Puerto Rico, Mixshow Power Summit 2003
I was first to arrive at the Westin Rio, a five-star hotel and resort in Fajardo, Puerto Rico for the annual DJ and music industry convention called the Mixshow Power Summit. The convention comprised of the following industry professionals: DJ’s from radio stations across the country, radio promotions, marketing and publicity executives from different labels, and rap veterans as well as soon-to-be successful rap artists. I was checking in my room at the hotel front desk when I first met our executive vice president of the rap department, Kevin Black, in person.
Originally from the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx in New York, Black, as he was commonly referred to in the industry, started his career as a DJ before becoming a senior executive at Death Row Records in southern California. He was credited for executive producing Snoop Dogg’s multi-platinum album, “DoggyStyle”. Black has made cameos in familiar rap videos, such as Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ But a G-Thing”, as the man on sitting on the couch telling Dre that “he hopes he’s taking him out to find a job”, referring to Snoop. Black has broken records on radio, created campaigns that set the paradigm for street promotions, cross-promoted artist projects with corporate brands, and executive produced albums that set records on many a music chart. With his resume and knowledge of the business and the music industry, it would be a privilege and honor to work under him. I was preparing myself to learn how to perfect my craft from the best on this trip.
By the time the entire rap department staff arrived from the Los Angeles and New York offices, and checked into the hotel, Black called a mandatory meeting in his suite. At the meeting, he gave strict orders in front of his staff in his signature style, if you knew him personally, about what he would and would not tolerate under his watch while in Puerto Rico. “Don’t let the flamingos & the Coqui frog’s that make the sound at night fool you”, gnarled Black, referring to the exotic atmosphere of the hotel resort. “This is not paradise and this is not a vacation”, he continued. “Anybody who is late to any of my meetings will be sent home and fired.” At the staff meeting in Black’s suite is when I met my roommate, Benny Blanco, in person, for the first time, along with everyone else from LA staff, such as Maricia Magana, Garrett Williams, Twin, and Adam Favors, whom I’ve spoken to daily on the phone. Benny, like everyone else on the staff, worked for Black for years and was familiar with the psychology of the music business clearer than I did at the time. This will explain why he acted nonchalant to Black’s orders from the meeting, in which I’ll go into detail about Benny later.
The Westin Rio Mar hotel and resort was just short of paradise itself, figuratively speaking, despite Black’s claim to not view our time here as such. With flamingos about and exotic women walking alongside your favorite rapper, entertainer, radio personality, or executive, the exposure was overwhelming for someone who has never been on a business trip doing what they love to do for a living. There was one humbling moment that I can never forget while I took a personal tour of the resort by myself. A guy walking with a thin-strapped book bag opposite of the direction I’m going asked me if I knew where the Virgin Records showcase, where the legendary hip-hop group, Gangstarr, was due to perform. I happened to be looking for the Virgin showcase as well and suggested that we both walk and look for it. We walked in the direction I was headed toward initially and we followed the music to the performance area until we heard the instrumental to “Manifest”, one of Gangstarr’s classic singles. Once we arrived, I lost the guy in the crowd of screaming Hip Hop fans. I didn’t see or recognize Kanye West until I saw his video on MTV’s “TRL” entitled “Through the Wire.” A Hip Hop Moment.
With all the fun, exotic weather, and hip-hop exclusivity that surrounded me, only someone from the streets would understand that when things everywhere appear perfect, something bad is bound to happen soon.
I grew up in Irvington, New Jersey, a small township in New Jersey surrounded around the state’s largest city, Newark. I was a accustomed to seeing the peace disturbed often with illegal activities such as witnessing stolen cars doing figure eight spins at an intersection, vehicle police chases, or hear about people who were victims of a robbery, or at worse murdered, unfortunately. Growing up in these conditions prepared me to be more conscious of my surroundings where I may have the ability to prepare myself, whenever the unexpected happens all of a sudden. The reverse effect of being conscious of your surroundings appeared in the form of flamingos on the resort and vacation, where now I will be even more cautious. The feeling of something about to go wrong didn’t take place until the second night of Mixshow Power Summit.
On night two of the blissful, beautiful resort of Fajardo, everything that could have happened wrong, did happen. A senior staff member from the LA office, named Twin, partied all night with Benny and myself after the Def Jam: Scarface 20-year Anniversary DVD event. The liquor poured into our glasses at our request, courtesy of the open bar while fine women walked throughout the venue in promiscuous attire. At about 3:30am, Twin, Benny Blanco, and I left the party and took the party bus back to the hotel, and decided to get something to eat from the food area at the hotel, before we went to our rooms for the night. The three of us ate heartedly, talked for a little until Benny and I left the restaurant area, splitting up with Twin for the night, to go back to our rooms for some much needed sleep. We got to the room at about 4:45am. Benny and I both agreed not to wake up until it was time for our label event, which was taking place later that day.
I noticed our hotel room phone blinking indicating that there was a voice message left for either Benny or myself. With whatever ounce of consciousness I had left, I decided to retrieve the message instead of ignore it and was shocked to hear Twin’s voice in an aggressive and agitated tone, explaining how Black just called a mandatory staff meeting at 7:00 a.m. in his hotel suite. “Don’t Be Late”, Twin screamed at the end of the message. I replayed the message back for Benny and I thought to myself that the two of us are bound to oversleep and miss this mandatory staff meeting since we just walked in the room after a night of partying. We decided to set our Motorola two-way pager alarms to wake us at 6:30 a.m. and for back up, I called the hotel front desk for a complimentary wake up call. We had all angles covered as far as waking up and went off to sleep in confidence that we would be on time for the staff meeting.
