The REVOLT Summit touched down in Los Angeles this weekend (Oct. 25 – 27), following the success of the conference in Atlanta just six weeks prior. Presented by AT&T, the confab took place at The Magic Box in downtown L.A. and featured dozens of panels and performances, bringing to the stages such hip-hop greats as Snoop Dogg, Killer Mike, Vince Staples, Master P and Revolt Media founder Sean “P. Diddy Combs,” wearing a Crenshaw jersey in a sign of respect for the west coast.
L.A.’s rap roots was a common theme of the many discussions about the dominance of west coast powerhouses like TDE, home to Kendrick Lamar, SZA and Schoolboy Q. Run by Top Dawg, which Snoop commented was a “better version” of Death Row Records. Punch later tweeted that he was “humbled” by the compliment.
Snoop Dogg sat on stage in a room full of ppl and said we (TDE) are a better version of Death Row Records. Humbled. 🙏🏽
— Punch TDE (@iamstillpunch) October 27, 2019
Another topic that saw much analysis was the blueprint to success/ REVOLT CEO Roma Khanna highlighted the importance of ownership, telling those gathered, “We’re trying to be a platform for you to connect, to learn, to hear from those people who have succeeded, but also how they succeeded and their journey.”
A look at the influence and impact of hip-hop in tech, entrepreneurship and entertainment was also explored from multiple vantage points. Other highlights included a live taping of “State of the Culture,” a conversation with Master P and his son Romeo, a panel of today’s hottest producers including Murda Beatz, Hit-Boy and Sounwave and Diddy’s talk with Staples.
Variety was in attendance for the monumental weekend and came away with these five takeaways.
Killer Mike preaches politics like no other.
Day one of the summit kicked off with the Power & Politics panel featuring hip-hop artist and activist Killer Mike and former TMZ host Van Lathan. Killer Mike, whose real name is Michael Render, first came onto the music scene after appearing on OutKast’s 2000 album “Stankonia” (on “Snappin’ and Trappin’”) and going on to win a Grammy for his feature on “The Whole World.” More recently, he’s been traveling the world shutting down stages as one-half of Run The Jewels, alongside rapper/producer El-P.
The Atlanta native has never been one to hold his tongue when it comes to social activism, racism, and social action in general. For that, he even received his own Netflix show, described as a funny and provocative series in which he “puts his revolutionary ideas about achieving social change into action.”
As Mike took the stage, the crowd exploded with a standing ovation. Off the rip, Mike reminded all that it was only a half century ago that his people broke free of slavery. Said Mike: “Can I be frank? I’m tired of n–as complaining. My entire life has been defined as the struggle against something. Black people have only been free in America for 55 years. My parents, your parents were born in apartheid. When you talk about apartheid, it’s a certain seriousness … [for] 55 years of freedom, we operated from a place of fear.”
Connecting the then and now, Mike continued: “If blacks really understood the power of the local vote… your congress members would be more afraid of you. I’ve seen Bernie Sanders take $27 donations and use that to gather a movement. For me, it’s less about politics and more about telling the free people ‘you’re free’ — now let’s move like it.”
The realness in Mike’s own story connected with the audience. “I’m talking about black people like me raised by grandparents’ grandchildren of slaves,” he said. “.My grandmama raised me until I was 10, she influenced me directly. Her mother was born into slavery, that’s how close we are to slavery.”
Mike recently sat with Bernie Sanders to pick his brain about everything from healthcare to education, and made mention of Diddy wanting him to run for office, to which the man himself immediately stood up in the front row to applaud Killer Mike directly.
TDE is still on top.
Among the most highly-anticipated sessions was the Top Dawg Entertainment panel moderated by Snoop Dogg, who commented that today’s TDE is a “better version” of Death Row Records. On the agenda: how TDE rose to mainstream success by spearheading the careers of Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, SZA, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and more. The panel featured Jay Rock from city of Watts, Moosa of TDE artist development, who manages Zacari and ScHoolboy Q, Brandon “Big B” Tiffith and Terrence “Punch” Henderson, president of TDE.
Punch began by bringing it back to 1997 and early days in the studio. “Top brought us to the studio in Carson, we built and built until about 2004,” he said. “Jay Rock came first, then Kendrick came, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy… that was the start right there.”
Moosa added that he was just a fly on the wall at the time, and much younger than everyone. “I actually rapped first,” he said. “I went to the studio one night and Top and Punch had my music playing in front of everyone. I quit my rap career from there and went into management. If you’re not ready to play your music in front of a room full of people, you’re not ready, period.”
When it comes to what it takes to make it inside TDE, Punch shed some light, noting: “It’s different for everybody. Me personally, it’s originality. Something that’s different and stands out. I’m looking at work ethic after that. You can be great but if you don’t work, that’s the worst thing in the world. You can’t get that going.”
Jay Rock confirmed, “That’s real talk. All work always, overall talent.”
Music managers need to be good at everything.
Moderated by Roc Nation’s Lenny S, a panel on “Managing the Talent, Brand and Business” featured some of music’s most well-respected managers: Jamil Davis (G-Eazy), Courtney Stewart (Khalid), Dre London (Post Malone) and Paris Cole (Dreamville/Ari Lennox).
