The Significance of Maximizing Your Talent And Owning Your Legacy
By Tony Draper
Mic Drop is a recurring series featuring the thoughts and opinions of some of the biggest voices in classic Hip-Hop. Raw, uncut — and in their own words — these are the gems you've always wanted.
Everything I touched, I always owned.
And I owned it because I put my own money up. A lot of artists claim independent, but a lot of them are just saying it because it's fashionable now. They don't know what it really means to be independent. It means you're putting your own money up and you have your own infrastructure. Now, there are deals where you have some type of participation from the parent company but they don't call no real plays. You've got to know that and understand that.
Great, quality records will give you a revenue source for years and decades. Stop with the microwave shit because it's here and it's gone. You might make some money, but you might crash and burn.
A young person with money right now, nine times out of ten, he’s gonna run through the bag because he’s not used to it.
He’s going to be thinking "I’ll just always make this kind of money." But in most cases, most artists don’t make that kind of money long-term, ever again. And sometimes, if you’ve never had a five-star steak, that’s a big deal for you! But once you’ve had that steak, if you have to go back to eating black-eyed peas — that may fuck with you a little bit.
I think artists need to slow down on putting so much music out and concentrate more on the quality of records going out. I’m happy for every young person that’s able to feed their family and change their family. But I don’t want you to just feed them today and tomorrow; I want you to change a whole generation and the next one — through hard work. That comes from understanding where you want to be in your life. I knew that I wanted to be something; but I’d be lying if I told you I wanted a million dollars. I just wanted to get my mother out of a one-bedroom and into a two-bedroom. God blessed me with enough to buy her a house and take care of me and my children and everybody I love.
I could’ve easily pimped Suave House. In one era, Suave House was probably a top two record company in the South.
When it comes to CEOs and ownership of labels, the South is like this: J. Prince and Luke are the godfathers, I’m most definitely third. Then comes Master P, then comes Baby. Organized Noize was in there, but they had a production deal through LaFace. That’s not what I’m talking about; I’m talking about ownership of masters and you putting bread up and doing your own thing. When I started Suave, I watched other individuals in the game before me. J. Prince was a mentor of mine then, and he’s a mentor of mine now. The late, great Eazy E was a mentor of mine; Luther Campbell was a mentor of mine. I was listening to them and there was no arrogance. I was a student in their class. And they were giving me information and wisdom. That’s what I wanted to do, and I wanted to pass it on to others.
We all get an opportunity to be in the spotlight. Death Row had their opportunity; Rap-A-Lot, Suave House, No Limit, Ruthless, Cash Money – we all get that. But we all still operate and we all run our labels. Cash Money has done incredibly when it comes to developing talent and selling records. You cannot discredit what those gentlemen were able to do with their label, coming out of New Orleans, Louisiana. And I was instrumental in their deal. It’s all about helping the next individual. That’s what I always do. I respect every talent out there. All I’m saying is put quality into the music.
We have to celebrate our own culture. We’re so busy fighting for position that we’re putting down our greats. Who do you want to be? You should follow the blueprint of a Will Smith or an Ice Cube or an LL COOL J and or a Queen Latifah. They took Hip-Hop and turned it into many different things and they’re still relevant to this day. Watch people that are doing what you’re doing and who are doing it at the age that you claim you want to still be doing it at. See their growth. See how they’ve touched different arenas in a major way.
We have to stop talking negative about our own. Everybody that’s young will get old.
I saw the Stylistics and the O’Jays in concert one year, and there was 1,500 people in there. I couldn’t believe it. There’s no reason for us to work so hard when everybody has capitalized off of our music and our sweat.
Don’t let the parent company rock you to sleep with trinkets and monetary things. If you believe your content is priceless, make that the priority. People need to understand what kind of deal they really have. What you don’t want to do is wake up and think you own something you don’t own.
If you really want to be an independent label owner, you’re going to have to take the money that you make and put it back into your own label and artists. It’s hard for an individual to believe in somebody else’s dream. Verbally, you might say that, but when it comes to financially supporting my words? A lot of people ain’t gonna do that. That’s why you don’t have a lot of great indies anymore. It sounds good. But it’s hard to take a million dollars out of your own pocket and give it to this artist that you think might be the next Nas. I understand why certain parent companies retain the masters, because they’re taking all the risks. But at some point, the masters need to revert back to the artist; especially if they’re signed to a major. Every album I put out, I paid for it, top to bottom. I respected every artist I ever signed. Because every artist I ever signed was someone I believed in.
There are points in your career where artists don’t understand the structure was business. I’ve never signed an artist that I thought was doper than me. I was going to be successful regardless. Because I had the drive to be something and I wanted my name to live forever. I wanted my mother to be happy that her son became something. I want to make my mother proud of the son she brought from Memphis and raised in Houston. That was my thought as a sixteen year old kid, that’s still my thought at fucking 49 years old.
*HEADER CREDIT: Tony Draper, Atlanta GA (photo by: Sean Mullen)