I first met Bu Thiam a few months back in Atlanta. After speaking to him for a bit and seeing the types of moves he was making, I immediately thought of featuring him when I first lauched the site.
As co-CEO of Konvict Muzik, Bu is definitely a mogul in the making.
During my discussion with Bu, we spoke about his entry into the game, career aspirations and the rumours of Akon‘s country album.
Oh yeah, if you’re thinking he looks familiar, that’s because he’s also Akon’s brother. But don’t think he got his position just because of that. Bu makes his own moves and is steadily rising as one of the music game’s biggest executives.
First off, how did you first get into the music business? Was it because of your brother or were you doing something else beforehand?
I got in because I was real close friends with this kid named Lil Zane. Lil Zane is an artist that had a record out like probably early 2000-2001. He was doing his thing and I was just around him, learning the game and then I was road managing him. I went from road managing him to road managing Loon, who was signed to Bad Boy. So from that experience, I just learned the game, built up my contacts with different people… and you know, Akon blew up and everything from there was on track.
Konvict has a pretty interesting setup. Melvin Brown is the CEO of Konvict Muzik Group, but you’re the CEO of Konvict Muzik – can you explain what’s the difference between the two?
Melvin used to manage Akon, but he has no ties to Konvict Muzik. Konvict Muzik consists of me and my brother. He’s the CEO and I’m the co-CEO of the company. He’s the artist and I’m basically the brains; the behind-the-scenes guy, in terms of the business of it. But Melvin is a guy who used to manage Akon, but he has no ties to the actual Konvict brand or the Konvict entity.
That’s interesting. I read an interview Melvin did a little while ago with Ballerstatus and in the interview he stated that he’s the CEO of Konvict Muzik Group. Actually, that’s the headline on his MySpace page: “Melvin Brown – CEO Konvict Muzik Group”.
Nah, that’s false information. Make a note of that.
Definitely. So then, as co-CEO of Konvict Muzik, what are some of your responsibilities within the label?
Well on a day-to-day basis, I get up early, go to the office, get on the phone and make sure my albums are delivered on time, make sure my video shoots go right and just handle all the business aspects of it that you don’t see. Making sure my marketing plan is 100% and things of that nature. Making sure we’re on top of our budget, photo shoots for my artists, making sure my scheduling is right, my add dates for radio is right.
Is it challenging being in business with family or do you guys generally work well together?
We were raised… okay, it’s 4 boys and 1 girl and we’re all close in age, so we were always like best friends to one another. We just so happened to be doing business together, so it all makes sense. You know, we come from a real family. My parents are from West Africa, so we’re real, real family-oriented. I can’t really see myself doing anything else. To me, I’m in a great situation, because not only am I doing business, but I’m doing it with my big brother so I can’t really complain.
What’s the toughest part of your job?
The toughest part of my job? Wow, that’s a good question. [pauses] I don’t know man. I mean…the toughest part of my job? [pauses again] That’s a good question. [laughs] I gotta come back to that one. But, I’m definitely going to come back to it.
Okay, no problem.
You know what? Actually.. the toughest part of my job is when I see people on the streets that I’ve known for years; whether it’s a friend of mine or a cousin or whatever, and they just kinda feel like just because I know them, I gotta put them on. It’s like “yo, my man, I rap now” or “I produce now”, but it’s like.. okay that’s hot, but I still gotta stick to my guidelines. I can’t just sign all my friends because if I were to do that, I wouldn’t have a successful label. So that’s the hardest part.
And then, them not understanding my part of it as an executive. It’s like they feel like I’m supposed to sign them because we’re friends or I’m supposed to do this and do that, and then when I don’t do it, they feel a certain kind of way. That’s the hardest part of it for me; to be able to adjust into an executive and have to deal with people like that.
Man, I walk out of my house and go to the grocery store and somebody’s gonna stop me like “yo man, here go my CD, here go my this and this”. And then when they see me the day after, they ask “yo… did you listen to it?” When I tell them I didn’t get to it yet, they come at me like “aw man, come on you gotta…” and all that. That’s the hardest part; just dealing with that, honestly.
You guys have developed a pretty interesting roster at Konvict. You’ve got a couple artists on the roster but they’re all coming from different label streams. Can you explain the setup to me exactly and which artists are coming through which stream?
As of now, we have this kid named Colby O’Donis, he’s on… okay, let me explain something. Actually, we have 2 label deals and a production deal. That’s big. I was just talking about that with my man the other day; I don’t know anybody else in the game who has 2 label deals and a production deal. So we have a label deal with Universal for Konvict Ent, then we have KonLive which is at Interscope, then we have T-Pain at Jive. So, at Interscope we have Colby, we have Rock City, we have Ray L and we have Kardinal Offishall. He’s from your ways (Canada).
Yeah, exactly. Kardi’s from Toronto.
Yeah. He’s from your ways. We just shot a video in Miami. Him and Kon just shot a crazy video for his first single; it’s gonna be off the chain, so be on the lookout for that real soon.
