For those who may not know you can you introduce yourself and tell us about what you do?
My name is Hef and I manage some artists as well as help curate ELEVATOR’s Youtube Channel, write for DailyChiefers and am an A&R at Alamo Records/1017 under Interscope. I also throw shows in LA every month with my partner Jeu Green, and co-host on Rosecrans Radio on Dash Radio’s XXL station.
You write for two major platforms for Underground music ELEVATOR and Daily Chiefers. When and where did you start and what inspired you to start writing about music?
Originally I was a sportswriter for Bleacher Report, but always wrote about and was interested in music as a hobby. Long story short, it was 2012 and I was following this random Twitter account (shoutout Guru) that was tweeting out popular hip-hop lyrics, they were starting a website and looking for writers, so I applied and got it— from there I completely ditched writing about the NFL and fell in love with music and music journalism. I was dabbling with artist management at the time, and wanted to get one of my artists posted on DailyChiefers, but they’d never email me back. So I figured, fuck it, if you can’t beat em, join em! So I applied as writer, showed I had a good ear and ultimately moved my way up to editor and VP of operations. I think what really made me enjoy writing about music so much was the sort of high I would get from sharing a song with my friends and seeing them geek over it. Music can be so powerful and intimate, and it just made me happy being able to put people onto music that made them feel something.
What is your position at ELEVATOR?
I’ve been an editor/senior writer over at ELEVATOR for a couple of years now, but right now I mainly just help curate our Youtube channel.
Five people in the music industry that inspire you?
I’m fortunate enough to work for two people that have inspired me for years in Todd Moscowitz and Zeke Hirschberg, but others I definitely look up to are Rick Rubin, Lyor Cohen and Amir Abbassy.’
How did you start working with Alamo as an A&R?
I had been interning over at APG/Atlantic for a year or so, and that was my first taste of the music industry. I was sold that I was going to get hired there, but as months went on I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously enough, so I left and focused on curating ELEVATOR’s Youtube channel in hopes someone would see all this dope shit I found and want me to work for them as an A&R. I had been trying for years to get in touch with Zeke, he was working at 300 Ent. at the time—I finally got in touch with him over Twitter when he was visiting LA around April last year.
He invited me to come to the studio with him and Famous Dex that night, so I went to meet Zeke and hopefully make a good impression. It’s kinda funny, that was actually the night that Dex made his song “Pick It Up” that’s going so crazy right now, and with it being such a different style of song for him, I don’t know—something about that night just felt really special, and obviously months later I see why. Zeke and I kept in touch, and ultimately when he got a promotion and new job as VP of Alamo Records, he brought me over. I already had friends there and Todd is an idol of mine, so it was a no-brainer.
Who are some artists you helped get signed?
I’ve only recently officially started as an A&R so still haven’t signed an artist to a label just yet, but there’s a big handful of artists I’ve helped over the years. As far as helping artists through the blogs, Lil Xan is probably the most popping of all of em. I had been booking him, $teven Cannon and Aris Ray (Lowgang/Xanarchy) for about a year out in LA, and was uploading a lot of his songs on ELEVATOR that gained hundreds of thousands if not millions of views. The “Betrayed” video really set him off, but before that I was fortunate enough to help Xan build his fanbase up through ELEVATOR’s channel. He’s a really good dude, we don’t talk much anymore but he’s insanely busy I’m sure.
Comethazine is another artist I helped build his fanbase through a lot of uploads on the ELEVATOR Youtube channel. My buddy Joey, who runs DailyChiefers and is also an A&R at Alamo, had put me on a year or so ago. I noticed Co wasn’t really dropping shit anymore and his Soundcloud page was gone over some bullshit he had no control of, so I told him let’s start dropping shit on the channel, and it all stuck. Everything was getting hundreds of thousands of plays, and he’s since blown up a ton more, signed with Alamo and actually has the #1 song trending on Soundcloud right now across all genres. He’s a talented kid, watch out for him this year.
What are the hardest and most satisfying parts about being an A&R
I think the hardest part for me personally is losing out on an artist you really like and know will blow up. I won’t say who, but when I was working for Zeke as an assistant when he was at 300 we were close to signing an artist who’s super hot right now, we were already in touch before he dropped this song that’s still going on damn near every chart and playlist you could think of, but unfortunately it didn’t pan out. For me, it was tough cuz I was new and really wanted my first signing and knew this was gonna go up, but it just made me work harder to find the next one.
