Kwame, a talented artist, songwriter and producer, first emerged on the music scene at large in 1989. Born in Queens, New York, Kwame was surrounded by musical influences as a child, including family friends such as Stevie Wonder, Lionel Hampton and Abdullah Ibraheem. He received a drum set from Lionel Hampton and a harmonica from Stevie Wonder, and went on to master several instruments. In addition to his jazz and soul roots, Kwame also found himself enamored with the work of Prince, Morris Day, Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel, Slick Rick, Rakim, and Big Daddy Kane. Ultimately, it was the fusion of these flavors and styles that helped develop an incredibly unique flair that would make him into the man that the guys wanted to be, and the ladies all knew and loved.
Has music always been a part of your life? How did you get into music?
I’ve actually been a professional in this industry for the last 16 or 17 years. I started really young. I was 15-years old. I worked under a production company that produced records for the rap group Salt ‘N Pepa,, Kid N Play, and I also produced myself. I also started making records as an artist, as a solo rap artist n 1989 on Atlantic Records. I’ve pretty much been in it my whole life adult life.
What aspect do you like best about music – any particular instrument, vocalization, or the creation part?
What I like the most is to create the building of a song – the building of a good record. Also, I like the work with artists. Me, being a producer, I get to sit with and work with some of the biggest artists out there. Just to be able to be in the room with them and make great music is like a dream come true, to be honest with you.
Is it intimidating? You’re sitting there with artists that have more Grammys than you can count.
You know what’s so funny? Me being a successful rap artist in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, a lot of the artists that I sit with who are big-sized now used to buy my old records. So they get really excited when they sing with me. And it’s weird. For example one of the strangest things: I’m working with Janet Jackson right now. When I first met Janet Jackson, the first thing she said was, “I’m a big fan. I have all of your records”. I’m like, wait a minute, I’m supposed to say that to you. That’s a very humbling experience. Everybody is on one accord. I try to not get intimidated. After a while everybody gets acclimated to what we were doing, and it turns out well.
When you were starting out rap music was its own separate niche. Now it’s the number one form of music out there. It’s not only accepted, but pretty much the norm.
It’s a big difference that what it was 15/16 years ago. When I first started you wouldn’t play a rap record before 6pm on the radio. Radio stations would have campaigns – no rap workdays. The audience was seemingly thin. But yet when we would go on tour, no one really got to see or hear us that much. People would turn out 20-30-40,000 strong in these arenas where we would do these concerts. There was no East Coast/West Coast problems or anything. Nowadays I think the tours are starting to pick back up. But for a very long time it just limited to small clubs. The record sales were more up because the money was more. But the exposure when it came to doing shows and stuff like that was totally different. Being in both worlds, definitely the pay scale is much bigger than what it was back then. Rappers wouldn’t imagine the money then that they get now.
You’ve worked with some bigger name artists. Do you find the bigger name artists easier to work with than the new or up-and-coming talent?
You know what? Yes. It’s strange because a bigger name artist,, they know what it takes and what has to be done to get the job done. There’s not too much of a conversation. They know what they want. They know what it requires. And you get it done. They’ll pay you quicker, and everything is much smoother, which in newer artists they’re feeling their way through. And sometimes unfortunately with newer artists their egos aren’t in check yet. They’re very happy to be in the position that they’re in, and you see it in their egos at times. Then you get that great example of somebody who’s brand new, but knows their business and conducts their business very well.
Are there any common mistakes you see artists making in the studio from your standpoint as a producer?
The most common mistake is when an artist doesn’t realize what’s at stake and doesn’t realize their business. Meaning, when you’re in the studio, this studio time, which is roughly around $250 an hour is coming out of your pocket. When artists want to sit, waste time, and not deal with the business at hand, which is recording or writing a song, namely recording a song. You should write a song somewhere else outside of a time-constrained area. There are a lot of artists that come in and they’ll just waste time because they think the label is paying for it. And they want to cry broke a year later when they don’t get any royalties because most of their stuff was spent in the beginning. My advice to newer artists is always learn the business. Learn about your rights, and learn about what you really have to pay for. Read your contract. What was in your contract?
How has the music industry opened itself to African-American executives such as you?
What the music industry has done; the music industry has opened a lot of doors to African-Americans and just people in general from situations that they might not have been able to get out of it they didn’t have the talent of music. It’s showed them that you could be an entrepreneur, you could own what you create, and you could also help others do the same thing. You can leave a legacy, whether it’s music, or you can leave a legacy in so many different ways. That’s what I think is the biggest impact that the music industry has done. There are people who have been in this music industry and before they were in the industry they were doing things maybe that were illegal. They were living in an impoverished society. And through music they were able to escape all of that, and build a life for themselves, get a life for their children, and a future life for people that they employ. And I think that’s very, very important.
When you have a case scenario like that do you offer any advice as far as money management? It’s been well documented among some recording artists and some professional athletes have gone from being impoverished to having more money than they ever imagined. And then a couple of years later after a bad album or two, or in the athlete’s case an injury they all of a sudden don’t have that money because they didn’t have the proper advice on money management.
The biggest advice that I would give is this is a business of what I call feast or famine. When things are good, they’re very good. When things are bad, it seems like the worst thing ever. I think when a lot of artists get into that situation based on the good things they think it’s not going to end. It’s just a life lesson. I think it goes way beyond just the music industry. It’s a life lesson of put money away. Put things aside because you never know what could happen. Sometimes when you don’t know money, when you don’t know how important money is in this society, then you’re going to tend to treat it frivolously. I think that’s what a lot of these artists and athletes do. They don’t look to the future. They think that every day is going to be a great day like it is now. What I do is, especially with a lot of the newer artists I get to produce or even sign, that’s one of the first conversations I have with them. I point them in the direction of people who could actually help them manage their money and do the right thing as well.
When you began your career as an artist there were not tools like the internet and the iPod that we have today. Have you embraced this technology, or was it something you resisted at first?
I don’t know if I ever resisted it. I’ve fully embraced it now. I’ve embraced it to a point where I constantly look for what’s next. I don’t try to stay complacent with what the technology is now. I always try to look for the next big thing. When the new technological advances first started I think I was so old school with what I did. I just was lazy – I guess that’s the best way to put it. I was lazy. I had to learn everything from scratch. Once you learn, it’s not hard. I don’t think anyone should have a closed mind. This is where a producer or a performing artist fall off the cutting edge, is when they feel that, or what they learned, and what they know is the end all to be all, and things can’t improve. I’ve always been a forward thinker. I’ve embraced it fully – the internet, the iPod, everything. Downloading, as long as its legal downloading I think is wonderful.
What do you see as the coming trend in the music industry?
The coming trend is people want everything in one device right here – right now. People have a problem with illegal downloads and that stuff like that. One of the problems is back in the days I was younger an album would be no more than nine dollars. So if the album was bad, you didn’t take that much of a risk. Nowadays people have one good song an album – maybe two and then it’s upwards to 20-25 dollars for an album. The kids most likely every other Tuesday will have 20-25 dollars, so why should they go out and have to pick and choose from album after album when they can download it for free. What I think the up and coming trend is one device – whether it’s a phone that could be a phone/iPod/mini-DVD player – whatever it is, just one device where these kids: not just kids, but people can download, share, view, talk, communicate, game in just one easy device. I think that will be here within the next five years, and it would definitely revolutionize. There are devices out now that somewhat do that, but something everybody wants to have like the iPod. The music industry is totally tied into it – they don’t resist it, and they’re tied into it if it will change the scope of things. I think more records will be sold due to that.
Enigma's mobile Concert Calendar!