Check out this extraordinary interview with our good friend, Rikers, the head of marketing over at Stall & Dean and an up and coming music executive himself. Lot of gems in this
Calling all hip hop practitioners: it’s that time again. You know the old saying, “a jack of all trades is the master of none?” Well meet the man defying the myths, Rikers. This man is not only intelligently competent, but outstanding in many particular fields. His forte is making all developments turn into profitable results; effectiveness is the foundation towards his success. Strong people don’t need leaders because strong people lead themselves.
Rikers is the extraordinary fashion executive who is the head of marketing for Stall and Dean and handles affairs for Ruckers Vintage. If you’ve been glued to the tube during the play offs then you’ve certainly seen his stylish craftsmanship because Rikers brand Stall and Dean provides the N.B.A. with its league apparel. Rikers is the specialist of premiere athletic wear. He’s also worked with some of the top clothing brands in the country. His expertise has been lent to companies such as Starter, Reebok, Ecko, Fubu and Apple bottom.
Although his achievements have shaken up the active wear régime this article covers a different sector of Rikers assets. As avid hip hop connoisseurs, you may wonder how any of this information is relevant? Simply put this merchandising messiah is the man responsible for connecting with and dressing many of the industry’s elite. The brands have been embraced by several major artists such as Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Sean “Diddy” Combs. Rikers has managed placement of the clothing in videos, photos and television appearances for entertainers like T.I., Cassidy, Ludacris, Chamillionaire, The Diplomats, J. Holiday and ballers like Shaquille O’Neal and Carmelo Anthony.What really makes this Renaissance man spectacular is in addition to Rikers other hustles, he also is president of G.I.T. Records. G.I.T. which stands for “Gettin It Together,” is an independent record label based in New York. It houses some of the hottest up and coming rappers from the underground including the company’s first artist North Carolina’s own Derty Den. I recently reached out the Rikers to explore his thoughts on the current state of operating on the independent level.
S. Jeanine: First and Foremost I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to conduct this interview. I want to begin by allowing you to plug any new artist, ventures, or promotions that you’d like to make mention of for the public to be on the look out for.
Rikers: This is Your boy Rikers, please keep an eye open for Derty Den’s “Southern Dynasty” Stall and Dean Edition #8 mixtape w/ Dj Hitz, also peep that “F*** a record Deal” with Dj Scream and Furious styles. Harlem Cash’s new mixtape Harlemwood 1.5, new Stall and Dean tops and fitteds in stores now. Always make sure if you’re on the court, or near one you gotta cop that Rucker.
S. Jeanine: Not since the sultry days of Motown have record labels and management tried to really shape and mold complete artist development for their acts. In this era of Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter how important is it for an independent artist to build a foundation and function as well as any major signed act?
Rikers: To be honest, for the Indie act its just as hard as any other time to break out and compete, you have to fight for radio spins, website looks and media plugs, but the Myspace allows you to custom your own page, so a lot of money to build your own sites is saves. The money you save can go into physical promotions. Twitter allows you to practically have “Real time” conversations with other artist, websites or fans so you can receive instant feedback for your work. Social networks are important, but at the same time that’s oversaturated w/ a new site showing up daily, so any new act has to understand communication skills and that marketing is more important than the music. This is how you can begin to compete; by understanding the terms of the war you’re about to fight.
S. Jeanine: What makes for a success when out on the road touring or doing one stops with radio?
Rikers: It is very important to enjoy yourself at radio. You’re selling a product, No one wants a lame interview or other stations aren’t going to want you to visit them, and keep the “I keep it real” at home. A farmer keeps it real, that cliché is so tired.
When touring, try to get “walk” throughs for other venues (night spots) so you can visit the local Djs and network with other artist. Always use caution and travel safely in cities foreign to you, if you’re uncomfortable in your hotel, check out and go to another that same night. In fact when I’m on the road, I book myself in two hotels for the same evening if it’s a town I’m unfamiliar with.
S. Jeanine: With the advent of peculiar 360 record deals and shifty production contracts being tossed around by the majors, do you see more hesitation from today’s artist when it comes to signing over certain rights at an independent level?
Rikers: Not at all, the key is labels invest large sums of money into a product. Let’s use the example The Rucker. We increased visibility, carried the legacy, continued with the tradition, and branded it to a position where now video game makers, basketball leagues want to use the name for movies, video games, clothing and other ventures, the question is why wouldn’t I want a percentage of what I built? The key is for artist to develop a strong “Core” fan base, strong media relationships. In this generation, you do not need a lot of money; you just have to know how to spend it. But the key is not using the Major to make you a star, make yourself a local star and then the major multiplies that 100x, but again, if they took a.k.a. corner rapper from the local swap meet (100 people) to Wembley Stadium (45,000 people) in the UK, then we all knew this day was coming (day of 360s). So artist like a Gucci Maine would have great leverage at the negotiations table b/c he made himself a local star, so he may even avoid a 360 or have a large upfront check compared to many who aren’t hot locally and the label takes them to stardom from scratch. I explain this carefully to all artist, but I don’t sign artist to 360s directly, but if I invest in a project, I am entitled to recoup from my investment.
