Firstly, can you introduce yourself a bit and tell us what it is that you do?
My name is Zach Katz. I am a music manager and CEO of Beluga Heights, a record label and publishing company I have with my partners Jonathan “J.R” Rotem, the producer, and his brother Tommy Rotem, who is our A&R.
My background started about 12 years ago, when I became a music attorney. This was around 1996 or so. I did that for about 3-4 years. I liked it, but never really found it to be my passion. I always wanted to be more creative.
I had an opportunity to get in on the management side, which is really what I always wanted to do. I did that for about 5-6 years; I managed a lot of artists and producers, and through that I met J.R, and he became my only client.
Going from an attorney to a manager seems like a bit of an odd jump; how did that happen?
It looks like John Mayer is working on his next album, but this time, he’s crossing over into hip-hop.
Don’t get me wrong, I support and purchase digital downloads from iTunes, etc, but as a personal preference, I still buy CDs.
Even though I mostly listen to music on my computer, iPod and Blackberry, I still prefer having a physical disc to sync the music from and to keep on my shelves. Maybe I’m a collector, maybe I’m nostalgic, but it’s what I prefer.
I purchase music all the time, but today 2 albums dropped that I’ve actually been looking forward to for a while:
T.I – “Paper Trail”
Dru – “The One”
By the way, if you’re an R&B cat like me and you’re not familiar with Dru, you need to be. He was formerly with the group, In Essence, which broke into the scene with their song, “You Will Never Find Another” back in 1998 with Funkmaster Flex.[audio:inessence_youwillneverfindanother.mp3]
Check out some of his videos below and make sure to go cop his new record.
I SEE YOU DRU!
So now, let me ask you guys; what’s the last music (single or album/digital or physical) that you purchased?
Note: I get a little side-tracked in this post, but it all comes together, I promise.
Have you ever felt connected to and genuinely proud of an artist’s success because you were a fan of theirs before they became major celebrities? You somehow believe you were a part of the movement, even if you were no more than a mere observer.
I’ve been a fan of many artists before they became stars. As they moved ahead in their careers, I became proud of each of their accomplishments as if I played a role in it. One person in particular is Kanye West.
*Okay, so I didn’t really “discover” Kanye, but you get the point.
The first time I heard the name Kanye West was back in 1999. At this point in my life, I had formed this little group of local artists; 2 rappers and 1 singer. I wasn’t rapping or singing though; I was the “producer/manager”.
We were working on a couple tracks and I started searching online for other artists and producers to collaborate with. I heard this one R&B joint that I thought was bananas. I checked out the rest of the webpage (this was before everybody had their own websites and the people who actually were online had webpages hosted on GeoCities – remember that?), and found out it was from a small R&B group in Chicago. Their contact info at the bottom of the page led me to their producer.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with that song really; I just knew that it was hot and that I wanted it. So, I contacted the producer and told him I wanted to do a remix of it featuring my group. We spoke for a while and he ended up sending me about 5 CDs full of beats. From all those beats, only a small selection were good and I decided to take 3 of them. (I still have those CDs actually. I just checked).
This was during the time when the bedroom producer was really beginning to take reign and the indie game was over-saturated with corny sounding Fruity Loops beats (I’m guilty of that too). This producer’s main pitch was that he wasn’t using Fruity Loops, but actually playing it out on his Triton. Every beatmaker and their mama was about the Triton back then. If you weren’t using it, then you weren’t really serious.
Anyways, after that we ended up speaking on a regular. One day he started telling me how he first got into producing:
“My mentor is Kanye West. You ever heard of him? He works with some big names now. That’s my dude. He taught me to play the keys in our church group. Check him out, that’s my mentor.”
He would mention “Kanye West” every chance he had. I remember asking him about these vocal samples he had in a beat I wanted to buy:
“Don’t worry about those samples. Kanye West doesn’t clear them unless it’s for a big artist with big budget. He told me it’s cool if it’s just for a smaller artist who doesn’t get much airplay. They’ll only catch you if your song gets real big, but by then you should have the money to clear the sample anyways right?”
