Filed under: Features,Interviews,Steady Bootleggin',Tuff Crew Special
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
For a bit of a change of pace, last year I spoke to Kevon Glickman, a who’s been working as a music attorney, label owner and manager in the hip-hop game since the days of the Tuff Crew. Currently his company Respect Managerment handles acts like Rick Ross and Trina.
Robbie: So you used to work with the Tuff Crew back in Philadelphia?
Kevon: Yeah, if you look at Back To Wreck Shop my face is on the back cover. I organized the photo shoot on the art museum steps, with this photographer named Michael Levine. It was one of his first shoots, then he went on to shoot everybody from Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and big rock stuff. He’s one of the top photographers now, that was his first cover.
So how did you get involved in the music business? You were practicing law at the time?
First I was signing punk rock acts, and I was a graffiti artist. The graffiti culture and the hip-hop culture kinda overlapped in the early days. I was working with rock groups and not getting anywhere with the rock stuff, and then started managing DJ Cash Money when the DJ culture started happening. Then we had these rap trading cards, and I signed-up all the graffiti artists and instead of bubble gum there was a sticker in each one of the packs, and the sticker was a famous wall.
With the early days of Soo Def records, were you just handling the legal side or were you actually involved in the company?
There was a guy named Tony Mitchell – Mitch – and he also had Krown Rulers and Tuff Crew.
I loved that Krown Rulers album.
They’re from Camden. He [Grand Pubah] went to jail, and that’s why you didn’t hear much about ‘em. He’s out now, but anyway…we put the records out through Warlock, Adam Levy. Adam Levy’s father was a notorious record character, and had a lot of underworld connections…Roulette Records. You ever watch The Sopranos? The Jewish guy who lives upstate with the horse farm? That’s like Adam’s father. So we used to go up to Warlock and give him records and get cheques. It’s very simple. He was one of the only guys we could work with back then. The business was very small, not many people were taking chances.
So there was “Philly Style” and those early records, and then the P.H.A.N.J.A.M. album…
That was the early days, but then Warlock went on to have the first big independent record with the Jungle Brothers “Girl I’ll House You”, and I represented this guy Afrika Baby Bam from there. I also had a group called 2 Much, this girl group, they had a song called “Doin’ Itl”, then LL Cool J sampled that later and made it into a big hit. “My Parta Town” was Tuff Crew’s big hit. They did some stuff in the early days with Luke from 2 Live Crew, and he used to bring ‘em down to Miami and put ‘em on shows and everything.
Did you used to hang out with Ice Dog and all of them, or was it just business?
They were really young kids. The guy I mentioned looked after ‘em. I’m 44 now, they were just kids. It wasn’t much hangin’, more like babysitting.
So where did you go from there?
There wasn’t that much happening in Philly. I had [DJ] Cash Money, and I had an early group named Robbie B and DJ Jazz that had a song called “Rock The Go Go”. That was the first artist signed to Schoolly D Records, which was run by Chris Schwartz. He was the founder of Ruffhouse later, and Chris and I became partners for many, many years and we still work together.
So you were involved in Ruffhouse as well?
Yeah, Chris made up the name Soo Def Records, and gave it to Mitch. So we signed Robbie B & DJ Jazz, then we got ‘em off of Schoolly D Records, ’cause Schoolly wasn’t really pushing them. Then Chris and Joe started Ruffhouse Records through Enigma, and then we signed Robbie B & DJ Jazz through Enigma. But Enigma was a rock label through Capitol and the record didn’t do very well. We did a record for Geffen by 7A3, which was the precursor for Cypress Hill. Then we went up to New York and started working with everybody – Poor Righteous Teachers and the Fu-Schnickens, and whoever was anybody at the time, from Raheem and the Furious Five and Afrika Bambatta, then I had D’Angelo and Funkmaster Flex, a lotta other different artists.
So what happened to the Fu-Schnickens?
They did a song with Shaq, and that killed their vibe. I told ‘em not to do it, but they didn’t listen to me.
Did you have much to do with Schoolly D?
Schoolly was briefly signed to Jive, but it really didn’t work out. I put out three independently released albums. I started this independent label called Contract Recording Company, and we put out one called Reservoir Dogs, then I put out kind of like a greatest hits album. Chuck D doing “Saturday Night”…. Schoolly was a piece of work. He’s deejaying a lot now. He’s had a long career. I liked his music in King of New York, that was a cool movie.
What were the spots that you used to go to in Philly?
One club in Philly was called After Midnight, and there was a woman named Jackie Paul, and Mixmaster Mike. Jackie Paul turned me on to a lotta the early rap guys.
She later organised the NMS in New York, didn’t she?
She worked for this trade mag, that’s closed, called Impact. She’s disappeared from the scene, unfortunately. There were a lotta Philly guys hangin’ there… Singing MC Breeze.
Ahh, the “Disconbobulator”! Do you still have copies of that old stuff?
I have this group which I put out called Too Brown, which Tony D tells me they’re selling for over a hundred bucks. It was produced by DJ Jazz. It’s kind of a really cool record that went against the grain at the time.
Did you have anything to do with the Hilltop Hustlers?
