Producer's Corner: Tha Bizness
People say you should never mix business with pleasure. But when you come to combine family and business, the results couldnt be more lucrative, in this case anyway. West coast cousins J-Hen and Dow Jones make up the production double act Tha Bizness.
They both possess a trait oh so rare in Hip Hop; that trait being patience. It is this common denominator that has allowed them to diligently brand themselves and their production company while waiting for their moment to shine.
The time to shine came for the Seattle duo, when they worked with 50 Cent ("Follow My Lead"), Young Buck ("Puff, Puff, Puff") and Turf Talk ("That's That Turf Talk"). Through that they got the co-sign they believe you need today to make it, well as a producer anyway and as the saying goes, the rest is gravy.
Labels politics, artists who you cant tell nothing and basic business acumen, Tha Bizness are ready and prepared for what the future brings.
HipHopDX: How did you come together to launch your production company?
J-Hen: Well we are cousins and we are both from Seattle. A couple of years back I was focusing more on being a keyboardist and producer and Dow was over there focusing on the mixtapes and being a deejay. We both relocated to L.A. in 2002 and decided to come together making tracks over the last two years. Using his techniques as a deejay and mine on the keys, we took it from there to form a business.
DX: Being that you are both from Seattle, did you think it was imperative that you move to L.A. to garner attention?
Dow: I think it was just one of those things throughout any career, that you get to a point where you think you have done the most you can do in anyone area. So from there, we just realized things had reached a certain level in Seattle that couldnt be surpassed if we stayed there. In order to take everything to the next level and see exactly where we were at with out ability, we went to one of the biggest ponds and decided to swim with the big fish. See if we could hold our own. Obviously the way things have been going, we are able to hold our own and a lot of instances have appeared where we can take it to the next level with some of the best producers in the entertainment business.
DX: Was it an easy move?
J-Hen: Dow was already out there in Seattle, and I had just graduated college from Morehouse in Atlanta. After graduation you are always left in a situation where you wonder are you going to pursue your dream or are you going to go into more of a corporate field. So we talked about it and we always said we would go full ahead with this dream of ours and make a big move. There are more contacts in L.A. and we decided it was something we decided we just had to do. It is always a risky thing, when you get comfortable with it but when you are out there trying to make it and you believe in yourself that much, you just have to keep working at it and pray it will be alright.
DX: What were you studying at Morehouse?
J-Hen: I did business management and I got a degree with honors.
DX: So that is all relevant.
Dow: Then I was on the other end of the pendulum where I moved around a lot. For me, to move, it was nothing as I have always moved around as to me it is just a natural progression. I never really did the school thing. I did sports, played football coming up, but my big brother figure is a member of the original Rock Steady Crew. He put me onto the whole deejay aspect and the actual art form, where it originated from. That was where I came from and I think that is what makes our situation so good as it is the best of all the worlds. We mix all the influences and inspirations we have got from all the situations we have been in and all the places we have been. It merges everything together and we bounce ideas off each other. As a duo, we are well rounded individuals as well.
DX: Do you find that nowadays people fail to study themselves as well as their craft nowadays to get a true understanding of what they are and hope to achieve realistically?
Dow: Well that is what is missing in Hip-Hop nowadays. There is a big generation gap as some of these artists coming up now may not know the artists who opened the doors for them or may not even care. That is the thought generation of the younger generation where they dont even care about anything else but themselves. That is all they know. We have a deep appreciation of the forefathers of the production game and just different types of music in general.
J-Hen: Being from Seattle, it is a real gumbo of Hip-Hop as there are people that are into the real gangster music, then being close to the Bay area, you get the bass that came in during the late '90s and the high energy fun stuff. Being that we have all those types of influence growing up, we basically focused and studied from the standpoint of having a commercial sound. You might not know this but we didnt get a whole lot of music on BET. We only heard Top 40 and the real hard core west coast stuff and I think when people hear the bulk of the stuff we have produced as a team, they will be amazed at the commercial sound we have across many genres.
DX: Who would you put down as your biggest inspiration?
J-Hen: I think I always wanted to be like Teddy Riley growing up. I just wanted to be that dude that could take unknown acts and make them big acts. He is also one of the biggest and most notable producers who started to brand him self. I have had that dream for so long and I know what that with Dow, we have understood the importance of some of the major producers like [DJ Premier], people like Mannie [Fresh] and even DJ Toomp - who is a good friend of ours. We just learned to understand how people did it and then we would go back to the studio and build from our own inspiration.
