Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua Talks Kanye, Lil Wayne & Hip Hop Since 1978 Pt. 1
Last month we saw the release of two of the music world’s biggest albums: Jay-Z and Kanye West‘s Watch The Throne collaborative project and Lil Wayne‘s eagerly-anticipated Tha Carter IV. While fans and critics debate the merits of each album, compare sales stats and speculate on any brewing beef between Jay and Wayne, BE NEXT decided to talk to a man who has been influential in all three artists’ careers, Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua. If you look at the credits on the packaging for WTT or Tha Carter IV you’ll see the words “Hip Hop Since 1978.” That’s not some random, inaccurate declaration of rap’s birthdate, it’s the multifaceted management company with a client roster that includes stars Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Young Jeezy and producer Just Blaze among others.
The company gets its name from Joshua, who along with his partner Gee Roberson (and chairman of Geffen Records), began his career as a young A&R and radio promoter at as small company called Roc-A-Fella Records in the late nineties. The label that brought us Jay-Z was run by Shawn Carter himself, Damon Dash and Joshua’s older brother Kareem “Biggs” Burke. Don’t chalk up Hip Hop’s ascent to nepotism though his encyclopedic knowledge of rap and hunger helped him go from gofer to director of A&R at Roc-A-Fella alongside Roberson. Recognizing the talent in a young producer from Chicago named Kanye and a New Jersey rap addict named Just Blaze, the duo launched their management company, Roc The World Productions, in 1998 later re-branding it Hip Hop Since 1978 in 2004. Today the company boasts one the most impressive rosters in all of music and has negotiated deals with brands ranging from Nike to Gatorade and adding a third partner Cortez Bryant as general manager. Hip Hop, the creative mind behind the company sat down with BE NEXT to talk about his approach to business and to shed some light on how his company works.
BE Next: Define what you do as you see it. There are a number of titles than have been and can be attached to your name but how do you describe what you do?
Hip-Hop: I guess I would say I’m an A&R by trade but I kinda just look at it exactly like my name says, “Hip-Hop Since 1978.” I just try to engulf [sic.] the whole culture as far as what it was, what it’s going to be and just try to assist in any way possible. So if it’s like artists, tours, companies different things like that that I feel are related to it that I like or I feel that would add to it so some of that comes in the management and some of that comes with partnering with certain artists or companies or trying to do events and just creating things in the hip-hop spectrum.
You didn’t start out with a specific idea of what you wanted to do, it seems like you just had a general idea of how you wanted to contribute to the culture, is that correct?
It was like John Hammond or Ahmet Ertegun those types of people who did a lot for other genres of music and I felt I wanted to do that for hip-hop like push it forward as much as possible and then leave it in a better place than when I found it.
Initially, it was just you and Gee Roberson, how does Roberson’s role complement yours in your business?
I’ve kinda always started stuff and he’s kinda always finished it. Like it started out real small like with albums for example: I’d record them, mix them then he’d just master them and I’d start something else. I’m always starting something or looking for something and always in the creative process and he’s more in a managerial position as far as being hands on and dealing with stuff that’s right there—dealing with crises and that type of stuff. He’s spent four years at Towson State [University] for school and I was straight out of high school so he was more stable on that side as far as following the rules and taking instruction whereas I didn’t have any rules I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing.
It seems like you were more led by your creativity and taste in things.
Yeah, it was like I didn’t know what I could or couldn’t do, which is good because I probably wouldn’t have done stuff like work with Kanye if I did things in a formulaic way at the time—the fact that I wasn’t stuck in one way of doing things. Gee’s more like the guy that had a job the whole time.
So he knows what the structure is. So you come with “this is what we’re gonna do” and he’s like “Okay, this is how we structure this idea.”
Yeah, without that balance I would’ve been gone. I would’ve bet the house on something and I might’ve came back and not had a second chance. So there’s a certain balance that he keeps and certain things that I bring just from going out there and finding it and bringing it back. It’s more like one going out fishing and the other one cooking the catch.
You’have a had a lot of success was there a point where you realized, “Whoa, we’re in business, we’re doing it!”
Nah, not really because we just flew right into it. It’s like the same thing right now, it’s no different we’re working with a new producer…
Well, the scale is different, the scale is huge now.
Not really… not for me. We’re working with a new producer named Hudson Mohawke and other new rappers and new artists so I feel like it’s the same for me because I don’t really work with artists hands-on once they get really big. I kinda look at it like a college coach I don’t like to coach pros…
That kind of goes back to that fishing analogy you made: it’s like you make this huge catch like Kanye or Just Blaze or Lil Wayne and instead of sticking around to marvel at it you’d rather go back out to the lake and catch another.
It hasn’t gotten to a point where it’s like “now it’s this!” Well, actually it might be like that now just because we have so many artists so to answer your question it was probably a couple of years ago maybe around Drake [when we realized what we were doing].
That’s pretty recently, like two years ago. But that’s still after a bunch of plaques and such…
Yeah, because before we were workin’ with ‘Ye and Just only for certain amount of time then it was Wayne and then it was Drake too. When Wayne came it was like, “Cool, we can deal with ‘Ye and Wayne with no problem but then it was like, “We’ve got another one now so we need to think of structure.” Now there are more people to deal with these situations [in the company] because before it was just me, Gee and our partner Cortez Bryant. Like I can be over there, he can over there and ‘Tez can go over there but once we crossed that road and got to three or four acts with similar potential it was like we had to take our business more seriously to the point where we’re hiring and doing things and really trying to build that infrastructure up to sustain whatever else comes to us.
Visit BE Next tomorrow for the second part of our Interview with Hip-Hop where he talks about his latest ventures and how he helped to turn Lil Wayne into a superstar.