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Dominique Keegan Of Gee Street
Cerebral vs. Commercial Hip Hop
By Eric de Fontenay (Founder & Publisher)
(more articles from this author)
1998-07-29
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ED Is there any information on the new RZA album that you can give us?

DK It's going to be coming out in October. From what I've heard and have been told, it sounds really good. It's not as dark, slow and lyrically driven as you might expect.

ED So it is a little different from the Killah Priest album, Heavy Mental.

DK It's not just complete drowny dark beats with very, very heavy lyrical content. It has a bit more spring in it.

CA If you were to sign an artist to Gee Street, but didn't like his look, his thing. Would you make him change his image?

DK Well, you're not going to change the way the guy gets up in the morning and what socks he puts on. If he has a style that fits with his music and its something's good, don't fuck with it. But a lot of it comes actually just from the photo shoot because the face the people are going to see is the face on the cover of the album, or on the poster, or those stickers. That all basically comes out in the photo shoot. And you've got a stylist who will set up that photo shoot, who will go out and choose the clothes,...

Or maybe he's the kind of MC that's got to appeal to the ladies or is going to appeal to the kids who are into the label. He's [stylist] going to step to Hilfiger and all these different companies that got big labels and he's [artist] going to be wearing their clothes. If they are looking for something a bit different like AFu, for instance who always wants to be seen as wearing traditional Chinese clothing because his whole reason d'etre revolves around kung fu. He practices kung fu and has been doing so for 6-7 years. So that will be his image and he's already established that image by being in the Jeru the Damager video, "Ya Playin' Yourself" which is all kung fu orientated.

ED You have a lot of the bands like PM Dawn, Gravediggaz,... We are not talking about your average commercial bands; we're talking about more lyrically deep bands, more true to the musical rather than the commerce side. How does that affect Gee Street's business strategy as compared to other labels?

Gravediggaz
DK A lot of that might have to do with the fact that my boss is British and has a kind of different slant on the whole thing. Maybe that's why he signs those type of bands. A more European set of sensibilities.

If you examine what hip hop works in Europe, people in Europe don't really give a shit about what champagne your drinking, what bitches you're screwing or any of that stuff. That doesn't really mean much there, they want something more. They want to be inside the genuine culture and cerebral activity. That's something that appeals to Jon as well.

The unfortunate reality of signing acts like this - shall we say the more credible hip hop or cerebral hip hop - is that they aren't as big of sellers as some of the Bad Boy artists for example. Unfortunately, in order to work with a more expanded base of music and balance the books, I think you do need to have some of the more commercial entities. I don't think that we would do our label any harm by having mainstream commercial hip hop groups and/or a mainstream R&B groups.

ED Is there any special way that you have to address the market in promoting the band. For example, I don't think that the Killah Priest's album was very well promoted by its label. There seems not to have been an understanding by the label of what his art was. Or maybe the label was not involved in his form of Hip hop enough.

DK I think that if you go rap music, ok, take the urban department. They'll say "Let's spend this much money on promoting to urban radio." You can listen to a hip hop tune and tell within seconds whether its gonna have a chance to work at various levels of radio.

Don't forget, even Wu-TanG didn't get radio play and yet they sold 2 million copies of their last record. Who brought their record? You actually, through Soundscan, you can look and see where those records sold. Where did they sell? In white suburban America. Now you don't want to market directly to them because if you market directly to that community and forget about the urban base, then you are screwed.

Jungle Brothers

The urban base is what those kids are looking at. So you've got to sell it to the urban market first before you can get to those other kids. But you've got to be very very conscious of those other kids and your phase 2, of lets say marketing, does have to, I think, aim towards those kids. Now, another example of that is the Jungle Brothers. They're an old-school crew which a lot of people have respect for, a lot of people are like "Oh, yeah, Jungle Brothers, I haven't heard them in ages. They were dope," "yeah, yeah, I heard that new remix,"... And then market their record, the last one we had, to the mainstream urban radio. So you've got the Jungle Brothers going up against DMX, Cappadonna, Puffy and all the rest, and you're not going to get love in that marketplace, its not there.

And the Jungle Brothers have found through a series of remixes that the love is in the new dance community, the electronic dance community. In this more white suburban 'Beastie Boys' audience, and that's the direction that we are going to go with them. I don't see the point in spending $500,000 trying to market a band to a radio format that doesn't give 'em any love.

ED It's more on the street level, it's much more on other levels, other albums rather than the traditional.

DK Yeah, it is not necessarily underground in the sense of the hip hop term 'underground', like the way making phat beats would work their records. There is that core, that core hip hop loving community that are just jacking for the newest shit, straight out of whatever borough it is. They are looking for, that they are attached to. Whereas, something like the Jungle Brothers is not going to sell to a core hip hop or an underground fan like that because they're played out. As far as they are concerned, they're old-school. But there are a lot of kids out there who like Hip hop beats and hip hop sounds, but they don't want the hardcore shit. They also don't want the commercial shit because they mostly listen to rock records and now they've started listening to a little bit of dance music. As the electronica thing becomes more credible and moves away from traditional kind of disco housey sounds, people like that are starting to say "Hey, I used to listen to hip hop back in the day and I used to love hip hop, but no one is making hip hop that I can appreciate anymore because no one is making happy hip hop or hip hop that I can party to."

So in that sense that's the direction we are probably going to go with the Jungle Brothers and that's what they feel as well. They don't want to try and sound like modern hip hop because that's not what they're about. They are older than that now, they want to draw upon their roots and their past. The biggest problem is people who go "Rap lyrics, there's your market," which is just not the case. There are so many different types of hip hop. Beastie Boys are hip hop but they are a completely alternative band and selling in the alternative marketplace. In order to resell a lot of records, you need to examine that secondary marketplace.

