Welcome to Sui Generis!
Nikke Stiletto: As you all know, I’m Nikke Stiletto and tonight we’re catching up with Lloyd Davis! Tell everybody who you are, where you’re from, and how you do what you do….
Lloyd Davis: Alright, well, my government name is Lloyd Davis, one of the originals, better known as Lefty Lightfoot. I started off as a studio engineer for Def Jam, moved on to being a live sound engineer for Live Nation, and I have a sh** load of…oh wait, can I even say that? [Laughter] But yeah, I have a sh** load of multimedia experience, integrated media marketing, and I mean I just saw the transition [in the industry] and it’s all about adaptation and evolution.
NS: Speaking about adaptation and evolution [in the music industry] as far as where it’s come from to where it is now what do you feel about how the industry has evolved.
LD: I just take into consideration how it all started even prior to the new era stuff. Initially, even before the bling bling era and everybody’s ballin’ it was 85% marketing and 15% talent. The difference between back then and now is that labels used to make an artist. Artist development was the key thing. Now they’re like ‘get your stuff printed and in the plastic before I’m gonna help anybody’. And everybody is independent now, so I like the way that everyone [is now free] to dictate what they want to do with their project but at the same time it’s still marketing based. I’ve recorded a lot of cats that have stupid lyrics but never went anywhere; they ended up being a tax write-off. Just collecting dust on the shelf and its like the transition of it now is that you have a lot more control when it comes to media so you must have a presence.
NS: And when you say “you have more control” you mean the artist has more control…
LD: Right, exactly, because with the advent of social media people wanna be engaged with you. I know a lot of cats like to bomb people’s timelines with a bunch of YouTube videos and telling them to listen to their SoundCloud, but you’ve never had a conversation with this person. So you have to connect with your audience. And everybody has a base. Not everybody likes everything, but there’s somebody who likes your sh**. So for example, when Universal Studios in Orlando released the World of Wizardry (Harry Potter) they only told five people on Facebook. But they were avid Harry Potter, day-time wearing a cloak, wand wavers! You know what I mean? But the thing is, Social Media is word of mouth on crystal meth. So people have to really utilize it and not just use it for the ‘[its fun], look at pictures’ aspect. It has so much power right now…and artists really need to tap into that.
NS: Well we still have up and coming artists today when I ask them for their Facebook, Twitter, etc. information they literally say, “Well you know I’m not on twitter. I don’t do all that. But I’m on Facebook.” So do you feel artists should try to get all aspects of social media covered?
LD: Definitely. I mean there’s Google+, theres Twitter, I mean Twitter and Facebook are pretty much the center of the universe. Then you have Instagram who took a quick hold because, I mean, Instagram is Twitter for people who can’t read. And Ill leave it at that…[Laughter]
LD: …However, now a lot of the media is more visually engaging so I see why Instagram flourished because people wanna see clips. You know Instagram has video now, so people wanna see you, they wanna be able to put a name with a face. I mean Twitter is still the basis of a lot of information because it makes it easier to transfer it to Facebook too. So that’s the foundation. But there’s so much stuff out there. And when you think about the World Wide Web (WWW), you have to make a really big imprint in order to be effective. It’s a process.
NS: Right. So, as far as processes go, what was the process, when you were with Live Nation and Def Jam, for an artist to get signed?
LD: Its like ok, the kid is nice, he has a demo. So now I go pay the most popular producer, on the most popular label, you come out with the most popular new artist. Then you give him to someone like me or my dude DJ Cyclone or one of us and we grind out twelve songs and then they scratch like six of them. Then we grind out six more songs and they scratch, like two. But at the end of the day that studio time and all that is going to produce something they can sell. At the basis of it, before the advent of social media, it was STILL ‘pay the most popular producer on the most popular label, and now you have the most popular new artist.’ He’s in the most popular magazines, at all the parties, all the shows…it was making a presence even before you can just put up 100,000 pictures and get 10,000 likes but still be in the projects killing roaches with a slipper, you know what I mean?
NS: HA! Right, right…and that whole process was the label developing an artist.
NS: So now, how does an artist get noticed by, lets say, Def Jam?