Yeah, sure. There was a group called Rhythm Radicals – Hilltop Hustlers. Ruffhouse had signed C.E.B, but they went to jail for killing a cop during a robbery. That’s Lawrence B – Lawrence Goodman – Hilltop Hustlers, and I had this guy called DJ Miz. Hilltop is west Philadelphia, but I didn’t get too close to them because the Lawrence Goodman guys were a little bit dangerous. Him and his brother that owned the label.
I remember Three Times Dope had a problem with them. Do you know what happened to EST?
I think he’s in Florida, working with Scott Storch maybe.
Have you been involved in making beats at all?
In more of an executive producer capacity, I don’t program. I just get producers that I can rely on. My musical style was on the rock side. I concentrate more on lyrics and the recording process, but I don’t program. I leave that up to the idiot savants. But I used to make sure there was a lotta scratches in there! But they don’t scratch that much anymore, unfortunately.
That’s why a lot of 80s records were better.
Hooks were hooks, songs were cleaner. It wasn’t all filled with curses and everything. So I left New York and I was managing a club called The Limelight, managing these DJs and artists, and then I left to become the Head of Business Affairs at Ruffhouse, which was Cypress and the Fu-Gees and Lauryn Hill. We sold Ruffhouse to Sony, and then Chris and I started Ruff Nation, and we did three years at Warner Brothers. One of our signings was named Lela James, who’s a soul singer who’s album’s come out now. You might see her on VH1. Did a bunch of hip-hop stuff and nothing really broke at Ruff Nation.
What’s your favorite record you’ve been involved in?
I’ve done so many records…obviously the Fu-Gees The Score was an important record, and D’Angelo “Brown Sugar”, Lauryn Hill The Miseducation… Cypress’ “Pigs” was pretty raw, and to this day I’m still kinda partial to “Rock This Funky Joint” by PRT, because we made that on our own for no money, and it just exploded, it was a hot record that affected popular culture a little bit with the whole 5% thing. That was a really nice time for me. But there’s been many, many records.
Wise Intelligent’s bringing out a new record.
I passed on him. We did three or four albums with Profile which I executive produced, and then I did a solo album called Killin’ U For Fun. I didn’t have much money to promote it, but they didn’t want to do anything for Profile, they wanted to try something independently, so I was happy to do it. But it was just OK. I had a cover which was banned by retailers. It was a burning body, a lynched body, it was an historical photo of a black man that was being lynched and burned on a tree – and it got banned. I’m sure that’s a collectors’ item, the few that were made. But I probably shouldn’t have backed down from it, ’cause it was pretty radical.
As far as the contracts that a lot of people used to sign – after the album would get done, the record company recoups all the money they spent on the promotion. It’s crazy to me that people would sign a contract like that.
Ha! Well everybody does, mostly. That’s the way it is. Business is messed-up.
Do you think it’s changed with the little label imprints?
There are straight distribution deals where you keep your ownership and you pay a distribution fee, but it’s hard because you have to be financed. You have to have your own money. If you have a really big successful artist, what you could do – which is the pinnacle of deal making – is called a joint venture, where the major label puts out the money, you supply the artist and you guys split the profits. That’s as a label. The artist is pretty much stuck with certain standards. What can I tell ya?
I remember reading an article where they worked out that a group like Tribe Called Quest could have a gold album, but only end up making $30,000 a year off of it.
Well I don’t feel bad because they got one of the biggest deals – the first big deals – they changed the way things were done. When they signed with Jive they signed for $600,000 for two guaranteed, firm albums, which wasn’t really done before in rap. You got signed for an album – and if it sold there might be a second one – but they were so hot, that they were able to get the label to commit upfront for two albums. To pay for ‘em both. So that was kinda interesting…then again, they had Chris Lighty, who’s one of the top managers in the world.
After Biz Markie got sued for sampling that Gilbert O’Sullivan record, a lot of people got employed full-time just looking for samples…
Yeah, sure, it’s not only just that. Business affairs have to make sure that samples don’t go out uncleared, but there are companies that just clear samples. They’re a little sideline – music clearance companies.
But is that something that you’ve had to deal with for your artists?
Oh yeah, I got sued many, many times, and settled many times. The first one – my first hit – we got creamed. “Rock This Funky Joint” was War “Slipping Into Darkness”. We got creamed on that. I’ve given away a lotta money in sample clearances, but that’s the cost of a hit record.
Is there still a demand for vinyl?
It all depends on who you talk to. There’s certainly jocks that really like it and really need it. Now with Reggaeton happening, it’s nice to have vinyl on Reggaeton. Vinyl will probably never stop completely, but it certainly has shrunk. I was a committed vinyl person, but even now it’s very expensive.
How have things changed since the old days of running an indy label?
I still basically have to do everything. I went bowling with the head of Universal Music & Video distribution last week in LA, and the Head of Sales, and of course I had a copy of the Kulcha Don record and the Rick Ross CD, which I gave to the Head of Sales and his response was “Oh, you just happened to have that on you?” I’m like “Of course. This is what I do.” They would’ve gotten the record, but I wanted them to get it from me, I wanted them to listen to it in the car that night on the way home, so they had a coupla drinks in them – you know?
Tuff Crew - Hittin’ Hard Balls [One Voice compilation, Ruffhouse, 1990]
The 7A3 - Coolin’ In Cali [Coolin' In Cali, Geffen, 1990]
Too Brown - I’m In There [Takin' No Shorts, Vibe, 1989]
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