift couch during the Jim Jonsin-helmed “Let Me See” featuring Rick Ross, patrons bounced to the PG-13 lyrics (“She said she want to take her shirt off, be my guest,” he sings) while lights flashed and acrobats raced along a silver curtain 30 feet above the ground.

But it was when the pace slowed that Usher’s trademark sensitivity shined. The album reached emotional fever pitch during a Rico Love-penned “Dive,” where actors slid across a taut see-through tarp covered in pools of water, sustained above the audience’s head. “I don’t mind playing in the rain,” Usher naughtily coos over an unresolving melody. Later, against a cloudy and mechanical beat on an unnamed track, he sings a different tune: “I admit that I’ve been careless,” he confesses.

It’s those pocket moments of introspection that humanize the robotics of Looking for Myself. With two public performances at “Fuerza Bruta,” both taking place tonight (April 28), the veteran entertainer reasserts himself as a master of rapturous dance fodder, capable of turning a room into a thumping rave with ease. But the conflicted odes of self-reflection show the hero isn’t as valiant as the beat would have you believe – an uncertainty that keeps him grounded, even when the volume is cranked up high.

RollingStone.com

Posted: April 28th, 2012
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Death Grips – Billboard Magazine (Apr. 2012)

When noise-rap trio Death Grips informally met with Epic Records executives Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Christopher “Tricky” Stewart and Angelica Cob-Baehler in October 2011, it didn’t expect to leave the meeting signed to the label.

The Sacramento, Calif., band, which consists of rapper Stefan Burnett (aka MC Ride), producer Andy Morin (aka Flatlander) and drummer Zach Hill, had amassed a loyal following through viral videos and riotous performances since forming in December 2010. Its first recording, “Full Moon (Death Classic)” — a stilted breed of electro, metal and hardcore rap-served as a raucous appetizer for a free mixtape titled “Exmilitary,” which was greeted with critical fanfare upon its debut in April 2011.

But it was the group’s unsettling, low-budget video for the song “Guillotine” that caught Cob-Baehler’s attention. In October, after a courtship by several labels following the mixtape release, Death Grips ventured to Sony’s Los Angeles headquarters. There, MC Ride tagged the company’s bathroom with graffiti before the meeting, demonstrating a sense of rebellion that sold executives on the threesome. What’s unusual is how the group responded to Epic’s pitch, especially given its anti-establishment attitude.

The deal was ironed out in less than five hours. The label convinced the group that it was on the same page, promising not to compromise its artistic integrity or assume its publishing rights.

“We were kind of taking things with a grain of salt,” Hill says. “That’s generally what we do with anybody on the outside that’s coming into the inside. But it became very apparent that these people really understood what we were doing and to not mess with it. They generally believed in this as something that was different.”

“It’s a unique signing to Epic, in the sense that the music isn’t easily digestible at first,” says Cob-Baehler, the executive VP of marketing at Epic who is heading the A&R effort for Death Grips’ upcoming debut, “The Money Store.” “But if there ever was a time to get fearless about signing, it’s now. If you want to break the mold in any way, you have to go into unchartered territory. The fact that people keep saying this is such a unique or unexpected signing confirms that it was a great one.”

Immediate plans include releasing “The Money Store” through independent retail on Record Store Day (April 21) and its follow-up “No Love” in the fall. Certain that fans will flock to Death Grips through word-of-mouth (“This band cannot be explained-it has to be experienced,” Cob-Baehler says), the group has partnered with BitTorrent to release a music video for “I’ve Seen Footage” through the controversial downloading service. In addition to performing at this year’s Coachella festival, the band is already fielding offers to play gigs in 2013.

So far, the pairing of the Sony label and the aggressive hip-hop band has been mutually rewarding. “We saw eye to eye in a sense of saying, ‘Let’s just do this. Let’s not get caught up in record sales or money-let’s just do this because we love music and we want to shake things up,’” Cob-Baehler says.

