Interview with JOSHUA BERKMAN, A&R at Cash Money Records for Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Chris Richardson, Kevin Rudolf - Feb 27, 2012
“Nicki Minaj's very particular about her beats and wouldn't just rap on anything – I could give her a thousand tracks and she may only like one or two”
As the YMCMB family expands at an industry downturn-defying rate with new signings seemingly announced on a weekly basis, we continue our focus on the remarkable success story that is Cash Money Records by speaking to the label’s sole A&R Joshua Berkman about putting together Lil Wayne’s (US No.1, UK Top 10) opus while on the road, what Nicki Minaj (US No.1, UK Top 10) looks for in a producer and how a label renowned for its pioneering hip-hop came to sign former American Idol contestant Chris Richardson.
How did you originally get involved in the music industry and come to work for Cash Money Records
I started interning at a local recording studio when I was 16 – I was sweeping, cleaning, painting ... doing everything. From there I worked my way up to becoming an engineer at the studio, and by the time I was 19 I was managing the place as well as still being an engineer. I eventually left the studio and moved to Miami. It was there, through a couple of clients, that I came to meet Cash Money – and we hit it off. I started working for them as an engineer at the beginning.
At that time Kevin Rudolf and me were working together as well. I manage him and he's also my best friend. We were always making music together. One day I went to Slim (Ronald Williams) and said, “You should check Kevin out as a producer, maybe he can work on some of your artists.” Slim loved the idea. Him and Baby (Bryan ‘Birdman’ Williams – HQ interview) then checked out his solo material and just instantly fell in love with him. They signed him and had the hit ‘Let It Rock’ shortly after.
It was from there that I actually made the transition over to the A&R side, taking care of all the Cash Money artists and also taking on responsibility for finding new talent as well. I also manage a few Cash Money artists – Kevin Rudolf, Chris Richardson and Mr Beatz, an in-house producer.
So how did you first come into contact with Slim and Baby?
We were both in a bad situation with the same person. I had a problem with a big producer I was working with. He was also working with Cash Money at the same time, and was trying to screw both of us over. So me, Slim and Baby met on those terms. When I met them for the first time everything was good right away. They loved me and wanted me to keep coming back to work for them. From the start it was a great bond.
Do you have a background as a musician and producer or are you coming solely from the more technical engineering side?
Both actually. I used to produce a few tracks – most recent being the Lil Twist single ‘Love Affair (feat. Lil Wayne)’, which I co-produced – but I just don't have time for it anymore.
Going from engineer/producer to A&R, how were you able to deal with the career transition?
I really just got thrown into it but it’s worked out well. Every day is a learning experience. But whatever it is I do, I give 110%. That's how you get things done.
What is the set up of Cash Money Records at the moment and who are the main people involved?
Even though it's one of the biggest labels right now with some of the biggest acts in the world, it's actually still a small label. There is Bryan ‘Birdman’ Williams and Ronald ‘Slim’ Williams, who are the owners. Birdman and Slim are the main guys and they’re the geniuses behind this entire movement. I've never met anyone in my life as talented and as driven as those two guys. 24/7, 365 days a year …
Can you explain what your job actually involves?
Everything involved in putting together an album from the very start to when it eventually hits the stores – from setting up sessions for our artists and picking out beats for them to finding new artists and bringing in new producers. Although, as Cash Money is a family thing, we like to use a lot of the same producers. You’ll see from those we’ve worked with in the past that we’ve tended to work with them over and over again.
Searching for new talent is also a main part of my job. I’m always looking for the next sensation.
So if I'm a new upcoming producer, how do I get in contact with you?
Through the internet. It's so much easier now than it used to be. I get contacted everyday by new producers. Thousands of people hit me up on Twittter, Facebook and Myspace, and then also through all the contacts I have with publishing companies, management companies etc.
You must receive so much music from new producers that it's impossible to go through everything ...
Yeah, but I still try to listen to everything. It takes a while, but you learn to be able to automatically know whether something is good or not. It’s the same with the artists you listen to – you just know by the tone, the performance ... everything.
So if you find an artist what happens next?
I first have to discuss it with Baby and Slim and then decisions are made. The most recent artist I brought in was Chris Richardson. He is an amazing pop artist that you may remember from American Idol. We are about to release him very soon. He’s going to be huge.