LD: Now? I mean the way any major label, be it Def Jam, Interscope, Universal, Atlantic, anybody that’s gonna approach you now, you have to have what they call a social media buzz. They calculate that into your process. Another thing, like a lot of the new artists, they have their own producers that are local. I look at Black Diamond and they got your boy DJ Mustard, uh, J Nore…those dudes are just producing so much product and they’re like ‘ok when I bring it to the label its ready to go to print, all I need is their distribution’. Its like, whether [record labels] are trying to stop people from doing distribution deals, the label will carry it to major people like Target, WalMart….I mean there’s no more Tower Records or The Warehouse. All the media now is digital. In all honesty though, you used to make money off of selling CD’s and albums but you don’t anymore. Now the artists are making their money on stage. So that’s why you might see somebody perform four, five, six times in a week. Leave one spot and go perform at an after party because they’re making $10-$15k at the show. Right now the artist’s make their money at the show. As far as media is concerned, videos and all that sh** they do for YouTube and what they record, that’s for the fans. That’s the artists trying to keep themselves relevant.
NS: And do you think that most artists coming in to the game are aware that this is the process? Because there are so many people that we come across, especially on BlastUrThoughts, who are hot on their block or in their city, not to say that their city is like New York City, but being hot in their city is pretty much it. And years go by and they really don’t get noticed in any region other than their own. So do you think they are aware of this new process and that they will probably only make money by doing shows?
LD: I think that artists are a lot less ambitious and I think their motivations are a lot different. A lot of the cats that are local are ok with being local. And that’s really solid because that’s where it starts. You have to have a base first before you can branch out anywhere else. But you have to take into consideration the fact that some people have more ambition than others. People get complacent. People do this for a lot of the wrong reasons. I see a lot of people who are good at it who don’t love the music they just want to reap the benefits and the rewards from it. In actually a lot of it is all imagery. You can make somebody believe whatever it is; it’s the way you package your project. But the thing about making money is that people have to WANT to see you. But I mean a lot of the new artists are ok with being local, but I think it’s all based on ambition.
NS: And that’s really a good point to make about ambition. Having spoken with a lot of artists who are trying to get on right now, they have ambition but some of them act like if [success] doesn’t happen for them over night, or they feel like they’ve been “grinding” and it hasn’t happened yet, some of them give up or get disgruntled…
LD: Yeah, I mean you are gonna get disappointed and the window for success is really small. And the people who do say I did all I can do and I can’t do anymore, then this is not for them. Again, this is a process. There might be an overnight celebrity here and there but they were grinding back in their day too its just that they just made opportunity meet preparation and it worked out. It is a long grind if you been spinning your wheels and not working efficiently, not utilizing all the tools you have available to you. In this day and age we’re in the days of communication and technology I mean come on! I mean how can you NOT generate a fan base? Its super easy! But, that’s what my company, Crafty Bastards, Inc., does. We’re on Facebook just gone’ and put it in the search bar. You feel me? We’re team makers. And it’s not so much the skill, it’s that somebody likes your sh**. You just have to find the “SOMEBODIES” and focus on making them happy. And its super easy with social media right now.
NS: How important do you feel it is for artists to listen to multiple genres of music instead of just hip-hop or just the genre of music they currently make?
LD: Ugh! That’s kinda hard to answer! [Laughter] When I came into the music industry it was from a recording standpoint so I was forced to listen to everything just from a technical aspect but I mean now I feel like as long as you’re not listening to somebody else’s sh** and feeling like ‘this is what I need to do to get on’, its cool with me. Whatever inspires you, whatever motivates you…if you write raps listening to Miles Davis that’s cool, whatever makes you productive as long as you aren’t copying people’s sh**. You don’t have to listen to classical Mozart just because you want to be adept and have a wide range of music, unless you’re an engineer, but when you’re an engineer you’re biased. But if you’re an artist, it’s whatever inspires you…
NS: So what do you feel about these artist who literally come out sounding like everybody else? I mean there’s a HUGE “Trap Music” artist population and we know aren’t all selling drugs…
LD: [Laughter] RIght…well you know…with me being a professional in the industry its just…whatevers gonna sell for you…I mean if you can sleep easy at night and they believe it it’s not really about whats true or not its about what they believe, from a marketing standpoint. But at the same time, I know the difference, I mean you know me, I’ve been here there and everywhere…
LD: … and a lot of cats come in the studio and you can pretty much tell the difference but I mean, is it believable, can you market it? At the end of the day that’s what it’s about!