As for the group’s perspective, Hill says, “We’re in control. It’s obvious that people have picked up on it as far as who’s running Death Grips, and that’s how it’s always going to be. [Epic] is here to help us with what we say we need help with. And that’s how it’s going down.”

Billboard.com

Posted: April 25th, 2012
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One Direction & The Wanted Cover Story – Billboard Magazine (Mar. 2012)

When Melissa Lonner, senior entertainment producer for NBC’s “Today,” booked Brit pop quintet One Direction in January, she scheduled the group for a routine in-studio performance. But once news broke that the boyish fivesome would be at 30 Rock, a deluge of fan emails flooded the show’s inbox, forcing NBC to relocate the appearance to Rockefeller Plaza. That was when the New York Police Department got involved. Spurred by reports of swelling public appearances by the band in other markets like Toronto and Boston — the latter of which attracting some 5,000 screaming fans to Natick Mall — the NYPD contacted NBC security to ensure measures would be taken to maintain order.

When the group often referred to as 1D finally did appear in midtown Manhattan on March 12 — the day before its chart-topping debut, “Up All Night”, arrived on Columbia Records — an estimated 15,000 fans descended on the plaza, spilling onto the surrounding streets. It was an unprecedented turnout for an act that had yet to release an album stateside. (“Up All Night” debuted at No. 2 in the United Kingdom when it was released there on Nov. 21.) But even beyond that: The crowd for 1D — which consists of Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles (ages 18-20) — ranked among the biggest “Today” has seen. Only Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Chris Brown have drawn that kind of turnout to date.

“Keep in mind, Justin and Chris have had hits in the U.S. and are known in the U.S.,” Lonner says. “One Direction is relatively unknown with no hits yet. They basically exploded, and all the adults are saying, ‘Who are these people, and how do they know about it?’”

In April, another all-male English import, the Wanted — a quintet with a style a bit more built for the post-teenage demographic than 1D — is booked for an in-studio performance at “Today.” The appearance comes in anticipation of the April 24 release of the Wanted’s self-titled debut, a seven-track EP arriving on Island Def Jam and complemented by a 10-song deluxe edition. The group’s full-length debut, Battleground (Island Def Jam), which appeared in the United Kingdom in November and is slated to arrive stateside this fall, is certified gold there and has already spawned two No. 1s on the U.K. chart. According to Lonner, if the demand for the Wanted is anything near that of 1D, “Today” will once again move the show outside. With extra security in place, of course.

Not since the reigning days of Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync and 98 Degrees have boy bands crashed pop culture with such fervor. In the past few years, solo starlets including Bieber, Gaga, Katy Perry and Rihanna have presided over the pop charts. But as summer approaches, 1D and the Wanted are spearheading what could very well be the next boy band boom. The story is a familiar one: Backed by big-name managers, fresh-faced groups assemble, win over potential fans through grass-roots marketing, attack the charts with slick pop fare and sell out tours in seconds.

Without so much as releasing an album in North America, 1D and the Wanted have already accomplished feats that took past boy bands years to achieve. Ahead of “Up All Night”‘s U.S. release, 1D’s breakout single “What Makes You Beautiful” became the highest-charting debut for a U.K. artist on the Billboard Hot 100 since Jimmy Ray’s 1998 hit “Are You Jimmy Ray?” when it bowed at No. 28 on Feb. 22. (“Are You Jimmy Ray?” entered the chart at No. 26.)

In the United Kingdom, “Beautiful” is mammoth: The summery track entered the singles chart at No. 1, selling 540,000 copies (according to the Official Charts Co.) and winning Best British Single at the BRIT Awards in February. In the United States, 1D has shut down malls with in-store signings and appearances from coast to coast. Fans even chased the group’s car through Manhattan following a performance at Radio City Music Hall on March 9, where it appeared as the opening act for fellow boy band Big Time Rush on the sold-out Better With U tour. 1D and the Wanted have contemporaries — Big Time Rush, JLS, Mindless Behavior and others-but while all have found success at retail and on the road, that success pales in comparison to the explosive rise of the two British acts.