I believe the will of some higher spirit; that I would like to call the “gods of music executives past,” awakened me at 6:47 a.m. to a complete panic. I checked my two-way pager, confused at how I could have miss the alert since I slept with the device near me and with the alert setting on loud/vibrate, or even missed the wake-up call when I slept next to the phone to my ear. I looked over at Benny and he was fast asleep. I tried waking him by throwing cold water on his face but he didn’t respond coherently enough. With the fear of being fired by Black and sent home early due to insubordination, I shook Benny until he woke and we were out of the room to make an attempt to get to Black’s meeting on time. The time was 6:51 a.m. when we finally headed out the door.
The hotel’s hallways resembled a maze. There wasn’t anyone in the hallway of the hotel, as if to say everyone had fun the night before and were sleeping it off, like we should have still been doing. The time is now 6:56 a.m. and we were relieved to find what we thought was Black’s suite. There was no answer when we knocked on the door the first time. Then we knocked again and the time on the clock was 6:59am, and at 7:00am we are knocking down the door desperately, with a sense of urgency. We had the wrong room because DJ Enuff from Hot 97 in New York answered the door with his eyes barely open trying to recognize why anyone would be knocking at this time of the morning, with the Do Not Disturb decal on the door knob. Not only were we now late for the mandatory staff meeting, the new guy from Interscope probably just upset one of the most important DJ’s in the music business. Though knocking on the door was an error that we sincerely apologized for, being late and knocking on Enuff, of all people, door was inexcusable to my standards.
I walked down the hallway feeling like a defeated man with his head sulking. I accepted my loss and was mentally preparing myself to be fired, ready to go back to Irvington, and find a career elsewhere. It was 7:12am when we finally found Kevin Black’s suite. I knocked on the door and didn’t get a response. Benny Blanco reacted much differently than I expected after Black didn’t answer. He was used to being in tight situations that could of cost him his job, as I later learned about Benny’s unique and bizarre professional history. If Benny were to be reprimanded, then he would rather be held accountable for his insubordination in the comfort of having a full night’s rest. He screamed in the hallway as he walked toward the elevator, “tell Black to just fire me when you find him, I’m going back to the room!”
I was too paranoid, at this point, to follow Benny. All I could remember was hearing Twin’s voice mail message. In my opinion, his tone was firm enough for me to not to take him seriously in contrast to Benny’s reaction.
I had to think fast once Benny left. For some reason, I sought refuge with Adam Favors. I knocked on his door around 8:00am and to my surprise, Adam was just waking up. I asked Adam if he attended the mandatory meeting, and he replied with a confused look on his face, and asked, “what meeting?”
Adam’s response to my question surprised me but that’s when my street smarts kicked in. I thought it would be wise to build my case for not showing up to the meeting by telling Black or Twin that I was with Adam. I would use an alibi saying that I split ways with Benny after breakfast this morning and bumped into Adam unexpectedly. Adam then wanted me to follow him throughout the hotel to meet some DJ’s, since I was the new guy building my music industry network. My alibi would then continue that I stayed in Adam’s room and crashed on his couch because Benny needed our room to entertain female company that he met from the Def Jam party. I needed to make my alibi make sense and I thought it was in my best interest to not to leave Adam until I saw Black or Twin to sell my story for Adam to confirm.
Adam and I left his room and went to the hotel lobby, which was the “unofficial” meeting ground for the Mixshow Power Summit. I told Adam as we were walking down to the restaurant area, “If anyone asks, please just say that I was with you meeting DJ’s last night.” Like a big brother covering up for a younger sibling in trouble, Adam agreed to play along with the story, as if it was of no consequence to him. By the time we arrived for breakfast, it was a few minutes after 9:00am.
Thirty minutes later, the rest of the rap department staff came to the table Adam and I was sitting at. My counterparts from the Los Angeles office: Maricia, and Garrett Williams, Kevin Black’s assistant at the time, arrived shortly before Twin and Black came walking toward the lobby. I walked over to Garrett to ask him if there was a meeting this morning and he said not that he knew of. He was unaware of this staff meeting like Adam was, which brought me more confusion because Garrett would have to do the staff roll call for Black during meetings or conference calls. Garrett not knowing of a meeting gave me a sense of reassurance that I could have been imagining things as a result of having too much fun the night before. Finally, I saw Twin, and with confidence, I got up from the table and went over to him to ask if we had a meeting this morning with Black. Twin smiled mischievously and said, “Go see Black.”
I noticed Black walking over to our table where we were sitting. He seemed to be enjoying a conversation with an executive from another record label, walking closer to our area. I headed toward his direction and Black walked past me, continuing his conversation with the executive, as if he did not notice me standing there. He appeared to have had good night’s rest, it seems, and he had a delightful look on his face as if he was on “the vacation” he warned his staff not to be on. Now, at that point, I was confused and wanted answers. Black walked over to our table and I walked toward him again and addressed him privately, “Black, I got a voicemail from Twin saying there was a mandatory meeting in your suite this morning. I never want to be late for your meetings, but it seems like no one on the staff knew about it. Benny and I were knocking on your door,” I continued, “at about 7am sharp this morning as ordered by Twin and no one answered, was there really a meeting?”
Black looked at me with a smile on his face, replying to my question in the same signature gruff voice he gave during the staff meeting and said, “Welcome to music business.”
I gained a better understanding of the music industry on a psychological level when I look back on this experience, which this book references in further detail when discussing Street Rules in the Office. In the upcoming chapters, you will read what I learned from these experiences and others that are divided into nine Rules. The nine Rules are the common sense strategies that have been applied in the streets before, that should be practiced in the office.
excerpt chapter from the soon to be released music industry self help book:
"Street Rules in the Office: The Beginner's Guide to Focus in the Music Biz" written by Dave House of WHOOOOSHOUSE WORLDWIDE, LLC