Stewart, who works with R&B superstar Khalid, stated that the most important aspect to the relationship is “an artist that has true pride. In 2019 going on to 2020, it’s a huge responsibility for artists. It’s not just about the music, you have to identity with fans. You have to have a strategy to connect with people on social media. It’s a real job for an artist outside of creating in the studio. You can’t just have dope records.” Stewart recalled Kylie Jenner posting Khalid’s song on Snapchat and how it gave them the push they needed as new fans arrived from all over the world. Afterwards, they essentially had to play catch up because of the how fast the internet moves.
Dre London (pictured below), who played a pivotal role in the rise of Post Malone added: “It takes a LOT to get to where we are. Signing to a label doesn’t just make it happen. I remember 2016 we went on tour with Fetty, it was our first tour. We had 59 shows. I couldn’t be on the road everyday, it was nonstop. Your artist is up at 3 a.m., 4 a.m. — when artists sleep, you need to take care of what needs to be taken care of. It’s hard to find that medium.”
G-Eazy’s manager Jamil Davis also gave an interesting perspective, emphasizing the importance of “just being there for artists.” Said Davis: “We’re their psychiatrists, their babysitters, everything. The hard part is making them realize we’re all on the same time, ‘cause sometimes we fight.”
Mustard and Ty Dolla $ign’s success is a true Westside story.
Paving the way for hip-hop in L.A., Mustard and Ty Dolla $ign took the stage for a panel moderated by radio personality Big Boy. The three dove deep into what the West Coast means to them musically and culturally, speaking of their humble beginnings, the grind, and giving advice to those who aspire to follow.
Mustard made a point to pay tribute to the Bay Area, too. “Yeah, there’s a West Coast sound,” he said. “We got the Bay that’s not that far away. I’m heavily influenced by the Bay, grew up to Too Short, Rick Rock Beats, The Federation, all that. All of the West Coast influences me, but we put our twist on it. We might have an R&B song that has a West Coast flavor, I might go do something random with YG but it’s one big sound.”
Ty Dolla $ign also name-checked West Coast veterans, from Death Row artists to newer stuff like Nipsey Hussle, Roddy Ricch and SiR, among others.
Giving props to Dr. Dre and DJ Quik, the 29-year-old Mustard said, “I’m not quite as good as mixing as Dre yet, I’m trying to get to that spot.”
Mustard honestly recounted how he first entered the game, signing a co-publishing deal for “Rack City,” which got him on his feet. From the success of that 2012 single with Tyga, he was able to take care of his son, his now fiance, and so much more. But he wasn’t able to get out of that deal.
“What you don’t know about co-pub deal, you don’t get that percentage back,” said Mustard. “For the last few years, I’ve had admin deals in which I own everything of mine. All those songs we did in the co-pub deal, I sold those. For me, the better thing was to better myself and sell that piece of catalog for 15 times. If you’re making a million dollars a year, you make 15 million dollars. I sold that, now I own everything. From publishing to my record label, in which I did a 50/50 deal split with Universal.”
Ty also gave some valuable words of advice, telling the audience. “Just be you, stick to your guns. Don’t try to be like nobody else, that’s what’s going to be special. That’s what’s going to last. Anybody can make a song at this point, but the stuff that lasts is when it really comes from the chest. When it’s really you.”
5) Creative freedom is a rare thing, but shouldn’t be.
A conversation featuring the forces behind Keep Cool, which is home to R&B acts Normani, Lucky Daye and VanJess., featured founder Tunji Balogun and Right Hand Music Group’s Courtney Stewart. Moderated by Phylicia Fant, co-head of Urban Music at Columbia Records, the panel centered around how and why they built the company, along with a look on the acts they signed.
Balogun stressed the importance of being a fan first, detailing his own experience starting out as an artist and eventually transitioning to SVP A&R at RCA Records. Said Balogun: “The number one thing I learned is never to underestimate anybody. You never know what relationship is going to come, what may yield the next best track, the next best artist, whatever. Personally, a big part of my success is being a good person, and that energy coming back from people I met along the way — either they want to show me things or bring stuff to me.”
Courtney Stewart actually got his start working with Bobby Valentino and even working on Lil Wayne’s standout 2008 single “Mrs. Officer.” During this journey, he picked up Khalid. As Stewart recounted: “Since 2005, it’s really been a long road. Just figuring out… the game is forever changing. When I first came, it was all about physical CDs, in-store, etc. Now we’re in the digital world. It’s really important to stay ahead of the curve. Especially as a manager, I never worked at a label. I never got a check. I never been on payroll. I have an entrepreneur’s spirit. As an entrepreneur, you have to realize it’s peaks and valleys in this business. You have to be two steps ahead. We have to figure out what’s next after streaming, because it’s something.”
The motto of Keep Cool is “the creative safe haven.” “It’s a place where artists can feel safe and can know their visions aren’t going to be compromised, that we’re going to fight to keep the integrity of what they do,” said Balogun. “There’s no boundaries, no box anymore. The ceiling is as high as you want it to bea s an artist if you’re working with us. It’s our job to protect what makes an artist special, while finding opportunities to tell the story as much as possible.”
Photos by Getty Images for REVOLT