This week, “Up All Night” tops the Billboard 200 with 176,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, unseating Bruce Springsteen and holding off Adele to make 1D the first British band — let alone British boy band — to enter the top spot with its debut album, something not even the Beatles could accomplish. (The Fab Four’s 1964 Vee-Jay Records debut, Introducing . . . The Beatles, reached No. 2.)

Despite still being a month out from its domestic debut, the Wanted has also soared in the States. Last August, Island Def Jam went to radio with “Glad You Came,” from the group’s U.K. sophomore album, Battleground.

Initially a slow build, “Glad You Came” took flight after the song was featured on the Feb. 21 episode of “Glee,” breaking the record for highest-charting single by a British band since Take That’s 1995 hit “Back for Good.” The Take That track reached No. 7 on the Hot 100. “Glad You Came” sits at No. 3. In January, the group made its U.S. debut on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” accompanied by a sold-out stateside trek that ran from January through February. When the Wanted returns in April, the group will have already lodged two No. 1 singles in the United Kingdom.

Simon Cowell, who signed 1D to his Syco Records imprint after the group’s appearance on the U.K. version of “The X Factor” in 2010, is no stranger to boy bands. In 1999, Cowell, working with 1D manager Richard Griffiths, helped male pop group Westlife sell more than 40 million albums worldwide, according to Griffith’s company Modest! Management. The demand for all-male pop groups may appear to be sporadic, but according to Cowell, it always comes in algorithmic waves.

“It’s a track-oriented chart at the moment,” Cowell says. “When we used to put records out years ago, two singles was the norm, three singles was a lot. And you have these solo artists now who could be, with collaborations, putting out seven or eight singles a year.”

Cowell credits Bieber and his manager Scooter Braun — who also manages the Wanted — as the drivers for putting young adult stars back on the map. “I’ve done this long enough that everything in music and entertainment in cyclical,” Cowell says. “[Even if] you go back to the Motown days, every time, it always comes back to 12 o’clock. It felt like that time again.”

A full version of this article can be found in this week’s Billboard, which arrives in two Tiger Beat-tastic versions (1D and The Wanted).

Billboard.com

Posted: April 9th, 2012
Categories: Cover Stories
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Brandy Cover Story – YRB Magazine (Mar/Apr 2012)

Brandy is definitely in her zone. Following the release of her underrated, under-promoted 2008 album, Human, the former teen star retreated from the spotlight – a place she’s been centered since her first meeting with Atlantic Records at 15 years old. After several years of personal strife, including sagging sales of Human and severing ties with her recording label, Epic Records, the 33-year-old talent is ready to shed her skin and start anew.

“I think a lot of the struggles I’ve had are what I needed to go through to get to another place,” she says. “Everything is pretty sudden. One day I just woke up and I changed my mind about everything. I felt like I wasn’t fulfilled. I was acting simultaneously with singing as a kid, and I just felt like I have this talent, why am I not using it? Why am I not trying everything and doing everything I can do?” Snapped back to reality after a near four-year hiatus from her solo career, Brandy is back to basics with the upcoming release of her sixth album, Two Eleven, releasing in June. The LP, which features production and writing from Sean Garrett, Bangladesh, Rico Love, Frank Ocean, Drake and Noah “40” Shebib, comes on the heels of reality show stardom with her family (VH1’s Brandy and Ray J: A Family Business) and hand wave appearances at red carpets. Her public standing shrunk; her star dimmed.

