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Interview with MICKEY BENTSON, manager of Ice T (US Top 20) - April 20, 2009

"It’s time for labels to open their eyes and their chequebooks and say, “We want to work with Mickey Bentson, he’s a successful person.”

picture Having started out in the industry helping create the Universal Zulu Nation – one of the key stimulants in the birth of hip-hop - before later achieving success managing Ice-T (US Top 20), Everlast (US Top 20 & UK Top 40), Grandmaster Melle Mel (UK Top 10) and Fat Joe (US No.1), amongst others, as part of his own Pay Up Management, Mickey Bentson is unquestionably a bona fide an industry success story. But seven years on from our last talk, HitQuarters finds Bentson frustrated with an industry that isn’t giving him his just desserts.

What’s been happening since you last spoke with HitQuarters?

I now not only manage but also have a record label - a digital distribution company called Pay Up Records. Because at this moment, record labels are not signing people who walk off the street with good product - they’re now signing people who have great visibility with their product.

I also now have a rock band. The Chase is a rock band from South Carolina. They have a flavour of hip hop but they are rockers. I have been working with them for approximately nine months, and I refused to tell people about them because I wanted them to get their weight up. Once I saw what they can physically do several times, I became ecstatic, very excited. I said, “This group right here is going to be the next big rock band!”

Are you not managing Fat Joe any longer?

I no longer work with Fat Joe. Me and Fat Joe departed on friendship - we did not leave on, “I don’t want to ever work with you. I don’t like you no more.” None of those words other than love. It was time for me to move on. Fat Joe’s career was where he needed to be at. A great guy to work with. Thirteen years of my life - I enjoy being around Fat Joe.

I also have an R&B group called 5ive-L - the reason being they live in apartment 5L somewhere in Harlem - I’m not going to tell the block [laughs]. But they’re the Force M.D.s’, sons and nephews.

How did you discover them?

We were shopping one of the Force M.D.s’ nephews named Zieme from Jive Records to Atlantic Records to SRC to I can’t actually remember, and every time I went to a label they said, “Man, if you had three or four more guys that can sing like this, we would sign you on the spot.”

Well, I manage the Force M.D.s, and we were sitting around talking, and said, “We can put [the Force M.D.s sons and nephews] together and make our own family band!”

And at that point, one year ago, we started putting those guys together. There was Josh, ‘Lil TC, Zieme, and then there was Cush. We signed them on to our management. We did not put them to digital distribution because what we’re doing is we’re playing the streets first. We want to get the buzz, because they are not a ladies’ man group, they are a singing group - although it appears the ladies love them. We have an opening for Lil Wayne. They have opened for Soulja Boy. Zieme has opened for Chris Brown… We’re putting their weight up, so that when we come to a label the very next time there be no answer except, “Yes! This is the group we want!”

Are record companies still developing artists the same as they were 7 years ago?

Record companies today, in 2009, no longer have an A&R department. Record companies do not now have a marketing department. They don’t even have a promotion department. They can tell a bunch of lies and say yes, they do, but what they do, is they look at a thing called MySpace, they look at Twitter, they look at Facebook, they look at Xanga, and they say, “Wow, this group has a lot of hits. It has a lot of following. It’s got people calling from Amsterdam. It’s got people calling from Germany. It’s got people calling from Australia. This group is a big group.”

That’s our marketing and A&R men now - MySpace, Xanga, Facebook, Twitter. The record labels are too goddamn lazy to get behind an artist and develop and push that artist on the micro-marketing plan from state to state. They want an artist to come out and have a universal look already, which I don’t understand.

What’s Grandmaster Melle Mel up to at the moment?

Melle Mel is in the studio now, working hard as hell. Grandmaster Melle Mel is still relevant to the music industry but he has a problem. He wants to become a WWF wrestle man. He wants to be the Champion of the World! He has stated in many interviews that he’s about to start taking it, and I’m going to put it out first - if John Cena can rap, Melle Mel can wrestle. He’s no longer the nice guy that you want to meet - he’s better known as ‘Muscle Simmons’!

Has your work as a manager changed over the years?

No, it’s the artists that have changed over the years - I’m still doing the same thing as I was doing thirty years ago. I’m going to the record labels. I’m getting the artist signed. We’re setting up the marketing and promotion plan for these artists. We’re exposing these artists to different states and countries. So we’re doing the groundwork for you.

And the reason why managers are so very important to us is because their set up that they call distribution can take one record and put it in fifty-two states in one goddamn day. They’re able to get on the telephones in their offices and make phone calls to radio stations. I would call, “hey, look, play this record at this day.” There are going to be twenty-five radio stations playing it on this day.

You see, that’s the advantage they have over people. There’s a million damn people who claim they got a label, but they have no distribution. If you, the ordinary guy, walks into a company and have five records and says, “Hey, all I need you to do is to do is get behind me and distribute this record.” That’s exactly what they would do for you. But now, they will only distribute that product in the markets that you’re making noise in. Because they’re not going to go over and above a P&D (Pressing & Distribution) deal. They’re going to put it in the place that you are making the most noise. So you still really don’t have a chance unless you have a lot of cash flow behind your product.

So the best thing that we can do is create a short buzz for the record labels, so that the labels will say, “I truly understand what Mickey Bentson and Pay Up is doing. The guy is showing us that there’s a buzz out here.” Nine years ago, the Internet did not exist like it did today. The guy looks at your MySpace, your Twitter, your Xanga, your Facebook, and says, “This guy has 50,000 friends - those are 50,000 that we actually can get to buy that one record.”

With The Chase and 5ive-L, which are rock and R&B respectively, you’re expanding into other genres. So the vision of the label has changed?

