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Interview with DANIEL WEISMAN (part 1), head of Elitaste and manager for Mike Posner, Wale - Nov 21, 2011

”Despite having zero experience and no credentials I was somehow able to convince [Wale] to let me manage him.“

picture If it weren’t for the impossible competition of an early Christmas with Justin Bieber under the mistletoe, hip-hop artist Wale’s (US #2) sophomore album, ‘Ambition’, would have topped the Billboard 200 earlier this month. But with 165,000 sales in its first week, six times that of his debut, it’s still an impressive achievement and one that has delivered on the years of promise and expectation that the Washington D.C. artist has built up, and which reached boiling point over the summer when servers were crushed in a million-plus stampede to download the pre-album mixtape.

For the first of an exclusive two-part interview with Daniel Weisman, the original manager of Wale, current manager of Mike Posner, and founder of Elitaste and, talks about his work in establishing the rapper, including facilitating a significant connection with Mark Ronson and pursuing the cool sneakerhead fans, and explains why a buzz is nothing without a hit record.

How did get your start in the music industry and come to manage Wale?

After graduating from college in Atlanta – where I was throwing parties with Scooter Braun (manager of Justin Bieber) – I decided to go back to Los Angeles, where I'm originally from, and pursue something in film and television. I started working at United Talent Agency but after a year realised it wasn't for me and instead took a job as an assistant at a law firm. After two months I was bored out of my mind and already looking for something else to do, and it was when I was visiting Washington DC one weekend that a friend of mine there told me about an up-and-coming artist in the area called Wale. I checked him out and thought he was great.

I managed to get in touch with him through Myspace and we connected while he was in Los Angeles. Despite having zero experience and no credentials I was somehow able to convince him to let me manage him. That was my start in the music business ...

How did you convince Wale to take you on as a manager if you didn’t have any credentials in the music business?

I told him that I didn't have connections yet but that I knew what he was trying to do and where he was trying to be and could help him achieve that.

In the beginning was there a local buzz surrounding him in Washington DC?

It's hard to say because I was in Los Angeles and he was in DC, but people have told that he was the best shot DC had in getting a rapper known on a national level.

He had this song called ‘Dig Dug’ that had spun on the radio a couple of times. If Wale is telling the story he will say it was being played on the radio all the time but if you are on Mediabase, which is the radio monitoring service, it only got played a few times but was enough of a story to sell to the people outside of DC, whether it was brands I wanted to get interested in him or bloggers I wanted to write about him.

The first publication that wrote about him was Fader. That laid a great foundation for him to position himself as a cool, smart, up-and-coming hip-hop artist.

Was he performing live much at that point?

He was doing shows here and there but he wasn't like Mike [Posner]. It was sort of like Mike split in half. But this was in 2006. Mike came out in 2009 and the internet had become a very different place in that time. Myspace was huge when Wale was starting out but by the time Mike was starting it had basically gone out of business. Instead it’s blogs that are now really coming to the forefront in how people find out about new music.

When did he put out his first mixtape?

He’d put out two mixtapes on a very local level before I started working with him. When we started working together we decided we needed to do a mixtape that played into his newly found Fader blog culture. I contacted Nick Catchdubs, who was the editor at Fader at the time and had written the article about Wale, and asked him to help with the mixtape. He’s also a DJ and now runs the Fool’s Gold [Records] label with A-Trak. We came together and brainstormed tracks, formats and all that kind of stuff. At the time Wale was the first artist to put out a free mixtape online solely to generate buzz.

The big thing that came out of that was Wale remixing Justice’s D.A.N.C.E. record. Although we only ever released [‘W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E’] online and hardly did any physical copies, Justice reached out to him about it, and it got on a ton of blogs and he got on the cover of URB magazine with Justice. He became really well known because of it.

Was the Mark Ronson connection a significant breakthrough?

It was definitely very helpful. Seeing the direction that Wale is heading in right now, I would say probably none of this would have happened if it weren’t for Mark Ronson.

How did that connection come about?

A year prior to meeting Wale I was in Las Vegas for a vacation. Mark was DJing at a club and I walked up to him slightly intoxicated and asked him to play ‘Ooh Wee’ and we eventually started talking. He gave me his card and we exchanged some emails.

When I ended up working with Wale I said, "You know who would love this? Mark Ronson!" Although Ronson didn't write back, a couple of weeks later he played one of Wale's song on his radio show Authentic Shit on East Village Radio. He said, "I don't know where I got this from but it's hot!" I called him the next day and said, "I sent you Wale!" He said, "I would love to meet him!" Wale just happened to be going to New York that week so I linked them up in the studio.