The most satisfying part of being an A&R is seeing how excited and thankful artists can be. After working in blogs for a long time I’ve found a lot of artists to be ungrateful and jaded, feeling entitled to people’s support cuz of the ego they’ve molded in their head. But seeing an artist be so genuinely happy and thankful for their success and opportunities makes all the bullshit worth it. I’m a sappy guy, what can I say.
Are there any artist who blew up last year that you initially slept on or overlooked?
Not really, I typically know about artists from early on. Maybe Bhad Babie, but I’m still sleeping on that, I just hate how manufactured it is—fuck the money she generates, it’s sad to me that she’s so young and is promoted so heavily when she’s largely such a bad example for teens her age. I mean, would you want your daughter/son acting like Bhad Babie? 14-15 years old, smoking cigarettes, calling people hoes and shit? I’m good on that, forever.
What are your five favorite songs of 2017?
This is hard! Gotdamn, in no order it’s gotta be Young Thug “Daddy’s Birthday,” 03 Greedo “Beat That Thang Down,” Chief Keef “Can You Be My Friend,” Solomonilla “Visa” and Lil Peep “Awful Things.”
What artists are you currently listening to and what are your overall thoughts on the current state of Underground and Mainstream Hip-Hop?
I think they’re colliding more and more and it’s dope. Mainstream is borrowing from the underground cuz after a long time of being dominated, the underground has grown to an unignorable level. Pioneers like SGP, Yung Lean, Xavier Wulf, Bones, Pouya, Fat Nick, etc. paved the way for this “Soundcloud Rapper” generation, and that’s why you see smokepurpp with Travis Scott. That’s why you see XXXTENTACION doing songs with Diplo and Noah Cyrus. That’s why you see Lil Pump EVERYWHERE—the mainstream lacked rawness, and that’s what these guys have in spades.
What’s your favorite decade of R&B and why?
The 2000s fasho; Nelly, Ja Rule, Ashanti, Usher, Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, Pretty Ricky, the GOAT T-Pain and so many more. It’s just something about songs like “Dilemma,” “Buy You A Drank,” “Grind With Me” etc. that I just can’t get enough of. The production is so fresh, the songwriting is fire, the melodies are infectious—not to mention fashion statements like Nelly’s bandaid under the eye. Just too much sauce.
What artists do you currently manage and have managed in the past?
I currently work with four artists and a producer, Solomonilla, King Rose, Knight and Duncan Barton are the artists, and Black Mayo is the producer I manage. I’ve managed some other guys in the past, shoutout to them but I don’t really want to speak on em.
How did you get into managing artists and what is the hardest part and most satisfying part of managing an artist?
I got into managing artists cuz I had a close friend that was starting to rap—I wanted to rap too but I was horrible, and my mom found one song that I recorded and uploaded on Youtube and I got in so much trouble. I’d say the hardest part is making sure you guys are on the same page at all times, unfortunately for me two of the four artists I manage are on the east coast, so with our schedules and the time difference it can be tough to make sure we’re always communicating, keeping each other in the loop and making sure we’re doing our part properly, but I work with some great guys that’re talented and patient, and I’m thankful that I have them in my life.
The most satisfying part for sure is when we take our time and plan out our release(s) and then we execute properly, or when things carry more than we thought they would. I remember when Solomonilla dropped “New Ferrari,” we were excited and knew it’d do well, but we didn’t expect it to be his first song to hit 100k plays necessarily, but it did and we’ve since have only been more inspired to add more 0’s and commas to that play count.
Being a former DMV native what are your thoughts on the rap scene and what DMV artists can you see blowing up in 2018?
I think it’s really deep and eclectic when it comes to talent, and I love that. There is no other music scene like the DMV’s, and I can say that with confidence. There’s a lot of artists that could blow up honestly, I really love April + Vista—I think they’re a spectacular duo and I can’t wait to hear more from them. Goonew, Q Da Fool and Lil Dude are easy picks for 2018, but I also really fuck with Chelly The MC, I think she’s really talented and “Northeast Baby” is a hit. Don’t sleep on my guy King Rose either though, we’ve got a lot of stuff planned. Right now we’re taking our time and making sure we’ve got all our ducks in a row, but his unreleased music is next level, I’m really proud of him.