But with Two Eleven, a reference to her birthday (February 11th) and the day her mentor Whitney Houston passed away, Brandy is signifying a reinvention of sorts: she’s signed with a new label, RCA Records, shifted out of her comfort zone and is embracing reality. It’s a near confrontational way to reclaim her artistry. “It’s taken a minute for me to really figure out the type of artist that I am, the type of music that I need to sing to reconnect with my audience. I just know with this album, I wanted it to be as honest and as real as possible,” she says. “Sometimes, you can get caught up in wanting to make hits and wanting to get on the radio and performing on everything that’s out there. I just wanted to stay true to who I was. That’s why it’s taken me so long to figure out the right home for me to put my music out there with. Other than that, I wanted my album to represent honesty and clarity and struggle and pain, as well as love, with a different sound and a different edge. That’s what this album is.”

Her first steps back into the pop culture arena came with a handholding counterpart. Fourteen years after their chart-rocking, she-for-all “The Boy is Mine,” Brandy and Monica reunited to record the Rico Love-penned “It All Belongs to Me,” the first single from both Two Eleven and Monica’s upcoming album New Life, due in April. On the sassy back-and-forth, the two unite instead of fight, staking materialistic territory in the wake of a breakup (“That MacBook, that shit belongs to me / So log off your Facebook,” they sass on the chorus). For Brandy, the intention was to release a solo single, but opportunity was too sweet to dismiss.

“I was so focused on my project and what I needed to do to get my music back out there, but when an idea like this comes along, this is more than just a song; it’s an event. It’s the reunion of two artists that made history together. It’s bigger than the song itself,” she says. “Of course I wanted to come out first on my own so I can stand on my own two feet, but who knew that this Monica thing would come along? I couldn’t say no to that. That would be stupid.”

The duet was more a matter of circumstance than opportunism. When Brandy and Monica paired in 1998, it was during their tempestuous teens, right when their careers were hitting full stride. The song became the best-selling track of that year, and won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. But industry politics turned them on one another. Only once did they grace the same stage to perform the back-and-forth cut: at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards. It took years of maturity to look past their petty squabble, which was admittedly without a basis, for the girls to woman up. After Brandy left Epic Records in 2009 and resigned with RCA Records in August 2011, she found herself at the same label home as her former foe. The imprint asked her if she would consider doing a collaborative cut with Monica, and after reconnecting with the Atlanta songstress, the wheels started spinning.

“The first time, we didn’t know each other. We just went to the studio and recorded the song. There was no chemistry there, really, because we didn’t really have any time to sing with each other,” says Brandy, who has since filmed a video for the song with Monica and performed the track live several times. The two are in talks to do a summer tour together, though nothing is set in stone. “We would be dumb if we didn’t do a tour. Something has to happen in order for that not to happen, something where you’d have to be like, ‘Oh, they called me to be in Avatar 3. Sorry Monica, I gotta do that movie!’ That would be the only thing that would stop me.”

Important to Brandy was keeping Monica close in the weeks following Whitney Houston’s death. Brandy had maintained a close relationship with the late singer throughout the years, and conversed with Whitney and Monica during Grammy weekend in February 2012. They had just spoken before Whitney retreated to her room, where she soon passed. Management insisted that no questions be asked about the loss of her mentor, but Brandy was quick to reference her, explaining that she was important enough to inspire Two Eleven’s title. “Some of the titles I was working with were Rebirth, Reincarnation, Reinvention, Resurrection… I just felt like Two Eleven describes all of that. It’s the day I was born, and each year, I evolve and change with time,” she says. “It also has a whole new meaning to it because I gained my angel. My icon is my angel now. It’s all tied in there and I just think it best represents who I am and the responsibilities I have moving on.”

Shying away from the smooth piano-infused tones of Human, Brandy roughs up her sound on Two Eleven, maintaining the powerful productions of previous records but mashing in genres outside of her comfort zone. “It’s definitely R&B, but it has the crossover appeal. It’s grittier, it’s edgier, it’s just different type of R&B. It’s not your regular smooth, soft with the beat type music,” she describes. “It’s just taking risks and hearing how I sound over different types of music, and I wanted an album that different people can listen to. Not just R&B, but pop and hip-hop. I wanted everyone to have something that they can listen to on this album.”