So that’s who we have there. And then, we got Red Café out in New York, he’s got a real big.. a smash record right now in New York with Fat Joe, 50 Cent, Fabolous and Jadakiss. That’s a crazy record. Then, on the Universal side, we have this group called American Yard, they’re kinda like Black Eyed Peas meets The Fugees. They’re incredible man. And then we got T-Pain at Jive and we got this kid named Dolla out of Atlanta, who’s at Jive as well. So we got a whole bunch of artists man.
Wait, hold up… you’re saying Red Café has Fat Joe and 50 on the same joint?
Yeah man. [laughs] He put the record out and originally, it had Jadakiss and Fabolous, but the record got so hot, Fat Joe put a verse on it and 50 put a verse on it.. and they’re dissin each other on the song. It’s crazy. I mean, you know how it is; when you got a hot record, everybody wanna hop on it.
That’s crazy. Okay, so I’ve been hearing some things recently about Konvict, so let’s just clear it up as fact or fiction. First off, is it true that you just signed Tami Chynn to the label?
Yeah. Actually, Tami Chynn was an artist that was signed to Universal. I think she was signed, probably about a couple of years ago. And we feel like she’s real talented and we didn’t think she got her just due on her first album, so we decided to go in there, restructure the whole album, the whole deal and executive produce her new album. Akon and RedOne went in; he’s this producer out of Europe – they just went in together and just did her whole album.
That’s what’s up. And the other thing is that Tony Neal from Core DJs just joined the Konvict family. Is that true?
Yeah, Tony Neal.. that’s my guy, man. He came in as an A&R and is helping out real big. He’s out there making sure that our records are getting played. He has a real good ear for music and he’s a DJ, so it just makes sense for us. He’s definitely a big helping hand to the Konvict entity man. So that’s my man. Shout out to Tony Neal.
So he’s an A&R at Konvict?
Yeah, he’s definitely doing his thing. He’s bringing some big things to the table for us and he’s about to do a Core DJs compilation album. Them dudes man, the whole staff… they doing their thing. They definitely have a real big spotlight on them now.
One thing a lot of people are curious to know about is this situation about Akon’s country album. I’m sure you can imagine a lot of people were confused by hearing about it, including myself. So first off, where did that come from; what’s the story behind that?
Akon country album?
It’s funny you say that, because he did a country record back in the day, but this is probably like 6 years ago and the record was an incredible record. But it wasn’t released; it was just a record he did, playing around. The record got crazy so everybody kept saying that he should do a country album, but it’s a rumour man. I don’t know how that whole thing came about. He’s not doing no country album. That’s a rumour.
But he does have an album coming out called Acquitted. I think it’s probably gonna be the biggest album of the year. The first single is with Michael Jackson, so look out for that.
That’s not the track that already came out; the Michael Jackson remix – this is another track?
Nah, not the one on the Greatest Hits album. This is a new one. Brand new, him and Michael Jackson. It’s gonna be stupid.
[laughs] I know right?
You have a couple businesses under the umbrella; like you mentioned, you have Konvict Ent, KonLive and you also have Konvict Clothing. What direction are you looking to take the Konvict brand?
Well basically, I’m just trying to build the brand to be a household name. I don’t want it to just be a hip-hop label, with a whole bunch of hip-hop acts and all that. I just want it to be a brand, so that when you hear the name Konvict, whether it’s the clothes, whether it’s the music; you feel like, you know what, this is 100% authentic. I want you to pick up an album that has the Konvict name and know that these guys are going to give you some good quality music. I want you to pick up a Konvict shirt and say this is 100% cotton..quality, you know. So whether it’s the shoes, shirt, jeans… I just want that when people hear the name Konvict, they know it’s the real deal.
Obviously the business isn’t what it used to be. We’ve always got to be hustling and trying to invent new methods of getting out there. What steps does Konvict Muzik take to stay relevant and stay on top of the game?
To stay relevant, is to give people good, real and authentic music. Nothing fabricated. We don’t have to build some kind of façade, you know; like we got shot a lot of times and we’re gangsters and all that. We have a real story.
My brother’s African; the African people struggle. So we’re about the people, we’re about the struggle. When you have that kind of music in your veins and you talk to the public… Man, people struggle everyday. Akon has music that’s going to be relevant for a long time. They’re not just here-and-now records. Anything we put out.
Even with T-Pain, he’s gonna be here for a minute. Kardinal Offishall is gonna be here for a minute. Same with Colby and Ray L. So it’s about doing music – not for a fad…not to discredit snap music or anything like that, but it’s about doing real music. Real music never dies, it’s gonna be here for years to come. So giving people real music and music that means something. Music from the soul, music from the heart.
It’s no secret that everything nowadays is about what’s hot and upcoming in Atlanta. B.o.B is blowing up and getting his face on massive billboards in Times Square, and Diddy recently said that Janelle Monae is the most important signing of his career. I mean, ATL’s been on the map for a while, but what do you think it is about Atlanta that’s recently brought it to the mecca status that it’s at today?