S. Jeanine: In all honesty do you ever find it hard to penetrate into the tight small circle of industry gate-keepers in order to gain momentum? Meaning is the old saying that, “it’s not what you know but who you know” still ringing true or does sincere hard work alone create your progress?
Rikers: No, I really don’t have the problem of penetrating small network services, because even if they don’t know the name G.I.T., they know Rikers or Ammo. They know we bring something to the table that benefits them as well as assist us. But yes, it’s who you know, the Music industry is like most businesses, its cliques. The Bar association, Harvard alumni’s, UNC alums are no different then the music or fashion industry. Even to get a basic job, its who you know over 80%+ of the time, because that inside person may have put you on or advised you to the job. This is why artist need to network. You can’t buy your way in to this industry, because money does dry up, and once you pay… You’ll always be labeled as one willing to pay. That spreads rapidly and people will then contact you requesting checks. The key is being focused; honest, intelligent, friendly and most important have something to offer outside of money. Those are not “your people” still, but at least your foot is in the door. So its always who you know, not what you spend. The harder you work, stronger your buzz, people will eventually want to partner with you who are in these circles. You then can make strong allies and enter. This process can take years to do, but its worth it if you want to win, but knowing the right person (s) will cut this time down to almost nothing.
S. Jeanine: In today’s society the need for a major record label outside of monetary support has slimmed down. What are some of the advantages to taking the grass roots independent route? What are the key areas of concentration that are a must when it comes to micromanaging the responsibilities of an independent record label?
Rikers: The advantage of Indie is you can control your project, it allows you to keep your vision and you can keep most of your profits. The daily task again is “your” responsibility so you just can’t spend freely; you have to do all of your marketing, promotions, travels, etc. To offer an example, when you sell for instance your $10.00 mixtape, instead of taking home .20-80 cents or if you take home anything at all, you take home close to $6.00+ when all is said and done, note you still have to pay for CD duplication, artwork, CDs, flyers, artwork, gas/travel, cell phone, food, etc. But again, this is all yours. That $6.00 can be split now into hiring a radio promoter, publicist, fee to enter showcase which now gets you more fans and allows you to sell more product, or pay your rent. You can work with almost any artist you wish with few restraints. Important Note- if for example Jadakiss gave you a 16 for free. Please understand that’s technically a Def Jam product, so if you want to put that on your album, understand Def Jam may send you a invoice for $20 to $40k (Due to Jadas popularity) for that verse. Why? Because that’s Def Jam’s artist and they will ask, where’s our cut for using “our” product, which in return will benefit you, and cutting us out… But if a “Harlem’s Cash, wants to work with a Derty Den, they both being Indies can do so freely based on them simply meeting in a studio. Being Indie allows you the freedoms such as working with the producers, promoters, etc you wish to work with. The key again is all of it is your responsibility, from understanding your LLC/ LLP/ DBA, to taxes, to meetings, to making sure you have a strong viral (internet) team. As an indie, this is all your responsibility. It sounds like a lot, but the benefit is knowledge and fun.
S. Jeanine: A typical question would be what do you look for in an artist before deciding to work with him or her but with so many artist having bad attitudes, egos, and just being lazy I think its important that artist realize how their negative attributes can weigh in heavy on their career outlooks as well. What type of situation would make you not sign an artist despite his talents?
Rikers: First impression is key, how honest they are upfront, do they have paperwork (contracts) floating over them and who’s on their current team. If there clothes are raggedy, I can fix that but nothing can correct a lie except for another. Bad Teams, there’s nothing worse than the “homeboy” manager or local street tough the head of your movement. I can’t market a bully, because shows are where artist earn there monies and I can’t get you shows if promoters are fearful of you. I don’t want the police or lawyers visiting me due to mounting lawsuits. That means the artist can’t earn if he’s always locked up or sued. A “Know it all” artist is also a no no. If you know it all, why haven’t you repeated Petey Pablo’s rise? And most of all, they have to understand “Team Work”. If they can’t put in the work, they’re useless to be honest.
S. Jeanine: Every rapper/hip-hop artist always wants to know “how do I get on” but for the kid who has dreams of getting on as a music executive of someone making the moves behind the scenes what would you suggest to him or her?
Rikers: Don’t quit your day job…haha! The first key is being able to multi-task and learn how to sacrifice. Formulate a three year plan of what you want to do and how you are going to obtain these goals. My motto is “He/she who fails to plan, Plans to fail”… Without a plan, you will surely fail. If you plan on being an executive in another company, you have to start building your reputation now. Start working with promoters, djs and developing a reputation that you have the ability to locate and develop talent. Start reading books so you understand royalties, publishing, what each job details, the Sun Tzu, etc. Learn how to trust others as in, how to delegate responsibility to others. You can’t operate even the smallest company if you have to do it all, so learn how to delegate responsibilities. The most important thing to remember is, your word is all you have, once you lose that, your reputation is forever tarnished so be mindful to be a man/woman of your word.