NS: SO what happens when a label builds an artist or an artist builds their fan base independently and they market themselves as this “Trap Star” and that they have been doing this that and the third and they rap about all of that and then they meet a REAL rapper or musician who has ACTUALLY done all of that and they put you out there! Now its like your credibility, your integrity is challenged. How do you feel that affects the artist’s career? Do you feel like they are still marketable after that?
LD: Mmmmm…I hope they got their money while they were hot! [Laughter]
LD: I mean stuff like that usually doesn’t turn out very well. You’ll probably find yourself in the worst situation having to worry about how many records you sell or how much buzz you have because when people put themselves in a particular group, you open yourself up to a lot of stuff. I mean I’ve been around the track, I ve been in all the places with the dudes who are and the dudes who aint and I’ve seen stuff happen that s beyond remedy so..I mean if that’s what you do then hey….But I hope you got a couple dollars to hire some really big dudes to have your back because I know a lot of dudes who take this really really seriously…
NS: [Laughter] True, true, and I know a lot of people have said that they are rapping about what their friends do and that they aren’t personally doing it, so I can understand that…
LD: Well I think the music industry right now is about networking and association and you find yourself with a lot of artists who come from different backgrounds and you might find a lot of artists, for example in hollywood, you might find yourself in the club with dudes that’s really doing this stuff and he’s there with like 30 dudes from the hood and you’re there with like 2 chicks and at the end of the day regardless what you rap about if someone is going to approach you, and you are who you are, then you shouldnt have a problem. But…if its a facade then you’re pretty much stuck with whatever’s gonna come to you.
NS: Ok! And we’re just gonna leave that at that! [Laughter]
LD: [Laughter] Right!!
NS: So where would you like to see the music industry go from here?
LD: For me, I just don’t like people to get caught up in the whole cookie-cutter, I need to sound like this, be like this. If that’s your style and that’s the lifestyle you live [then ok]. Music creates a lot of sub-genres, a lot of lifestyles, creates movements…I mean Oakland and the Bay has their own sound, every sound defines a different region for me. That’s how I look at it. For example, I was reading one of your other interviews and Timbaland, he blended Hip-Hop with Electronic Dance Music so tough that he’s like the king of that. And then Kanye tried to do it, and he’s notable, has awards and all types of sh**, and he fell short. But that’s how it should be with everything. Music is so wide open right now everybody is just waiting for the next best thing. And, like I said about the advent of technology period, people’s attention spans are getting shorter so you need to do something compelling if you want to maintain. Its a lot more than just the music. But with the way society is right now, people are only gonna listen for like 52 seconds before they are on to the next thing.
NS: Yeah and I have a short attention span! I mean I’ll check something out but I’m not gonna give it hella time unless something in the beginning sparks my interest. As a whole, I think people are like that and if you don’t grab their attention, they’ll just push it aside or disregard it all together.
LD: Right, but for an artist that doesn’t mean they should change that though. If that’s what you do then do it to the fullest. AND you might have to grind it out over night but there’s somebody out there for you, so I don’t want to discourage anyone, but at the same time, like I said, the window for success is very narrow.
NS: And elaborate on that a little bit, the “Window For Success”…
LD: Theres two angles to go. Either you’re making a series of projects, because it’s not like you’re going to bring a label a demo and say I’m tight can we work on some stuff. They’re like, no how many albums do you have ready to put in the plastic right now? I mean they wanna see [everything you have]! Like how long will it be before we can put this sh** in the plastic and sell it? And aside from that, if a label signs you and gives you an advance and a distribution deal that’s cool but [the deals] aren’t even like they used to be. But if you really want to control your dough, as far as people talking about they wanna have Benz’s and other sh** that they be on videos talking about that they don’t really have, the only way for anybody to really do that is for people to want to see you on stage. Maybach Music does it pretty much the best I mean they have a really diverse camp right now. Cant really say too many other cats aside from the Black Diamond cats outta L.A. But, doing shows for $10-$15k a show is where it’s at! I mean the majors will give you enough money to record your sh** and put it on TV but by the time you get your money back its only gonna be $50-$60 grand, and that’s it.