Dow: But thats the difference, you know we studied where as a lot of producers today just copy.
DX: Yeah its very formatted now isnt it?
Dow: Right, and even big commercial records like say the 50 Cent single we did or the LL Cool J single that is coming; it will hit you from the left as it is something that is familiar as what an LL single normally sounds like yet it is made up of sounds that havent been put in an arrangement like that before. Our main thing is always about pushing the envelope but making it so that is it not too shocking to either the artist or the consumer.
DX: Now Dow, obviously you are infamous for the mixtapes, is this you taking time out from those?
Dow: Well really it is the best of both worlds. We basically just use the mixtape side to encourage solid relationships with the artists. With me, along with Drama and DJ Skee who are some of the biggest names in the mixtape game, we have relationships with people we are doing the tapes with. So it is nothing for us to do original songs and basically with my tapes now, that is what they really are; we do them as street albums where there will be tracks on there as well as tracks from other producers we are working with. We have been using the mixtapes to get our names out there with the production if the artists are cool with that. You know to us it is stepping stones, the mixtapes. Now we can take it to the next level where we can put out our own independent albums with artists whose labels arent giving them the attention they want right now, or just to get that deal.
DX: You will still be as heavy on the mixtape scene then?
Dow: Yeah no doubt. We have been talking to this artist Wylde who is Danjahandz' artist and we have been talking to him about a situation where we would do half the beats and he would do half the beats and it would be an original street album for his artist. You were never been able to see something like that, where you see big name producers getting behind certain artists and being able to put them out like that without a label.
DX: Do you think that this is the next trend, original street albums, you know how the mixtape pretty much got rid of the demo?
Dow: When we have had conversations with like DJ Skee who is holding the flag as far as this new generation; really I dont see it being too far away from where we can go and get our own deals through the smaller sub companies. You know finding the new artists and putting them out ourselves through them. The way things are going digitally, its not that hard to put things out, all you really have to pay for is mixing and mastering and then put it out through iTunes.
J-Hen: Like Dow was saying, as far as the future, talking about mixtapes, we were at the Ozone Awards and people understood where we were coming from. People said it was pretty dope that we were focusing on not just big acts, but also the smaller ones. It gets to a point when you are a producer and you can go and get those A List artists; but it will also show you more worth if you go ahead and take the no name acts and brand them with your mixtapes and your production and take them to that next level. So if we are going to continue on with the mixtapes, we are going to continue to work with the independents, the unknown artists and the big names; this will show our worth as a company, as a brand, as a production team.
DX: Beyond knowing the industry and the music, you are very aware of the business?
Dow: Exactly. That is the full gimmick of the promotion side. We have a joint venture with Atlantic and our artist Mistah FAB from Oakland. It is through this it has shown us how to do our own promotion, how to get things out there and get the labels attention and have them working with us on things to use their bigger resources to take things to the next level.
DX: How important has it been to you to find good management?
J-Hen: You always have to understand that to get to the next level and become known, you need that co-sign. You need that some body to say you are hot and that the music is tight. With Sha Money when we worked on the first Lloyd Banks album, we made the international record with "Take a Good Look" which turned out to be a good mixtape record and ended up on Hunger For More, the international version, he kept in contact with us. We were trying to get as many placements as we could, then Sha stepped in and said we had the capabilities to make really big records and he would step in and help us do that. With a name like Money Management as your team, off top when people start checking you out to work with you and they find out you are working with Sha, people are already waiting to hear something better. That co-sign means a lot and it will always mean a lot for an artist, for a producer, in order to climb the game
Dow: People cant say anything to us about 50. He was the one that believed in us and put his neck on the line for us. He always said he would take us to the next level. He liked the sound and he is the sort of person that if he really likes you and vibes with you he will work with you with all kinds of stuff. We did a song for ESPN Football 2008 which we just finished with him and that was a great experience as he is putting his neck on the line for us working with big names and allowing us to take over the session. We have nothing but respect for him.
DX: Do you think you work better when you are able to vibe with a person in the studio?
Dow: Definitely. There is a great gap now between A&Rs and artists. They may tell you that he is looking for this, that and the third. But when you get with the artist they are looking for something different. When we first went out to the Bay and started working with E-40 and Mistah FAB, we got a whole different perspective of what their music is about out there, just as it is with us down in Atlanta. 50 has given us the ability to push the envelope and just keep doing the beats how we have been doing them. He is the first one to say, "I run with this and then when others see that, then it is good for them too." Before we would go to meetings with artists and it would all be about whom you know and what you have done, and when there wasnt much to say back then they would push it to the side. Now we play tracks to these same people that we played tracks too before, they are saying it is the best track they have heard.