Well, I think Atlanta’s bringing the fun back to music. New York had it for a minute, L.A had it. Nowadays, with the war going on, with the recession going on; people wanna smile, people wanna have fun, people wanna dance. ATL music is making you dance, it’s making you forget about getting cut from your job and all of that. It’s making you really wanna have fun.
And, and.. we’re sticking to unity, you know. You can hear a hit record with T.I and Young Jeezy or Jeezy with Ludacris or whatever. Atlanta is real unified. So I think that being unified and bringing good records that you can dance to and have fun to, that’s what’s making ATL real relevant right now.
Definitely. That’s the one thing that I constantly hear from everybody I speak to in the ATL scene; that even though everybody’s topping the charts, they’re still working together as opposed to beefing with one another.
Yeah man. I can walk into DTP’s studio and go holla at Chaka Zulu, go over to CTE and go holla at Jeezy or Kinky, I can go holler at Grand Hustle… you know, it’s not segregated. Everybody’s cool; we all call each other on the phone, “Hey, what’s going on? What you doing tonight?” In New York, it’s like everybody’s to themselves, everybody’s cooped up.
What is your ultimate goal in business and in life?
I want to be known as one of the biggest upcoming executives in the game. I want to be that dude. I want to be able to go in and do the music thing and then go walk into the corporate world and shake hands with the Bill Gates’ of the world and be able to take Akon’s stock public one day and have people buy stock in Konvict Clothing or Konvict Muzik or whatever. Being the real deal, you know. That’s what I want for my family and for my team.. and for me.
I would like to be able to go into film or whatever. Basically be respected man. There aren’t too many Russell Simmons‘ in the game, there aren’t too many Jay Z’s in the game. People been doing this music thing for a long time, but there’s not too many people or too many names that you can pop up and say this guy’s a real businessman. So you know, I’m working on becoming one of those; getting to that category of the game.
I feel you on that. That’s the whole basis of MakingTheMogul.com. It’s about always striving for the best and not just placing yourself in one category. You can be successful in one avenue and be considered an expert, but when you can be successful in multiple avenues and still stay true to your own personal brand; that’s what makes you a mogul.
Absolutely, and I definitely appreciate you reaching out and taking some time out to holler at me for this interview.
Definitely. There’s countless media outlets for artists and other celebrities, but this is something for those of us who work behind-the-scenes in the business and make those moves.
Absolutely, absolutely. I check your site all time, no lie. I appreciate what you do.
So talking about striving for the top of the game; what key points or “keys to success” do you keep in your life to help you achieve these goals?
First of all, keep God first in your life. Second is to keep family around you at all times, because when you got family, they’re going to tell you the truth. They’re going to tell you when you’re trippin or tell you that this ain’t hot, or that ain’t hot. Keeping family always close to you and staying grounded.
Staying grounded and keeping your ears to the streets, listening to what’s hot and not keeping yourself so distant from the actual world. When I got my label deal with Universal, they asked me if I wanted an office in the building and I told them no, because I felt like if I was to work in New York, then how would I be hot in Atlanta. I wouldn’t be able to listen to what’s hot in the streets. I’d be so caught up in the corporate; I’d be in the office somewhere and I wouldn’t be as relevant, I wouldn’t be able to get new music first, which I can do now because I’m out here in the streets.
So you know, just staying grounded and always paying attention to who’s coming next; who’s the next hot producer, who’s the next hot writer, who’s the next hot whatever. And keeping a good staff around you; a hungry staff. Not just a staff that wants to shine and be in the club poppin bottles, but a staff of winners – people that wanna win.
Is there anything else that you’d like mention or any piece of advice that you’d like to offer somebody getting into the game now?
Yeah man, to anybody that’s trying to get into it, just keep your head up and keep striving. There was a time when I was running around saying Akon’s gonna be the greatest producer, the greatest writer and some people were saying “yeah he is” and others we’re just saying whatever. So, you’re definitely going to go through a whole bunch of obstacles; you’re going to have some believers and you’re going to have some people who don’t believe in what you do, but just keep striving and if you have good music – trust me, it’s gonna get caught. Somebody’s gonna find it.
It’s very rare that somebody has good music like that and never comes out. Somebody’s gonna hear it and somebody’s gonna put you on a situation. So if you have good music and you believe in what you do, just don’t stop doing what you do. Eventually, somebody’s going to pay attention to it.
Thanks for the interview Bu. Best of luck with all your ventures.
Here’s a couple tracks to stream from Konvict artists:
Red Café ft. 50 Cent, Fat Joe, Jadakiss & Fabolous – Paper Touchin[audio:red_cafe_papertouchin.mp3]
Kardinal Offishall ft. Akon – Dangerous[audio:kardi_akon_dangerous.mp3]
Colby O’Donis ft. Akon – What You Got (Unplugged Version)[audio:colbyo_akon_wyg.mp3]
Tami Chynn ft. Akon – Frozen[audio:tamichynn_akon_frozen.mp3]