Part of her evolution comes in the form of the team involved on Two Eleven. Normally, Brandy aligns with a particular producer such as Timbaland or Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins to helm the bulk of an LP, and uses additional beatsmiths to color the gaps. But for Two Eleven, she’s piecing together a versatile offering of “gritty” R&B with pop and hip-hop overtones, working with a spread of musicians to expand her sound.

Notable contributions come from Odd Future’s resident crooner Frank Ocean, who previously penned “1st & Love” off of Human under his government name Christopher Breaux. For “Scared of Beautiful,” Ocean lends his writing chops for a deeper cut about a woman coming to terms with her beauty. “His music speaks volumes, and I was able to experience that before everyone else knew,” she says. “I always knew he was really special and I just wanted to see how we could vibe, what we could come up with together in the studio this time around. He’s just a genius. I think his songs have so much substance and so much depth, and you need that on an album as well.”

While self-imposed, the hiatus from her solo career came after departing from Epic Records, on which she only released Human. Brandy took the opportunity to breathe – she’d been active in music for more than a decade – and make her home at a label that would back her recordings and creativity – no questions asked. It’s at RCA where she found her footing – “They would do everything in their power to get my music out there” – and got her musical career back on track. But her creative reemergence also inspired her return to acting. As far back as her early teens, Brandy was a screen diva, holding court on television as the star of Moesha and appearing in films such as 1998’s I Know What You Did Last Summer and 2001’s Osmosis Jones. It took a cameo on CW’s 90210 to get her back into character, followed by recurring roles on Drop Dead Diva and The Game. She doesn’t care for reality television anymore and is entertaining the idea of developing and starring in a scripted series a la Moesha. “That’s where I’m from. I was raised on television. I need to continue to keep that up,” she explains. “It’s just like it was meant to be, for me to get back into it and with developing my own show now, I want a show that represents everything that I am and more, and just take risks and challenge myself to be somebody different than who I am, as well. I’m ready though.”

Television paved the way for her foray back into Hollywood. In July, Brandy will star alongside Kim Kardashian, Vanessa Williams and Lance Gross in the Tyler Perry film The Marriage Counselor, where she plays a woman named Melinda. Though she wouldn’t go into specifics about her character, she describes Melinda as “running from a past that’s so hard for her to face.” It’s a familiar circumstance for Brandy, who had spent the last few years coming to terms with her future while growing from previous hardships.

“It may not be the same exact situation or the same circumstance, but no matter what, pain feels the same in any situation,” she says. “I was definitely having to pull from the most painful experiences that I had to connect with Melinda, and that’s a hard thing to do when you’re excited and happy to be doing a movie and working with Tyler Perry.”

With her singing and acting careers in full swing, Brandy looks back on her resurgence over the last year as a blessing. Stating that “positive thinking and including God in everything I do” is the key to success, she’s finally ready to take on new challenges, looking at former mistakes as stepping stones to putting her professional life back on track. “I’m just excited to entertain and discover more and more about myself, and through these great experiences like doing an album, doing different roles, all of this stuff, it’s just reminding me of why I’m here and why I’m on this planet. I just want to continue to do everything that I’m supposed to do,” she says. “It’s all a gift. I’m just so thankful. I just want to be able to do whatever it is that I’m meant to do. I’m just excited to discover more and more about me, because I forgot. I really forgot. I’m reminded more and more every time I experience things like I’ve been experiencing them over the last year.”

YRBMagazine.com

Posted: April 1st, 2012
Categories: Cover Stories
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Machine Gun Kelly Tempers His Rage on ‘Half Naked’ EP – RollingStone.com (Mar. 2012)

Machine Gun Kelly is more vulnerable than his “wild boy” persona lets on. The Cleveland, Ohio rapper, whose clamorous live sets and fanbase of “ragers” have branded him a contender for hip-hop’s resident rocker, reveals a softer side on his Half Naked & Almost Famous EP, his first official release through Diddy’s Bad Boy label and a companion piece to a 90-minute documentary.