J-Hen: It is a double edged sword when you are working with producers and you are dealing with artists and you are trying to work the two. Now in Hip Hop, it is about "sending a beat CD, send me the Protools file," and then you will get your paperwork. There is no relationship.
DX: You can do everything from your desk
J-Hen: yeah and that vibe that is missing between the producer and the artist is the reason why a lot of these songs that are out are missing that feeling or that emotion that people hold on to for so long. People will grab a song and throw it out; you know they dont care about the artist. But when you are trying to build chemistry, there is something that comes with it when dealing with a producer and artist, you build around something. Not every producer, who has that hot record out right now, might have the leadership or savvy to be in the studio with an artist, high profile or not. They are just used to making a beat.
Dow: Not every producer now is a producer. Producers now are more beat makers.
J-Hen: You can tell when you hear a big record, you know a Timbaland or a [Premier] or a Toomp. They take an artist and build the songs around their production. It has an entirely different emotion to it.
DX: The reason people dont have the opportunity to work in the studio together when it comes down to artist/producers, is because of budgets not being enough, do you agree with that, or is it that people prefer convenience?
J-Hen: I think it is both or even three things, budget, convenience and then on some part it can be arrogance. We are trying to work to that level where the bales and publishing companies will provide you with the opportunity to work with someone as opposed to you going to work with them when you are stationed at a studio. We were talking to DJ Toomp and even with all the big records he has done, he still finds it hard sometimes to get artists to come to his studio. It wouldnt be a budget issue as it is secure, good fitted out studio. But unless it is a big name studio or unless the label or artists feel they are going to get what they need out of it, they are not going to push that. Back in the day people were just happy to record the music wherever regardless of whether it sold 9,000 or what mics they used. There is just such a big gap between the artist and the producer. You have lawyers, managers, record labels and everyone else in between, who want to get it done right; but if you have an artist and a producer who knows what they are doing, it is going to come out right anyway. Home studio or $3,000 a day studio, it shouldnt make any difference.
Dow: The other aspect to go along with that is that a lot of artists think they know everything. They think they know how to make a hit because they had one before. But when they try to do it, they cant because it might have just been luck the first time. They may be great writers but sometimes you do need a different input, you know the artist might not know the vision of the producer or what was going on in the beat as it is more than just sitting down and writing. Now with it being such a swagger heavy era, its a lot more than just writing.
DX: Do you think those days of just making music wherever will come back into play?
J-Hen: I think to get back to that; the labels or the companies in the music industry have to turn. You know who is going to trust who. Are the record labels going to go back to really trusting producers more. Some labels do understand the value of the producer, but you do have to look at how the business structure is going to go. Just look at the management and the A&Rs and if they can understand these are the types of things that will get an artist more hit records, maybe the time will change. Right now I dont see a change in the near future to get a better dynamic between artist and producers as we are in a zone now where people want as much of the record done as fast as possible. People just want to get whatever they can and get it out. Labels are taking whatever records and not worrying about the longevity of the artist or what comes next and making a fan, touring and all that. Artists have to make sure they have to build relationships with their fans, writers, deejays, publicists so they can have a lasting career.
Dow: Just quality control. There are some people that are A&Rs and executive producing the albums, when you look back a lot of these albums might have the right producers on them, but the songs dont come out right. It is just about quality control. Who is signing off? Just because he wrote it or he worked on it, it is like everything is in cruise control. People need to evaluate the situation. You have to be accountable for what you are putting out there. You know if you are going out on the road and if you only have one song out of fifteen that was a single and what people really know, what are you going to perform.
J-Hen: It is hard; we always talked about when we branded ourselves we knew we couldnt just depend on our music. We were really patient until we had a big enough opportunity to turn the spotlight on us we started branding ourselves here and there. Some of these albums that came out back in the day, you didnt know who the producers were and yet they might be some of your favorite albums. It has got so caught up as a producers game now, we are just trying to do our best. We try to let the artists we work with brand themselves as that is what they are trying to do too. You have artists that are doing well because of the producer they work with. Then there are fans that dont believe in the artist because it was the beats that made him.