Wale recorded a freestyle for him over one of his beats. Then Mark gave him the Lily Allen ‘Smile’ remix to record. We put that on the internet and it got a little buzz. A couple of months later Mark was interested in bringing Wale out on his European tour, which included Glastonbury, T4 and Wireless. Then we went to New York to meet with Epic Records and that same day Mark's manager [Rich Kleiman] was calling and said, "We want to meet about Wale." They ended up offering a production deal. We then shopped it and ended up going with Interscope.

Now he’s signed with Rick Ross. Wale was always torn between being from DC and being embraced by the blog culture that has now come to define hip-hop. No artist breaks out of anything at the moment without blog love, and Wale was one of the first to do it.

The fanbase he has built from being the rapper signed to Mark Ronson to being this rapper signed to Rick Ross is pretty extensive. He has over a million Twitter followers and I'm excited to see what sort of success he has with his new album that drops this fall.

When you started working with Wale what was your plan in terms of trying to break him?

I was very intense in going after the Fader, cool guys, sneakerhead fan rather than the urban hip-hop audience. The thing I never advocated then was going after radio. I knew that Wale could build himself a career out of touring and content and not necessarily from just having a radio hit record. But I think the times have changed a bit – just having a buzz isn't enough. Hit records really do matter now.

Wiz Khalifa, for instance, had this massive buzz but then followed it up with three hit records. Ultimately if you don't ever have a hit record then it makes it much harder to sustain a buzz. You may have a few friends that are supporting you but then there are all these outside people that could potentially be fans but are first waiting for you to come up with something that makes them care. I think Wale has seen how much a hit record can help when he was featured on that Waka Flocka Flame record [‘No Hands’].

A group like ODD Future have this massive buzz but no hits. How long can they sustain that? How long can people be into the whole theatrics of it before they going to want something that satisfies them on a deeper level. Someone like Eminem, who ODD Future gets compared to a lot, managed to deliver multiple mass hit records.

There was a time where people said, fuck radio, you can do it without radio. You probably can but if you want to be an A-list artist that matters on a global level then radio is still very, very necessary. Just ask LMFAO, Mike Posner, Wiz Khalifa, Adele … they had success at a certain level before hit records then took them into the stratosphere.

At the same time it's not so good to hit the radio too early ...

If you hit it too early you have a hard time getting people to connect. You definitely have to have a buzz going first. Even with a big record, to go into a radio campaign without a story is very difficult.

What happened once Wale was signed to Interscope?

We firstly put out two mixtapes – the Seinfeld inspired ‘About Nothing’ and then ‘Back To The Feature’, which had a lot of features on it – and then put out the album ‘Attention Deficit’. The first single from the album was with Lady Gaga, and the second had Gucci Mane.

I don't know if Interscope was the right place for him. The album got under shipped. I don't know how much that played into the sales. There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen.

The album didn’t make as big an impact as expected. So what actually went wrong?

The one thing about music or art is that it's not like 1 + 1 = 2. You can't predict the outcome. It was amazing to get Lady Gaga on a single but I don't know if it was the right choice to put it out as the first single. Gaga already had three songs on the radio at the time so why would they go and play another Gaga record where she featured for a rapper no one really knew about? Plus radio was in a weird transition at the time. Top 40 was becoming more Rhythmic and the other way around. I don't know if the song would be a hit now but it definitely would have had a better chance.

Since then he’s experienced major success with his most recent mixtape ‘The Eleven One Eleven Theory’. What’s been the difference do you think?

I don't really know because I wasn't really involved at that point. I think Wale was just hitting a certain critical mass. He became one of these hip-hop artists that everyone knew about. Now he is going for the mainstream by signing with Rick Ross and having songs on the radio. The dots are starting to connect. If you keep working hard your fans will tell their friends and they will tell their friends and eventually you have a fanbase.

When did you part ways with him?

That was November 2010. We kind of grew apart and he was co-managed by Roc Nation, who are still working with him. I was focused on Mike. It was just time to end the business relationship and move on. We are still friends and talk every other week. I'm really proud of what we did together. He gave me my start and I gave him his start.

interviewed by Jan Blumentrath

Next week: The second part of our interview with Daniel Weisman focuses on current client Mike Posner

Read On ...

* Daniel Weisman on Mike Posner's college campus breakthrough
* Rostrum president Benjy Grinberg on developing Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa