Industry 101: Rocco Valdes
From experiences at Def Jam, Slip-N-Slide and now his own entities, Rocco threads his story with courage, conviction and the pursuit of good music. With his next project B.O.B., waiting in Atlantic's wings, see where Rocco Valdes is headed, and since he's only 27, for how long.
HipHopDX: How did you get into artist management/ the industry in the first place?
Rocco Valdes: Well about halfway through my career I worked at Slip-N-Slide records as an A&R. We had a studio in the back and different producers would come through, and thats how I met Jim Jonsin. At the time he was working on some records for Trick Daddy. He produced the song "Let's Go" for Trick, Twista, and Lil' Jon. I used to be in the studio with him everyday and I just started vibing with him. He also did Pitbulls "Damnit Man,"so I figured hey, I can get this guy a publishing deal. So I reached out to a good friend of mine Big Jon [Platt] and said, Yo I got this dude that is about to blow. I sent him music and about a week later he flew down with a deal on the table and Jim told me, Damn you put food into my daughters mouth, I want you to be on the team. He was managed by Michael Blumstein [Which is now Rocco's partner] and we just teamed up. Big Jon is from EMI publishing.
DX: Gotcha...that's halfway through the career...what about the very beginning?
RV: Well that was the beginning of management as far as music business. I went to full sail in 2001. I thought I wanted to be an engineer.
RV: I knew nothing about music. I learned a lot there (in college) but i decided it wasn't for me. So after I graduated in 2002, I went to New York with 300 dollars to my name and moved in to a senior citizen building with my step grandfather and slept on his couch. Prior to going to New York, I had sent my resume to Arista and I also sent my resume to Def Jam through the mail. I spoke to someone from Arista; I can't recall his name, but he told me I could get an internship so that's the reson for me going. It's crazy; as soon as I touched down in New York, I got a call on my cell from Human Resources at Def Jam saying they received my resume through mail, and would I be able to make an interview...I said hell yeah. So the next day, I went to the interview with this lady and she liked me. At that time it was June of 2002, and she said I could start in August, so I said Cool.
So I went home that night thought about it and was like, Damn, how the hell can I stay in New York with no dough until August? So I called her the next day and was like, Nikki I cant do August I want to start today. She said, Wow, really? let me see what I can do.. She called me the next day and said to come through, and the next thing I knew I was sitting in Kevin Liles office doing an interview.
DX: Wow, how real is that... what was it like working with Kevin Liles?
RV: Well we met in Kevins office, but I didnt work with him in the beginning. They put me as an intern for Randy Acker which was the man right below Kevin at the time. He was VP/GM. He now manages Lil Mama. I sat there and just did the bullshit get breakfast you know make sure they have drinks in the fridge. So after two weeks of me being there, Randys assistant got fired. I was like, Boom, heres my shot. Mind you, I had like 50 bucks left, swear to god. I walked up to Randy, which he still didn't know my name at the time [laughing] and I was like, Yo, I want this job," and he laughed at me like I was crazy. He said, No way. You need at least five years experience this and that." I said, Look Im broke and if I dont get this, I have to leave. Trust me, I can do it. So he [agreed]. He gave me a shot, and I started making money. After two weeks of interning I was assisting the second man at Def Jam Records.
DX: What were some memorable projects that you were on while there?
RV: I was a part of everything. Jay, Ja Rule, LL, Keith Murray. After a while, Kevin and Randy would call me in to listen to records and get my opinion. I worked on everything in some fashion. I never got any credit, but I was there.
DX: So let me ask the obvious question: Why did you leave?
RV: Man, truthfully...I hated the weather. [Laughs] Nah thats one reason, but the main one was the company was already grown and I felt like I wanted to build shit. I felt like I couldnt make the impact that I wanted to by staying thereSo I left everything. Everyone said I was stupidthatd Id never make it. I said, Cool. Watch me. So I came back home to Miami. I actually chilled for like six months because when I was working at Def Jam, I did so much overtime that I was balling. I aint never have money, so when I had like $25,000 I was like party time.
DX: So what does "making it" as an A&R mean to you?
RV: Making it to me means first off having enough money to support your family and then some, and having the respect of others in the business to where they fucks with you. Its so hard to make money in the music business. There are so many people who have no clue. So if you can make a career out of this-its special. I respect all people who do it.
