The formula for creating a hip-hop album has been framed to a science: grab the hottest producers, a few guest stars, throw in a club mix or two and with the right promotion, you very well may have a platinum record in your palms. For major labels, this strategy is virtually a risk-free venture whose benefits generally outlive their artists. Many rap artists burst on the scene with a hit record, make large sums of money for the men behind the desk, but are often the last to be served their share of the meal. When the artist loses his or her commercial appeal, the label simply replaces them with another act with a catchy jingle. In this cookie-cutter era of rap music, lyrics that do not fit the mold of mainstream radio and television have an even harder time getting a piece of the limelight.
Labels consider artists with a message too risky of an investment and prefer play-it-safe talent that will give the masses what they have been used to: junk radio. Void of any relevant content or purpose, junk radio singles generally include the following: a simplistic hook, juvenile subject matter and a catchy beat. Every so often, rap music re-invents itself to further progress the art. This change can be either by force or by necessity. Enter Sophist Productions, a name that will soon be on the names of every music fan’s tongues in time to come: by force or otherwise.
Sophist Productions is a New York based record label responsible for coining the phrase “alternative hip hop” and creator of the groundbreaking, digital video jockey (DVJ) turntable. This new art merges the timeless element of “b-boy” scratching with digital video to create an entertainment experience that is truly cutting-edge. Little X, a three-time MTV Video Award winner and critically acclaimed director, unveiled the new DVJ technology along with Sophist and DJ Big Rich at his birthday party back in late January. DVJ spins music videos as opposed to vinyl that allows Sophist’s music and images to reach thousands of partygoers everywhere. Recently, Sophist Productions has developed an internship program for college/university students wanting to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes in the music industry, entitled the Sophist Label Launch. Armed with the necessary promotional materials, the students will help to create a buzz on their campus surrounding Sophist’s first commercial release, “ONEinSIX,” gaining first hand experience of what it really means to launch a record label and release an album. Currently, Sam Houston State University senior Mahogany Lee is at the forefront of Sophist’s local movement, an internship that places her at the forefront of the company’s southern campaign. Reed has been commonly referred to as the “anti-Kanye West” in that he, along with DJ Big Rich, reggae artist Sensation, and D-Mack promote higher education in urban society through their lyrics. On the flipside, according to “The Pressbox,” Kanye’s albums, “The College Dropout” and “Late Registration,” tend to promote anti-education ideals.
A one-on-one with Reed:
Houstonian: How’s it going, Reed?
Reed: Everything’s going good!
Houstonian: First things first, who would you compare yourself to out there?
Reed: As far as style, I guess you could compare me to an LL Cool J type. My lyrics are directed towards females and conceptual love songs. That’s what I concentrate on the most. Positive, good messages, meaningful messages and love songs that everyone can relate to. Love, of course, is the world’s most universal topic.
Houstonian: Are you still holding it down for the fellas too?
Reed: Do the fellas want to go after the ladies? (Laughs) If the fellas want to get a hold of the ladies, then yes, I’m holding it down for the fellas! I’m coming at things with a male point of view, and I’m not just breezing through topics on this album. On this album you’ll see the darker side of a love relationship and the beautiful side as well. And that’s important for everybody; these are experiences that we all share.
Houstonian: How do you plan to merge with the wave of southern music hitting Hip-Hop now?
Reed: If you wanna hear some real stuff, New York radio doesn’t even play New York music anymore. Nowhere is it more apparent how popular the south is than in NYC. Every other song is like Dem Franchise boys and like five outta every six songs is probably some out of market. Like, the T.I. song is going crazy up here… the “Lean wit it, Rock wit it” is going crazy up here. I mean the only New York artist that has anything new on the radio is Busta. It’s really limited to what’s going on, so it’s pretty peculiar. So I feel the NY radio fans are really waiting for some home towners to bring it back, and I think that’s what we bring to the table.
Houstonian: So what would you be doing if not music?
Reed: Well, not to dodge the question or anything, but I’d always be making music. It could be made in the bedroom and could stay in the bedroom. But I’m lucky enough to be in the music businessbut if I wasn’t? I have a college degree. I graduated Sigma Cum Laude. I would have gone to law school; I’d probably be doing corporate law. I know this isn’t the radio but shot-outs to my intern Mahogany Lee!
Houstonian: Talk to us about the Sophist Production internship program.
Reed: Basically, the common misconception is that if you’re not on TV, you’re not doing anything. So this opens the students to things like PR (public relations)…did you talk to Mahogany to get this piece?
Houstonian: Yes, I did.
Reed: Okay…so that’s public relations, one of the fastest growing fields in entertainment. You know, I’m listed in all the databases as a celebrity, but I’ll tell you what–it’s my publicist that gets me into all the hot parties. The Ne-Yo party, Lil’ Kim Countdown to Lock-down launch party happened and it’s my public relations team that gets me into these events. So it’s a pretty exciting job. But it’s kinda…overlooked by a college student. A college student may not know that the public relations field is something that’s open to them. But that’s what Mahogany did. I have an album soon to be released; she got a packet together, contacted you guys and got a piece. That’s what that field is all about. Any artist needs press, any company needs press–forget about an artists. It’s something that’s mandatory business nowadays. Advertising and publicity.
Houstonian: Thanks for the college-knowledge. Any closing words?
Reed: Definitely. To all the readers, get that education and be sure to look for “ONEinSIX” in stores April 18 or download it off the net for a fee–not for free!