On cuts like “See My Tears” and “EST 4 Life,” Kelly points the pen inward, reflecting on his mainstream ascent and questioning what the future holds. The five-track set also includes two previously released tracks – the blistering “Wild Boys,” featuring Waka Flocka Flame, and the Cassie-assisted “Warning Shot,” where Kelly barks over bombastic soundscapes.

“I’m probably one of the wildest, most out-of-control people in the industry,” says the 21-year-old, who was arrested for disorderly conduct in January after a gig in Florida. “I don’t give a fuck about the masses; I’m not here for them. I’m here to make an impact on the kids who truly care. I’m not going to beg for attention and shit.”

MGK is at his most raucous in the documentary, which was shot during last year’s Warped Tour and features footage of him coughing up blood from a throat infection (“We fuckin’ bleed this shit,” he boasts) and tripping on mushrooms (“I’m definitely a boomer”).

“I was a huge punker growing up,” says Kelly, whose real name is Richard Baker. “On my body, shit, if you want to talk about rock stars, I’ve got Tommy Lee’s Mayhem (logo) tattooed on my wrist. I got fuckin’ Chili Peppers on my elbow. I got scars all over my fuckin’ hands from fighting and just dumb shit. Hip-hop influences my talent, but I think that punk and everything else I listened to growing up was who my idols were. That’s why drugs also got involved in my life. I idolized the wrong people, like Nikki Sixx and Kurt Cobain.”

Kelly’s rise has caught the attention of Tech N9ne, who invited the rapper to join his Hostile Takeover; the trek will hit 90 cities in 99 days and kick off on March 24th in in Kansas City. The rapper’s history of road rage preceded him, resulting in an imposed list of guidelines for him to follow over the three-month run. “No afterparties, no clubs, no smoking…We have a very bad road reputation,” Kelly says. “Rules are meant to be broken.”

Kelly, who is diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, also plans to showcase his more extreme and subdued sides on his upcoming summer debut LP, Lace Up. Recorded before he signed with Bad Boy last August, it features a collaboration with Tech N9ne – but the rapper remains tightlipped about the rest. When asked why “Warning Shot,” which originally featured Livvi Franc on its hook, now features Cassie, his tongue turns cold. But he assures that he maintained creative control over the project.

“Lace Up is going to be recognized by the Grammys. It’s going to be one of those things that goes down in history as one of the best albums, period. It’s kind of like Adele’s 21. It was this perfect time in a person’s life, and she made a soundtrack for it. Lace Up is the same way,” says Kelly. “When it’s time for you to know who I am, it’ll be the right time. I’m not going to convince you to know who I am. I don’t care.”

RollingStone.com

Posted: March 20th, 2012
Categories: Online
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Rita Ora Visits Radio With Jay-Z, Scores Hit With ‘How We Do (Party)’ – Billboard Magazine (Mar. 2012)

rita

When newly signed Roc Nation artist Rita Ora visited Clear Channel with label boss Jay-Z on Feb. 23, it was simply to present music and videos from her untitled debut. But in a rare move for rotation-based radio, executives were so moved by what they heard that they walked the Runners-produced single “How We Do (Party)” to New York’s top hit music station WHTZ (Z100) to premiere the cut on DJ JJ’s afternoon show, which is syndicated nationally through iHeartRadio and SiriusXM. Shortly after, it was moved into rotation on the station without a campaign for radio adds.

The premiere was unorthodox for Clear Channel and Roc Nation, whose roster includes J. Cole, Bridget Kelly and Willow Smith. Shortly after the single’s debut, the label revved its marketing strategy, pushing up the single’s rollout and capitalizing on the sudden attention surrounding the British singer.

