Trackmasters Tell All: The Stories Behind Their Classic Records (Part 2)

Becoming Executives At Columbia

Tone: “We had a joint venture at Sony where we were putting out Allure, Kid Capri, 50 Cent, and some other artists. And we had just finished putting out their biggest record of the year, Will Smith’s album.

"Basically, the success of the Men In Black soundtrack, the success with Nas, and the Will Smith album got us the job. Will put it over the top because they didn’t think they could sell any records with him.”

Poke: “It was also cause our venture was so big they wanted to tie the venture in with everything that they were already doing. So that’s how we got in the door. At that point they were like, ‘We gotta get these guys in the building. We need these guys in here!’

“We had a conversation right before Christmas where we went up to Tommy Motolla’s office. Tommy was like, ‘Yo, this is what we want to do next year with you guys. How do you guys feel about running black music at Columbia?’ That’s when the real lessons began, prior to that we just knew how to make great records.”

 

The music industry back then never understood rap. Columbia never understood that you don’t need a radio record for Nas to sell records. Even later on with Wu-Tang, they tried to get these slick records for Wu-Tang. - Tone

 

Tone: “I almost wish I hadn’t learned that lesson because it makes you look at music differently. To go from sitting on a drum pad making beats and then you know fucking bullshit bureaucracy that’s about to happen with your record when it gets to the building its like, ‘This is unbelievable.’ It makes you make records differently.

“The music industry back then never understood rap. Columbia never understood that you don’t need a radio record for Nas to sell records. Even later on with Wu-Tang, you don’t need a radio record to sell records. They tried to get these slick records for Wu-Tang.”

Poke: “Hip-hop stars are equivalent to rock stars. With a rock record, there is no radio rock record. It’s just a rock record. There's no, ‘We’re gonna make a radio rock record.’ No, they make their hard shit and it goes to radio. Period. End of story.

“Hip-hop you got different levels of hip-hop records. You have your hard ass hip-hop records, you have your R&B hip-hop records, and you have your pop hip-hop records. Rock, there's no pop rock or any of that. It’s just rock! That’s where they twisted us out. They should have just let us do hip-hop, if it plays radio then it plays radio, if it doesn’t then it doesn’t fucking play radio.”

Tone: “Columbia never expected Nas to sell almost 500,000 the first week with I Am... which had ‘Hate Me Now’ on it. We had a lot of street records out there. ‘Hate Me Now’ for all intents and purposes was a street record, it had a lot of controversy behind it but it was a street record. The building didn’t understand at that time why are we shipping this many records.”

Poke: “When we got in the Columbia building that was when we was at the level where it was like, ‘Holy shit.’ When we became executives at Columbia, that fucked us up completely. That twisted our whole game out. First of all, they play at a totally different level of the game. Period. They don’t deal in small numbers, everything is big. 

“The way we were thinking is, ‘We got an artist who can sell 300,000 right here. This artist is banging.’ But they don’t want that. They’re like fuck that. They deal in, ‘We’re gonna go in, we’re gonna sell 10,000,000 that’s it. Every time. If we don’t think that we’re doing this then we’re not doing it.’”

 

The way we were thinking is, ‘We got an artist who can sell 300,000 right here. This artist is banging.’ But they deal in, ‘We’re gonna go in, we’re gonna sell 10,000,000. That’s it. Every time. If we don’t think that we’re doing that then we’re not doing it.’ - Poke

 

Tone: “Now a days maybe they’ll take an artist that can sell 300,000. But back then, forget about it. It’s not really their fault because the budgets they were giving out at the time were astronomical. Guys coming in getting a million dollars for singing. Videos back there were 500 grand, that was the budget. So you couldn’t blame them for saying no.

“We couldn’t sell both records because unfortunately with the rap acts they gave you one shot. It’s like, ‘We’re gonna spend this $120,000 on promotion and if it don’t go, you’re gone.’ So you couldn’t blame them for wanting their money back. If they just treated rap the way the treated rock records where it’s a slow grind and they grow it, there would be a lot more rappers still rapping.”

Poke: “You know what they did that was foul? They would do that with their rock records.”

Tone: “Yeah that’s what I was saying, the slow grind.”

Poke: “They would slow grind them to death.”

Tone: “And they never gave rappers tour support. It’s not something that they gave us.”

Poke: “When we came in the building we asked for all of that shit.”

Tone: “And they were looking at us like, ‘What the fuck?’”

Poke: “We need vans, we need street teams. They were like, ‘What? We’re not doing that!’ It was like what the fuck you mean you’re not doing that? How are we supposed to get all this shit accomplished? We need them hot in the streets so we need that.

"A year later, we started with four vans now we’ve only got two because they’re using two vans for their rock acts. They got the street team working for their rock acts now. That’s when our eyes opened and we saw everything. Its like, ‘Ohhh shit.’

"When we thought about it it’s like, ‘We’re outside the building giving you all these records and that’s how you were handling our records the whole time? We didn’t know this?’ Why the fuck are we on here?’ They treat the music like products that they don’t give a fuck about or do give a fuck about and that’s it. There's no in between.”

Tone: “And that’s only because they never really understood it. A lot of the rappers back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, they created their own fan base. Labels didn’t have anything to do with it. Not the big labels, maybe the smaller labels like the Selects, Profiles, and Delicious understood that.

“But when you started moving into the majors, they never understood which is one of the reasons that they started buying up all the smaller labels because those guys understood it. So if you were signed directly to Columbia, Epic or any other majors you were fucked. You had to be on the little subsidiaries who understood how to break rap artists.”

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