CA Do you guys just basically wait until the RZA album comes out and then everybody would be cool?(laugh)

DK (laugh) There is a lot of anticipation for the RZA record. Obviously when you are a label trying to develop an artist and spending money here and there, its your bigger artists that have already broken out that you are going to sell a lot of records off of.

ED I've heard the Headrillaz CD, I like it in fact. To me its mix of very strange techno, rock...

DK And Hip hop, that's what people call Bigbeat as breakbeat. Bigbeat is like a house tempo Hip hop beat driven music that draws on all different types of music, it's basically a hybrid.

CA Is that kind of like the Chemical Brothers?

DK Yeah, but different. They are more of a live band, a lot more guitar and bass, especially the new stuff that's much more that way. Live they play in a five piece band, jump up and down and go crazy. We are hoping to do very well with them. I mean the first record we had was merely a compilation of a few 12 inches that they kind of just threw together and we had an album so we worked it. We did OK with it, we've done like 10,000 units but you didn't get a chance to flow with the band. But that now we've got the new stuff coming in and we've got a really slammin' video and we are going to go all out and put a lot behind them and hopefully we will be able to really blow them up.

ED How do you find artists? For example Ky-Mani, who came up in an interview we did with Tito Puente Jr.

DK I think Ky-Mani was found probably through John's links to Jamaica. My boss, Jon, has a house in Jamaica and is very into Jamaican culture. I think he met him [Ky-Mani] and got to know him through hanging out in Miami and Jamaica. He was interested in his music and what he was doing and offered him a record deal.

ED In general how does Gee Street go about looking for artists?

DK I think that there are different ways that people look for them. You go through production companies, studios, relationships you have, things you hear. There are so many different ways, people sending you tapes. We listen to every tape that comes in. Everyone gets a letter but some people get special attention and sometimes you go and look at a band showcase, the manager will call. There are so many different ways. I personally check for music by working with the DJ's, as I get 12 inches. I heard about Headrillaz before they came to Gee Street because I had them on 12 inch. Now the Headrillaz, as far as I'm concerned, I thought that it was one guy in his home studio, but I found out that it was actually a four/five piece band and then you immediately realize that they have more potential than just being a 12 inch. I already knew who they were and what they were about when they came here. I brought them out, we got puffed out of our heads, I brought them back to a gig I was playing, I started pulling their records out of my record box. So they wanted to sign with us. I mean there are different ways to keep them.

ED Where do you DJ?

DK I DJ around and about. I do a regular gig every Saturday night at a place called Drinkland, it's a bar on Camp Street at Avenue B. I DJ'ed at the Kung Fu Lounge which is a party on West 14th Street.

CA What Kind of music do you do?

DK Party Hip hop, breakbeats, and like funky electronica stuff. Depends who I am playing to. I can play to a four/five hundred rave crowd or play a bar gig playing more funky bong kind of stuff. I mean I'm playing at the Diesel Store on Lexington so that should be interesting. (laugh)

ED Are there any new projects that you would like to talk about, either that you're involved with or Gee Street is planning?

DK As far as I'm concerned the most interesting thing coming up will be with the Headrillaz, we talked about a little bit. Aphrodite, who's in an era where there is so much drum & bass and jungle beat producing and coming out especially out of the UK, a few people stand out; Roni Size stands out on the jazz tip and Aphrodite has stood because of what he does. Most of his tunes start as hip hop and then they jump to jungle mode, should we say, and the type of jungle he makes is called 'Jump Up' because it literally makes you jump the fuck up out of your seat. It has such an incredible, intense driving beat and force to it. What he does is take old hip hop records and cuts them up and he uses them as his hooks and it's a very interesting way of making his records and they really work. And you are on the dance floor, you see how it works and I think that is going to be very interesting. Basically the first record of his out will be a compilation of stuff that he's released on his own on a label called Aphrodite Recordings which will be a CD compilation which will be great work.

ED When is that coming out?

DK I don't know. We have to wait until the deal is signed. He also has another label called Urban Takeover which is him and Mikey Finn. He was approached by V2 Records London on the heels of a remix that they had to do for Jungle Brothers, which has done very well and they were so excited about that remix that they wanted to try and sign him as an artists. The deal will be made in one of two ways. A, they will sign him as an artists and allow him to continue Aphrodite Recordings where he can release Amazon and his other collaborative experiences or they could sign Aphrodite Recordings and he will continue to work under Aphrodite Recordings but it will be released, distributed and marketed through V2 internationally and Gee Street would do it. So I am very much looking foward to it. AFu also, a Tae Kwun Do artist, he looks at life through that basically and that's the way a lot of his rhymes and his hip hop is also looked through with that kind of spirituality, zen. I think that he is going to come out with a nice record, he's a smart kid. A lot of hip hop heads lean towards the hoodlum orientated look and it can be a little bit tired sometimes, obviously his stuff is a little bit more enlightened, more interesting.

ED Where do you see hip hop going? Hopefully the crest of Puffy will wane and allow others to shine.

DK Every one is going hip hop is dead and hip hop is this. I mean you can't look at it like one thing. hip hop is just a way of making music. I consider breakbeat and electronica hip hop as well. Just because you don't have rhymes on it doesn't mean it's not hip hop. It's all fucking names, it doesn't really matter. Rap music; you will always have gangsta rap you always have cerebral rap, you always have commercial rap, you always have R&B rap. They each go their own directions and travel and somewhat exhaust themselves.

ED What do you think is the next hot beat?

DK I actually think that Timberland and McGoo are probably some of the more dope beats out there. The production that they do which they actually borrow from drum & bass production a little bit and I think that you are going to see a lot of more of that seep into the American marketplace.


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