NS: Yeah I think some artists don’t factor that payback in to their financial equation. I hear cats say, “Oh J. Cole got signed to The Roc, he’s a millionaire. Ummm at the moment he got signed? No he wasn’t!
LD: Right, nobody’s is giving out million dollar advances anymore…
NS: Exactly, you gotta show and prove. If they can’t sell what the artist is bringing, you’re probably gonna be shelved, right? Or dropped!
LD: Or a lot more than that! You might be on the label but that doesn’t mean they’re gonna push your sh**, that’s the difference. They might push your sh** back, but they wont push it out, real talk.
NS: Right. It’s not always that first record deal that gets you on as far as being a mainstream or commercial artists.
LD: Right. At the end of the day, it’s the business of Music.
NS: Ok now I’m gonna give you some names and I want you to tell me the first thing that comes to mind.
NS: Kendrick Lamar
LD: The New Normal
NS: The New Normal, huh? Ok now we have GOT to elaborate on that [Laughter]
LD: [Laughter] When he did what he did, he did it from a lyrical standpoint. When I think of Kendrick its like he embodies a lot of the concepts that Hip-Hop lost. Even the backpack cats dig him but he’s not a backpack dude. he’s really reputable. And aside from that, his skill level is up there and its kinda like a breath of fresh air because I feel like Hip-Hop got so dummied down everybody fell into the same rhythm. But [Kendrick] said I’m gonna do this regardless of what is going on right now. He’s just a fresh breath I mean I gotta give it to the kid.
NS: OK…KRS One
LD: That’s something totally different. When you think of KRS-One he’s one of the pioneers, he paved the way. Its like building cars. Of course the first Ford T model didn’t go 120 MPH. But if it wasnt for that first person…I mean he wasnt so much ‘gangsta’ but he still gave the news and if it wasnt for that first foundation…and not only the foundation but he was recording on things that were relevant at that time. People were a lot more conscious back then…but that’s a whole other discussion.
NS: Alright…Snoop Lion
LD: Well, i feel like Snoop is to the point where he was done with it before these lil ni***s even knew what to do with it, you know? I mean…he was the core of the Death Row movement. I mean it was the untouchable Death Row. Everybody remembers that. But it was Snoop and Dre that made West Coast Hip-Hop what it is. Snoop is utilizing his marketability….and he’s a pothead so it fits! [Laughter]
NS: [Laughter] You crazy for that one…
Alright…so drugs seem to play a major role in the music industry. Whether it be heroine, cocaine or whatever. Now the new thing seems to be ‘poppin a molly’. Do you feel that if drugs never were a factor, do you feel like the music industry would still have the Jimi Hendrix’s, the Janis Joplin’s, Amy Winehouse etc., you know, people that were notoriously addicted to some type of substance? Do you think the music industry would be what it is today without the drugs?
LD: In all honesty I don’t believe it. Drugs have a major influence in the music industry even back in the 20’s. But its something that quells people’s pain from the struggle. I mean a lot of music comes a struggle so to speak. A lot of people are more honest about it than others but music is a reflection of the lifestyles that people live and whatever’s going on around you.
NS: True statement…very true.
Well I definitely appreciate you coming on the show! Thank you for sitting down with me. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us before you go?
LD: I would just say to the artists: Do you to the best of your ability. When you feel like you need to do something other than what you been doing to get ahead, it’s probably not gonna work for you so just save yourself the time and focus on what it is that makes you love this sh** because it’s an art form before anything. Theres a business too it but it’s still art.
Crafty Bastards, Inc. We’re on Twitter and Facebook. Social media ninjas. We out here man. Anything you need, anything you want, we can make it look just like that. If you want tips on the ins and outs just leave me a message. And if you’re trying to make a presence for yourself, I’m the dude to holla at. Bottom line.
I appreciate you having me on, its all love.
This interview is brought to you courtesy of Nikke Stiletto, LLC and is for entertainment purposes only.