“Z100 definitely raised the exposure level tenfold, which puts everything into the fast lane. We were in go mode before; now, we’re speeding,” Roc Nation publicist Jana Fleishman says. “I think Jay just knew it was the right time and how strong the music is, how it’s such a perfect fit for the station.”

Jay-Z is known for remaining at arm’s length from artists signed to the label, making his presence highly unusual and possibly influential on radio execs. His appearance with Ora follows a similar experience in 2005 with then-unknown Rihanna. He introduced her and her debut single, “Pon De Replay,” to Clear Channel personnel, who physically drove the single to Z100′s studio to break the Caribbean-inspired jam.

“We’re kind of seeing a similar pattern to what we saw in 2005,” says Z100 PD Sharon Dastur, who estimates that JJ’s show reaches 2 million listeners in New York. “[Jay] putting his seal of approval on something has meant a lot over the years. But we heard other songs in addition to that where we were like, ‘This girl is going to be a superstar. There’s actually something there and we want to be in on it from the ground floor.’”

Columbia Records senior VP of promotion Lee Leipsner credits Clear Channel for taking a chance. He says the company’s artist integration program into radio and online properties was a driving factor for launching “How We Do (Party),” and that Columbia was prepared to shuffle marketing strategies to accommodate the publicity. “You want it to be radio’s idea. Sometimes, when it comes from them, it makes it that much more credible,” he says. “It hasn’t happened in a while. It got so homogenized and so passive and safe that nobody was taking chances anymore. Now, they [are].”

For Tom Poleman, president of national programming platforms for Clear Channel Radio, Ora’s music and presentation were convincing enough to break the radio mold. “It doesn’t always need to be planned out perfectly, and spontaneity and the emotions is what makes our medium special,” he says. “The planets aligned really nicely in this one because we had someone who was mentoring a new artist, and the mentor happens to be one of the biggest stars we put on the radio station. That was an opportunity for a great radio moment.”

Whether the massive debut of “How We Do (Party)” guarantees future success, both Roc Nation and Clear Channel view the exposure that came from breaking the single on mainstream radio as capturing lightning in a bottle. (A Roc Nation rep confirms that Ora’s “How We Do (Party)” was “loosely inspired” by the Notorious B.I.G.’s 1993 song of the same name; he doesn’t receive a credit on the song.) “No one can predict the future,” Dastur says, “but for the song to be world-premiered on Z100 in New York City, the No. 1 market in the country, it got a lot of attention from all sorts of media outlets.”

Billboard.com

Posted: March 6th, 2012
Categories: Features
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HipHopDX Expert Weighs In On #8 ‘Hottest MC’ Big Sean – MTV (Feb. 2012)

MTV’s “Hottest MCs in the Game VII” kicked off on Monday (February 13), and so far Wale, Wiz Khalifa and Big Sean have already been revealed as the #10, #9 and #8 picks, respectively. MTV News’ Hip-Hop Brain Trust have already come up with a final list of the year’s Hottest MCs, but several other experts from the hip-hop community weighed in on the rappers as well.

Steven Horowitz, News Editor at HipHopDx.com shared his opinion on Big Sean’s past year.“I think Big Sean had a surprising year, I don’t think anybody thought he was going to do as well as he did,” Horowitz says, addressing Sean’s label situation under Def Jam Records/G.O.O.D. Music. “Being signed to G.O.O.D. Music is both a gift and a curse. You have Kanye’s stamp of approval but he’s not going to hold your hand and Sean proved that he’s a hustler when it comes to getting his music out there.” Listen to the full explanation above.

Tune in to MTV2 on Sunday, February 19, at 10 p.m. ET/PT to catch “MTV2 Presents: Yo! MTV Raps Classic Cuts,” then watch “Hottest MCs in the Game VII” immediately after at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT before capping the night off with “Sucker Free Certified” at 11 p.m. ET/PT.

RapFix

Posted: February 17th, 2012
Categories: Media
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