What does your XXL Class Of 2018 look like? Who do you think will make the cover?
Some people I think deserve the cover are smokepurpp, Blocboy JB, Lil Skies and Famous Dex. I actually think there could be up to four South Florida rappers on the list in Wifisfuneral, smokepurpp, Lil Pump and Ski Mask The Slump God. Pump honestly might be too big at this point, but he could very well get it still. I think YBN Nahmir will probably get it too, and he’s from my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, so that would mean a whole lot to the city.
What led you to move to LA and when did it happen?
I moved to LA just over two years ago, and it was because I wanted to work at a label so badly, and knew I couldn’t from the DMV. I was contributing my support to artists in the area through the blogs and even doing free PR for some artists if I just liked their new song, but I was anxious to scale it up and make a bigger impact. I had been going back and forth with Matt MacFarlane from APG/Atlantic for awhile—shoutout to him too he was always really cool and helpful—and he had asked if I was coming to LA soon. From there I just said “fuck it, I’m moving to LA.” So January 31, 2016 I landed at LAX and I interviewed to be an intern for them the next morning February 1st. I got the internship, and the rest is history.
What shocked you about the music industry once you became a A&R and how would you describe the music industry?
The music industry can be slimy, but there are a lot of good people in it. I think the closest to being shocked I’ve been is finding out how shitty some of these deals can be for artists and producers a lot. A lot of producers don’t get properly compensated or just plain get screwed out of money for a lot of these hit songs, and I don’t see a lot of people fighting for them, which only makes me want to do my job better.
Who are some notable rappers or industry figures you’ve met or befriended?
Man, I met Mya a couple months ago and lost my shit. Like, straight up didn’t know what to do with myself. Besides that, I honestly don’t really have any big musician friends but some people I’ve met at one point or another that were super cool are Adam22, Famous Dex, Pouya, Bighead & Gnealz—Eddy Baker is a great dude too. And honestly, meeting Todd Moscowitz finally when I went to NYC recently was a special moment for me personally—it’s just cool that someone I’ve looked up to and studied for years not only wants me to work for them but actually values the work I do. Not to be soft but I could cry about it bro foreal, it just means so much to me to be where I’m at finally.
What is some advice you would give to aspiring A&Rs?
STOP GIVING AWAY GAME FOR FREE! I would’ve been an A&R way sooner had I known that most label people hitting me were just looking for dope artists from someone that they didn’t have to pay. If I knew someone from a label years ago, I feel like I could’ve been an A&R by now, but that wasn’t God’s plan for me so I don’t stress it, though I certainly implore people to make genuine connections with someone from a label that you can trust and just send them good music that you’re early on. Even if they don’t reply to your email one week still send one the next week, and the week after. Be consistent but not annoying or invasive, and always fight for music you believe in.
What are your career goals and what do you want to be remembered for?
My goal for a long time was to be an A&R, so now that I’ve crossed that off the list, in my mind the next logical goal is to get a plaque. Gold, platinum, I don’t care right now—I just want to be a part of one of those special records that people will remember (Metting with Mya) forever.
As far as what I want to be remembered for, I think I mainly just want to be remembered for being honest and good to people. I feel like where a lot of people in the industry mess up is that they chase after money more than anything. I feel like you have to be a fan first in this—like, yeah it’s a business, but at the end of the day it’s art we deal with, and if I don’t like the art I don’t care what it makes for me monetarily, I’m not inspired to work by that.
How can artist submit music to you and how does it work?
I don’t take submissions anymore, for a couple reasons. One reason being the label stuff takes up most of my time and focus, but also a lot of artists/managers/PR people are ungrateful and unreasonable, acting like I’m obligated to post the music they send. I got a whole ass life and career, but most people just care about whether or not I’m gonna post their song. I once had a PR guy send me 11 releases in a single email to post, like, fuck you dude.
I could feel like people valued me as a person less and just saw me as some sort of promo page, so fuck that shit. I still post what I want when I have time, but I won’t ever take submissions again, and if anything I feel like that adds more value to the stuff I do actually write about. Most times when I write about something it’s because it was so good to me that I really, actually wanted to write about it and share it, not just write about it because I’ve posted the artist in the past—and in my opinion that’s how blogging should work.