DX: What's your role in T-Pain's career?
RV: In T-Pain's career, most of the time Im involved in the creative process. The music. I travel with him a lot too, making sure everything is straight. You know, shows, interviews, etc. I try to keep him focused. Im also focused on building his label Nappy Boy Entertainment. We have a couple artists about to blow. But pretty much Im the creative person coming up with ideas and stuff. My partner Mike is the day-to-day dealing with scheduling and with the label, and Dave is business affairs. So we all play an important role in Pains career.
DX: It seems like for every T-Pain fan out there there's a hater there too. Why do you think that is?
RV: Well if there wasnt haters, you wouldnt be nothing. But man, hating on T-Pain really pisses me off. People don't realize how talented this guy really is. I honestly have been with everyone and Ive never encountered someone with so much talent like T-Pain. People dont realize that this guy produces. He produced his whole album and wrote every single word himself. No help. Nobody does that. All these R&B stars that are in the limelight none of them write their shit. Except Ne-Yo, hes special too. But Pain writes and produces his own shit like thats crazy. He has the number one song in the country "Kiss Kiss" that he wrote and produced for Chris Brown and wait till you hear the ones he has coming out. Hes amazing and I'm not being biased. The whole industry realizes it too, thats why they keep callin me trying to get records. He's a genius, straight up. So it bothers me when people are like, "Oh, anyone can sing through the vocoder." Are you crazy? I can't do it..Ive tried. If everyone could do it everyone would be stars. He does it for fun. He has songs where he doesn't use it, like Right Hand on his album. To me you would think he has vocoder on his voice every time because thats just how he naturally sounds. You have to love him. Fuck the haters. Stop writing bad articles about him.
DX: As a manager and an A&R, do you take what other artists are doing into consideration when bringing your creative skills to the table?
RV: Definitely not..I hate being a follower. I want to hear the new shit. I really think thats the problem with the game right now. People keep following. All the A&Rs are like, Yo give me a record like 'Buy You a Drank.' I think its hilarious. That's why when people like Kanye come with some new creative shit it sells so much. Biggest CD of the year. 'Cause he takes a chance and doesnt follow everyday radio. I respect the chance takers.
DX: Kanye West has spoken very highly of T-Pain. In your opinion, do you have anything else to prove?
RV: Definitely. especially for T-Pain. Hes only got two albums under him and really this last one to me was like his first album because people are now starting to be like, Damn! Okay, you cant turn on your radio for more than five minutes without hearing Pain on a song." We want to be legends. We need at least 10 albums to make that impact. Everyone in my camp knows this is just the beginning. For me I just turned 27. All these executives are in their late thirties and fourties. I still have a long way to go.
DX: Word. Tell me about some of the other projects you're excited about.
RV: B.O.B., hes signed to Rebel Rock [Jim Jonsins label] through Atlantic Records. Hes my first A&R project. It's a little difficult because hes a superstar, but the label is scared to take a chance. I love him 'cause hes different. To me I think hes ready but they want to keep him more street, but thats not him. I also signed on to manage this kid Ahmad Belvin, who Im most likely going to sign to T-Pain's label. Hes an R&B singer, another writer who is just amazing. Hes 18. I got a producer Allstar who I just landed a song on Missys album and a couple on Flo-rida. Hes 16 with an amazing talent. And a group called Go Dav about the bay. Theyre the shit.
DX: How does your experience as an A&R inform your artist management side?
RV: I mean, A&R applies to everything. You cant be a good manager unless youre an A&R first in my eyes. You have to know when a hit is a hit. You have to know when the artist youre signing is worth you investing all your time in. Just like I knew Jim Jonsin was and just like I knew T-Pain was. Im real selective. I picked Jim before he had nine hit records on radio. I picked T-Pain before he was famous. Its because what I heard, I loved. When you get those goosebumps and it justs feels right I know its going to be the shit. So definitely I think the most successful managers have to be A&Rs first or have someone in your camp that is.
DX: Makes a lot of sense, but let me ask you this: When will Rocco Valdes be able to kick back and say, "I made it."?
RV: Shit man, when I have my house next to Diddys on Star Island, and when Im able to just give my whole family and friends everything they ever wanted. I want to make everyones dreams come true. So I have a long way to go before I kick back and say Ive made it.