Whether this guy was for real or not, I kept seeing Kanye’s name pop up after that – magazines, cd & mixtape credits, online forums, etc.
“Isn’t this the guy homie kept telling me about? Hmm.. dude’s moving up.”
When Jay-Z dropped the Kanye-produced, “Izzo (H.O.V.A)”, I felt this weird sense of pride as if it was someone within my crew. I told everybody I knew about it and spoke about it like it was something we should all be proud of.
It continued like that for a while.
A few years later, I was watching RapCity with Big Tigger and they aired Kanye’s first video, “Through The Wire”.
“Dude’s a rapper now?? This joint is siccck. Playa is on point!”
I was all about it. I kept telling people about it like I was making commission.
I guess the label thought it wasn’t getting the type of buzz they needed because the record and video disappeared like it was never even serviced. No mention of it, no traces of it.. nothing.
It re-appeared a few months later and this time, it got major push. Now, the label was fully behind it and talking about an upcoming album. Now everybody knew his name and was all about it.
The Kanye-frenzy began and it wasn’t my little secret anymore.
Coincidentally, I had just began working at the label when “College Dropout” was released and although it was a different division that was responsible for marketing the record, I kept a close eye on the project as if I was protecting my own investment.
The record dropped and the frenzy began. The first tour was damn near sold-out, if not sold-out, in every city. (Side note: John Legend performed a private after-party that night at a tiny africana-jazz bar near my apartment with a maximum capacity of 100 people . One of my favourite music memories, by far.)
The rest is pretty much history.
Now, Kanye’s the biggest name in the game and has everybody waiting on his next word. But even so, as an early supporter, I still kinda have that sense of familiarity with him and feel like I played a role in his success in some weird way… do you know what I mean?
I guess my point is; everybody has experiences like this – so keep this in mind with your own career. Connecting with your fans early on, will not only make them feel more connected to you – but can also help propel your career to new levels.
Finally! For all the dancehall fiends, Black Chiney finally blessed us with another mixtape after nearly 4 years.
But don’t think they’ve been sleeping. I was talking with my man Supa Dups (Black Chiney’s founding member/producer) last night and the list of production credits he’s building is incredible: Nina Sky, Kardinal Offishall, Collie Buddz, Akon, Pussycat Dolls, John Legend… the list goes on.
If you’re not familiar with Black Chiney mixtapes, they are an incredible blend of dancehall and hip-hop featuring members Supa Dups, Bobby Chin, Willy Chin and Walshy Killa.
Black Chiney Vol 8.9 features Buju Banton, Kardinal Offishall, Shawty Lo, Elephant Man, Kanye West, Swizz Beats, Mavado, Jay-Z , Munga, Busy Signal, Leftside and Snoop Dogg.
Pay attention to the names Supa Dups and Black Chiney; as you’ll continue to see more and more from this crew.
Kanye West might not have had one of The Beatles present him an award last night at the Grammys, but his performance was definitely the top point of the night.
Kanye brought out
who we’re supposed to assume was Daft Punk (apparently one of them was actually Just Blaze) during his performance of “Stronger” and then ended it with a great performance of “Hey Mama”. Due to personal circumstances, the second song really stood out to me.
On a side note, I know I shouldn’t be hatin on a Canadian trying to do their thing, but Feist‘s performance nearly put me to sleep. I’m not saying anything about the song itself – I’m just saying, her performance couldn’t have been any duller than it was. Just doesn’t seem like a “Grammy performance” type of song.
EDIT: They removed the broadcast video from YouTube so click here for another video of the performance from Kanye’s site.
DJ Felli Fel did it again. This is a new joint with Kanye, Fabolous, JD & Ne-Yo.
I’m definitely looking forward to Felli Fel’s album, which is dropping later this year on So So Def.
Listen below – DJ Felli Fel ft. Kanye West, Fabolous, Jermaine Dupri & Ne-Yo – Finer Things[audio:felli-fel_ft_kanye_west_fabolous_jd_neyo.mp3]