Yes, the visions have changed within the last seven years. When I did that interview with you guys, I told you I want to expand into a rounded label. And I said, “I’m not putting no more hip-hop out until I can change what I said I was going to do.” Fortunately, I was able to pick up a distribution company called INgrooves. And at that point I put out The Chase.

You mentioned earlier that the artists have changed over the years - what do you think is vital now for artists wanting to make their mark in the industry?

Working through other ventures, bro. You can’t just do music if you want to be relevant in the music industry.

And one person that I’m going to mention is Puff Daddy. I envy this guy - he is a very intelligent man. He came from being an intern to getting a label called Bad Boy. He had two artists - Craig Mack and Biggie Smalls - he took that and made an empire out of it.

He didn’t say, “You know what I want to do? Clothes.” He did clothes. He didn’t say, “I want to play on Broadway.” He played on Broadway. “I want to make cologne.” He made cologne. He’s staying relevant. Whether you like him as a rapper, you got to love his fragrance. If you don’t like his fragrance, you got to like his clothes. If you don’t like his clothes, you got to like him on Broadway. Whatever he has to do is stay in the eyes of the public. That keeps you relevant.

What do you think about the rap and R&B scene at the moment?

Garbage. Nothing means nothing. That’s why I’m coming with some real music like The Chase and 5ive-L. You’re going to listen to the hip-hop that my guys are doing and you’re going to say: “Wow! That’s relevant! That’s hot!” It’s not going to be a phase.

So you think the way forward for the industry is with music that is real and not faddish?

That’s where I’m going. At this moment, I’ve got a phone call from a gentleman by the name of Mr. Gill Chakches. He has a distribution deal with EMI, and it’s called The Legends Label. That means that he is going to be looking for artists like the Grandmaster Melle Mels, the Doug E. Freshes, the Big Daddy Kanes, the Kool G. Raps, because he wants to bring classic hip hop back to the forefront when music was fun to do.

He’s looking at the Soulsonic Force. The Soulsonic Force has just dropped a new single that maybe none of you guys have heard yet. Positive K has just dropped a record with Ice-T. Unbelievable! That means that these guys are still relevant to the music industry.

How do you choose your projects nowadays?

I listen to the project for a month - I do not jump when I hear a record. I take it outside, I put it in the car, and I play it for other people, and say, “Listen to this garbage somebody sent me. Seriously, this is junk.” And it could be a good record, but I don’t say that, because I want to see if they’re going to follow my lead and believe what I said, because everybody should be thinking for themselves.

And they might say, “Garbage? Are you crazy? This is hot!” And I’m like, “Man, this is junk! What does it mean? What are they doing?” And at that point I say, “I just wanted to see if you were actually listening to the record. It is a good record - I just wanted to see if you tell me it was too.”

And then I make a phone call to that person, like I did with The Chase. I held their record for three months. I took it to Ice-T and I said, “Ice man, listen to this junk somebody sent me.” I put it on. Ice-T looked at me and says, “Mick, remember Stone Temple Pilots? Remember we said it wasn’t good? This group is bad!” I said: “I know it. I just wanted to see what you say from your standpoint.”

Then I called them and said, “Hey, I’ll be your manager, but I’m going to put this out through digital distribution. What are you guys doing?” “We’re in the studio.” “Okay, let me hear some of a song.” They let me hear some songs and I’m like, “Good, you guys are great. Continue working.”

They worked and they called me every fuckin’ day, excuse the expression. They called me every day and give me update. That’s what you want out of an artist. You want them to work too. You don’t want them to sit back and think he’s a star.

Do you still accept unsolicited material?

I still accept unsolicited material. That’s how I found The Chase. That’s how I found this new kid in Miami, Florida, called Mike Beatz. He is a young beast. He’s a producer and a rapper, and he’s going to be unstoppable once the world hears about him.

Will any of you artists be touring Europe as well?

Yes, they will as soon as any promoters be kind enough to call Pay Up Records or Pay Up Management or hit and want to book dates..

When we last spoke, the one aspect of the industry you wanted to change was the favouritism of radio stations. Has this improved at all over the intervening years?

I actually think radio has stopped the favouritism. What radio do now is they play what’s happening in the markets a lot more now.

I’m not saying ‘payola’ is not being done. Now it might just be, I’ll take you to dinner. I’ll fly you to an event. But no longer are people putting money in envelopes to get records played - because every kid who has tried it was still unsuccessful in getting that big hit. The DJs started waking up and saying, “You know what, it ain’t fair.”

Fair is fair now. If you got a good record and you can get it to a DJ, you can believe that that DJ will play it. No longer do they look out for the record companies, because the record companies aren’t looking out for the artists. So now they play good records, and I think that’s fair. And with me being on Sirius XM Radio Satellite, XM65 and Sirius39, I do play classic hip hop, but the rest of the members from around Hip Hop Nation and the rest of the stations that’s on Sirius and XM, they play everybody’s records. They’re not scrutinising.

Are the record companies still relevant in 2009?

The record companies are still relevant and they’re really picking and choosing the way they sign an act today. I respect that. But if you have a guy like Mickey Bentson, who has been in the music industry for thirty years, who has been successful with people like Lord Finesse, King Tee, Monie Love, Everlast, Big Pun, Fat Joe, The Furious Five, just to name a few, if I’ve been that successful to make sure that these people became household names, why in the world would you not want to give me the next shot? It’s called, “I’m not going to do it because he knows a little bit too much.”

They may not pay me much attention, but they don’t bother me. I’m that little goldfish that keeps swimming right by the shark and doesn’t get eaten. They wouldn’t bite me because I’ve been in the water just as long. But I think it’s time for labels to open their eyes and their chequebooks and say, “We want to work with Mickey Bentson - he’s a successful person.”

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Interview by Kimbel Bouwman

Next week: Apocalyptica manager Ulysses Hüppauf

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