How did Cash Money first come across Nicki Minaj and what’s she like to work with?
Wayne discovered and signed Nicki. She is both the hardest and one of the best artists to work with because she is just so smart and hands-on with everything. She wants to be involved with every little thing.
What was your involvement on her last record ‘Pink Friday’?
I came in halfway through and helped her put it together to become an actual album. At the moment she's working on a new record and it's incredible. She's come a long way from her first – this album is worldwide. You just can't describe her with just one genre of music.
What does a producer need for her to work with them?
Firstly, any producer has obviously got to be able to make undeniable music, and then they need to have some relationship skills. With Nicki specifically, it's all about the particular sound she wants and not everybody can make that sound. She's very particular about her beats and wouldn't just rap or sing on anything – I could give her a thousand tracks and she may only like one or two.
How was she developed and were you involved in that process?
With Nicki you have to give all the credit to Wayne. Wayne was the one that was in with all the Young Money artists every single night, teaching them. That’s how the whole Young Money album [‘We Are Young Money’] came about. He's the genius behind that. But most of all you have to give it to her for being such an incredible artist and hard worker.
What actually is the relationship between Young Money and Cash Money?
It's all a family thing as well – that's why it’s YMCMB.
What is the relationship like between Wayne and Birdman and Slim?
It’s a really solid relationship. If Wayne goes on tour then we all go on tour. Nowhere else will you see a record label head go on tour with the artist.
Last tour we were also trying to wrap up Tha Carter IV while on the road. We were working on that album until the very last minute. There were new songs finished at the very last minute, new side artists that appeared at last minute, changes in the order of songs ... but all the hard work paid off.
What is your own relationship with Wayne like?
We hang out together – it's not all straight business. We built a mini ramp at the studio and we skate every night. I love that guy.
Can you explain a little more about how Tha Carter IV came together and what your involvement was?
Every single night Wayne would be in the studio recording a couple of songs. On tour he had a studio bus. He’s just a non-stop genius. With Wayne if you send him a track and he likes it, he will spit on it. It's not really about getting in the studio with any particular producers or anybody. He just goes into the booth and lays down his vocals, makes a hit and then we’ll work with it from there.
On that album I brought in a few tracks and hooks for it. I was always feeding him with something new. To put that album together you have to get all the producer deals sorted, all the sessions arranged, organise all the mixing, and make sure all the side artists are cleared.
Samples are always a big issue so you’ve got to make sure there are no samples. I truly hate samples and wished producers would not use them. If they are overlooked or denied clearance then they can completely fuck an album up. If there are any then we have to make sure they're getting cleared. We have lawyers who I work with on that. You’ve also got to take care of publishing, mastering, get all the credits and label copy together, splits ... basically just making sure everything comes together as smoothly as possible. Then finally we work together with Universal.
What is Universal’s actual involvement in the process?
Without getting into too much detail, they're the distributor. As soon as we get everything done, it’ll only be in the final hour that we give it to them. But they are involved in marketing and publicity etc. They have a great team that we work very closely with.
So they’re doing radio promotion?
Yes, they are doing radio promotion. Best in the industry! We also have our own radio team as well who work closely with them to make us an unstoppable force on all formats.
What are the next big things that are coming out?
We’ve got a lot coming out this year. Kevin Rudolf, Lil Twist, Bow Wow, Tyga, Birdman, Jay Sean, Chris Richardson, Limp Bizkit, Mystikal, Busta Rhymes, Nicki Minaj, Young Money, DJ Khaled …
How did you find Chris Richardson?
My family lives in Virginia Beach and I actually met him through a friend there. We hit it off and became friends first of all. But I liked his music and I liked what he was doing so I eventually brought him down to Miami a couple of times to see what he could do and also had him working with some of our other artists. I then talked to Slim and Birdman about it and they fell in love with him. And they both thought he could be a star.
Are you looking for signing new artists?
Yes, there's always room for growth.
What kind of artists are you looking for?
I'm always looking for the next pop act. If you’re an urban act then you've got to live up to the Cash Money roster we have right now – you really have to be the best of the best.
interviewed by Jan Blumentrath
Read On ...
* Cash Money co-owner Birdman on the growth of an iconic label
* A&R Dino Delvaille on signing Cash Money to Universal